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Bahá'í Apocalypticism:
The Concept of Progressive Revelation

by Zaid Lundberg

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Chapter 8

VIII. Discussion

As can be seen in the Abbreviations of Sources and Bibliography, this study has been based on a variety of Bahá'í-texts (English originals or translations) from three principal Bahá'í-authors whose lives together span 140 years (1817-1957), and whose collected works have addressed a multitude of different audiences in three different languages (Arabic, Persian, English). It should also be noted that the three authors also wrote (or spoke) in quite different styles and covered a wide variety of subjects. Yet, although the Bahá'í-texts presented in this thesis have been treated as "literary" sources, some of the material has a purely oral origin. This is especially applicable to some of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's sources which are based upon either a series of lectures (e.g., Paris Talks and Promulgation of Universal Peace), or interviews (e.g. Some Answered Questions). Other texts by 'Abdu'l-Bahá were originally written to specific addressees and consists thus of either a single letter (e.g., Tablet to August Forel) or a compilation of letters (e.g. Makátíb-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá). Similarly, some principal texts by Bahá'u'lláh were originally based upon correspondence with single individuals (e.g., Kitáb-i-Íqán), or sent as a proclamation to significant individuals (e.g., The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and leaders of the world). Further, it was noted that Shoghi Effendi only wrote one book (God Passes By) and most his works are actually based upon compilations of letters through his correspondence with the international Bahá'í-community (e.g., World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, Promised Day is Come, and Messages to the Bahá'í World). Yet, as the only authorized translator and interpreter of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in his time, Shoghi Effendi's contribution and influence on some highly important Bahá'í-texts (e.g., Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and The Hidden Words) should not be underestimated.

With these issues in mind, it is perhaps understandable that the Bahá'í-authors not always present Bahá'í-apocalypticism in a very systematic and structured fashion, but that various subjects are fairly scattered throughout the Bahá'í-texts. The present study has therefore addressed the need to first systematize, structure, and analyze Bahá'í-apocalypticism, whereas the next step will be to view this field in its religious/philosophical and historical contexts.

Furthermore, although the presented material only represents a small fraction of the total amount of original Arabic and Persian Bahá'í-texts, it is still a representative cross-section of the available English sources. It was also stated that one reason for studying the English sources was that they were used as the basis for translations into most languages. Thus, this study has in some instances relied on a number of secondary sources, and this can be seen as a major limitation of this thesis. It is therefore recommended that future research on Bahá'í-apocalypticism directly compares and checks the English translations with the relevant primary Arabic and Persian sources.

Since this study was primarily a structural and ahistorical approach to Bahá'í-apocalypticism, it can be evaluated as a "self-contained" enterprise and which ignored the historical parameters. As such, it may represent an "emic" (internal/religious) perspective of religion (apocalypticism), i.e., it presented the Bahá'í-authors view of their own revelation (religion) in connection with other revelations (religions). Thus, this "emic" perspective may also be labeled as "religious" or "sacred history." This view can in turn be contrasted with the "ethical" (external/scientific) perspective of apocalypticism (religion) which embodies historical, exegetical, anthropological, social etc. perspectives. However, although this study primarily has presented an "emic" perspective of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, it was based upon a scientific approach in that it employed an exegetical method (structural criticism) which systematically analyzed various subjects of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. The next step of this research (the Ph.D. dissertation) will further complement, improve, and increase, the "ethic" perspective in that it will systematically include the religious/philosophical and historical contexts.

Appendix I

Bahá'í Apocalypticism — The Vertical Axis

Key terms: Areas: Section:

Hidden

Transcendental essence unknowable

Concealed

--------------------------------------- God ---------------------------------- 1. Theology

Manifest attributes, names knowable

Immanent (according to capacity)

Revealed

Dynamic Creation/Cosmos

Hierarchical (levels, stages) (See Table 2)

Evolutionary

Progressive

Transference

Teleological 2. Cosmology

Capacity Macro (all worlds) Micro (human world)

Gradual

Organic

Omnipresent Universal Confined Specific 3. Universal &

Perpetual Revelation Temporal Revelation Specific

Capacity Receptivity Revelation Gradual

4. Prophetology

Education Laws of Nature Education Manifestations of God

(See Tables 3 & 4)

