Friday, February 3, 2017

I'm Not Worried

For those of you who see my posts on Facebook, you may notice that I've been forwarding a lot of news articles lately, usually with the tag line "Interesting. I'm curious to see where this goes." Or something similar.

And really, it's true. I'm not trying to downplay anything, nor am I trying to make any sort of commentary on partisan politics. Quite the contrary. I'm watching the news, seeing the reactions, and am truly curious where this will all lead.

But really, I think we know where it is all heading.

And please remember, I'm not worried. Really.

Shoghi, my now-11 year-old son, was wondering how I could talk about all the things that are happening in the world and not be very concerned. Well, I am concerned, but I'm not worried.

Why not?

Glad you asked, dear Reader.

You see, I've been doing a lot of reading, and a number of things have crossed my mind.

First of all, I've been looking at the cycles of history, from Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to things more recent, and a few things have occurred to me. As a Baha'i, I've come to realize that the world likes anniversaries. I won't go into all the details of how I've come to realize that, but I just want to share a few with you.

Today, right now in February of 2017, we are celebrating the centenary of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. These incredible letters, which are the beginning and blue print of the all the Baha'i plans since then, were written between 1916 and 1917. Today, we celebrate their centenary. Nice.

But we have another celebratory anniversary coming up this year: the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah. What, I asked myself, was happening 100 years ago during the centenary of His birth? World War 1.

In 1944, we were celebrating the centenary of the declaration of the Bab, which started this whole Baha'i-thing off. And what was happening then? World War 2.

Now, today, what is happening? Realistically, we are heading towards another war. The signs are all there. The players are all in place. The pieces are all lined up.

I don't mean to be a prognosticator. I truly don't. It just seems like such a no-brainer to read the next line in the story of this planet.

Ok. That was the "first of all".

Second, there is the idea of building. I've been reading a lot about the building of civilizations: US, Canada, Rome, Christendom, the Islamic Empire, just to name a few. And out of all this, one thing seems fairly common: Something old is swept away and a new civilization is built in its place. A stronger foundation is laid than what was there before, perhaps after a few false starts, such as in the French Revolution, but a stronger foundation always comes into place. And from that foundation, a civilization is reared, one that keeps growing until something stops it. Now, civilizations are like buildings. They need a strong foundation and they will keep growing until the foundation is no longer sufficient. You see, a building's limitations are determined by its foundation. If the foundation is weak, then you cannot build high. Pretty simple, right?

Well, despite all that we have seen in recent times, all the advances and all the victories on so many levels, the basic foundation of the US, to name but the most obvious example, is insufficient for the structure that is reared on top of it. It is rooted in inequality and injustice, despite all the admirable strides they have made in trying to overcome both. It is based on granting the ignorant the same equal rights in the administrative process as those who have insight and wisdom. While this may not be a bad thing in and of itself, it does have limitations. And we are witnessing the extent of those limitations.

That is the "second" of all.

It's not looking too good just yet, but don't worry. Remember, I'm not worried, and I've been thinking about these things for a few years.

Yes, years.

I will not lay the blame of any of this at the feet of Trump, or any other politico, for their policies are but the symptom, not the cause. These recent policies coming out of various countries are merely highlighting the depth of the problems that have been covered for so long.

Now, why am I not concerned?

Simple. I've been reading Shoghi Effendi's letter from 1936 entitled "The Unfoldment of World Civilization". Look it up. It's worth it.

He starts off, and remember, this is in 1936, by talking about some of the things that were happening in the world at that time. This was a time when the Great Depression had recently ended. Germany had just come through the incredible injustices laid upon them by the Treaty of Versailles, and Hitler had done remarkable things by rejuvenating the German economy. Major countries were leaving the ineffectual League of Nations. War had broken out between China and Japan, and another war between Italy and Ethiopia which would soon result in the annexation of the latter. Stalin began his purges in the Soviet Union. I mean, the list goes on, but the only other one I would like to add is that the first costumed superhero, the Phantom, made his debut, further highlighting the desperation people were feeling for hope. This is just a bit of what people were seeing in the news in North America.

And then, in March, in the midst of all this, Shoghi Effendi wrote them and said that they should not "be deluded by the ephemeral manifestations of returning prosperity which at times appear to be capable of checking the disruptive influence of the chronic ills afflicting the institutions of a decaying age. The signs of the times are too numerous and compelling to allow (us) to mistake their character or to belittle their significance."

