Explores the process through which humanity can create a peaceful and just world society, as presented in The Secret of Divine Civilization, "The Promise of World Peace," and letters of the Universal House of Justice.
Presented at Orlando Bahá'í Development Conference, December 15, 2001, Orlando Florida.
The World We Want:
Overcoming Barriers to Systematic Action
Friends, the world we have is not the world we want. In the world we have,
people are dying because of war - in Afghanistan, in the Congo, in the Middle
East. There are 27 major armed conflicts in the world.
People are dying in battle, they are dying when their
homes are attacked. People are starving after they have fled their homes. This
is not the world we want. In the world we have, people fear random violence -
perpetrated by terrorists wielding machetes, or terrorists turning themselves
and others into instruments of destruction, or terrorists spreading biological
or chemical weapons. This is not the world we want. In the world we have,
destitute families send children to do migrant labor in conditions little
better than slavery, and women and children turn to prostitution to support
themselves because they don't perceive any other means.
We don't want this. The world we have is not the world we
want. We want peace, and we want secure protection of human dignity, and we
want justice. But how do we move from the world we have to the world we
This morning we are going to explore how we get to the world we want as a
global community of human beings longing for a just and peaceful world order,
and as a Bahá'í community seeking to create the means through
which all humanity can be drawn towards Bahá'u'lláh. These two
processes, humanity establishing the structures of peace and
Bahá'ís establishing the structures of entry by troops, will move
us from the world we have to the world we want. First, we are going to look at
'Abdu'l-Bahá's statements about how human institutions change. Then, we
are going to examine how humanity is stuck, paralyzed, in the process of
creating a peaceful world, and what is necessary for it to become unstuck.
Finally, we'll apply our insights about humanity unleashing its capacity to
create peace to our own challenge, in the Five Year Plan, of establishing a
systematic process through which all of humanity can respond to
Bahá'u'lláh. I have three goals for this talk. First, I want us
to see the whole process, how we get from here, the world we have, to there,
the world we want, how The Promise of World Peace
explains how that will
happen. Second, I want us to understand the transformation in human
understanding of our capacity that this process involves, because it is our
responsibility, as the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, to help human
beings recognize the capacity it needs to make this change. Finally, I want us
to be encouraged, because as we look at what this process is, and what it
requires, we should recognize how thoroughly our endeavors in the Five Year
Plan contribute to making the world we want.
In The Secret of Divine Civilization
, 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains the
development of patterns of social order that are conducive to human well-being.
He compares the growth of social institutions to the growth of human beings:
"The world of politics is like the world of man; he is seed
at first, and then passes by degrees to the condition of embryo and foetus,
acquiring a bone structure, being clothed with flesh, taking on his own special
form, ... the political world in the same way cannot instantaneously evolve
from the nadir of defectiveness to the zenith of rightness and perfection.
Rather, qualified individuals must strive by day and by night, using all those
means which will conduce to progress, until the government and the people
develop along every line from day to day and even from moment to moment."
Change in society, like all change in the world of creation, is organic. It
takes time. It unfolds, step by step, just as a human being begins with seed
and egg, then gradually turns into an embryo and into a foetus and into a
person. To grow up, for the human being, for the Bahá'í
community, for the world, requires going through a series of successive stages
Organic growth is systematic. It happens according to a plan. The order that
is inherent in each cell is recreated in the next cell. For the cell,
systematic growth is inevitable, it is an inherent quality of the organism. But
for human society, systematic growth is not automatic, because we have free
well, that is what distinguishes us as human beings. Therefore, for us,
systematic growth is an act of will. We can choose to grow in the way we
organize human institutions, or we can choose not to grow. We can only move
from the world we have to the world we want through a world-encompassing
mobilization of human will, oriented to systematic change. This is the key, the
understanding we must have to unlock our collective potential. To get the world
we want, we have to comprehend the power of human will, and we have to
systematically engage that power. This is one of the main ideas of this
Another essential dimension of organic growth is that the whole organism is
involved, it is all growing. There is not one part that withdraws while the
rest is moving and changing. In the growth of human society, also, all the
parts have to be involved. In the passage immediately following the one quoted
above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá compares the wind, rain and sun that bring fertility
in springtime to the forces in the development of society:
When, through the Divine bestowals, three things appear on earth, this world of
dust will come alive, and stand forth wondrously adorned and full of grace.
