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Christ and Baha'u'llah

by George Townshend

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Chapter 16

THE KINGDOM ON EARTH

      WHATEVER the conception of the Kingdom of God at the end of the nineteenth century, it certainly did not hold before Christians the same supreme objective of prayer or aspiration which Christ had commanded in the Lord's Prayer. It was, rather the Kingdom of Man than that of God — not of all men but of one race only and of certain members of that race who had achieved for themselves supremacy over the others. It would mean a world-wide Church, the domination of the white man, of white man's civilization and it contemplated the perpetuation of an ever-increasing trade.

      'Abdu'l-Bahá's picture, painted in full length and glowing colour in His Western addresses, was different indeed. He saw the coming of the Kingdom as the opening of the treasuries of heaven — as the throwing wide of God gates on splendors and glories hitherto beyond the reach of human imagination. So far were they from being a divine after-thought that they were, in fact, the originating motive of all creation, prepared before the foundation of the world. All the experiences of the whole human race, all the guidance and the education which the great Prophets had brought, all had been designed for and had led up to the human preparation for the Kingdom. Now, when the Prophets had completed their preliminary


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lessons and mankind was ready to attain maturity, God put forth His hand of power and sent the Lord of Hosts to release yet further spiritual energies and to establish at last the Kingdom of God on earth.

      It was inevitable that the Kingdom of God, so foreseen and so established, should be built into a vast system in which the spiritual and material should be closely conjoined. Such a system has been provided by the Manifestation Himself and made more perfect in all respects than any previous form of government or administration. Of it Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "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."

      Probably there is no description which so tersely and clearly gives the distinctive character of the oneness of mankind and the pattern of the Kingdom of God as the following paragraphs from Shoghi Effendi's The Unfoldment of World Civilization.

      "Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. . .
      "The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely. and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as


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far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvelous swiftness and perfect regularity. A world metropolis will act as the nerve centre of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate. A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue. A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate  intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind. In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will co-operate and will harmoniously develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the expression of the diversified views and convictions of


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 mankind, cease to be mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

      "National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and co-operation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

      "A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of


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war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available resources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation — such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving."

      The establishment of this Divine, yet earthly Kingdom had always been associated, both in the Bible narrative and in its prophecies, with the Holy Land, which has become the home of the Bahá'í Faith. This has not been through its own act, so that none can say it deliberately caused fulfillment of the prophecies, but by the act of its enemies, the Sháh  and the Sulṭán , who, in 1868, brought Bahá'u'lláh, a Persian born in Ṭihrán, as a prisoner and an exile to 'Akká. That city and its neighborhood, especially Mount Carmel, has since become the most sacred spot in the Bahá'í world.

      Bahá'u'lláh was endowed with the creative power to regenerate the whole of humanity and unify it in a single spiritual organism — a spiritual unity which was envisaged by God from the beginning and had never till now been made a reality — and it is a remarkable fact that through the agency of this Order, as yet but embryonic, the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh has succeeded in preserving its unity and integrity, both in thought and in action during the most critical periods of its Heroic and Formative ages. That such a test suddenly facing, as it did on the death of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a community of hundreds of thousands of believers of all classes, nations, races and traditions should be so successfully met, is an achievement almost incredible. Yet it is early evidence of the indubitable truth that every


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human being has an equal right with every other to a place in the Kingdom, which will need the participation of all to make a perfect mirror reflecting the full splendors of the Holy Spirit.

      Hitherto mankind has been divided into two sections — the good and the bad, the faithful and the unfaithful, the elect and the lost, — but now with the coming of the Kingdom all are to be treated and counted as one, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá insisted that all men from now on should treat each other so. What now appears plain to one who approaches this divine Order is that Bahá'u'lláh has provided all the means for mankind's preservation in the fortress of unity, and leads and guides man along the path to the good-pleasure of God Who "cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body."

      Thus, the vast concourse of God's citizens at the inception of His Kingdom have before them the prospect of building a universal World Commonwealth which will develop in the fullness of time into a world spiritual civilization. Of this great day 'Abdu'l-Bahá has written, gathering up all the threads of the past, "One of the great events which is to occur in the Day of the manifestation of that incomparable Branch is the hoisting of the Standard of God among all nations. By this is meant that all nations and kindreds  will be gathered together under the shadow of this Divine Banner, which is no other than the Lordly Branch itself; and will become a single nation. Religious and sectarian antagonism, the hostility of races and peoples, and differences among nations, will be eliminated. All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, will be blended into one race and become a single people. All will dwell in one common fatherland, which is the planet itself."


