Religion: The Driving Force Behind Human Civilization 1
THE CHURCH OF THE Ascension in New York’s Greenwich Village hosted ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first public talk in America. “Since my arrival in this country I find that material civilization has progressed greatly,” he told them on April 14, 1912, “but spiritual civilization has been left behind.” It was a message that resonated strongly with the congregation. The church was a leading force in America’s Social Gospel movement, a cause born of a belief that Christians must be active agents in the world, devoted to such social justice issues as the alleviation of poverty, and the rights of exploited workers and minorities. Walter Rauschenbusch, its most prominent theologian, argued for “collective salvation.” He contended that Jesus did not die as a substitute for original sin, but rather “to substitute love for selfishness as the basis for human society.”
The imperative of the modern age, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the congregation, is to establish a just and peaceful society on a global scale. He noted that political power would never be equal to the task. Faith in racial or national identities would similarly fail. Nothing short of the power of religion, he said, could establish the motivational or ethical foundations needed for a unified world. …
But even as religion transforms civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued, it too must change. While its moral core remains the same throughout time, he explained, its social laws are designed for a specific age. When stubbornly clung to, they become a source of irrationality and decay. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá discussed how the religion of Moses had been renewed by Jesus, and again by Muhammad. Each time the pattern was the same: these founders of the great religions were born into decaying societies, and effected a wholesale transformation in their moral, cultural, educational, and economic character.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued repeatedly in America that nothing short of the unifying power of religion could generate global peace and justice in the modern age. His father, Bahá’u’lláh, had re-voiced religion’s eternal teachings, and brought the social guidance needed for an age in which the unification of the planet was within reach. Bahá’u’lláh had abolished the priesthood, challenged people to investigate truth independently from outside influences, urged them to banish all forms of superstition and prejudice, and affirmed that service to the entire human race was the highest form of worship.
Final Days in America: New York City 2
On Sunday, December 1, one of the subjects Abdu’l-Bahá discussed was universal peace:
“… they [Americans] can succeed in bringing about universal peace, provided they take the right stand and the nation and government put forth strenuous efforts to carry out the teaching and principles of God. This question of peace in the religion of Bahá’u’lláh is a positive command and religious obligation. It is not the resolution of a congress or the edict of a parliament of a nation or a country so that it can be considered as permeated with selfish desires and be subject to amendments. It is a positive divine command and is, thus, certain to come to pass. As opposition to Christ is considered a sin in the terminology of that religion, the rejection of peace has the same status in the religion of Bahá’u’lláh.”
Sunday, December 01, 1912 3
Some of the friends came to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá very early in the morning. They saw Him at prayer and heard from His lips the prayers and verses of the Supreme Pen.
At the Master’s residence, streams of visitors were honored to attain His presence and grateful for His blessings and favors. Aflame with the love of God, they showed reverence towards His Cause.
The Master’s talk concerned the capacity of the Americans to bring about universal peace. He said:
“As Americans are removed from most political difficulties they live at ease in isolation and, compared to most other regions, are more desirous of peace and harmony, so they can succeed in bringing about universal peace provided they arise as they should and the nation and government put forth strenuous efforts and, through spiritual power, carry out the divine teachings and principles. The matter of peace, in the religion of Bahá’u’lláh, is a firm command and a religious obligation. It is not the resolution of a congress or the edict of a committee of some nation or country influenced by selfish desires and subject to amendments. Because it is a fundamental principle, it will inevitably come to pass. As the denial of Christ and opposition to Him are considered infidelity in religious terminology, the rejection of peace has the same status in the religion of Bahá’u’lláh.
No affair in the world succeeds without sacrifice. Up to now twenty thousand persons have been sacrificed for this Cause. The Bahá’ís have accepted every affliction and persecution. For forty years I was in a prison for promulgating universal peace and the oneness of humanity. Because these teachings were contrary to the interests and the despotism of the Sháh of Persia and the Sultán of Turkey, they arose in opposition and oppression. With all their power they girded their loins to uproot and efface the Cause of God. But the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh was victorious and the fame of His Revelation spread worldwide. Every opponent was overthrown and humiliated because this Cause was supported by the All-Powerful and because His teachings answer the need of the age to promote human happiness and provide supreme guidance.”
