Militarizing Human Ingenuity 1
The invention of flight was an example of the ingenuity and aspiration that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá found so compelling in Americans. What surprised many was his eager embrace of technology. When speaking to Americans about the spiritual nature of humankind — in essence, what sets us apart from animals — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned to technological examples.
“A human being can soar in the skies or speed in submarine depths,” 2 he told an audience in New York [Boston] on April 15 [May 25]. “All the sciences, arts and discoveries were mysteries of nature, and according to natural law these mysteries should remain latent, hidden; but man has proceeded to break this law, free himself from this rule and bring them forth into the realm of the visible.” … 3 [New York on April 15]
“The greatest intelligence of man is being expended in the direction of killing his fellow man,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said in his interview with the munitions maker Hudson Maxim in New York. “The discovery of high explosives, perfecting of death-dealing weapons of war, the science of military attack, all this is a wonderful manifestation of human intelligence, but it is in the wrong direction.”
During ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s time in the West, he spoke often about the dangers of material progress unhinged from spiritual and moral development. In New York he offered an aeronautical metaphor to define a dilemma central to modern progress: “Two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilization; the other is spiritual power and divine civilization. With one wing only, flight is impossible . . . no matter how much material civilization advances, it cannot attain to perfection except through the uplift of spiritual civilization.” 4
New Jersey: The Unity Feast 5
In Newark, on Thursday [June 27], as they walked through the park, the Persian friends were aware of passersby staring at the unusual scene of the American friends following in reverence after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Thursday, June 27, 1912 6
‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to Montclair today and was in the best of health and happiness. He was engaged all morning explaining religion, dispensing the glad tidings of the Most Great Manifestation and expounding on the veils that envelop the people. Group after group came to Him, and each left with the utmost devotion and humility.
In the afternoon, at the request of Mr Edsall and other friends, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to the park to rest for awhile. He said, as He left the tram at the entrance of the park, ‘What great changes have occurred! What waves have swept over us and brought us here! Let us see what waves are still to come.’
A gazebo was set on a small rise in the center of the park. There the Master sat on a bench, inviting Mr Edsall, his son-in-law and us to sit near Him. He stated, ‘The Committee of Union and Progress in Constantinople is very good but both internal and external enemies are laying plans to imprison me again on my return to the Holy Land.’ When we said that it might have been better had He remained in Egypt, He replied:
“My beginning and my end, the place from which I start and the place to which I return is the Holy Threshold. What I have is from that Threshold and to it I shall return. Had it not been for His aid and assistance, would these people sitting on your right and left have any concern about you and me? We must be just and speak the truth. Who are we that we should be showered with these favors? Compare the position of Persia with that of America.”
Later He spoke about certain verses in the Qur’án, saying:
“In reality these verses are the most convincing proof of the all-sufficing greatness and nobility of the Prophet of God [Muhammad], Who, triumphant and powerful, yet sets forth God’s address to Him with the words: ‘Thou didst not understand, ere this, what “the Book” was, nor what the faith was'[Qur’án 83:52]. And, ‘Unless we had confirmed thee, thou hadst certainly been very near inclining unto them [the unbelievers] a little. They would have taken thee for a friend’ [Qur’án 17:73-4]. All such verses are proofs of the truth and greatness of Muhammad. An imposter does not express weakness and ignorance when in a state of power and majesty. However, the people of desire interpret these verses otherwise.”
Again, He said:
“Once I said to Mírzá Muhammad Qulí, ‘Do you remember the days in Baghdád when we had not even fifteen paras to have a hot bath? We must now appreciate the favors of the Blessed Beauty and, in thankfulness, gird up our loins to serve Him. He has guided, assisted and made us victorious in this world as well as in His Kingdom.’”
The Master spoke at length about the withdrawal of the Blessed Beauty from Baghdád. He told of the prayers of the friends of God who recited, ‘Yá Alláh-ul-Mustagháth’, the receipt of the news of the bequest of Áqá Abu’l-Qásim-i-Hamadání, their eventual tracing of Bahá’u’lláh to the place in Sulaymáníyyih where He had taken abode, and then their dispatching a petition to the Blessed Beauty for His return.