Nature Capacity Humanity

Receptivity

Circumstances

Material Spiritual

Progressive Revelation — the Horizontal Axis Chapter VII

Progressive Temporal, Spatial, Causal

Successive

Continuous

Gradual

Evolutionary

Capacity

Receptivity

Cyclical (See Appendix II)

Organic (metaphors and models)

Appendix II

Progressive Revelation — The Horizontal Axis

A. The rise and fall of a religion

--------

(solar-model) dawn - noon - sunset — night

(seasonal-model) spring — summer — fall — winter

B. The succession and continuity of religions

--------

spring — summer — fall — winter-spring — summer — fall -winter-spring — summer — fall — winter

Season I Season II Season III

Religion I Religion II Religion III

C. Differences between the Manifestations of God and the Concept of Progress

--------

Religion I Religion II Religion III

D. The cyclical scheme[511]

------

6000 years 1000 years 500 000 years

Adamic Cycle, Bahá'í Dispensation Bahá'í Cycle, Bahá'í Era, Cycle of Fulfilment

Prophetic Cycle "The Millennium" The Golden Age

Appendix III

Progress or decline?

Throughout this thesis the themes of progress and decline have occurred in various contexts, especially in the subsection on "The rise and fall of a religion." However, the vigilant reader may have noticed that in some contexts the present age is described as being in a state of decline and yet in the section on "The Bahá'í Cycle and the concept of progress" the present age is described as being an age of progress and evolution, and that humanity is coming of age or reaching a stage of maturity. Furthermore, in the subsection on Prophetology, the Manifestations of God where described as divine physicians whose missions were to heal the ailments of the world, and elsewhere it was stated that they are the cause of progress in the world. It was also in this context that Bahá'u'lláh described the world's sickness as "approaching the stage of utter hopelessness."[512] Moreover, in another context Bahá'u'lláh writes that:

The world's equilibrium 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.[513]

Statements like these appear to be quite contrary to the concept of progress and in the excerpt above it seems that Bahá'u'lláh's "new World Order" or "System" rather is the cause for the disturbance of the "world's equilibrium." Likewise, it was also earlier shown that although the arrival of the Manifestations of God is seen not only a season of "joy, of happiness," but as "the day of judgment, the time of turmoil and distress." Yet, Bahá'u'lláh also attributes the "perversity of the people of this age" to the "denial and opposition" of the people to the subsequent Manifestations of God.[514] This line of reasoning is similar to Shoghi Effendi's discussion on the causes of the decline of religion where there seem to be a mutual interconnectedness between the revelatory and human dimensions.

In contrast to Bahá'u'lláh's statement that the world's "sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness" is the statement below:

The whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings. Immeasurably exalted is the breeze that wafteth from the garment of thy Lord, the Glorified! For lo, it hath breathed its fragrance and made all things new![515]

Earlier it was seen that humanity as a whole was approaching a stage of maturity and here, along with various organic metaphors, a birth-metaphor is employed. The "whole earth" is here, rather than seen in a state of sickness, being paralleled to "a state of pregnancy" which does suggest a rather radical period of transition to something new. Shoghi Effendi includes the above cited passage in a chapter entitled "Pangs of Death and Birth" and, in conjunction with it, he says that the "darkest hour that must precede the dawn of the Golden Age of our Faith has not yet struck."[516] Shoghi Effendi further comments upon the theme of decline and progress as follows:

Deep as is the gloom that already encircles the world, the afflictive ordeals which that world is to suffer are still in preparation, nor can their blackness be as yet imagined. We stand on the threshold of an age whose convulsions proclaim alike the death-pangs of the old order and the birth-pangs of the new. Through the generating influence of the Faith announced by Bahá'u'lláh this New World Order may be said to have been conceived. We can, at the present moment, experience its stirrings in the womb of a travailing age--an age waiting for the appointed hour at which it can cast its burden and yield its fairest fruit.[517]

The present age is seen was being on the "threshold" between two world orders — the "death-pangs of the old order" ("darkest hour") and the "birth-pangs of the new" ("dawn of the Golden Age"). A similar expression is found in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh where he says: "Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead."[518] These and earlier passages by the Bahá'í-authors indicate that the world at present is in a major phase-transition between two major cycles, and Shoghi Effendi also refers to this present age as the "Age of Transition."[519] This age is furthermore represented not only by two opposing world-orders, but also two major concurring processes:

