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In this final reflection we’ll conclude our nineteen essays with a discussion of one of the powerful statements of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, from his book The Promised Day is Come:
God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted. The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind are none other than the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism.
Shoghi Effendi wrote this statement in 1941, during the early part of the Second World War, after the First World War had transformed human society. The communist revolution benefited from the chaos of that initial world war, and the Bolshevik revolution brought about the Soviet Union. While WWII was supposedly a competition for world hegemony between Great Britain and the emerging power Germany, a new superpower silently came into existence, namely the United States of America.
After WWI, the victorious powers forced Germany into a punitive and humiliating peace treaty, which contributed to the rise of an extreme nationalistic tendency that subsequently created Nazi Germany. Modernity – which was supposed to bring humanity an age of rationalism, enlightenment, the inalienable rights of individuals, and peace – instead brought about militarism, genocide, mass enslavement, and violation of all human rights. Shoghi Effendi described these new atheistic temples of modernity in condemnatory terms:
Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations outworn shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved, the maimed, and the homeless.
The Deification of the State
Shoghi Effendi’s book begins with a discussion of the decline of the power of the clerics, both Islamic and Christian. He described how the clerical culture has itself been opposed to the truth of all religions, and how clerical fanaticism has replaced the mystical and vibrant spirit of religions with a dead and intolerant construction which only bears the name of their corresponding Faith. The main feature of the clerical worldview, he pointed out, is its refusal to recognize the living and progressive nature of divine revelation.
Consequently, the clerical establishments could not recognize the new message of God, brought by Baha’u’llah, which called for the oneness of humankind and universal peace.
This dethronement of God from the hearts of the people, Shoghi Effendi wrote, was then accentuated by the emergence of new idols and false gods, which have replaced the worship of God with the worship of the three idols of nationalism, racialism and communism. The solution to the problems of the world, he concluded, is rejection of these triple idols, and embracing the culture of the oneness of humankind.
Shoghi Effendi noted that different countries represent different degrees of approximation to the worship of these three false gods – but in their extreme forms all these triple gods share some common characteristics. One of these commonalities is what Shoghi Effendi calls “the deification of state.” Such a characterization indicates that various forms of irreligion are themselves substitute forms of religion.
In the 19th century, Nietzsche noted that some forms of secular ideologies are in fact new forms of religion, namely new forms of absolutism. Through his nihilism, he tried to destroy these other forms of absolutism, particularly that of “reason.” It is noteworthy that Shoghi Effendi describes Bolshevism and its systematic battle against religion and religious freedom as “religious irreligion.” This deification of the state can also be witnessed in the most extreme forms of nationalism and racialism, namely the fascist and racist philosophy of Nazi Germany. In the case of both Bolshevik communism and Nazi Germany, all three false gods turn into a logic of the deification of the state.
Deifying the state is usually characterized by totalitarianism, elimination of individual liberty, militarism, and imperialism. Like the god of imperialistic and intolerant holy war, constructed by the clerics, these new gods become the source of all values and truth. Consequently, the state must be expanded, and it must be in charge of the detailed aspects of individual lives.
This totalitarian view bases itself on a philosophical aversion to individual human beings, defining them as irrational children incapable of making decisions for themselves. A deified state is almost always a militarist state, which wants to impose its will upon other states and peoples. Militant nationalist and racist ideologies contribute to this deification, when state coercion is seen as a necessary tool for the realization of institutionalized racism and what Shoghi Effendi calls “the excessive, the blind, the intolerant, and militant nationalism.”
Notably, Shoghi Effendi defined communism as an extreme form of the deification of the state, as well as an example of “the dominance of one privileged class over all others.” Theoretically, communism rejects the state and affirms social justice and equality. Yet, the fact is that the reality of communism has not been the elimination or withering away of the state as predicted by Marx. Instead, the elimination of private property and the ideal of forced equality of economic and social outcomes only becomes possible when all forms of individual freedom are negated in society. That is, in turn, possible only under a totalitarian state which controls all aspects of the life of the people so that equality of outcomes can be forced and maintained.
But at the same time, such elimination of individual freedom, and the overwhelming control and dominance of the deified state, usually mean the division of society into one class of ordinary individuals vs. the people who belong to state bureaucracy. Control of the state, as opposed to private property, then becomes the new basis of class privilege through corruption, coercion, and violent control.
The False Gods of Materialism and Prejudice
Shoghi Effendi described all three false gods as the “monstrous offspring” of a materialist philosophy, or what he called “irreligion” – as opposed to the spiritualization of life that is the aim of the Baha’i Faith.
The spiritualization of life means the emergence of a culture in which humans see themselves and all reality as spiritual beings, endowed with rights and nobility. Baha’u’llah declared that all human beings are reflections of divine attributes. The Baha’i teachings define spirit as both individual independence and unity with others.
Consequently, humans must be emancipated from every kind of prejudice, and come to see all humans as members of one sacred family. The three false gods, defined precisely by a materialistic logic, treat the world as a realm of beasts governed by the principle of the struggle for existence. Wars, colonialism, racism, the oppression of others, and militarism become the necessary outcomes of such idols.
Racism endeavors to exploit other humans for the interests of an imaginary superior race, whether directed against Blacks, Jews or other groups. Militant nationalism sees itself as superior to other nations, and views the enslavement and plundering of other nations as a heroic virtue. The communist state sees itself as the embodiment of an exclusive truth, a truth exemplified in the communist party, which must obliterate the resistance of all counterrevolutionaries, bourgeoisie, capitalist states, and enemies of the people.
What is common to all these idols is that they reduce the identity of human beings to their particularistic biological or social characteristics. Such a reduction creates a moral double standard and engenders various forms of prejudice. The consequence of these prejudices are the dominance of war, militarism, exploitation, coercion and genocide in human societies, just as we witnessed in World War II, a horrific realization of the dominance of these three false gods.
Opposed to these particularistic philosophies and the institutions they create and sustain, which separate people and pit them against each other, Shoghi Effendi presented the Baha’i philosophy as the message of one true God, the God of all the prophets of the past, the God of the new revelation of Baha’u’llah, in these trenchant words:
Contrasting with, and irreconcilably opposed to, these war-engendering, world-convulsing doctrines are the healing, the saving, the pregnant truths proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, the Divine Organizer and Savior of the whole human race—truths which should be regarded as the animating force and the hallmark of His Revelation: “The world is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” “Let not a man glory in that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.” And again: “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.” “Bend your minds and wills to the education of the peoples and kindreds of the earth, that haply … all mankind may become the upholders of one order, and the inhabitants of one city .… Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will.” “Beware lest the desires of the flesh and of a corrupt inclination provoke divisions among you. Be ye as the fingers of one hand, the members of one body.” And yet again: “All the saplings of the world have appeared from one Tree, and all the drops from one Ocean, and all beings owe their existence to one Being.” And furthermore: “That one indeed is a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.”