These are first, the fruitful winds of spring; second, the welling plenty of
spring clouds; and third, the heat of the bright sun. When, out of the endless
bounty of God, these three have been vouchsafed, then slowly, by His leave, dry
trees and branches turn fresh and green again, and array themselves with many
kinds of blossoms and fruits. It is the same when the pure intentions and the
justice of the ruler, the wisdom and consummate skill and statecraft of the
governing authorities, and the determination and unstinted efforts of the
people, are all combined: then day by day the effects of the far-reaching
reforms, of the pride and prosperity of government and people alike, will
become clearly manifest."
In 'Abdu'l-Bahá's analogy, the pure intentions and justice of rulers are
like the wind that facilitates pollination, the wisdom and consummate skill and
statecraft of governing authorities are like the rain that enables plants to
germinate and expand, and determination and unstinted efforts of people are
like the sun that triggers photosynthesis. Growth requires all of them: it
happens as a result of the interaction of the life-generating processes set in
motion by each of these elements. We know how this happens in a
Bahá'í context: the development of institutions stimulates
individuals and communities, the spiritual awakening of individuals motivates
communities and institutions, and all these interactions move the Faith
forward. Each of us can think of experiences we have had which demonstrate
We need this dynamic interaction, and we are lacking it, in the realm of
humanity's progress towards peace. International relations and national affairs
cannot be successfully carried out by rulers and elected officials and
government administrators -- they are not enough. The determination and
unstinted efforts of the people is also necessary, it is essential. And the
part of people is not limited to choosing elected leaders and then affirming or
protesting what leaders are doing. That we have lost an awareness of this
capacity, that our practices of citizenship are limited to voting, being
obedient (and, for some people, protesting and being disobedient) is one of the
most profound barriers to getting the world we want.
The Universal House of Justice offers the Bahá'í community as a
model in The Promise of World Peace
, and I think one of the ways we are
a model is in our understanding of politics, that is, the arena of engagement
by participants in the shaping of the society they live in. What if our
participation in the Bahá'í community consisted of voting for
Assemblies once a year and then picketing their meetings or writing positive or
negative letters to the newspaper? We would not have the vital, creative
dynamic organism we have that is the Bahá'í community. People's
actions, people's aspirations, their involvement in the construction of society
make it what it is. Human societies, the world as a whole, is atrophied and
incapable of action because our perceptions and practices of people's
responsibility to society are so narrow and circumscribed. Changing these
patterns will be critical to getting the world we want.
Let's look at the call to humanity made by the Universal House of Justice
earlier this year, at the conclusion of the dedication of the Terraces on Mount
Carmel. The House of Justice wrote, "Humanity's crying need will not
be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or
another of the countless wrong afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather,
for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of
Bahá'u'lláh's teaching that the time has come when each human
being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the
entire human family." Each
human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the
entire human family. The House of Justice did not say, the most powerful
nations on earth must learn to accept responsibility. It did not say, the
wealthy, privileged people must learn to accept responsibility for the entire
human family. Each human being on earth. If each human being on earth has to
accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family, that means
each human being on earth has the capacity to contribute to the welfare of the
entire human family. What does this tell us about who has power in the world?
How do we comprehend that power, and how do we release it? What will we be able
to do when we have learned how to release it? The last passage of Secret of
Divine Civilization that I want us to look at in introducing the question
of how societies develop is one that people who engaged in social and economic
development use frequently, to remind ourselves of why development activities
have to be an expression of a community's own aspirations. But when I consider
the Universal House of Justice guidance about how we move out of a world that
acquiesces in unbearable poverty and accommodates incessant armed conflict, I
see another meaning here, another application of the truth of this
Until the nerves and arteries of the nation stir
into life, every measure that is attempted will prove vain; for the people are
as the human body, and determination and the will to struggle are as the soul,
and a soulless body does not move."
Determination and the will to struggle are the soul of the body of the world.
Until that soul is aroused to exert its will towards justice and towards
international relationships that are conducive to peace, nothing can happen,
every measure will prove vain.
