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Security for a Failing World

by Stanwood Cobb

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Chapter 7


The Need of a Spiritual Renaissance

LIFE-CHANGING on a colossal scale," says L Hugh Redwood, editor of the London Journal, "is the only hope left for the world today."

"Many people, I fear, today fail to realize the very critical period through which the world is passing," warns Stanley Baldwin. "I confess that I am not sure, if a Wesley or a St. Francis arose today, that to found a body of preaching friars would not be the best thing they could do for the world."

"Human wisdom has failed," preaches Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, leader of the Oxford Movement. "The modern world-disillusioned, chaotic, bewildered — demands a solution adequate to its disorder. The fundamental cause of all our troubles is personal selfishness and fear. Men must be changed if problems are to be solved. Leadership that is God directed, this is our primary need."

"Man is not yet spiritually ripe for the possession of the secret of atomic energy," Sir Oliver Lodge declares. "Technically we are demigods, ethically still such barbarians that we would probably use the energy of the atom much as we used the less terrible forces that almost destroyed civilization during the last war."

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Whatever be the causes of the present chaos into which the world has fallen, many are agreed that a spiritual rejuvenation of humanity is the first requisite for reformation and stabilization. There must come to humanity a deeper sense of brotherhood — individual, national and racial. Man must realize emotionally, as he already does intellectually, the actual interdependence of all people. No individual, no class, no community today can live unto itself. We are bound together by indissoluble ties. This planet, sociologically and economically speaking, is plainly an organic unity. The prosperity of all depends upon the prosperity of one, just as the prosperity of one depends upon the prosperity of all. One nation cannot thrive while all the rest are plunged in economic disaster. Our modern industrial and technical civilization requires free and universal interchange of raw materials and commodities. The whole world as well as any part of it depends for its prosperity not only upon its ability to produce goods but also upon its ability to sell goods. When any great nation is destroyed as a consumer of world goods, the whole world suffers as well as that nation. So it is within each country. The prosperity of the whole depends upon the prosperity of every part. Selfishness, aggressiveness, and exploitation on the part of one group not only does harm to other groups, but eventually returns like a boomerang to injure the offending group. The capitalist, taking

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more than his share of the profits of industry, finally harms himself by lessening the consuming power of the masses; and the masses, when usurping all power, deprive themselves of the leadership necessary for industrial organization and efficiency


Intellectually we realize these truths. But how ineffectual is that realization in the way of actually causing a change to occur in our economic and political institutions! These new ideals have not yet penetrated the emotional life of humanity deeply enough to motivate action. Self-seeking greed is still the strongest motive of conduct. Self-seeking greed is still the strongest motive of conduct. And greed is ever shortsighted. A dollar held before the eye can shut out the whole world.

When we realize how deep-seated and primitive is the acquisitive instinct in man, we can understand how the basic emotion of greed naturally injects itself into the whole economic structure of life and how difficult it is of control. Yet until this baser, more primitive side of man's nature is greatly moderated, there is danger that any economic reform, any attempt at ameliorating the faults in our economic institutions, will meet with failure. For no institution can rise above the character of the men and women who constitute it.[1]

    [1. "You and I know that the same greed which caused the depression is still operative in the business world," recently remarked the head of a cooperative milk concern. "The N. R. A. is trying to remedy things, but it has not gotten rid of this greed, which still makes trouble everywhere."]

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What, then, can bring about a sublimation of man's animal instinct or greed? For not until this is done can noble, equitable, and beneficient institutions be established. Man's emotional nature must be changed, sublimated, exalted. A world composed of the man-of-the-street as he is today cannot organize itself ideally. Whatever is attempted will fall under the stress of greed and exploitation. The cure of today will last only until another fever spell returns. The only permanent cure is a change in the motives and conduct of the individual.

What can bring about this change? Can we appeal to man's group intelligence and cause him to progress simply by the warning: "If you do not change your nature, you must suffer in the future"?

