The Religious Pulse of Modern America 1
“LET ANY ONE OF us look around him, and talk to his neighbors, humble or prosperous, and see if he does not find a spiritual craving.”
These were the words of Winston Churchill, not the future British prime minister but a bestselling novelist in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Like many artists, Churchill frequented Dublin, staying most summers in nearby Cornish, on the border with the state of Vermont. He came for horse shows, and to attend Joseph Lindon Smith’s plays at Teatro Bambino.
In the January 1912 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Churchill wrote an article entitled “Modern Government and Christianity.” It offered a window into the religious pulse of America.
“Think of the people we all may count among our acquaintances who are studying Buddhism and Sufism and Babism!” Churchill wrote. “All of this means something; it is surely a sign of the age.” He observed in his contemporaries “the emptiness of a life that does not include service,” yet noted a growing consciousness of “the glaring inequalities and injustices of our modern civilization.” He concluded: “If we have eyes to see, and ears to hear, we stand on the threshold of a greater religious era than the world has ever seen.”
The spiritual transformation of the modern world was one of the main themes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had addressed in America. At Tiny May on August 6, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw several new faces in the crowd, and he decided to answer a few questions. …
New Hampshire 2
On August 14 He told on audience “‘I desire the meeting more than you. Some of the disciples of Christ went to Roumania once and said, “We had a desire to see you so we have come from Jerusalem to this place.” Now behold what a desire I had to see you; I traveled from East to the West.’”
Wednesday, August 14, 1912 3
All the friends had been informed that the Master would soon leave Dublin for Green Acre in Eliot, Maine, and that time was running out. They asked Him to speak on economics and to correct certain false ideas of the socialists. His explanations were so impressive that after He left they implored Him to reveal a Tablet on this subject and send it through Mrs Parsons so that it might remove doubts from the minds of the people. The following is a transcription of that Tablet:
“Dublin: To the maidservant of God, Mrs Parsons.
“Upon her be Bahá’u’lláhu’l-Abhá.
“He is God.
“O thou, my spiritual daughter,
“I am on a train on my way to San Francisco. I recalled your praiseworthy qualities and the dear face of little Master Jeffrey, so I wanted to write this letter. Know that my greatest pleasure will be when I shall see you, my dear daughter, enraptured and completely charmed by the paradise of Abhá, and aflame with the fire of the love of God. May my dear daughter burn and melt like a candle to enlighten all people. It is my hope that thou mayest be so.
“Regarding the question of economics according to the new teachings, as this caused some difficulty for you because the report you received did not reflect what I said, I shall outline the essence of this matter so that it will be clearly proven that there is no complete solution for the economic question apart from that offered in the new teachings. It is absolutely impossible to resolve the problem by other means.
“In solving this problem we must start with the farmer and end with other trades, because there are twice as many farmers, if not more, as there are people engaged in other trades. Thus it is right that we begin with them. The farmer is the primary factor in society.
“In every village a council of wise men of the village should be established and the whole village should be placed under its jurisdiction. In addition, a public treasury should be established with its own administrator. At harvest time a specific quantity of the general produce of the village should be appropriated for the treasury. This treasury will have seven sources of income, namely: tithes, taxes on livestock, unclaimed inheritance, property that has been found but that has no owner, buried treasure (if found, one third of it should be paid to the council), mines (one-third of the natural resources taken should be levied by the council) and donations. Likewise, there are to be seven categories of expenditure: first, moderate public expenditures such as the expenses of the council and maintenance of public health; second, payment of government taxes; third, payment of taxes on livestock to the government; fourth, care of orphans; fifth, providing for the disabled; sixth, management of schools; and seventh, providing the necessary means of livelihood for the poor.
“The first means of income is the tithe, which must be administered as follows: If a person’s average income is $500 and his necessary expenses amount to the same sum, no tithe will be collected from him. If another person has an income of $1,000 and his necessary expenses amount to $500, he will be able to pay the tithe because he will have more than he needs. If he pays the tithe there will be no decline in his standard of living. Another has an income of $5,000 and his expenses are only $1,000, so he will have to pay one and one-half times the tithe because he has an even greater amount than he needs. Another has an income of $10,000 and his necessary expenses amount to $1,000; therefore he will have to pay two times the tithe because his surplus is larger. Another person has an income of $100,000 and expenses amounting to $4,000 or $5,000; he will have to pay one-fourth of his income. Another has an income of $200 but the expenses he requires to live at subsistence level amount to $500. He spares no pains in working and laboring for his livelihood but the fruit of his labor is inadequate. He must be helped from the treasury so that he may not be in want and may live in comfort.
“In every village a certain amount should be allocated for the orphans there. The disabled must be provided for. The treasury must also provide for the needy who are unable to work. The council will also allocate a certain amount for the department of education and for public health. If there is a surplus, it will be transferred to the national treasury for general expenses. If it be thus arranged, every individual in society will live comfortably and pass his days happily.
“Differences in station will also remain and no breach will occur in this respect. Gradations of rank are without doubt one of the essentials of society. Society is like an army. An army requires field marshals, generals, colonels, captains and privates. It is utterly impossible for all professions to be equal. Preservation of rank is necessary. But each individual in the army must live in perfect peace and comfort. Likewise, a town requires a mayor, judges, merchants, men of means, craftsmen and farmers. Of course, these ranks must be observed, otherwise the general order would be disrupted.
Convey my heartfelt love to Mr Parsons. I shall never forget him. If possible, have this letter published in one of the newspapers, as others are proclaiming these principles in their own names. Convey wondrous Abhá greetings to Qudsíyyih.
“Upon you be Bahá-u’l-Abhá.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “The Religious Pulse of Modern America.” 239 Days in America, 14 Aug. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/08/14/the-religious-pulse-of-modern-america/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 122. ↩
- ’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=6#section143 ↩