The Promise of World Peace, issued by the Universal House of Justice in
1985, is an assertion of human capacity for creating peace and an exploration
of how that capacity is blocked in the present. According to the Universal
House of Justice, what prevents humanity from achieving peace is "a paralysis
of will" which "must be carefully examined and resolutely dealt with." Overcoming that paralysis and taking the
necessary action is not just the responsibility of governments and rulers, "it
is the choice before all who inhabit the earth."
In the analysis of the Universal House of Justice, the possibility of peace
emerges out of a recognition that human beings have divinely-endowed capacity
to transform circumstances and structures which appear fixed and intractable.
Because we are who we are as human beings, peace is possible. Because we live
inside structures we have created that cause us to forget who we are, a just
and peaceful world order appears to be unattainable. We are caught in a trap of
our delusions about ourselves, but we do not have to be. We'll look now at four
of the habits of thought and patterns of action which keep us stuck in the
world we have.
We're stuck in the way we understand the world. Our incapacity to truly accept
responsibility for the whole human family rests on extremely well-developed
habits of thought which divide the world into various categories of us and
them. These divisions are fundamentally false, and we are responsible to God to
transcend them, whether the us and them are black and white; traditional and
modern; Moslem and Christian, Jew, or Hindu; rich and poor; indigenous and
non-indigenous; urban and rural; developed and developing, or whatever else. Us
and them thinking often has the effect of explaining away injustice. "They"
don't have what we have because "they" don't know what we know, or "their"
culture does not appreciate the moral values our culture appreciates, or "they"
are naturally violent. But Bahá'u'lláh teaches us that there is
no "they"; there is only us, all of us, the family of humanity. If there is no
us and them, no one's suffering can be explained away and made inevitable. If
we see that we have advantages other people do not have, we cannot assume they
are natural, we have to ask where those advantages and privileges came from. A
recognition of the oneness of humankind is a recognition that the way that all
of us have lived on this planet have created its problems and all of us are
going to have to change the way we live to fix them. According to the House of
Justice in the Promise of World Peace, "Acceptance of the oneness of
mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and
administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind." We're stuck in habits that don't work when we
imagine that divisions among the people of the world make any kind of sense.
The humble willingness to see the world differently than we now see it is an
act of will.
We're also stuck because of our acquiescence in "the anarchy inherent in state
sovereignty." Built on top of "us and
them" thinking are structures which allow some peoples or groups a greater
ability to assert themselves in world affairs than other peoples and groups.
Imbalance among nations and peoples regarding who has the capacity to take
actions and to be heard keeps the world in its current condition of
instability. As long as decision-making power is not shared fairly, people are
going to fight about it. The Universal House of Justice laid this out in a
passage of The Promise of World Peace that has both predictive and
prescriptive dimensions. It wrote,
"Peoples are ingenious
enough to invent yet other forms of warfare, and to use food, raw materials,
finance, industrial power, ideology, and terrorism to subvert one another in an
endless quest for supremacy and domination."
Think about how each of these forces have been used over the past twenty years,
and who has used them, to subvert others and seek supremacy and domination.
I'll read the whole paragraph.
"Banning nuclear weapons,
prohibiting the use of poison gases, or outlawing germ warfare will not remove
the root causes of war. However important such practical measures obviously are
as elements of the peace process, they are in themselves too superficial to
exert enduring influence. Peoples are ingenious enough to invent yet other
forms of warfare, and to use food, raw materials, finance, industrial power,
ideology, and terrorism to subvert one another in an endless quest for
supremacy and dominion. Nor can the present massive dislocation in the affairs
of humanity be resolved through the settlement of specific conflicts or
disagreements among nations. A genuine universal framework must be adopted."
