Anyone wanting a thorough and stimulating explanation of what the Bahá’í community is currently attempting to do need look no further than this book. Paul Lample examines in detail not only the purpose of what we are doing (the ‘why’) but also its nature (the ‘what’) and its manner (the ‘how’). He also looks at how our understanding of what we are about has developed over time.
He brings to this task not only the wisdom within the Bahá’í Writings, but also valuable insights from other disciplines such a sociology and philosophy. A central concern is the nature of ‘social reality,’ which, as he reminds us (page 7), is a ‘product of the human mind.’ He goes on to say:
Social reality mediates our engagement with the world, physical and spiritual, and it is this reality that we have the capacity to create anew (ibid).
He explains (page 10) that for Bahá’ís ‘[r]evelation creates consensus around new truths so that we, the co-creators of reality, can begin to transform the existing social order.’ Language is a key component in this process in that it both shapes and is shaped by social reality. There is a crucial distinction, he feels (page 21), between Revelation as the undiluted Word of God and religion as the way the Word is applied. He reminds us (page 23) of the analogy used by Shoghi Effendi that Bahá’í ‘community life’ is ‘an indispensable laboratory’ where we can ‘translate into living and constructive action’ the principles which we ‘imbibe from the Teachings.’
What then follows is a detailed analysis of the implications of this truth for us now as we seek to help rebuild a broken world through our determined and concerted efforts to perfect our understanding of this revelation through a process of study, consultation, action and reflection (page 86). It would be impossible to convey even a faint flavour of this analysis in a short review, covering as it does such major considerations as, for example, the hermeneutical principles of the Bahá’í Faith (page 36), the relationship between science and religion (page 115), objectivism vs. relativism (page 170) and ‘communities of practice’ (page 219).
It is important to stress that this analysis is not a dry-as-dust intellectual exercise but a vibrant and compelling engagement with the day-to-day challenges that confront all of us in our efforts to put into practice the teachings of the Faith which we all love and which we see as being able to make a critical, unique and indispensable contribution to the transformation of society.
Paul Lample also enables us to see the need to do this with humility in a spirit of collaboration with all people of goodwill (page 109):
. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilization-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others. A host of individuals and institutions contribute to the forces that are propelling social transformation.
It is imperative that we not only learn to draw upon the power of divine assistance but also (page 110) to ‘collaborate effectively with like-minded individuals and organisations.’
This is a book that, when you reach the bottom of its last page, you want to go back to the beginning and start it all over again.