No, merely putting the facts before people is not going to idealize their mode of action. A higher force than this is necessary to change the course of this huge mass of humanity moving with such immense momentum. Such a force must needs bee a spiritual force, something capable of penetrating the heart of man and transforming it.

We have seen this occur in the past epochs. We know that religion is the most powerful emotion that can grip the heart of man. We know that it is capable of possessing man's whole being, subordinating other emotions to their proper place.

Under the power of religion man becomes willing to forsake his personal aims and dedicate himself to

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universal goals and ideals; willing to dedicate not only his intelligence and strength, but even his life. That is what is needed today, and many thoughtful people are seeing and saying just this.


Whence is this much-needed spiritual renaissance to be born? From what quarter of the horizon can its rise be expected?

There have been in the past marvelous movements of revival within Christendom.[2] These movements have shown power to greatly modify and improve the lives of their adherents and have been forces in the growth of humanitarian movements; but they have not been able to universally permeate and dominate the religious life of Christendom. Not for centuries — not since the Crusades, in fact — has there arisen any movement which could fire, fuse, and inspire the whole of the Church. I do not question the possibility, nay the probability, of the birth of other wonderful spiritual movements within Christendom especially inspired by the tremendous need of these times.[3] But does it seem possible or probable that any of these movements would be able to universally revitalize Christianity in such a way as to' restore its

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primitive and original power? Can we expect a complete rebirth of Christianity?

    [2. Cf. Chapter 5.]

    [3. Cf. the Oxford Movement, led by Dr. Frank D. Buchman, who is quoted on page 78. For a thrilling account of this movement the reader is referred to "For Sinners Only" by A.J. Russell, a prominent British journalist who has caught the Oxford flame and written a most modernistic and powerful appeal to the religious life as expressed by Buchmanites.]

Even if such an event could occur within Christendom, there would still be left, however, the problem of how to unite the rest of the world with Christendom in one vast brotherhood.


Let us realize that this expected spiritual renaissance must have the power to solve not only national but also international problems. It must, as has just been stated, unite the whole world in a deep sense of brotherhood and mutuality. It must overcome the emotions that lead to economic and military warfare. It must achieve a parliament of nations founded, by mutual consent, upon the power of international force as well as upon the power of international ideals. It must establish a single harmonious code of ethics. It must bring the world together upon one spiritual platform.

Just as Lincoln realized vividly that this country could not go on half slave and half free, so we must realize today that the world cannot go on divided into separate categories of living; separate and often opposing sets of morals; separate religions that, moss-grown with antiquity, are so overloaded with tradition that it seems impossible for them to come together in any active friendship or unity.

The world must unite under one religion, and

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under one culture expressed in one universal language auxiliary to the native language of each nation.


Can we find anyone of the great world religions which seems able to win the adherence of all humanity to such a universal program?

Naturally it is the desire of earnest Christians that their religion may accomplish this. Such has been the undying hope of Christianity ever since its origin. Yet that hope is much further today from a seeming possibility of fulfillment than it was in the first millennium of Christianity.

Up to the Middle Ages, and even beyond, Christianity was a religion of constant expansion. It grew until it possessed all the Occident. Then it spread, by colonization and propagation, over the whole of the New World. But subsequent attempts of Christianity to absorb the oriental religions have proved, if honestly acknowledged, a failure.

Upon Islam, Christianity has not made a dent. To the senior American missionary in Cairo some years ago, a Mr. Watson, I put the question, "How long have you been working in this field?" "Fifty years," he said. "How many Muhammadans have been converted to Christianity in that time?" "About one hundred and fifty," was his answer, "But even then you have to look out." "What do you mean?" "They are apt to become Christians for

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material motives. Then at their death they recant."

An English historian has stated that there have been more Christians converted to Mohammedanism in the last hundred years than there have been Muhammadans converted to Christianity.[4]

    [4. The greatest field for Muhammadan proselyting amongst Christians has been in Russia.]

Islam is itself a powerfully proselyting religion. It has a firm belief in its own authenticity, in its mission to conquer the world. Its propaganda in Africa has been so powerful as to practically absorb that whole continent into its fold. Conversions to Christianity have not been one tenth in number compared to conversions to Islam. Africa today, apart from the Europeans who dwell in it, is practically a Muhammadan continent.