If we recognize all of these as mechanisms of domination, the problem looks
different. The Universal House of Justice is showing us a whole lot of unruly
actors, all seeking to dominate each other, using combinations of these means
of warfare: food, raw materials (think oil), finance, industrial power,
ideology, and terrorism. The asymmetrical nature of our current international
conflict is not the essence of the problem, the essence of the problem is the
endless quest for supremacy and domination, whatever the means that are being
used. Now there is a theory in political
science, the theory of the hegemon, that says the world works best when one
player is more powerful than all the others. If one player is extremely strong
and makes every other player do its bidding, that creates stability. That is
not the best we can do. That is not the world we want. The resolution to an
endless quest for supremacy and dominion is not for one combatant to succeed in
dominating all the others, it is for no one to seek to dominate anyone else. No
domination. No seeking supremacy. No subversion of others. The solution to "the
present massive dislocation in the affairs of humanity", is that "a genuine
universal framework must be adopted." That is the world we want. To get there,
the Universal House of Justice tells us, we will have to get over our
reluctance to consider the possibility of sublimating national self-interests
to the requirements of world order. We will have to muster the courage to face
the far-reaching implications of establishing a united world authority. Moving beyond national sovereignty and
establishing a united world authority won't just happen. Giving up the
practice of domination of others won't just happen, these transitions require a
massive act of will. Many people respond to the concept of a united world
authority by saying it is impossible. It is not impossible, though. What would
make it possible would be people wanting it. It is our destiny. It requires an
act of will.
The profound imbalance regarding who has the ability to get their way in the
world is connected to the profound imbalance between extreme wealth and extreme
poverty that also characterizes our world. This is a third way we are stuck. In
his statement to the Millennium Conference, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General
of the United Nations, said "Extreme poverty is an affront to our common
humanity. It also makes many other problems worse." I want us to think about
what this phrase means. 20 percent of the people of the world have 86% of the
wealth, which means 80 percent of the people have 14% of the wealth. Half of
humanity lives on less than two dollars a day. What these extremes mean, in human terms, is that people
who are farmers work harder, and they are hungrier. People who have educations
and work at salaried jobs are losing their ability to sustain themselves with
their work, and cannot find for their children the education they themselves
received. This is true in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, some social
strata in India. Living conditions and life possibilities for much of the
world's population got worse during the long period of prosperity which we just
experienced. And of course, that was true for many poor people in wealthy
In 1985 the Universal House of Justice wrote that "the inordinate disparity
between rich and poor, a source of acute suffering, keeps the world in a state
of instability, virtually on the brink of war." Extreme poverty is in itself violent, because it destroys
and degrades peoples' lives, and it also causes violence. People experiencing
desperate, apparently intractable poverty are susceptible to recruitment into
armies that actually serve the interests of others. 'Abdu'l-Bahá' spoke
about this in 1912, when he said that the beneficiaries of wars manipulated
others to fight over imaginary divisions. He said the instigators of war "As a
rule ... enjoyed luxuries in palaces, surrounded by conditions of ease and
affluence, while armies of soldiers, civilians, and tillers of the soil fought
and died at their command upon the field of battle, shedding their innocent
blood for a delusion." In Rwanda, in
Congo, in Sudan, in Sierra Leone, in Colombia, and elsewhere, some people
benefit from violence carried out by people who get recruited to violence
because they do not see any peaceful means of productive life. Racial hatred is
easily cultivated in conditions of desperate poverty, and extreme poverty
generates violence. To move beyond this dangerous situation, we human beings
will have to learn to think differently about productive economies, what their
elements are, how they work, how we organize them. We do not have to live with
destabilizing disparities between rich and poor. We could organize the world in
such a way that everyone has enough. It could happen. What would make it
happen is a lot of effort, the justice of rulers, the skill of governing
authorities, and the determination and effort of people. What would make it
happen is an act of will.
Finally, we are stuck in a world we do not want because the human race is
acting in ignorance of human capacity. Because we "have succumbed to the view
that aggression and conflict is intrinsic to human nature and therefore
ineradicable" we accommodate ourselves to institutions that embody conflict and
aggression. Our actions, and our failure
to act, follow our ideas, and our ideas are tragically wrong. To get unstuck,
we have to recognize that incorrigibly selfish and aggressive behavior is "a
distortion of the human spirit".
In The Promise of World Peace, the Universal House of Justice traces
out two causes of this stubborn ignorance of human reality. One is the failure
of people committed to religion to comprehend true religion, and the other is
abandonment of religion in favor of materialistic ideologies. To fathom the
depths of humanity's ignorance in the present, I want to consider a concept
which got some public attention after September 11 -- the so-called "clash of
civilizations." This is the idea that a vibrant, enlightened, democratic
Western civilization is in conflict with a traditional, backward, conservative
and autocratic Islamic civilization. This is a false and harmful way of
thinking. First of all, the world is a deeply coherent, integrated entity and
all the parts are constantly interacting with all the other parts. So the
static, traditional part and the vibrant, modern part have made each other,
they are two connected parts of one whole. Furthermore, Islamic civilization at
its peak was the closest humanity has yet come to a form of social
organization that expresses the Will of God - this is the logic of
Bahá'u'lláh's principle of Progressive Revelation. What I want
to point out to you is that the clash of civilizations concept describes a
clash of ignorances, a clash of alternative failures of human comprehension of
reality. On the one hand is a form of extremism which is a perversion of Islam,
on the other is a form of unbridled materialism which is a perversion of human
capacity. Both are the result of turning away from true religion.