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      It is the ancient vision coming true at last, the glorious Kingdom of hope and faith descending from heaven to encompass all the earth.

      "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away;[semicolon] and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;[semicolon] and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed sway." (Rev. xxi)


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EPILOGUE

      When no heed was given to Bahá'u'lláh's Declaration that His prophethood was the return of Christ, when His appeal for the examination of His Cause and the redress of cruel wrongs inflicted on Him was ignored; when no one regarded His forecast, so forcefully and so fully presented, that a new Dawn had broken, a New Age had come (new in a spiritual sense, in a moral sense, in an intellectual sense), an Age which would bring a new outlook and new concepts, an Age of Divine Judgment, in which tyranny would be thrown down, the rights of the people asserted, and in which the social structure of the human race would be changed; when no attention was paid to the vision He opened, to the opportunities He offered, to the bold challenge which He had from prison flung before the mighty ones of the world; then alas! the Churches as the years went by found themselves caught into a current which bore them irresistibly downward at an ever increasing speed and which at the end of eight decades was still to be bearing them down to lower and yet lower levels in their political standing, in their moral influence, in their intellectual prestige, in their social authority, in their numbers and their financial resources, in the popular estimate of the relevancy and the reality of the religion which they taught and even in the vigor and unanimity of their own witness to the basic truth upon which the Church itself had been founded.

      No comparable period of deterioration is to be found in the long records of the Christian Faith. In all the


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vicissitudes of fifteen eventful centuries (and they were many); in all the misfortunes, the mistakes, the failures and the humiliations in which from time to time the Church was involved, no such catastrophic decline is to be traced. The sovereignty which the Church had wielded in the Middle Ages had indeed by the nineteenth century become in Western Europe a thing of the past; but the diminution had been gradual and moderate. The loss suffered during the previous eight hundred years can hardly be compared with the vital damage inflicted during the last eighty.

      In past crises the foundations of faith and of western society were not shaken; hope remained dominant, and from tradition and memory men drew inspiration. Society remained Christian and to that extent unified. But now the very foundations have gone. Reverence and restraint are no more. The heights of human nature are closed: its depths opened. Substitute systems of ethics, man-made and man-regarding, are invented, dethroning conscience. The dignity of reason and of knowledge is denied: truth itself is impugned.

      The story of this calamitous decline is well known to all, and its outstanding features can be briefly summarized.

      In the year 1870, not long after the dispatch of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to his Holiness, the Pope was through King Victor Emmanuel's seizure of Rome deprived by force of virtually the whole of that temporal power which Bahá'u'lláh had advised him to renounce voluntarily. His formal acknowledgment of the Kingdom of Italy by the recent Lateran Treaty sealed this resignation of sovereignty.

      The fall of the Napoleonic Empire was followed in


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France by a wave of anti-clericalism which led to a complete separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the State, the secularization of education, and the suppression and dispersal of the religious orders.

      In Spain, the monarchy which for so long had been in Christendom the great champion of the Roman Church was overthrown and the State secularized.

      The dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy caused the disappearance both of the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire and of the most powerful political unit that gave to the Roman Church its spiritual and financial support.

      In Soviet Russia an organized assault directed against the Greek Orthodox Church, against Christianity, and against religion, disestablished that church, massacred vast numbers of its hundred million members, stripped it of its six and a half million acres of property, pulled down, closed or perverted to secular uses countless thousands of places of worship and by "a five-year plan of godlessness" sought to eradicate all religion from the hearts of the people.

      In every land and in all branches of the Christian Church, even where there was no system of Establishment, the rising power of nationalism continually made churches more and more subservient to the interests and the opinions of the State — a tendency brought into strong relief and notoriety in the first world war.

