Two weeks ago, the United States once again had a presidential election, its 58th in an uninterrupted series held every four years since George Washington, predictably to occur in yet another four years.
During the 1912 presidential election, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – Center of the Covenant of the Bahá’í Faith and Son of Bahá’u’lláh – had been visiting America. (Click here for this blog’s post from four years ago.) He had been raised and lived most of His life as a prisoner and exile under two oppressive and corrupt dictatorial regimes, and had recently been freed as a result of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 that brought partisan politics to a then-Sultanate Empire. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá longed to travel to the democratic America, which was counseled years earlier by Bahá’u’lláh to adorn its land with justice.
The day after the 1912 presidential election, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá happened to be in Washington DC, and gave a series of 10 publicly recorded talks over 5 days before heading off to New York.
His first post-election talk – Wednesday, November 6th, 1912 – included a number of points, on liberty, on brotherhood, on the capacity of America, some of which are below.
He mentions the “freedom, hospitality and universal welcome extended to me during my recent travels throughout America” and then speaks of liberty:
“The standard of liberty is held aloft in this land. You enjoy political liberty; you enjoy liberty of thought and speech, religious liberty, racial and personal liberty.”
Liberty and liberalism, though, He defines as “justness and equity toward all nations and people”, not merely as childish unfettered freedom. Ensuring justice and equity sometimes requires a constraint on freedom as it is traditionally conceptualized.
Brotherhood, or fraternity, is His next topic. He speaks of different kinds: family bonds, patriotism, racial unity, and altruistic love of humankind. These are all limited and liable to change and disruption, as we have witnessed over and over throughout history and in this country. A spiritual brotherhood, on the other hand, will result in an indissoluble unity. “We may be able to realize some degrees of fraternity through other motives, but these are limited associations and subject to change. When human brotherhood is founded upon the Holy Spirit, it is eternal, changeless, unlimited.”
In various parts of the world, this brotherhood and love had seemed to disappear; ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned the Balkan Wars of 1912 and the turmoil in the Middle East. Yet, “The world of humanity is one, and God is equally kind to all” He asserts, and the “source of unkindness and hatred in the human world” is division, citing examples of war and greed.
He goes on,
“As to the American people: This noble nation, intelligent, thoughtful, reflective, is not impelled by motives of territorial aggrandizement and lust for dominion. Its boundaries are insular and geographically separated from the other nations. Here we find a oneness of interest and unity of national policy. These are, indeed, United States. Therefore, this nation possesses the capacity and capability for holding aloft the banner of international peace. May this noble people be the cause of unifying humanity. May they spread broadcast the heavenly civilization and illumination, become the cause of the diffusion of the love of God, proclaim the solidarity of mankind and be the cause of the guidance of the human race. Therefore, I ask that you will give this all-important question your most serious consideration and efforts. May the world of humanity find peace and composure and this dark earth be transformed into a realm of radiance. May the East and West clasp hands together. May the oneness of God become reflected and fully revealed in the hearts of humanity and all mankind prove to be the manifestations of the favors of God.“
Yet, it is not naïve utopia is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is promoting. He acknowledges that “Necessarily there will be some who are defective amongst men”. His remedy, however, is based on the principles of love and unity, never admitting an “us and them” disunity; rather, He continues, “but it is our duty to enable them by kind methods of guidance and teaching to become perfected.” Diversity implies a relative spectrum, meaning some will be on the right, some of the left, some further ahead, some behind, in any given measure. The solution is not to cast one group aside in favor of another, but to help each group, knowing that we are all interconnected and, in the end, united and one. He writes,
“Others are immature and like children; they must be trained and educated so that they may become wise and mature. Those who are asleep must be awakened; the indifferent must become mindful and attentive. But all this must be accomplished in the spirit of kindness and love and not by strife, antagonism nor in a spirit of hostility and hatred, for this is contrary to the good pleasure of God. That which is acceptable in the sight of God is love. Love is, in reality, the first effulgence of Divinity and the greatest splendor of God.”
Finally, He ends with a prayer that is well-known to many Bahá’ís: “O Thou compassionate Lord, Thou Who art generous and able! We are servants of Thine sheltered beneath Thy providence. Cast Thy glance of favor upon us. Give light to our eyes, hearing to our ears, and understanding and love to our hearts. Render our souls joyous and happy through Thy glad tidings. O Lord! Point out to us the pathway of Thy kingdom and resuscitate all of us through the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Bestow upon us life everlasting and confer upon us never-ending honor. Unify mankind and illumine the world of humanity. May we all follow Thy pathway, long for Thy good pleasure and seek the mysteries of Thy kingdom. O God! Unite us and connect our hearts with Thine indissoluble bond. Verily, Thou art the Giver, Thou art the Kind One and Thou art the Almighty.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá understood the capacity of the American people. Just because we aren’t demonstrating that potential now, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Maturity is hard work, falling back into habits of childhood is the easy way out. It requires effort and determination to release capacity, yet it is as inevitable as a tree releasing its capacity to bear fruit. The question for everyone reading is: what type of gardeners are we going to be to the orchard of America?
For the rest of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s post-election DC talks, and the rest of His talks throughout America, please see The Promulgation of Universal Peace.