Revelation and Society
The last post ended with a look at the election of the Universal House of Justice. A recent book describes their role:
[The House of Justice] guides a community engaged in a dialogical process of learning to translate the teachings into action over time to create a new social order manifested in the lives of individual believers, the creation of a distinctive Bahá’í community, and the advancement of civilisation.
(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality page 57)
At the time of the Anniversary of the passing of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith in 1992 a
statement about Bahá’u'lláh was issued:
Divine Revelation is, He says, the motive power of civilisation. When it occurs, its transforming effect on the minds and souls of those who respond to it is replicated in the new society that slowly takes shape around their experience. A new centre of loyalty emerges that can win the commitment of peoples from the widest range of cultures; music and the arts seize on symbols that mediate far richer and more mature inspirations; a radical redefinition of concepts of right and wrong makes possible the formulation of new codes of civil law and conduct; new institutions are conceived in order to give expression to impulses of moral responsibility previously ignored or unknown . . . . As the new culture evolves into a civilisation, it assimilates achievements and insights of past eras in a multitude of fresh permutations. Features of past cultures that cannot be incorporated atrophy or are taken up by marginal elements among the population. The Word of God creates new possibilities within both the individual consciousness and human relationships.
One of the key institutions of the Faith repeats this theme at about the same time:
The greatest gift to a people is to assist them in developing the capacity to apply Bahá’u'lláh’s Revelation, chart a proper path for their own progress and contribute to the progress of humanity.
(International Teaching Centre 22nd November 1992: para. 45)
It is important to emphasise that the Revelation of Bahá’u'lláh is not just for Bahá’ís. Teaching the Faith is not just to persuade people to become Bahá’ís and swell our numbers. People can take the ideas away and use them in their own way.
And again four years later the Universal House of Justice returned to the same idea:
A community is . . . . a comprehensive unit of civilisation composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of systems, agencies and organisations working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders; it is a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.
(Universal House of Justice: Ridván 1996)
This possibility of influencing large numbers of people in various ways has implications. The challenges of growth will test and develop the capacities of our institutions at all levels, but ‘ultimately these bodies were designed to serve large numbers of people.’ Indeed, ‘so much of the ability of the Faith to develop capacity for community building depends upon the size of our membership.’ (Building Momentum: page 17)
It’s time to look more closely at this concept of ‘capacity building’ in the sense in which we are using it here and ‘civilisation building,’ our other theme, and the way both of them link to growth. We will be seeing how these two things also link to character-building, consciousness raising and empowerment
Growth is not just about numbers but also about maturation, consciousness and empowerment. But numbers are important. Without ‘mass,’ not in the Roman Catholic sense, our impact will be small.
Shoghi Effendi has assured Bahá’ís that growth is the answer to fulfilling the potentialities of our Administrative Order:
The problems which confront the believers at the present time, whether social, spiritual, economic or administrative, will be gradually solved as the number and the resources of the friends multiply and their capacity for service … develops.
(Quoted in Building Momentum: page 16)
The Universal House of Justice has stated:
A massive expansion of the Bahá’í community must be achieved far beyond all past records . . . . . The need for this is critical, for without it the laboriously erected agencies of the Administrative Order will not be provided the scope to be able to develop and adequately demonstrate their inherent capacity to minister to the crying needs of humanity in its hour of deepening despair.
(Building Momentum: page 17)
The purpose of growth is to meet the crying needs of humanity. It is not for its own sake. And it doesn’t just mean more Bahá’ís. It does not mean serving people in order to induce them to become Bahá’ís. It means seeking to empower them to take control of their own destiny in the most creative way possible.
To have any hope of empowering others has meant that first we have had to find a way of empowering ourselves.
It is evident, then, that a systematic approach to training has created a way for Bahá’ís to reach out to the surrounding society, share Bahá’u’lláh’s message with friends, family, neighbours and co-workers, and expose them to the richness of His teachings. This outward-looking orientation is one of the finest fruits of the grassroots learning taking place.
(Building Momentum: page 9)
To be more outward-looking has meant that increasingly Bahá’í communities have been removing barriers: we are becoming a borderless community.
Having an ‘outward-looking orientation’ also suggests that it is important for Bahá’ís to understand more deeply the forces operating on the world stage and the solutions offered by the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh: training has played a part in this kind of consciousness-raising as well.
Our task is to convey to seekers that we are all living in the same world, facing common trials, and striving to fulfil similar, long-held aspirations for the human race. Our expressions of solidarity with our fellow human beings must be sincerely voiced and genuinely felt.
(Building Momentum: page 19)
We have had to achieve a better understanding of what’s happening in the world to our fellow human beings. There must though be no trace of an ulterior motive in our service to humanity. Bahá’u’lláh’s powerful reminder of our common humanity is ringing in our ears:
O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.
(Hidden Words from the Arabic: No. 69)
We will look more closely at empowerment, capacity building and the training process in the next post.