      The gradual decay of the intellectual prestige of religion in Europe had extended over many generations, but it was brought prominently before the public mind in the seventies of the last century, largely through the controversies which followed Tyndall's Belfast address in 1874. The character of this decay has been epitomized


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by Professor Whitehead, writing in 1926, thus:

      "Religion is tending to degenerate into a decent formula wherewith to embellish a comfortable life. . . . For over two centuries, religion has been on the defensive, and on a weak defensive. The period has been one of unprecedented intellectual progress. In this way a series of novel situations has been produced for thought. Each such occasion has found the religious thinkers  unprepared. Something which has been proclaimed to be vital has, finally, after struggle, distress and anthema been modified and otherwise interpreted. The next generation of religious apologists then congratulates the religious world on the deeper insight which has been gained. The result of the continued repetition of this undignified retreat during many generations has at last almost entirely destroyed the intellectual authority of religious thinkers. Consider this contrast; when Darwin or Einstein proclaims theories which modify our ideas, it is a triumph for science. We do not go about saying there is another defeat for science, because its old ideas have been abandoned. We know that another step of scientific insight has been gained."

      The loss in the moral and spiritual field has been even more vital and conspicuous, especially of recent years. There is no need to enlarge upon the matter. The sickness at the heart of Christian life and thought which made these humiliations possible has been the decay of spirituality. Love for God, fear of God, trust in God's overruling providence and ceaseless care have been no longer active forces in the world. The religious thinkers find themselves baffled by the portents of the time: when men in disillusionment, in anguish and despair come to them for counsel, seek from them comfort, hope, some intelligible


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idea as to what this cataclysm means and whence it came and how it should be met, they are completely at a loss. Though the Church for nineteen centuries has proclaimed, and has enshrined in its creeds, the emphatic and repeated promise of Christ that He would come again in power and great glory to judge the earth, would exalt the righteous and inaugurate the Kingdom of God among mankind, yet they believe and teach that through all these years of deepening tribulation no Hand has been outstretched from heaven, no light of Guidance has been shed upon the earth; that God has withheld from His children in their deepest need His succor, His comfort and His love; that Christ has utterly forgotten His promise or is impotent to redeem it and has permitted His universal Church to sink in ruin without evincing the least small sign of His interest or His concern.

      Meantime the Bahá'í Message has kindled once more on earth the ancient fire of faith that Jesus kindled long ago, the fire of spontaneous love for God and man, a love that changes all life and longs to show itself in deeds of devotion and of self- sacrifice even to death and martyrdom. To them who have recognized Christ's voice again in this Age has been given in renewed freshness and beauty the vision of the Kingdom of God as Jesus and the Book of Revelation gave it — the same vision, but clearer now and on a larger scale and in more detail. A new enthusiasm is theirs, a power that nothing can gainsay or resist. Their words reach the hearts of men. With a courage, a determination that only divine love could quicken or support they have arisen in the face of ruthless persecution to bear witness to their faith. Fearless, though comparatively few, weak in themselves but invincible in God's Cause, they have now at the close of little over a hundred


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years carried that Faith far and wide. through the globe, entered well over two hundred and fifty countries, translated their literature into three hundred and fifty languages, gathered adherents from East and West, from many races, many nations, many creeds, many traditions, and have established themselves as a world-community, worshipping one God under one Name.

      The Bahá'í Faith to-day presents the Christian Churches with the most tremendous challenge ever offered them in their long history: a challenge, and an opportunity. It is the plain duty of every earnest Christian in this illumined Age to investigate for himself with an open and fearless mind the purpose and the teachings of this Faith and to determine whether the collective centre for all the constructive forces of this time be not the Messenger from God, Bahá'u'lláh, He and no other; and whether the way to a better, kinder, happier world will not lie open as soon as we accept the Announcement our rulers rejected.

      "O kings of the earth! He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is come. The Kingdom is God's, the omnipotent Protector, the Self-Subsisting. Worship none but God, and, with radiant hearts, lift up your faces unto your Lord, the Lord of all names. This is a Revelation to which whatever ye possess can never be compared, could ye but know it."

O Christian believers! for your own sakes and for the sake of the Churches, for the sake of all mankind, for the sake of the Kingdom, cast away your conflicting dogmas and interpretations which have caused such disunity and led us to the verge of wholesale self-destruction. Recognize the age of Truth. Recognize Christ in the glory and power of the Father and, heart and soul, throw yourselves into His Cause.

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