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Steps to Peace - Train for Virtues
Some days the news makes me feel that humanity is adept at snatching yet more war from the very jaws of peace. It seems like all the work towards conflict resolution is regularly negated by a few naysayers willing to use violence to reheat age-old grievances. Why is that?
Given all the psychological studies and sociological investigations and philosophical treatises on peace and utopia, why hasn't humanity as a whole responded? Thousands of years of religious teaching seems to result in progress only by fits and starts. Successes only last for a few generations, before the negative forces come back into play.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, describing the current state of the world in his book, The Secret of Divine Civilization, has this to say: "Today we have closed our eyes to every righteous act and have sacrificed the abiding happiness of society to our own transitory profit. We regard fanaticism and zealotry as redounding to our credit and honor, and not content with this, we denounce one another and plot each other's ruin, and whenever we wish to put on a show of wisdom and learning, of virtue and godliness, we set about mocking and reviling [others]." - p. 56
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that God's creation has been evolving towards the lofty promise of peace on Earth, and that mankind is capable of developing virtues in the image of God, but only through personal free will. The results, then, will be uneven, and progress will be in peaks with valleys in between, until the species reaches maturity. "The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds." - Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 298
However, such development must be by personal commitment, not by divine force, according to Bahá'í teachings. In order to facilitate growth while allowing people to learn by mistakes, religious guidance over time has been revealed on the basis of human readiness. What appear to be separate religions are actually chapters in the same religious Book, with the same spiritual laws repeated, and perhaps differing social laws applicable to the time. But the heart of it all, "...is the fundamental basis which comprises all spiritual things...it refers to the spiritual virtues and divine qualities; this does not change nor alter: it is the Holy of Holies, which is the essence of the Law of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh, and which lasts and is established in all the prophetic cycles. It...is faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy. It shows mercy to the poor, defends the oppressed, gives to the wretched and uplifts the fallen." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 47
So, for Bahá'ís, today is not only a renewal of religion, but is also the beginnings of that promised age of maturity. For the first time in recorded history, the world of humanity is physically and spiritually capable of building that golden age which has been its goal for so long. But, again, it will come from individual commitment to growth, not through divine intervention of the sort that would relieve mankind of its responsibilities. Bahá'ís are not waiting for God to clean up the mess, but are actively involved in building their own characters, in raising up children who can be a new race of man, in bettering their neighborhoods and serving mankind. They are confident these virtues are the tools by which a peaceful world can be made.
Their religion promises them that God is on their side: "We beseech the One true God to guide them one and all, that haply they may not be deprived of the fruit of faith and trustworthiness, nor be withheld from the light of equity and justice." Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 127
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