Monday, December 15, 2008

Baha'i Principles Series, p02 and p03

Where God is Our Teacher

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 15, 04 Masa'il 165 BE

With every passing year it gets clearer what the capital "C" Crisis, the Big One, the mother of all calamities prophesied in all the holy scriptures of the past really is. We are talking mindless exponential growth, pushing the inexorable, systematic destruction of the environment and irreversible derangement of the planet's climate mechanisms.

This crisis is very prolific, though.

So many are the dire crises and dastardly dangers looking down our necks that one concerned attendee at the monthly Philosopher's Cafe meetings that I help coordinate, has a sort of shorthand for it. He says over and over, "You name it. You name it." Here is an example. A few weeks ago a group of Muslim extremists, armed and trained in Pakistan, made a terrorist attack on Mumbai. Now the two rival, nuclear-armed powers of India and Pakistan are even closer to the brink of war. Well, you name it.

Another example. Farmers created the Green Revolution by dumping nitrogen on their fields; this washed into the sea and now oxygen free dead zones in the ocean are popping up faster than mushrooms after a rain. Meanwhile, much of the carbon dioxide pumped out by industry has been recently found to be absorbed by oceans, which are reaching the saturation point. Soon corals and shellfish will be unable to fix calcium from the tepid, acidic water of the sea. Yeah, I know, you name it.

People are, or should be, looking around desperately for real solutions, real quick.

There is one book that holds many key answers to this mess. If there were any sense in the world it would be a planet-wide bestseller. It is one of the most important and abiding influences in my writing career. I am referring to Abdu'l-Baha's "Secret of Divine Civilization." Some five years ago the Universal House of Justice called it "a celebration of the creative role played by the rational faculty -- God's greatest gift to humankind -- in the advancement of civilization." (Letter dated 2003 Nov 26, To the Followers of Baha'u'llah in the Cradle of the Faith, p. 1) They pointed to a passage in Secret where the civilization known as "the West" is portrayed as drowning in materialism and a "sea of passion and desire,"

"Be just: can this nominal civilization, unsupported by a genuine civilization of character, bring about the peace and well-being of the people or win the good pleasure of God? Does it not, rather, connote the destruction of man's estate and pull down the pillars of happiness and peace?" (Secret, 62)

Many millions have had their hopes raised by the rise of a president-elect promising change. Yet Abdu'l-Baha here points to the only thing that can offer realistic hope for stable, universal change would be a "genuine civilization of character." It is not in outward superficialities but in our character that God promises to work miraculous changes. I just came across the following, attributed to Socrates, which describes exactly the approach that Secret of Divine Civilization is proposing,

"Where God is our teacher we all come to think alike." (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 15:3)

In Abdu'l-Baha's first public talk, given in London, He pointed out the outstanding lessons of character that God has in mind for all of us to learn in this age of crisis,

"The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers." (Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, 19-20)

When Abdu'l-Baha says "the world will be seen as a new world" He is speaking of a special kind of knowing, the knowledge of identity. That is, we will suddenly have the ability to see the oneness of ourselves, humanity, and the singleness of our beliefs, the basic oneness behind all the religions. He also reminds us that that there is one purpose to which all our aims must be directed: peace. All of His other principles bolster this goal. None of them is contentious or political because each is clearly an aspect of character, the specialization of one aspect of the principle of the Oneness of God to this time.

Never have Abdu'l-Baha's words and principles, been more desperately needed. We all need to summon up the faith and character to search out reality for ourselves, then recognize and accept God's twin gifts, a common oneness as human beings and the underlying oneness of purpose behind all His religions. Unless we do that fast, we will remain embroiled in war, violence and insecurity and, well, you name it.

John Taylor



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