He quotes Baha'u'llah at length:
“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh’s own words proclaim it, “will the present day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth and is the Knower of things unseen.” “By Myself,” He solemnly asserts, “the day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead. He, verily, is powerful over all things.” “The world’s equilibrium,” He explains, “hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this Most Great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos,” He warns the peoples of the world, “can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective.”

"The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh," he writes, "whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed... as marking the last and highest stage... of man's collective life on this planet."

He likens the development of the planet and its political scene to that of the founding of the United States: "Such a unique and momentous crisis in the life of organized mankind may, moreover, be likened to the culminating stage in the political evolution of the great American Republic—the stage which marked the emergence of a unified community of federated states. The stirring of a new national consciousness, and the birth of a new type of civilization, infinitely richer and nobler than any which its component parts could have severally hoped to achieve, may be said to have proclaimed the coming of age of the American people. Within the territorial limits of this nation, this consummation may be viewed as the culmination of the process of human government." And then he points out that the movement of nation-states towards a global government is natural and necessary. In fact, he refers to the limitation of the nation model when he points out, "The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax." By its very nature, it is anarchical and limiting.

But he says that this sort of change will not come easy. It never has. While we could, as a species, decide to just adopt these ideas, we never have. We've always clung to our outdated ideals, our "outworn shibboleths", and been forced to watch as they have crumbled in our hands.

And yet we know that something magnificent is waiting. We have never successfully envisioned the great advances that have always occurred when we have let go, and just moved on. Not once. We, as a human race, have always given in to our fear of change. So only after great suffering have we seen the great bounties that have resulted.

"For the revelation of so great a favor", he predicts, "a period of intense turmoil and wide-spread suffering would seem to be indispensable." With sadness, he says that it seems that we must "be overshadowed by such moral and social gloom as can alone prepare... humanity for the prize she is destined to inherit." "Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving."

Then he turns his gaze to the religions of the world.

He quotes an eminent Christian theologian from the US, who said that if Christianity wishes and expects to serve the world in the present crisis, it must "cut back through Christianity to Christ, back through the centuries-old religion about Jesus to the original religion of Jesus." Shoghi Effendi goes on to say, so poignantly, "When... the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts... a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in... Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished."

When describing what this looks like in our daily life, he says:
The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press...—these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.
I read this, and see it as a list of the ills of today.

"The whole world," he goes to say, "wherever and however we survey it, offers us the sad and pitiful spectacle of a vast, an enfeebled, and moribund organism, which is being torn politically and strangulated economically by forces it has ceased to either control or comprehend."

This, dear Reader, is where I see us right now

It is a long and heartbreaking synopsis of what I think we are all seeing around us, and the prognosis for the near future is bleak, very bleak.

But again, I am not worried.

For what I see around us is nothing more than the snow castles that were once majestic in the early winter, sparkling beauty now succumbed to the melting warmth of the coming spring. We can strive to gather more snow and reinforce what is melting before our eyes, or we can plan for the true full-colour beauty of the flowers that are on their way. We can ensure that the tulip bulbs are planted, and that the ground is prepared. We can put away the snow shovels and ice picks, and ensure that the garden tools are well oiled and ready for their use.

And while I am truly concerned for the suffering that I know is coming, and strive to do all I can to mitigate it, I also know what lies beyond, for I recall the true beauty of the summer and am not disheartened by the few weeks of winter left before us.

1 comment:

  1. This was excellent. Thank you for writing it.

    In our household we have been consumed with emotion over the way things are going. It's important for us Americans to realize this is a global phenomenon. Something is changing in the human heart, for reasons that are hard to nail down, and those changes have made our politics unrecognizably wretched.

    The truth is that we are both concerned and worried. Also appalled, horrified, fearful, and many other things. One can believe in God's will and His ultimate mercy, and still fear His wrath.

    Nonetheless at the end of each conversation we come to the same conclusion. What else can we do but to try and spread those principles that we believe are the only lasting solution to the world's many problems? Now is not the time to run from these problems, or to cower in fear, but rather it is the time to meet them head on, even while knowing that we may never see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetime.

    Never before have I been so scared, and yet never before have I felt so sure about how we can solve these problems.