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The Bahá'í Faith

Unless the Spiritual and Material Forces are Combined…

                                  The Shrine of the Báb

Summary: Unless the mater- ial changes occurring in the conditions of the world are accompanied by a similar renewal in spiritual beliefs and moral values, humanity will necessarily be faced with grave crises and calamitous violence as consequences of the imbalance between the two major forces that con- duct its affairs and lead its steps toward the future.

The content of the section on the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels indicates that He carried the new principles and values revealed in the Bahá’í Faith to all regions of the West and explained them to the Europeans and later to the people of North America in their deep meaning and distinctive virtue, so that the light of their guidance would be spread and benefit all people; and this is the same mission that each of the religions of the past at its own time accomplished, with an important difference. The world has evolved materially in this age and forced its nations, peoples, and governments to be physically connected, politically associated, economically complementary and culturally convergent to such a degree that its structure is becoming like the body of one country.

It is natural that such a change in the world be accompanied by a need for new principles and values that were unknown to previous nations whether as regards their internal systems or their relations with each other, and with this there is an urgent parallel need to redefine many of the concepts of the past.

Shoghi Effendi confirms this necessity in a message published in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh:

“Who, witnessing on one hand the stupendous advance achieved in the realm of human knowledge, of power, of skill and inventiveness, and viewing on the other the unprecedented character of the sufferings that afflict, and the dangers that beset, present-day society, can be so blind as to doubt that the hour has at last struck for the advent of a new Revelation, for a re-statement of the Divine Purpose, and for the consequent revival of those spiritual forces that have, at fixed intervals, rehabilitated the fortunes of human society?” 1

The intermixing of the spiritual and material civilizations is one of the principles that has appeared with the tremendous development, great inventions and important scientific discoveries, realized through the latter but in face of a regression of spirituality, and which have now imbalanced these two strongest forces affecting human life. Despite the complexity of this subject and the many concepts and theories associated with it, there is no escape from dealing with it if we want to understand an important aspect of the human need at the present time—the need for a life that combines a continuation of material progress and development with the realization of a collective happiness free of the dangers now threatening the integrity of the human species and possibly even its existence. Bahá’u’lláh warns humanity of the dangers of a material civilization that is the single creator of progress:

“The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.”2

“The Pen of the Most High exhorteth, at this moment, the manifestations of authority and the sources of power, namely the kings, the sovereigns, the presidents, the rulers, the divines and the wise, and enjoineth them to uphold the cause of religion, and to cleave unto it. Religion is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquillity amongst its peoples.”3

We have to get help from some of what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote on this subject, because His style of explanation is known to render analysis accessible and make complicated subjects simple to the degree that they become easy to understand. In His talks and messages, He generally addresses essential subjects with deep roots and necessary for the organization of different aspects of life. An example is what He brings forward in the message that shall now retain our attention. Its arguments revolve around the problem of rethinking the present world culture with the aim of establishing a new world order capable of protecting the peace, integrity and tranquillity of humanity, a new way of life enriched with new values and that does not cause conflicts between the mind and faith and contradictions between science and religion. In this consists true human happiness.

Now that the globe has become one home for its inhabitants, there is no escape from the task of rebuilding human society and its institutions on the bases of moral values, such as respect for justice and truth, submission to the rule of law, protection of living creatures, respect for freedom, relief of the wronged, renunciation of violence, prioritizing for the general good, solidarity, to be merciful to one another and similar humane standards. Achieving this goal assumes the unity of all humankind and their adoption of a culture of love and a pattern of life that elevates the sciences and arts to the same level as religion, so as to protect what the mind and wisdom produce through them from prostitution and ridicule.

The arguments ‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses to support this principle are various, and distinguished by their logical structure and intellectual, religious and scientific proofs and their examples drawn from nature and its laws in order to show that science, despite the great services it has rendered to humanity and the astonishing progress it has achieved, is clearly unable to, by itself, bring about the collective security and protection of human life. On the contrary, it is apparent that it has gone out of control and has become a danger to mankind. The responsibility for the failure of science to achieve the goals that were its priorities rest on man himself, for science is an instrument in his hands and malleable to his wishes. When man has directed science to useful goals it fulfilled its role in improving conditions of life, extending human longevity, increasing the population, making available the necessary food and improving its quality, but when man has directed it to greed and desire for fame it entered the fields of spying and penetrated the world of crime and achieved an inventiveness in destruction, death and ruin, and became a monster frightening the entire human species.

The fact is that as long as the power of science is under the control of man it cannot be the means to discipline his desires and train the lower side of his nature. It is necessary to find other powers that are capable of redressing that side of the human being. The good news that the message of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives in this respect is that spirituality has unchangeable laws that reinforce its effects in human society just as objects or bodies have the laws of nature to govern their existence and movement. The attempt of religion in the past centuries to gradually improve human behaviour and to moderate humanity’s sensual desires is a fact for which history is testimony and is not disputable. But most of these improvements remained on the level of the individual. The reason religion in the past did not do enough in the international arena is due to the circumstances of the world in those times, conditions, as mentioned earlier, which have changed completely to the degree that it is now possible for religion to have an important role in building a new world, as we will see in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message.

In this message, Abdu’l-Bahá explains that there are two forces that attract human attention and through which humanity advances in the scale of “success and prosperity” in its attempt to reach “the heights of happiness.”4 The first is the call of material civilization, which is instrumental to human progress, and on which humans rely to achieve their great projects. This call comprises all the manmade laws and regulations, as well as the systems men have created, and all they have realized in the fields of the arts and sciences, and other fruits of exceptional minds, and the “lofty ideals” of wise men.

The other force is the Divine call that like a lamp illumines the world with the effulgence of the spiritual teachings. These teachings “are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.” The foundation of this force is the divine counsel calling upon humankind to embrace heavenly attributes:
“[U]ntil material achievements, physical accomplishments and human virtues are reinforced by spiritual perfections, luminous qualities and characteristics of mercy, no fruit or result shall issue therefrom, nor will the happiness of the world of humanity, which is the ultimate aim, be attained. For although, on the one hand, material achievements and the development of the physical world produce prosperity,…on the other hand dangers, severe calamities and violent afflictions are imminent.”