A twofold process, however, can be distinguished, each tending, in its own way and with an accelerated momentum, to bring to a climax the forces that are transforming the face of our planet. The first is essentially an integrating process, while the second is fundamentally disruptive. The former, as it steadily evolves, unfolds a System which may well serve as a pattern for that world polity towards which a strangely-disordered world is continually advancing; while the latter, as its disintegrating influence deepens, tends to tear down, with increasing violence, the antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity's progress towards its destined goal. The constructive process stands associated with the nascent Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and is the harbinger of the New World Order that Faith must erelong establish. The destructive forces that characterize the other should be identified with a civilization that has refused to answer to the expectation of a new age, and is consequently falling into chaos and decline.[520]

In this passage the above mentioned themes cohere and addresses the apparently contradictory themes of decline and progress. It is interesting to note that both processes are being described as accelerating and that they are reaching a "climax" which will be "transforming the face of our planet." The first process is described as "integrating" and "constructive" whereas the latter is depicted as "disruptive" and "disintegrating." It is interesting to note that the former "steadily evolves," "unfolds" and is related to a "continually advancing" world. These themes, as have been shown, are strongly indicative of a process of progressive revelation. Furthermore, this former process is also connected with the "nascent Faith of Bahá'u'lláh" and the "New World Order." The second process, although portrayed as "destructive," is seen in a positive light in that it tears down the "antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity's progress towards its destined goal." This barrier is hence related to a civilization which has "refused to answer to the expectation of a new age." This last sentence could refer to both: 1) the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh in general, and/or 2) Bahá'u'lláh's letters sent to various religious and political leaders in the 19th century.[521] Consequently, the Bahá'í-authors seem to imply that although a religion or a religious cycle inevitably declines or is completed, peoples' "denial and opposition" or "refusal" of the Manifestations of God, is in some sense, the cause that the world is "falling into chaos and decline."

To conclude, although the general tendency of a single religion, the succession of religions, or the religious cycles is in general progressive, the concept of decline is also an integral part of this process, especially at the end of a religious or prophetic cycle. Thus, decline is a necessary part of the concept of progressive revelation, but humanity is also to some extent responsible for both the process of progress as well as the process of decline.


Abbreviations of Sources

ADJ=Advent of Divine Justice (Shoghi Effendi)
BP=Bahá'í Prayers (Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá)
CF=Citadel of Faith (Shoghi Effendi)
DG=Directives from the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi)
DP=Divine Philosophy ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
FV=Four Valleys (Bahá'u'lláh)
GJ=Garden of Justice (Bahá'u'lláh)
GPB=God Passes By (Shoghi Effendi)
GWB=Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'u'lláh)
HW=Hidden Words (Bahá'u'lláh)
KA=Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Bahá'u'lláh)
KI=Kitáb-i-Íqán (Bahá'u'lláh)
LG=Lights of Guidance (Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi)
LGTANZ=Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand (Shoghi Effendi)
MA=Messages to America (Shoghi Effendi)
MBW=Messages to the Bahá'í World (Shoghi Effendi)
PDC= Promised Day is Come (Shoghi Effendi)
PM=Prayers and Meditations (Bahá'u'lláh)
POB=The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'u'lláh)
PT=Paris Talks ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
PUP= Promulgation of Universal Peace ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
SAQ= Some Answered Questions ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
SDC=The Secret of Divine Civilization ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
SV=Seven Valleys (Bahá'u'lláh)
SWA=Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
TAB=Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
TAF=Tablet to August Forel ('Abdu'l-Bahá)
TB=Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'u'lláh)
TM=Tablet of the Manifestation (Bahá'u'lláh)
UD=Unfolding Destiny (Shoghi Effendi)
WB=Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'u'lláh)
WOB=The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (Shoghi Effendi)

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Notes:

[511] These cycles should not be equated with the seasonal cycles above since the seasonal-models exists within the Prophetic and Bahá'í Cycles. These cycles rather portrays their relative duration.
[512] GWB, pp. 40-41, pp. 118-119; WOB, p. 32; SWA p. 244.
[513] GWB, p. 136.
[514] KI, p. 13.
[515] Bahá'u'lláh qtd in WOB, p. 169.
[516] WOB, p. 169.
[517] WOB, p. 169, italics added.
[518] GWB, p. 7.
[519] WOB, p. 171.
[520] WOB, p. 170, italics added; PDC, p. 17.
[521] See POB.
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