The Word of God dictates the dynamics of civilization over history and dominates the destiny of events. It is our privilege as souls and individuals to participate and contribute to the inaction of God’s Will in the history of humankind as it unfolds, if God accepts such service. In order to serve, it is important to know what God’s Will is; and in order to know God’s Will we would have to recognize where to turn to learn it. Historically, humankind has known and worshiped God through His Manifestations– the Authors of the great world religions.
Religion was created for the betterment of the world, to inculcate kindness and patience in human character. Religion teaches us to have faith, which empowers people to transcend attachments to selfish and material things that often motivate harmful behavior. As the latest chapter in the unfoldment of religion, the Baha’i Faith redeems and contextualizes all past religions, like Christianity and Islam that came before it.
Because the Baha’i Faith affirms other religions and prescribes the uniting of all particularistic worldviews, it is worth bolstering and defending against ignorance and prejudice. But fanaticism in Iran has caused the Muslim clergy to persecute the Baha’is. In a similar way, materialistic fanaticism through consumer culture has questioned beliefs at the core of religion in the West, such as the value of spiritual life and the need for Prophets or even faith in God.
Wherever they are found, fanaticism and fundamentalism are a harmful fire in the heart, that can be very detrimental to others and to the peace and security of society. Take for instance the violence between ISIS and the Shi’ih people of Iraq. For the Baha’is of Iran, and the people of Iraq, it is comforting to know that God sees the pain and suffering that religious fanaticism has caused and heals, exalts, bestows, and rewards those who endure and overcome it with patience and courage. Perhaps, one of the greatest condemnations of those who benefit from crime, both violent and moral, is the manifest implication through behavior that shows they actively embrace a philosophy that regards social justice as their enemy. The fanatic thwarts himself, in demonstrating desperation.
In the Tabernacle of Unity, Baha’u’llah teaches that we can protect ourselves from fanaticism and fundamentalism by remembering that there is only one God, and that his Word influences the world through the Revelation of successive Prophets or Manifestations of God over the ages. This concept is termed progressive revelation–the belief that humankind has experienced a single phenomenon called Religion (singular) comprising all the various world religions revealed successively over time by God’s Will for humankind in a socially and historically-appropriate manner.
To endure fanaticism and fundamentalism, Baha’u’llah teaches, we can pray to God saying, “aid me with the ensigns of Thy power and might” and “protect me from the mischief of Thine enemies who have violated Thy Covenant and Thy Testament.” Baha’u’llah says that this prayer acts as an “impregnable stronghold” in that it confers protection and can be likened unto an “indomitable army” in the way that it ensures deliverance.
“Consider the sun. Were it to say now, “I am the sun of yesterday,” it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth.” ~Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan
A few days ago passed the 120th anniversary of the first mention of the Baha’i Faith in the Western hemisphere. At last, the spiritual forces released by Baha’u’llah’s Revelation had an “initial conversation” through which they could be channeled. Many of the early Baha’is of the West interacted with the Faith through this initial conversation – whether they were present, read about in it a newspaper, or heard about it in a subsequent conversation.
September of 1893, just over a year after Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension, Reverend George Ford, a missionary in Syria, read a paper by a Presbyterian minister named Henry Jessup, at the World Parliament of Religions held in downtown Chicago. After speaking about Christianity, he ending the speech with,
In the Palace of Bahjí , or Delight, just outside the Fortress of ‘Akká, on the Syrian coast, there died a few months since, a famous Persian sage, the Bábí Saint, named Bahá’u’lláh -the “Glory of God”- the head of that vast reform party of Persian Muslims, who accept the New Testament as the Word of God and Christ as the Deliverer of men, who regard all nations as one, and all men as brothers. Three years ago he was visited by a Cambridge scholar and gave utterance to sentiments so noble, so Christlike, that we repeat them as our closing words:
“That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religions should cease and differences of race be annulled. What harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Thus began a discourse on Baha’u’llah’s principle of the oneness of humankind.
One way to think about discourse is as the instrumentality through which spiritual forces are able to influence the hearts and minds of human beings. As thoughts and habits of behavior are altered, so are social structures. The initial conversation – the Word of God brought by a Manifestation of God and subsequently spread across the world – leads to a community dedicated to translating high ideals into action. This new system of values reorders consciousness and behavior and restructures the administration of society. Eventually, a civilization emerges that embodies the concepts contained throughout this conversation. As more and more people engaged in this conversation, the civilization becomes more and more just – as justice requires universal participation. And as it becomes more and more just, it takes on higher degrees of unity.
The discourse on peace that began 120 years ago in the heart of North America has gained in strength and momentum, and taken on degrees of complexity. The conversation has taken many forms and included many topics over the last century, and is currently about a community-building endeavor that receives its impetus from an education process that seeks to build capacity in its protagonists for acts of service through imparting skills, insights, and knowledge. But it’s always been the same conversation. This is humanity’s conversation about its spiritual and social destiny – all can contribute, all have a say. And at a deep level, all are connected to it….all can learn from it and advance it. The conversation’s aim is to empower populations to take charge and responsibility for their own development, as a people. In what ways are your daily thoughts, words, and actions contributing to this conversation?
According to Abdu’l-Baha, wealth inequality, can be attributed to the “extreme greed and rapacity of the manufacturers and industrialists.” He furthermore identifies the root cause of income disparity as the defunct operations of the legislative branch of government:
“The principal cause of these difficulties lies in the laws of the present civilization; for they lead to a small number of individuals accumulating incomparable fortunes, beyond their needs, while the greater number remain destitute, stripped and in the greatest misery.”