The Master then got up and went towards the hotel. When He entered it, two wealthy ladies, guests at the hotel, were seated in the lobby. As soon as they saw Him they requested permission to be introduced to Him. The Master returned to the lobby a littler later and took a seat near them. They asked His purpose and He related to them a brief history of the Cause, something of the prison of ‘Akká and the spread of the fragrances of God. They remarked that He appeared to be very wealthy. He replied, ‘My riches are of the Kingdom and not of this world.’ They said that the signs of wealth were very evident. The Master then said, ‘Although I have nothing, yet I am richer than all the world.’ Then He spoke about true wealth and the transient nature of worldly affairs, citing passages from the Bible. During this discourse an elegant couple passed by and, hearing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s voice, stopped to listen to His explanations. The two ladies and the couple were so astonished and charmed that the believers were spellbound by their transformation. The ladies gave their names and addresses to Mr Edsall so that they might meet with the friends and be counted among the people of Bahá.
What can I say? Every morning and evening hearts are fascinated and souls attracted to the Abhá Kingdom by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is accomplished even though He had neither rest nor relaxation. He used to say, ‘If my happiness and spirituality could come to the fore and my mind be at rest, then you would see how hearts could be attracted and souls set ablaze.’
When He returned home, He found a multitude waiting for Him. The gathering was even larger than before, with both new and old friends coming from New York, Newark and Montclair. As it was the last evening of the Master’s stay, the hearts were especially attracted and the minds full of a unique spirit. He spoke on the need for the breaths of the Holy Spirit in the material world and about the education of humanity through divine power.
Talk at Hotel Ansonia, Broadway and Seventy-third Street, New York, 17 April 1912
During my visit to London and Paris last year I had many talks with the materialistic philosophers of Europe. The basis of all their conclusions is that the acquisition of knowledge of phenomena is according to a fixed, invariable law—a law mathematically exact in its operation through the senses. For instance, the eye sees a chair; therefore, there is no doubt of the chair’s existence. The eye looks up into the heavens and beholds the sun; I see flowers upon this table; I smell their fragrance; I hear sounds outside, etc. This, they say, is a fixed mathematical law of perception and deduction, the operation of which admits of no doubt whatever; for inasmuch as the universe is subject to our sensing, the proof is self-evident that our knowledge of it must be gained through the avenues of the senses. That is to say, the materialists announce that the criterion and standard of human knowledge is sense perception. Among the Greeks and Romans the criterion of knowledge was reason—that whatever is provable and acceptable by reason must necessarily be admitted as true. A third standard or criterion is the opinion held by theologians that traditions or prophetic statement and interpretations constitute the basis of human knowing. There is still another, a fourth criterion, upheld by religionists and metaphysicians who say that the source and channel of all human penetration into the unknown is through inspiration. Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration. 7
Briefly, the point is that in the human material world of phenomena these four are the only existing criteria or avenues of knowledge, and all of them are faulty and unreliable. What then remains? How shall we attain the reality of knowledge? By the breaths and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which is light and knowledge itself. Through it the human mind is quickened and fortified into true conclusions and perfect knowledge. This is conclusive argument showing that all available human criteria are erroneous and defective, but the divine standard of knowledge is infallible. Therefore, man is not justified in saying, “I know because I perceive through my senses,” or “I know because it is proved through my faculty of reason,” or “I know because it is according to tradition and interpretation of the Holy Book,” or “I know because I am inspired.” All human standards of judgment are faulty, finite. 8
’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
- Sockett, Robert. “Militarizing Human Ingenuity.” 239 Days in America, 27 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/27/militarizing-human-ingenuity/. ↩
- 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, 144. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/10#975098386 ↩
- Ibid, 17. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#123097438 ↩
- Ibid, 12. [https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/15#557843750] ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 100. ↩
- ’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=4#section95 ↩
- The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 20-21. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#771269637 ↩
- Ibid, 22. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#575673545 ↩