Monday, April 18, 2011

A distant goal

Baha'u'llah wrote: "Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous. Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust on the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto everyone shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed." [Baha'u'llah, Súriy-i-Mulúk, published in The Summons of the Lord of the Host, page 190]

In its letter of 28 December 2010, Paragraph 14, the Universal House of Justice provides a sobering assessment for the Baha'i community. This is one of my most favorite passages. It helps us to better appreciate the importance of the tasks of teaching, of expansion and consolidation, in the light of the greater task of building a new civilization. Let us look at each sentence separately. I will indicate the quotes from this paragraph in italics and in quotation marks.

What should be apparent is that, if the Administrative Order is to serve as a pattern for future society, then the community within which it is developing must not only acquire capacity to address increasingly complex material and spiritual requirements but also become larger and larger in size."

It should be clear that there is no shortage of religions in the world. Baha'i Faith has not come merely to give people one other religion, or to add to the confusion that characterizes religious life of mankind. Rather the goal of the Baha'i Faith is to create a model for the future society. 
The human family has gone through several stages of development from childhood through adolescence. As we stand at the threshold of maturity, it is imperative that we have a visible model from which we can learn. 
Considering the ongoing changes in the world, and the ferment of thought that is sweeping the communities in the Middle East and North Africa, many communities may look to the West for a model of freedom and democracy. While this may be better than dictatorship, those of us who live in the West are painfully aware of how woefully inadequate it is. But since the masses of the people do not see a better alternative, they cannot imagine what could be better. In particular  there are no societies that adequately address both the material and spiritual requirements of people.

If we want to model the workings of a small community, all we need is one small community. But if we want to model the workings a more complex society, then we need a larger community. 

"How could it be otherwise.  A small community, whose members are united by their shared beliefs, characterized by their high ideals, proficient in managing their affairs and tending to their needs, and perhaps engaged in several humanitarian projects -- a community such as this, prospering but at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity, can never hope to serve as a pattern for restructuring the whole of society."

The current Baha'i community is perhaps the most diverse community in the world, comprising as it does people from the most diverse backgrounds throughout the world. And yet there is a danger that in one locality or another the people live at a "comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity". If this happens, even for a short period of time, such a community will be lost among the privileged few, and lose its relevance to finding a lasting solution. 

"That the worldwide Baha'i community has managed to avert the dangers of complacency is a source of abiding joy to us.  Indeed, the community has well in hand its expansion and consolidation."

The goal then is to build a significantly large community that strives to live according to the vision of Baha'u'llah for humanity. But this is not just about having many adherents for the sake of building a larger religious community. It is a clear and obvious difference, that can be easily misunderstood. Such a larger community is not an end in itself. Rather it is a means by which we can learn how to build a global society. We readily admit that there are others who also contribute to the development of the new global civilization. And in our effort to build such a civilization we need to practically understand how to  "administer the affairs of teeming numbers".

"Yet, to administer the affairs of teeming numbers in villages and cities around the globe -- to raise aloft the standard of Baha'u'llah's World Order for all to see -- is still a distant goal.”

And we should work towards realizing such a distant goal, sooner rather than later. 

The following questions pertain to this paragraph.

1.     Why is it necessary for the Bahá’í community “to become larger and larger in size”? 

2.     What other capacity must be acquired by the Bahá’í community?

3.     What does it look like when a community operates “at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity”?

4.     Why is it not sufficient for a community to merely be “engaged in several humanitarian projects”?

5.     From a global perspective the Bahá’í community has “well in hand its expansion and consolidation”. What might be needed in your cluster to reach this goal? 

6.     What remains “still a distant goal”? And what capacities need to be developed to attain such a goal?

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