Abdu’l-Baha introduces concepts into His discourse that rarely find equivalent parallels in the modern discourse on economic policy. Instead of dominant values such as “economic growth”, He emphasizes “justice”; instead of “profits” He emphasizes “humanity” and “equity”. His appeal to new concepts is grounded in a metaphysics that transcends the modern foundations of economics, which are outdated. The remedy to economic injustice He specifies lies in legislation designed to ensure that private profits go to meet the needs of the impoverished masses:
“…Rules and laws should be established to regulate the excessive fortunes of certain private individuals and meet the needs of millions of the poor masses; thus a certain moderation would be obtained…”
The exact proportion of workers wages as a function of CEO or owner income that is most conducive to justice, Abdu’l-Baha specifies as 20-25%. Therefore the average laborer should earn 20-25% of the total income earned by an owner or CEO. The majority shareholder of a corporation for example could expect to see approximately 4-5 times as much share in the profits as the average worker would. No more.
“Laws and regulations should be established which would permit the workmen to receive from the factory owner their wages and a share in the fourth or the fifth part of the profits…The body of workmen and the manufacturers should share equitably the profits and advantages…”
Today the average CEO “earns” 360 times as much as his average employee. According to Abdu’l-Baha’s vision, the ratio of reward for investment vs reward for labor is not as distorted in favor of investment as is today’s market. The power balance between the labor and capital markets today is not tenable in the context of justice. Furthermore, honest labor should come with the guarantee of social security and retirement packages for aging populations. According to Abdu’l-Baha,
“The capital and management come from the owner of the factory, and the work and labor, from the body of the workmen… Either the workmen should receive wages which assure them an adequate support and, when they cease work, becoming feeble or helpless, they should have sufficient benefits from the income of the industry; or the wages should be high enough to satisfy the workmen with the amount they receive so that they may themselves be able to put a little aside for days of want and helplessness.”
The accumulation of excessive wealth is itself a burden and carries with it natural and moral dangers for individuals. Extremes of wealth and poverty engender social unrest between classes. Violence and crime become means of survival for the poor as well as weapons of retribution for their suffering against the rich. Wealth in itself is a transient entity that will not endure beyond its utility in this world. Large sums of wealth carry with them the burden of responsibility and administration for its owner. In the words of Abdu’l-Baha:
“If the fortune is disproportionate, the capitalist succumbs under a formidable burden and gets into the greatest difficulties and troubles…[for] the administration of an excessive fortune is very difficult and exhausts man’s natural strength”
Abdu’l-Baha advises people who control vast means of production that they exercise moderation in the acquisition of profits, instead diverting the majority of their funds to the infrastructure of their company, the needs of employees, or the welfare of society:
“It lies in the capitalists’ being moderate in the acquisition of their profits, and in their having a consideration for the welfare of the poor and needy”
For Abdu’l-Baha, the profits of a corporation do not belong to whoever arbitrarily purchased more of their stock. On the contrary, there is a moral right intrinsic to the workers who created the products to ownership of a fixed and definite proportion of the profits:
“Workmen and artisans receive a fixed and established daily wage—and have a share in the general profits of the factory…” “And it is from the income of the factory itself, to which they have a right, that they will derive a share…”
Moderation in the profits of the owner are linked to the retirement security of the laborers as well as the cost of caring for and rearing the worker’s offspring. The social security net of work covers not only the individuals who work but their family and children until they become old enough to be independently financially responsible:
“It would be well, with regard to the common rights of manufacturers, workmen and artisans, that laws be established, giving moderate profits to manufacturers, and to workmen the necessary means of existence and security for the future. Thus when they become feeble and cease working, get old and helpless, or leave behind children under age, they and their children will not be annihilated by excess of poverty.”
Abdu’l-baha advises congress to legislate on matters of workers rights and the share of profits to be apportioned to owners vs laborers in a just and impartial manner. By this statement He rules out the legitimacy of lobbyists or special interests swaying the partiality of the law-makers. It would be important for them to remain “impartial” in this regard and to legislate laws of profit distribution in accordance with principles of justice.
“But the mutual and reasonable rights of both associated parties will be legally fixed and established according to custom by just and impartial laws.”
If owners oppress laborers by refusing to pay them their share of the profits or treating them poorly or providing abusive working conditions, the judicial branch is responsible for passing a ruling in defense of the laborers, and the president and department of justice would be responsible for penalizing the corporation, procuring the profits due to the unpaid workers and establishing measures for the continuation of a just relationship:
“In case one of the two parties should transgress, the court of justice should condemn the transgressor, and the executive branch should enforce the verdict; thus order will be reestablished…”
Abdu’l-Baha clearly situates the relationship between employers and employees within the public sector, endorsing the validity and importance of state-run workers rights regulations:
“The interference of courts of justice and of the government in difficulties pending between manufacturers and workmen is legal, for the reason that current affairs between workmen and manufacturers cannot be compared with ordinary affairs between private persons, which do not concern the public, and with which the government should not occupy itself.
A coherent conception of society underlies Abdu’l-Baha’s vision of the relationship between the private and state sectors and the role of governance and law in ordering and regulating capital and labor markets:
“If one of these suffers an abuse, the detriment affects the mass. Thus the difficulties between workmen and manufacturers become a cause of general detriment.”
The Baha’i principle of unity is the nexus through which all things are connected. Pain of the part necessitates pain of the whole. Prosperity for the whole implies prosperity for each part. Can any body part maintain the position that only some distant body part is in pain, but that it itself is immune to the feeling? Surely not. The body experiences pain and pleasure as one. Likewise, the body politic experiences prosperity or privation as one. Abdu’l-Baha explains:
“In reality…these difficulties between the two parties produce a detriment to the public; for commerce, industry, agriculture and the general affairs of the country are all intimately linked together.”