Blame It On Religion 1
IT’S NOT BEEN A month since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in America, yet he has succeeded in placing himself at the center of virtually all of the nation’s raging debates. He has championed women’s rights. He has challenged whites and blacks to work together. He has argued that, of all nations, America is uniquely capable of leading the world to peace.
He is the unlikeliest of spokesmen: a sixty-eight-year-old Middle-Easterner, recently released from forty years captivity at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, accompanied by an entourage of men wearing fezzes.
But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has shown that he is entirely at home in America. He converses with ease in the company of scientists, philosophers, businessmen, politicians, and men of religion, whether Christian or Jew.
Racial equality. Social progress. International peace. For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá these matters are fundamentally spiritual in nature. Yet the faith he offers isn’t one of mystical contemplation, though there seems time for that too. As he noted at the temple’s cornerstone ceremony three days ago: spiritual devotion must be manifested in material action.
On Saturday, May 4, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to the Theosophists at Northwestern University in Evanston… 2
Talk to Theosophical Society, Northwestern University Hall, Evanston, Illinois
The spiritual blessings of God are greatest. When we were in the mineral kingdom, although we were endowed with certain gifts and powers, they were not to be compared with the blessings of the human kingdom. In the matrix of the mother we were the recipients of endowments and blessings of God, yet these were as nothing compared to the powers and graces bestowed upon us after birth into this human world. Likewise, if we are born from the matrix of this physical and phenomenal environment into the freedom and loftiness of the spiritual life and vision, we shall consider this mortal existence and its blessings as worthless by comparison.
In the spiritual world the divine bestowals are infinite, for in that realm there is neither separation nor disintegration, which characterize the world of material existence. Spiritual existence is absolute immortality, completeness and unchangeable being. Therefore, we must thank God that He has created for us both material blessings and spiritual bestowals. He has given us material gifts and spiritual graces, outer sight to view the lights of the sun and inner vision by which we may perceive the glory of God. 3
Saturday, May 4, 1912 4
As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Chicago was drawing to a close, there were numerous meetings and receptions. In the morning some clergymen visited Him in His hotel room. At the usual daily reception, He spoke about the three kingdoms of nature and the need for comprehensive education. He then went to the Plymouth Congregational Church, which was magnificent and most beautifully decorated. Its rector, Dr [Joseph A.] Milburn, had seen the Master several times and was greatly attracted to Him. After the customary service, the rector introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“Having heard of the teachings and the peerless qualities of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I arranged to leave for ‘Akká. Then I was informed that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Himself, was coming to America. Now God has endowed us with a great blessing that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has graced us with His presence here.
He then went on to give a detailed history and teachings of the Cause and introduced the Master as the Herald of Peace and the Son of God, ‘Abbás Effendi.
As the Master approached the pulpit, the congregation rose to their feet, and although they were in church, they greeted Him with prolonged applause and cheers of joy. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called them to order then spoke about the manifestation of the center of illumination and the Sun of Truth which appears at different times at different points of the zodiac, thus illustrating the renewal of religions and the unity of the Messengers and the Holy Books. At the end of His talk He chanted a prayer in Persian in a melodious voice.
The hearts of the listeners were so attracted that the church seemed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The people crowded around ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the extent such that it became difficult for the Master and His companions to leave. Groups of people surrounded Him to shake His hand and to ask for His blessing. The most surprising thing about these meetings was that although most of the people had never before heard of the Bahá’í teachings, they were so attracted and fascinated that they would follow the Master in their cars from one meeting to another.
’ Abdu’l-Bahá had lunch at the home of Dr Forde and after meeting with a few people, He left for the hotel, saying, ‘Let us walk for a while, and then take the tram.’ Our host and some of us suggested that the distance was great and pointed out that Mr Forde’s car was available. At our insistence, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rode in the car but as it twice punctured its tires, He took the tram.
When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at the hotel, many people were already waiting for Him. He answered their questions, for which they were filled with gratitude. One person asked him about the future affairs of Asia and the countries in the East. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a detailed answer:
“No progress is possible except through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Cause of God. Each of the Manifestations of God appeared amongst a nation and in a country which outwardly had no means of salvation or progress. But no sooner had those nations come under the shelter of the Cause of God than they excelled all the civilized countries of the world. Today, whichever nation raises the standard of the oneness of humanity and comes under the shelter of this divine power will ultimately lead the whole world.
Question: ‘What is the difference between the Bahá’í religion and the other religions of the world?’
“The foundation of all the religions is one and this foundation is truth. In this respect there is no difference between either the divine religions or their Founders. The subsidiary laws that pertain to the affairs of society differ. These social laws are subject to the demands of time and place, so they are modified in each age.
Question: ‘What are evil and bad qualities?’
There is no evil in the world of existence; rather, evil is the absence of goodness just as darkness is the absence of light.
Speaking of the exigencies of the material world and its creation, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:
“It [the world of creation] calls for change and transformation. Without change there can be no composition or development. Change and transformation, decomposition and composition produce opposites. In the realm of reality, however, there are no opposites. Consider the world of the sun, which has neither darkness nor east and west. But owing to the exigencies of this world, there is night and day, light and darkness.
After answering these questions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went with Mrs [Corinne] True and other friends to a Chicago cemetery to offer prayers for the departed.
In the early evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to the All-Souls Church. A great excitement was also created among the people of this church. His eloquent address, given in sweet and melodious tones, concerned the missions of the Divine Manifestations of God and the peace and unity of humanity. He concluded His talk with a detailed account of the Most Great Manifestation, Bahá’u’lláh, and the influence of His exalted Word.
After members of the audience came to Him to shake His hand and express their thanks and devotion, He went to the home of Dr Melborne [sic], the rector of the Congregational Church. There He gave a most impressive and eloquent talk on the benefits of peace and harmony and the harm caused by war and strife. He discussed the requisites for prosperity and the unity of humankind. It was the last night of His stay and the effect of His words was so deep and far-reaching that it is beyond description.
- Sockett, Robert. “Blame It On Religion.” 239 Days in America, May 4, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/05/04/a-man-of-both-faith-and-reason/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 55. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 90. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/4#018271400 ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=3#section41. ↩