In The Promise of World Peace, the Universal House of Justice holds humanity,
and especially religious leaders, accountable for our distortion and lack of
comprehension of religion. "If, therefore, humanity has come to a point of
paralyzing conflict it must look to itself, to its own negligence, to the siren
voices to which it has listened, for the source of the misunderstandings and
confusion perpetrated in the name of religion." Because we have failed to comprehend the true nature of
religion, we have not benefitted from it. In 1985, the Universal House of
Justice commented on the "dramatic" "resurgence of militant religious
fanaticism", and gave us a way to understand it and speak about it, saying
that each manifestation of religious extremism expresses the opposite of the
spiritual victories of the religion it comes from. Since this is important, I
am going to quote to you the whole paragraph:
"The resurgence of fanatical religious fervour occurring in many lands cannot
be regarded as more than a dying convulsion. The very nature of the violent and
disruptive phenomena associated with it testifies to the spiritual bankruptcy
it represents. Indeed, one of the strangest and saddest features of the current
outbreak of religious fanaticism is the extent to which, in each case, it is
undermining not only the spiritual values which are conducive to the unity of
mankind but also those unique moral victories won by the particular religion it
purports to serve.
The crowning achievement of the religion of Jesus was love, but Christian
extremists are defined by hate. The crowning achievement of the religion of
Mohammed was tolerance, but Moslem extremists are defined by intolerance. This
observation gives us a clear way to follow Shoghi Effendi's instructions to
Bahá'ís in the West to defend Islam. To summarize: one aspect of
the ignorance of human nature which impedes our capacity to move towards peace
is our failure, even as followers of religions, to comprehend their true
The other source of our ignorance of human capacity is turning away from
religion altogether. As the Universal House of Justice explains in The
Promise of World Peace, "religion and religious institutions have, for many
decades, been viewed by increasing numbers of people as irrelevant to the major
concerns of the modern world. In its place they have turned either to the
hedonistic pursuit of material satisfactions or the following of man-made
ideologies." These ideologies, whatever their promises, have caused "the social
and economic ills that blight every region of our world." They may claim to be
uniquely powerful, but they all begin with a "glorification of material
pursuits". According to Shoghi Effendi,
the problem with capitalism (or its opposite, he adds between commas), is "the
crass materialism, which lays excessive and ever-increasing emphasis on
material well-being, forgetful of those things of the spirit on which alone a
sure and stable foundation can be laid for human society." Excessive and increasing emphasis on material well-being
makes us forgetful of those things of the spirit on which alone a sure and
stable foundation can be laid for human society. It is important to recognize
that the problem with our materialism is not just the effect on our own souls,
that as individual souls we become distracted from our true nature. The problem
is that our materialism causes us to fail to understand how to organize a
coherent society, and we create social institutions which are embodiments of
material desires, and we get further and further from what we are intended to
be as individuals and as collections of individuals in societies.
'Abdu'l-Bahá describes this condition
helpless masses know nothing of the world, and while there is no doubt that
they seek and long for their own happiness, yet ignorance like a heavy veil
shuts them away from it."
In The Promise of World Peace, the Universal House of Justice identifies
this lost, ignorant, disempowered condition as the most serious consequence of
"Underlying all these outward
afflictions is the spiritual damage reflected in the apathy that has gripped
the mass of the peoples of all nations and by the extinction of hope in the
hearts of deprived and anguished millions."
We do not have to be shut out from our own happiness with a heavy veil of
ignorance. We do not have to accept a false choice between ignorant,
spiritually dead religious fanaticism and ignorant, spiritually dead
materialism. We do not have to be deadened by materialism into believing our
purpose in life is consumptions and our actions cannot make the world
fundamentally better than it is. We could change. It would take time, it would
take engagement on every level of society, it would take an act of will.
