Beyond the Century of Light

Commensurate with the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh and His charge “…upon all mankind to establish the Most Great Peace” 1 is the rapid increase in our deeper knowledge of liberal arts and sciences along with particular technological developments that, when combined with ongoing guidance from Bahá’í institutions, facilitate our efforts to fulfill this mandate.

Just as the Declaration of The Báb on May 23, 1844 2 marked the beginning of the Bahá’í Era during which mankind would enter its Golden Age, 3 the first message—“What hath God wrought?”—sent at almost the same time by Samuel Morse on his newly-invented single-wire telegraph noted the advent of communications by an electronic device on a global scale.

And just as spiritual messages about the Bahá’í Faith have reached audiences in every corner of the globe and its ranks have grown in response, the material means of sharing information, gaining knowledge, understanding context, and making decisions has expanded thereby presenting opportunities for humanity to become more inclusive and unified.

In many of His addresses to audiences during His journey to America in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá characterized the 20th century as the “Century of Light.” 4 He foresaw that scientific and societal progress enveloped within the spiritual forces unleashed by the Bahá’í Faith as it unfolded in the years ahead would lay the groundwork for “the unity of all mankind.” 5

Building upon the pioneering efforts of Charles Babbage (first mechanical computer), Ada Lovelace (the first computer algorithm), and Georg Simmel (first in-depth inquiry into the nature of social networking) among others in the 19th century gave rise in the 20th to the first electronic computer (ENIAC 1945), followed by a rapid succession of developments in computing platforms, computer networking, the birth of the Internet (ARPANET), Artificial Intelligence, personal computers, web browsers, social media, etc. These developments combined with commensurate advances in virtually every field of human endeavor during this same period have transformed how we as humans perceive ourselves, our world, and the consequences of our behavior. Most notably, it has increased our awareness that changes based solely on what we know are insufficient to keep humanity out of harm’s way (like “driving by looking in the rearview mirror”). Accordingly, it has our increased receptiveness to a constant, unwavering spiritual framework—renewed for this age by the authority of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant 6 and represented by the institutions of the Bahá’í Faith—that can lead us safely into an uncertain future.

This matrix of material and spiritual means that evolved throughout the Century of Light, provides humanity with an ideal blend of capability, capacity, and inspiration to draw upon throughout this century. Key aspects of this matrix include:

  1. Widespread understanding about and appreciation for the organizing principles of unity, love, and justice;
  2. Proliferation of powerful “tools” made available through the arts and sciences in the physical world; and,
  3. Uninterrupted spiritual guidance tailored for the exigencies of the present but honoring the overall intent and purpose of human endeavor—achieving the Most Great Peace—and directing the evolution of social systems to this noble end.

In effect, we have a rare opportunity to be both witness and part of the dynamics of social systems as they enter “far from equilibrium” or “dissipative” states that characterize ongoing transformation. Given the times we are in, this opportunity is unparalleled in human history. Armed with organizing principles, physical tools, and a spiritual framework gained during the Century of Light, we are well-prepared as actors / agents to participate in and contribute to the transformation of multiple social systems, simultaneously, as the new World Order 7 continues to evolve. And in so doing our ongoing learning about how to be all-inclusive, interdependent, and collectively responsible for our mutual welfare will inevitably lead to the fulfillment of spiritual prophecy and humanity’s purpose:

… in this wondrous Dispensation the earth will become another earth and the world of humanity will be arrayed with perfect composure and adornment. Strife, contention, and bloodshed will give way to peace, sincerity, and harmony. Among the nations, peoples, kindreds, and governments, love and amity will prevail and cooperation and close connection will be firmly established. 8.

  1. “We have enjoined upon all mankind to establish the Most Great Peace—the surest of all means for the protection of humanity.”
    Baháʾuʾlláh. Tablets of Baháʼuʼlláh, Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Translated by Habib Taherzadeh. 1st ed. Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tablets-bahaullah/4#436777914
  2. “This is 23 May, the anniversary of the message and Declaration of the Báb. It is a blessed day and the dawn of manifestation, for the appearance of the Báb was the early light of the true morn, whereas the manifestation of the Blessed Beauty, Bahá’u’lláh, was the shining forth of the sun. Therefore, it is a blessed day, the inception of the heavenly bounty, the beginning of the divine effulgence.”
    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, 138. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/10#796487182
  3. “God’s purpose is none other than to usher in, in ways He alone can bring about, and the full significance of which He alone can fathom, the Great, the Golden Age of a long-divided, a long-afflicted humanity.”
    Effendi, Shoghi. The Promised Day Is Come. 1941. Rev. ed, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980.
    https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/shoghi-effendi/promised-day-come/5#451903766
  4. “Let this century be the sun of previous centuries, the effulgences of which shall last forever, so that in times to come they shall glorify the twentieth century, saying the twentieth century was the century of lights, the twentieth century was the century of life, the twentieth century was the century of international peace, the twentieth century was the century of divine bestowals, and the twentieth century has left traces which shall last forever.”
    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, 125-126. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/9#193351893
  5. “Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century. Of this past ages have been deprived, for this century—the century of light—hath been endowed with unique and unprecedented glory, power and illumination. Hence the miraculous unfolding of a fresh marvel every day. Eventually it will be seen how bright its candles will burn in the assemblage of man.”
    ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. Selections from the Writings of ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. Translated by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. Haifa: Bahá’í World Center, 1978, 31-32. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/selections-writings-abdul-baha/3#355125495.
  6. Universal House of Justice. “7 December 1969 – [Letter to an Individual].” Bahá’í Reference Library, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19691207001/1#472228632. Accessed 20 June 2021.
  7. “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.”
    Baháʾuʾlláh. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Haifa: Baháʾi World Centre, 1992. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/kitab-i-aqdas/7#908010112.
    See related “Note 189. this new World Order”—
    Baháʾuʾlláh. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Haifa: Baháʾi World Centre, 1992. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/kitab-i-aqdas/16#851215062.
  8. ʻAbduʾl-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Translated by Laura Clifford Barney. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʾí Publishing Trust, 1981., 63-64. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/some-answered-questions/5#663848080.