In the afternoon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to a group of Christian ministers, saying:
“The teachings of Christ are forgotten. Consider that Christ commanded Peter to sheathe his sword. He also said, ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’ [Matt. 5:39]. But now, contrary to these teachings, see how Christians are killing one another. Christian leaders considered the shedding of the blood of each other a lawful act. What blood has been shed over the conflict between Protestants and Catholics!”
This evening the Master spoke at a public meeting at Mrs Kinney’s home about superstitions, dogmas and the blind imitation of the various religions, concluding with an explanation of the teachings of the Abhá Beauty. As supper was served, and as He had at other times, the Master invited some of the friends to His table to enjoy the Persian dishes. They were overjoyed to see their Master’s smile and to hear His stories.
29 November 1912, Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Kinney, 780 West End Avenue, New York 4
As to the third meaning of sacrifice, it is this: If you plant a seed in the ground, a tree will become manifest from that seed. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. If the identity of that seed had not been sacrificed to the tree which became manifest from it, no branches, blossoms or fruits would have been forthcoming. Christ outwardly disappeared. His personal identity became hidden from the eyes, even as the identity of the seed disappeared; but the bounties, divine qualities and perfections of Christ became manifest in the Christian community which Christ founded through sacrificing Himself. When you look at the tree, you will realize that the perfections, blessings, properties and beauty of the seed have become manifest in the branches, twigs, blossoms and fruit; consequently, the seed has sacrificed itself to the tree. Had it not done so, the tree would not have come into existence. Christ, like unto the seed, sacrificed Himself for the tree of Christianity. Therefore, His perfections, bounties, favors, lights and graces became manifest in the Christian community, for the coming of which He sacrificed Himself.
As to the fourth significance of sacrifice: It is the principle that a reality sacrifices its own characteristics. Man must sever himself from the influences of the world of matter, from the world of nature and its laws; for the material world is the world of corruption and death. It is the world of evil and darkness, of animalism and ferocity, bloodthirstiness, ambition and avarice, of self-worship, egotism and passion; it is the world of nature. Man must strip himself of all these imperfections, must sacrifice these tendencies which are peculiar to the outer and material world of existence.
On the other hand, man must acquire heavenly qualities and attain divine attributes. He must become the image and likeness of God. He must seek the bounty of the eternal, become the manifestor of the love of God, the light of guidance, the tree of life and the depository of the bounties of God. That is to say, man must sacrifice the qualities and attributes of the world of nature for the qualities and attributes of the world of God. For instance, consider the substance we call iron. Observe its qualities; it is solid, black, cold. These are the characteristics of iron. When the same iron absorbs heat from the fire, it sacrifices its attribute of solidity for the attribute of fluidity. It sacrifices its attribute of darkness for the attribute of light, which is a quality of the fire. It sacrifices its attribute of coldness to the quality of heat which the fire possesses so that in the iron there remains no solidity, darkness or cold. It becomes illumined and transformed, having sacrificed its qualities to the qualities and attributes of the fire.
Likewise, man, when separated and severed from the attributes of the world of nature, sacrifices the qualities and exigencies of that mortal realm and manifests the perfections of the Kingdom, just as the qualities of the iron disappeared and the qualities of the fire appeared in their place.
Every man trained through the teachings of God and illumined by the light of His guidance, who becomes a believer in God and His signs and is enkindled with the fire of the love of God, sacrifices the imperfections of nature for the sake of divine perfections. Consequently, every perfect person, every illumined, heavenly individual stands in the station of sacrifice. It is my hope that through the assistance and providence of God and through the bounties of the Kingdom of Abhá you may be entirely severed from the imperfections of the world of nature, purified from selfish, human desires, receiving life from the Kingdom of Abhá and attaining heavenly graces. May the divine light become manifest upon your faces, the fragrances of holiness refresh your nostrils and the breath of the Holy Spirit quicken you with eternal life.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Sockett, Robert. “Religion: The Driving Force Behind Human Civilization.” 239 Days in America, 1 Dec. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/12/01/religion-the-driving-force-of-human-civilization/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 190-191. ↩
- ’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=10#section253 ↩
- 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, 451-452. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/33#235439943 ↩