Well, then, shall we say that Islam is the religion which may unite the world? Such an idea, emotionally distasteful to zealous Christians, is also, from the point of view of scientific possibility, quite improbable of achievement.

Is there any other established world religion that seems capable of bringing the world under its banner? Can Buddhism, for instance? Or any move-ment within Hinduism? Here we feel still greater impossibility of any such achievement.


The chief obstacle to the propagandic victory of one existing world religion over another is the need

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on the part of the missionary of the first religion to prove to the adherent of the second that, however good the latter is, the religion of the missionary is superior. In a few cases such a claim earnestly presented, and backed by a wonderful spiritual demonstration in the character and life of the missionary, is accepted and wins over a new proselyte. But in most cases the influence of loyalty, strong in human nature and more powerfully expressed in religion than in any other field of action, prevents an earnest adherent of one religion from substituting any other religion for his own. One might sympathize deeply with spiritual principles as expressed in another religion without caring, however, to abandon one's own native faith.

A close friend of mine at Robert College, a Muhammadan teacher there, used to feel indignant at the attitude of certain Christian members on the faculty who would remark, "Well, Hussein is reading the New Testament daily and is becoming a Christian." "Why should I be considered a Christian just because I read the New Testament and like it?" he said to me. "If they read the Qur'an, does that mean they are becoming Muhammadans?"

In Unitarian Churches there has been used for years a certain devotional book made up from the world's sacred writings. But because a Unitarian minister reads from his pulpit the words of Buddha, of Muhammad, of Moses, of Confucius, it does not necessarily imply that he has become a Buddhist, a Muhammadan, a Jew, or a Confucianist.

It is one thing to admire the ideals and spiritual

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expressions in foreign religions, but it is quite another thing to change one's faith. A thousand emotional ties, both individual and social, hold one back from such a step.

True, people in dense ignorance, people living in poverty and degradation, can be won over to another religion by a form of proselyting which includes material as well as spiritual benefits. But such conversions are not symptomatic. They give no promise of universal extension.

Also races on a low plane of culture possessing primitive religions can be converted by persuasion or force to a higher religion, as in the case of the conversion of the American Indians to Christianity and the conversion of Africans to Christianity or Muhammadanism.

But proselyting movements between the great organized religions of the world have not been such a success as to indicate any possibility of world-wide religious unity being brought about by means of the predominance of any single one of these great ecclesiastical institutions, grown as they are into huge edifices each temperamentally incapable of yielding ground to others.[5]

    [5. Japan, a few decades ago, presented the extraordinary spectacle of a nation's avowedly examining the world's religions to see if another than its own might prove advantageous. Christianity appealed from a distance but upon close examination was found to be too disunited, too narrowly theological, and too little expressing its ideals in actuality. Japan therefore decided to revive its ancient Shinto as the new all-national religion.

    China, the only other country which has offered real promise to Christian missionary zeal, is now — under the urge of nationalism and modernism — less susecptible to dogmatic Christianity than at any time during the past two generations.]

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Yet it is evident that religion is the only force capable of welding together into an amicable working unity all the nations, races, creeds of the world.

"Human power is limited in its influence. It can unite two persons, or two tribes, or two communities, or at the utmost two nations. At the same time it confesses that this unity is temporal and may be abrogated by the whim of either of the high contracting parties.

"But the divine power unites nations and peoples and cements them together in the bond of brotherhood and peace for ages and cycles.... There must needs be divine power for the accomplishment of this universal aim....

"Save through this, ideal communication will not be made possible between the children of men. They may achieve a temporal union for a few years. Men may so compound the various ingredients as to be promiscuously mixed together. But there must needs be the solvent so that they may become perfectly blended and united. In the human world that solvent is the power of the Holy Spirit which will thoroughly mix and blend the different constituents and element representing the various nationalities, religions, and sects."[6]

    [ 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "The Divine Art of Living."

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