Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Being Human" in the Day of God

In numerous places, the central figures of the Baha'i faith speak of Baha'u'llah's arrival as the sign of humanity's coming of age. Millennia of practice in the revealed religions combined with greater contact between the world's peoples have uniquely qualified this juncture in history for securing the unity and prosperity of all humanity. This maturity is in some sense already achieved with the coming of Baha'u'llah. But to a large extent it is waiting to be seized. For this reason, a long struggle is required. The following passage charts out the connection between the nobility of the human form and the realization of the new era, the Day of God.

The All-Merciful hath conferred upon man the faculty of vision, and endowed him with the power of hearing. Some have described him as the “lesser world,” when, in reality, he should be regarded as the “greater world.” The potentialities inherent in the station of man, the full measure of his destiny on earth, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God. (GWB CLXII)

Baha'u'llah's designation of humanity as a greater rather than lesser world expresses a basic optimism in human nature. Human beings no doubt are worthy of both praise and rebuke. But its is humanity's power towards good, his divinely bestowed nobility that makes the difference for Baha'u'llah. So in His writings "being human" is not synonymous with lowliness. Exaltation is the rule and not the exception. This is seen whenever the Baha'i writings speak of the human form in general as distinct from particular human actions.

Throughout the Baha'i writings humanity is understood as a high ranking occupant within a cosmic hierarchy of beings. God is at the top, while bare matter is at the bottom. Humanity stands imbetween God and the Animal. Each level of the hierarchy represents a particular quality. Beings exhibit those qualities represented by their level and all levels below them. Abdu'l Baha spoke frequently of this arrangement in His travels through the United States and Europe. Its language is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with his manner of discussion. At the bottom of the hierarchy is bare matter, the Mineral. Immediately above it is the Vegetable, which in addition to bare matter is also endowed with the power of growth. The Animal in turn possesses the power of sense perception. Finally, the Human consummates and recapitulates these lower levels in the possession of an intellect. For this reason, Abdu'l Baha declares that, [t]he most noble and praiseworthy accomplishment of man therefore is scientific knowledge and attainment. (Foundations of World Unity 48-49) Science then is the expression of humanity's preeminence over lower forms of creation.

Through the possession of an intellect humanity humanity is endowed with what Abdu'l Baha regards as the most praiseworthy power of man, the ability to struggle back against the natural world. He goes on,

The earth and its myriad organisms, all minerals, plants and animals are thralls of its dominion. But man through the exercise of his scientific, intellectual power can rise out of this condition, can modify, change and control nature according to his own wishes and uses. Science, so to speak, is the “breaker” of the laws of nature. (49)

Trans-oceanic sailing, airplanes, submarines, and electric light are all offered as examples of "law-breaking." Humanity is a creature empowered in a wide variety of ways to assert his will to life over and against the natural world. To a large extent He is a creature who by means of himself is empowered to live for himself. Through the bestowal of an intellect humanity can attain to prosperity in this world as well as in the next. That salvation as well comes as a self-salvation is pivotal in understanding the role of human nature in the Day of God. Through the mobilization of powers bestowed innately on the human form the Manifestation of God expresses his dominion over humanity through the ascendency and influence of human servants. Thus the passage: The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. (GWB CXXXII)

In one particularly revealing passage Baha'u'llah rank orders God's gifts to humanity. The first is understanding, the purpose of which is to know and recognize the one true God. (GWB XCV) It furthermore empowers humanity to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation. Below this is vision and below it the other senses. However, the picture is incomplete if one were to suppose that humanity is his own greatest gift. Baha'u'llah trumps His earlier statements by explaining that Divine Revelation is preeminent above these earlier gifts. He goes on to state that [e]very bounty conferred by the Creator upon man, be it material or spiritual, is subservient unto this. Along the same lines He states in another writing: Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. (GWB XXVII) In both passages Divine Revelation is the force activating those energies latent within the human form.

In an almost paradoxical twist Baha'u'llah elsewhere affirms the pivotal role of free choice and human volition in activating these latent energies. Unto each one hath been prescribed a pre-ordained measure, as decreed in God’s mighty and guarded Tablets. All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth. (GWB LXXVII) In the same passage Baha'ullah goes on to state that the foreknowledge of God does not cause human behavior, that it is instead the mere beholding of freely willed acts.

The juxtaposition of humanity's simultaneous dependence on both Divine Revelation and free will to set in motion these latent energies frames effectively the historical destiny the Baha'i writings ascribe to humanity. Though this age has been assigned as the dawning of the Day of God, humanity is not dragged along as a spectator. Action is required. Choices must be made. New beginnings must be called into being.