The poem I recently published as well as the spirit of global understanding generated by the Olympic and Paralympic Games led me to feel that it would be worthwhile re-publishing the first two posts in this sequence. At the foot are links to the five more specifically focused posts of the sequence.
Who Do You Think You Are?
We are half way through a new series of the popular BBC show, Who Do You Think You Are, which sees celebrities exploring the secrets of their family trees, reacting to their unpredictable discoveries with a combination of tears and elation. It’s fascinating viewing and its popularity tells us a lot about where we look when we are seeking clues to our identity.
Our search could take another direction altogether. Instead of looking to the past we could look towards the future. Instead of seeing ourselves shaped by ancestral experiences and our genetic heritage, and behaving accordingly, we could define our identities in terms of the purpose we see our lives having. What are we here for? What do we want to achieve?
And these ambitions need not be constrained by relatively short-term purely personal purposes. In this sequence of posts I want to explore the possibility that we could create a meaningful identity for ourselves around the notion that we are here to contribute to the shaping of the future of our society.
The Bahá’í Perspective
This is not just for Bahá’ís. While it is true that we see a role for the Bahá’í Community in the betterment of the world, it is also true that the vast majority of the world’s population has to become involved. This entails a combination of consciousness-raising and empowerment. How, exactly, are we going to achieve that?
Realization of the uniqueness of what Bahá’u'lláh has brought into being opens the imagination to the contribution that the Cause can make to the unification of humankind and the building of a global society. The immediate responsibility of establishing world government rests on the shoulders of the nation-states. What the Bahá’í community is called on to do, at this stage in humanity’s social and political evolution, is to contribute by every means in its power to the creation of conditions that will encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking.
(Century of Light: page 94)
In 1985 our international governing body issued a statement to the leaders and the peoples of the world concerning world peace, which they see as something for all of us to work for. They wrote:
Whether peace is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice before all who inhabit the earth.
They speak of the change of consciousness that is needed if this is to come about:
Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind. Universal acceptance of this spiritual principle is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. It should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools, and constantly asserted in every nation as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies.
(Promise of World Peace: Section III)
Clearly this will take time and dedicated effort. Something else is also necessary:
Some form of a world super-state must needs be evolved, in whose favour all the nations of the world will have willingly ceded every claim to make war, certain rights to impose taxation and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions. Such a state will have to include within its orbit an International Executive adequate to enforce supreme and unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth; a World Parliament whose members shall be elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments; and a Supreme Tribunal whose judgement will have a binding effect even in such cases where the parties concerned did not voluntarily agree to submit their case to its consideration.
They urge us all to lend our weight to this mighty and essential project:
Let men and women, youth and children everywhere recognize the eternal merit of this imperative action for all peoples and lift up their voices in willing assent. Indeed, let it be this generation that inaugurates this glorious stage in the evolution of social life on the planet.
Even that though will not be enough. Our daily lives need to be imbued with this vision of civilisation-building.
Responsibility for the Welfare of the Entire Human Family
The Universal House of Justice has already unpacked very clearly what this must mean to us (see my earlier post on Working for a Divine Arkitect). When the buildings on Mount Carmel were complete, the following words were read at the opening ceremony:
. . . the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionising principle will increasingly empower individuals and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to . . . the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.
(Universal House of Justice: 24 May 2001 in Turning Point page 164)
For ‘individuals’ I think it’s fair to read ‘everyone’ whether Bahá’í or not.
The Bahá’ís have a particular role to play:
The rest of humanity has every right to expect that a body of people genuinely committed to the vision of unity embodied in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh will be an increasingly vigorous contributor to programmes of social betterment that depend for their success precisely on the force of unity. Responding to the expectation will require the Bahá’í community to grow at an ever-accelerating pace, greatly multiplying the human and material resources invested in its work and diversifying still further the range of talents that equip it to be a useful partner with like-minded organizations.
(One Common Faith: page 50)
It goes on to unpack the implications of this:
If Bahá’ís are to fulfil Bahá’u’lláh’s mandate, however, it is obviously vital that they come to appreciate that the parallel efforts of promoting the betterment of society and of teaching the Bahá’í Faith are not activities competing for attention. Rather, are they reciprocal features of one coherent global programme.
(One Common Faith: pages 51-52)
So, it is important to recognise that these aims are not incompatible but reciprocally reinforcing. The next post will attempt to clarify how the vision of the Bahá’í community has developed over the years in terms of how to give these insights practical expression in the alienated complexities of the modern world. Subsequent posts (see list below) looked at three aspects of the work Bahá’ís do that are responses to the call of this vision of civilisation-building.
Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (a)
Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (b)
Humanity is our Business (4/5): Devotional Meetings
Humanity is our Business (5/5): (a) The Plight of Children
Humanity is our Business (5/5): (b) What can we do for our children?