What do we do? We are stuck, holding onto concepts which divide humanity in a
way that naturalizes inequality and injustice. We are stuck, committed to
patterns of national sovereignty which embody grave imbalances in power and
engender instability. We are stuck, embroiled in patterns of economic
interaction which reproduce extremes of wealth and poverty and draw people
towards conflict. We are stuck, paralyzed by our ignorance of the divine
endowments of human reality.
The way forward for humanity, according to the Universal House of Justice, is
a process of learning about our collective capacity through the instrumentality
of consultation. The crowning stage, the peak of this process of learning, will
be the convocation of the gathering called for by Bahá'u'lláh,
"The time must come when the imperative necessity
for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be
universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it,
and, participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as
will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace amongst men."
This gathering, which will mark the dawning of the maturity of the human race,
will be characterized by consultation among the world's leaders. What I want to
draw your attention to, however, is that consultation is also the means through
which humanity mobilizes the will to want this gathering and to make it
The Universal House of Justice explains how humanity arrives at this
stage in a paragraph of The Promise of World Peace which discusses the
necessity of mobilizing will, the power of consultation to cause that, and the
spiritual energy that will be released by making the attempt.
The courage, the resolution, the pure motive, the selfless love of one people
for another--all the spiritual and moral qualities required for effecting this
momentous step towards peace are focused on the will to act." (PWP 3.10)
All the qualities required for this momentous step towards peace are focused on
the will to act. According to the House of Justice, people can arouse the
necessary volition for this process through consultation. Specifically, it
And it is towards arousing the necessary volition that
earnest consideration must be given to the reality of man, namely, his thought.
To understand the relevance of this potent reality is also to appreciate the
social necessity of actualizing its unique value through candid, dispassionate
and cordial consultation, and of acting upon the results of this process.
It points out that consultation "bestows greater awareness and transmutes
conjecture into certitude." The will of
peoples and nations to gather to create peace requires an awareness of human
capacity, which consultation will develop. It requires a movement from
conjecture -- that perhaps, maybe, it might be possible that we could stop
being aggressive -- to certitude about the our ability to create and live in a
world characterized by peace. The Universal House of Justice then states that
the attempt to achieve peace through the consultative action proposed by
Bahá'u'lláh can release such a salutary, health-creating spirit
among the peoples of the earth that no power could resist the final triumphal
outcome. "The very attempt to achieve peace through the consultative action he
proposed can release such a salutary spirit among the peoples of the earth that
no power could resist the final, triumphal outcome." Humanity will achieve this through action, we will
mobilize the will to act through candid, dispassionate, and cordial
consultation, followed by action on the results of the consultation, and
humanity's effort to do this will release the spiritual force necessary for
To me, the assurance that making the attempt to create peace through
consultative action will lead to peace explains why the responsibility rests
with every person on the planet, and it explains why it is essential that each
human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the
entire human family.
"Whether peace is to be reached only
after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity's stubborn clinging to old
patterns of behaviour, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will,
is the choice before all who inhabit the earth."
All human beings are responsible for engaging in consultation that leads to a
growing awareness of humanity's capacity to create peace, for engaging in
consultation that mobilizes the will of more and more people to long for and
ask for a gathering of rulers to set the terms of world order. Let's keep in
mind that each of the ways that humanity is stuck involves a failure of our
comprehension of ourselves: the paralysis of our collective will emerges from
our collective lack of understanding of human capacity, which is held in place
by the materialistic ideologies and structures that surround us. "It is here
that the ground must be cleared for the building of a new world fit for our
descendants." Our inability to let go of a
destructive attachment to national sovereignty is partly a result of "the
incapacity of largely ignorant and subjugated masses to articulate their desire
for a new order in which they can live in peace, harmony and prosperity with
all humanity." When people participate in
a consultative process of learning, we reverse the spiritual damage caused by
materialism that has resulted in apathy, and "the extinction of hope in the
hearts of deprived and anguished millions." Through systematic learning and consultation, we, the
human race, can overcome our ignorance, and our subjugation to materialism and
oppression, and learn to articulate our desire for a new order.
