Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Birth of the Human Being: Beyond Religious Traditionalism and Materialist Modernity

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Birth of the Human Being: Beyond Religious Traditionalism and Materialist Modernity

Article excerpt

According to the worldview of the Bahá'í Faith we have arrived at a turning point in the evolution of human history. This turning point is primarily the moment of the birth of the human being. In this paper I will first define what I mean by "the birth of the human being" and its opposite concept, namely, the logic of dehumanization. Then I will trace the development of this idea in the Writings of the Báb, Baha u'lláh, and Abdu'1-Bahá.

The Birth of the Human Being

Human history so far has been primarily a history of dehumanization. We humans have perceived neither others nor ourselves as human beings and therefore we have treated each other as objects and animals. Dehumanization is the process through which human beings are reduced to the level of nature, objects, and physical bodies. Humans as humans, however, are defined by their consciousness, their reason, their spiritual powers and perfections.

We can begin our discussion by referring to two symbols of the birth of the human being. The first is the ancient symbol of Egyptian culture, the sphinx. This enigmatic symbol has been interpreted in various ways. But from a dialectical perspective, the sphinx represents the meaning and purpose of human history. The sphinx denotes a being whose body is an animal while his face is human. In other words, the purpose of history is the emergence of the human being out of the realm of nature.1 The human being is a natural being which is the vehicle for the realization of consciousness, spirit, and moral attributes. The emergence of a human face-symbolizing reason and spirit-out of the physical and biological background of humans is the emergence of the truth of the human being. Unfortunately, throughout history we have treated humans not as beings with a "human face" but rather as natural, biological, and animal beings.

The second symbol is a modern principle formulated in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. He presents a new definition of the human being and further elaborates on that definition by discussing the true basis of human honor, morality, and identity:

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. (Tablets 167)

In this statement Bahá'u'lláh identifies the human being as one who is characterized not by the will to domination but by dedication to the universal interests of the entire human race. Universalistic orientation of service is the defining feature of the human being. In this statement, a social and political interpretation of Darwinism which finds human society a jungle of struggle for existence is replaced by a consciousness of the oneness of humanity, an attitude of service to all human beings, and a morality that is not based upon naturalistic ties of kinship, blood, or habit. That is why Bahá'u'lláh immediately identifies a new sense of morality.

According to Dürkheim, the boundary of morality is the boundary of the social group. Human beings identify themselves collectively in terms of their own group and follow a moral double standard in their behavior towards insiders and outsiders. People outside the group become strangers, objects, and enemies whose domination, enslavement, plunder, and murder are perceived as heroic moral acts. In fact, the premodern definition of human beings was primarily based upon such a conception of humans as members of specific communities and their sense of natural belongingness to the group. However, this "social belongingness" was based upon naturalistic feelings, ties of kinship, and habits of everyday interaction. Such a naturalistic morality was a pact of collective violence against other groups. …

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