Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Next Stage

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Next Stage

Article excerpt

THE NEXT STAGE

Bahá'ís can perhaps be forgiven if we occasionally give in to a sense that our Faith is the world's best-kept secret. Objectively speaking, the Cause is a unique achievement. As a community, it can fairly claim to represent a cross section of the entire human race; as a system of thought, it operates confidently at the leading edge of discourse on the evolution of civilization; as an example of what moral integrity can achieve-in the case of the Bahai community under decades of persecution aimed at its total extermination-it has no parallel in modern history. Moreover, in the view of no less an observer than Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Bahai Faith has today become the world's most widespread of the independent religions, second only to Christianity.

Why, then, is the Faith still so relatively little known? One says "relatively," as some readers may be familiar with a number of countries where the Bahai community has become a significant, if still modest, voice in civil society. The same is true, although on a greater scale, of the role that the community's institutions play at the international level, in the consultative work of agencies connected with the United Nations, as well as in the collaborative undertakings of the world's influential nongovernmental organizations.

While these circumstances are gratifying, Bahai impact on public consciousness, at least in most Western countries, remains low. To take one example, a professional survey commissioned in 2001 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States indicates that, while most of those persons polled who were to some extent familiar with the word "Bahá'í" held a quite positive view of it, such respondents still represented, at best, only an estimated 28 percent of the total population of the country. This is a welcome advance over the 5 percent calculated in surveys conducted twenty years earlier, but the number is still surprisingly small. It is safe to suggest that comparable studies in European countries would be substantially lower.

Sensitive to the responsibility for the promotion of the Faith, laid on all its members in the Writings, some Bahá'ís may view the situation simply as evidence of their own and others' failure. There is no doubt a measure of truth in such painfully candid assessments. Certainly, the injunction "Bring thyself to account each day" (Hidden Words, Arabic no. 31) has to be the guiding standard for the individual believer in teaching as in all other aspects of life.

At the community level, however, such an attitude would be more than merely misleading; to ignore a truth expressed repeatedly and with great force throughout the Writings would deny the Faith the historical perspective needed to illumine its path. The point is fundamental to Baha u'lláh's description of the unfoldment of the Divine purpose:

Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. ... In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed . . . ('Gleanings 87-88)

The relevance of the principle to the teaching of the Faith was expressed succinctly in a brief address given by Abdu'l-Bahá' shortly after His arrival in America:

In this world we judge a cause or movement by its progress and development. Some movements appear, manifest a brief period of activity, then discontinue. Others show forth a greater measure of growth and strength, but before attaining mature development, weaken, disintegrate and are lost in oblivion. Neither of these mentioned are progressive and permanent.

There is still another kind of movement or cause which from a very small, inconspicuous beginning goes forward with sure and steady progress, gradually broadening and widening until it has assumed universal dimensions. …

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