We will get from where we are, which is stuck, to that place, which is
energized and cured of the illnesses the sick body of the world now has,
through a process that has the characteristics of growth identified by
'Abdu'l-Bahá. It will happen gradually, through a process that grows
more complex in stages. It will require the pure intentions and justice of
rulers, the consummate skill and statecraft of governing authorities, and the
determination and unstinted efforts of the people. We are already in the middle
of this process, actually. A will to world order enabled the nations to create
the League of Nations and then the United Nations. UN agencies have developed
habits and patterns of cooperative international action. In the year 2000, the
world's heads of state, and also representatives of over 1,000 non-governmental
organizations and other civil society organizations gathered "to build a common
vision" and to reiterate a commitment to create just and peaceful world. The process is unfolding, even though more
has to happen.
Our responsibility is the determination and unstinted effort of the people
part. This is the task of all of humanity, it is not the specific
responsibility of the Bahá'í community, although
Bahá'í communities are clearly able to facilitate it. In 1987,
writing through its Secretariat, the Universal House of Justice explained that
Bahá'í communities contribute to the transitions envisioned in
The Promise of World Peace by "engaging people from all walks of life in
discussions on peace" which imbue populations with hope and a sense of personal
commitment. To get to the world we want,
humanity has to overcome its ignorance of human reality, and its stubborn
clinging to old patterns. We do this through consultation, which bestows
awareness and mobilizes our will to change. The process is profound, the
consequences are momentous, but the steps are simple. Getting the world we want
requires the determination of the people. It requires an act of will.
Now, in conclusion, let us consider the process of creating systematic
structures which enable the Bahá'í community to draw all of
humanity into interaction with Bahá'u'lláh. The goal of the Five
Year Plan is advancing the process of entry by troops. Where Bahá'í communities are sufficiently
developed, this will involve programs that build the capacity of individuals,
institutions, and communities, to promote sustainable growth. The result of our
efforts should be that more and more people are attracted to the Faith, embrace
it, and become involved in carrying the work forward. "Vast numbers among the
peoples of the world are ready, indeed yearn, for the bounties that
Bahá'u'lláh alone can bestow upon them once they have committed
themselves to building the new society He has envisioned."
What kinds of barriers might we face in these endeavors? It is possible that
we will encounter the barrier of being attached to habits of
Bahá'í community life that are older and more haphazard. Just as
people may find, as they contemplate the forms of a world authority, that
national sovereignty is completely beloved to them, we may find ourselves
quite, quite attached to the way we have always done things in the past. We may
not be convinced of the value of process, the necessity of planning and the
virtue of systematic action. Or, we may
believe in them, but find them too new and too difficult to carry out.
We may also face the barrier of not believing we have the capacity to
successfully develop a process that leads to entry by troops. We may be quite
convinced that we don't have the capacity to create structures that step by
step, region by region, "usher to the banquet table of the Lord of Hosts the
souls of all that hunger after truth." We
may like it as a concept, the way many people approve a world peace as a
concept, but not recognize in ourselves any capacity to make it happen.
What can we do to overcome these barriers? I think we need to understand the
organic character of this process. It has many, many stages, and we will be
developing skills along the way. We do not need to be concerned that some
future task will overwhelm us, because we are not there yet. Because this is an
organic growth process, being involved is critical for our own spiritual
health, and for the health of others. Every part is contributing to every other
part. We may not perceive the value of our own contributions, but others will
depend upon it. Since these are human institutions that are developing, not
cells, they come into being through our intention, through an act of will.
Also, we need to recognize and pay attention to the power of thought, to the
consequences of consultation. When we consult, we will develop awareness. Our
understanding will mature. Our capacity will be refined. A powerful new feature
of the Five Year Plan is the call by the Universal House of Justice that the
friends in a region consult on the progress of the plan every few months. These
consultations will be a shining light which, in a dark world, leads the way and
guides. Through consultation, we will
become aware of our capacity to create the patterns of action and habits of
thought that will make large-scale, systematic growth a reality.
This is the way we move from the world we have to the world we want. It will
not just unfold because it is a good idea, it will happen because we
deliberately, systematically, develop our capacities and our structures that
develop capacities. Through study circles, through children's classes, through
our devotional meetings. Do you see how every effort we make towards the goal
of the Five Year Plan is also advancing the process through which humanity
mobilizes the will to create peace? Study circles create awareness of human
reality, they develop the skills of articulate understanding that humanity
needs. So do children's classes. Devotional gatherings offered to whole
communities are a way of rehabilitating people's understanding of the true
nature of religion.
The Bahá'í communities' confidence in humanities capacity to
create peace, and our vision of how it will happen, will help to strengthen the
vision, understanding, commitment of people in the towns and cities we live in.
Knowing who we are, knowing what God wants for us, knowing how to draw people
into the endeavour of fulfilling Bahá'u'lláh's intentions, allows
us to take the actions that make the world we have into the world we want. The
new world order that will soon be spread out, is not a carpet, that the Hand of
God rolls out. It is a complex, tightly woven pattern of human interactions,
and we are the material that new world order, that knots it together. We make
it happen through our pure intentions, through our efforts, through our
I want to end by returning to the Promise of World Peace instructions
for how humanity can achieve its destiny by calling a meeting of the rulers of
the world to establish peace. The Universal House of Justice wrote, "the
courage, the resolution, the pure motive, the selfless love of one people for
another -- all the spiritual and moral qualities required for effecting this
momentous step towards peace are focused on the will to act. The same thing is
true for the Five Year Plan: the courage, the resolution, the pure motive, the
selfless love of one people for another -- all are focused on our will to act.
 Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute. A major armed conflict is one in which 1,000 people have
died in one year.
 "Child labour rooted in Africa's poverty:
Campaigns launched against traffickers and abusive work", Africa Recovery:
October 2001, 14.
 Abdu'l-Bahá Secret of Divine
Civilization, pp. 107-108.
 In the Bahá'í
community, we take note of our acquisition of new skills and capacities in our
transition from one epoch to the next. In the establishment of peace, also,
"requires several stages in the adjustment of national political attitudes,
which now verge on anarchy in the absence of clearly defined laws or
universally accepted and enforceable principles regulating the relationships
between nations." (3.6)
[5.] Secret of Divine Civilization, p.
 The Universal House of Justice,
24 May 2001, To the Believers Gathered for the Events Marking the Completion of
the Projects on Mount Carmel.
 Abdu'l Bahá, Secret of Divine
 The Universal House of Justice, The
Promise of World Peace, Section 2, paragraph 2. All citations to this
document indicate section followed by paragraph number within the section.
 Promise, Intro:2.
 Promise, 3:3.
 Promise, 4.2.
 Promise, 2:1.
 "Asymmetrical conflict" means that
parties to a conflict are not fighting in the same way -- some have massive
amounts of military hardware, and other parties do not, so they use other
 Promise, 2:2.
 Kofi Annan, "We, the Peoples:
Statement for the Millennium Forum", paragraph 53, www.un.org.
 For example, as an economy
booms and some people's high wages push up costs like rent, people working at
low wages in the service economy have drastically less expendable income,
because their rents become a much higher proportion of their income. The wave
of other people's prosperity made the poor poorer, in real terms.
 Promise, 2:6.
 Promulgation of Universal
 Promise, Intro:6.
 Promise, Intro:8.
 Promise, 1:4.
 Promise, 1:7.
 Promise, 1:8. 1:9, 1:11.
 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of
 Abdu'l Bahá, Secret of
Divine Civilization 11.
 Promise, 1:9.
 Promise, 3:9.
 Promise, 3:10.
"Bahá'u'lláh insistently drew attention to the virtues and
indispensability of consultation for ordering human affairs." Promise,
 Promise, Intro:2.
 Promise, 1:11.
 Promise, 2:2.
 Promise, 1:9.
 "we the peoples...Millennium Forum, 22-26
May 2000, Declaration and Agenda for Action : Strengthening the United Nations
for the 21st Century. (UN:New York, 2000).
 Universal House of Justice, through its
Secretariat, 17 June 1987, seen at
 Universal House of Justice to
the Counsellors, 9/1/2001, paragraph 3.
 Universal House of Justice,
9/1/2001, paragraph 18.
 Universal House of Justice,
to the Bahá'ís of the World, Ridván 2001, paragraph 1.
 Universal House of Justice,
Ridván 2001, paragraph 12
 Universal House of
Justice, 9/1/2001, paragraphs 14,15,17.