PrefaceThe Promised Day is Come, pages v-x
Shoghi Effendi, great grandson of Bahá’u’lláh (Founder of the Bahá’í World Faith) and author of this work, The Promised Day is Come, was the spiritual head of the Bahá’í World Community from 1921 until his passing in 1957. The following commentary on the origin and aims of the Bahá’í Faith is taken from a statement prepared by him for the United Nations Special Palestine Committee:
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
To say that we live in an age of crisis is to utter a platitude. Hundreds of books, thousands of articles, speeches, sermons and lectures play endless variations on this frightening theme. The facile optimism of an H.G. Wells, the irrational faith in an automatic betterment of human life, the confident expectations of a universal triumph of peace and democracy have given way to anxiety, fear and despair. There is remarkable agreement that the world is sick, that “something went wrong” with Western civilization at the very moment when it was about to become world civilization, that yesterday’s utopias have proved cruelly disappointing, that man’s future is threatened by his own destructive impulses, which are much stronger than he had suspected and which he seems unable to control. However, there is little agreement about the causes of the crisis and none about the necessary cure. Lost in the labyrinth of conflicting ideologies, blinded by glittering theories which distract him for a brief moment, lacking a vital system of values, modern man, almost in spite of himself, continues on the road to catastrophe and total self-destruction.
Having voluntarily renounced his spiritual nature and proclaimed himself nothing more than a higher animal, modern man is as yet incapable of discerning the simple truth that his happiness and his very survival depend upon the establishment of harmony between his will and the Will of the Author of the universe. The cause of man’s tragedy lies in his rejection of the principles which constitute the sole basis of human existence, principles which are as real as physical laws but apprehended though reason and faith rather than through reason and the senses.
Twenty years ago in the midst of the second World War, Shoghi Effendi addressed to the Bahá’ís of the West a long letter which became a book. In it he spelled out in clear and powerful language the Bahá’í understanding of the crisis of our age. “The powerful operations of this titanic upheaval,” Shoghi Effendi unequivocally proclaimed, “are comprehensible to none except such as have recognized the claims of both Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb. Their followers know full well whence it comes, and what it will ultimately lead to.” The certitude expressed in these lines is derived from faith in Bahá’u’lláh as a divine Messenger Who had opened a new era in mankind’s history.
Whereas in the last hundred years most thinkers have been trying to interpret history either in terms of itself, which is an impossible task, or to interpret the totality of human activity by some part of it such as economics or politics, which is equally impossible, Shoghi Effendi looks at history in the light of its essence: the relationship between temporal man and eternal God. Viewed in this light, history reveals a meaning and a pattern which were not perceptible before. Man’s actions acquire significance when it is demonstrated that it was his own recalcitrance, his rejection of God’s will that led to the turmoil, the upheavals, in which he has become so hopelessly enmeshed. In a sense, the horrors of this century can be called God’s vengeance upon man for having severed the ties which bound him to his Creator. In another sense, man’s torment is a result of his own stubborn unwillingness to recognize his spiritual nature and the nature of spiritual laws which govern it.
Eloquently and vigorously Shoghi Effendi sketches the outlines of Bahá’u’lláh’s mission and of the response it evoked. In numerous messages to “emperors, kings and princes, chancellors and ministers, the Pope himself, priests, monks and philosophers, the exponents of learning, parliamentarians and deputies, the rich ones of the earth, the followers of all religions,” Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His message and unfolded before the unseeing eyes of the rulers of the world the Divine Plan destined to raise mankind to a higher level of development and to create a new, a spiritually sounder civilization.
The disintegration of the traditional foundations of civilized society, the overthrow of its ancient institutions and values created a vacuum which inevitably had to be filled. When humanity turned its back on Bahá’u’lláh, refusing to accept His message, it opened the door to false and vicious doctrine which quickly captured its mind and heart. Today, as Shoghi Effendi points out:
The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind are none other than the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism, at whose altars governments and peoples, whether democratic or totalitarian, at peace or at war, of the East or of the West, Christian or Islamic, are, in various forms and in different degrees, now worshiping. Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations outworn shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved, the maimed, and the homeless.
Dark as the present is, it carries within it the promise of a bright future. The decaying old order has already given birth to the new. The process of disintegration is paralleled by the as yet almost invisible process of growth. The very suffering which humanity has inflicted upon itself slowly but surely creates the necessary conditions for the unification of mankind. Shoghi Effendi repeatedly emphasizes how mysteriously and “resistlessly God accomplishes His design, though the sight that meets our eyes in this day be the spectacle of a world hopelessly entangled in its own meshes” and heedless of its high destiny.
The Promised Day is Come is not a history of the last century, nor is it a philosophy of history in the more technical sense of the term. Yet it conveys in less than a hundred and fifty pages a truer picture of the cataclysmic changes which have occurred in Europe and Asia since the middle of the nineteenth century than whole libraries of heavily footnoted tomes. Shoghi Effendi’s analysis penetrates to the core of events and personalities. His brief characterizations of Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX, Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, Wilhelm II, are brilliant examples of bold and precise condensation, in which a few sentences suffice to reveal the most important qualities of each man. The same genius for concise formulation is displayed in discussing such complicated events as the downfall of monarchic institutions, the collapse of the Caliphate, the crumbling of religious orthodoxy, or the rise of Bolshevism. Unerringly he selects the essential characteristics of each; and the event, the institution, or the movement comes to life and yields its meaning to the astonished reader.
The style, formal and elaborate, is entirely original. Some readers find it difficult at first but soon discover how completely it corresponds to the task the author set himself, how perfectly it fits the subject. The sentences are long and the vocabulary vast, but nothing is superfluous. Every noun, every verb, every adjective obeys the author’s purpose and adds its share to the majestic effect which the book invariably produces on the attentive reader.
Though written during the second World War and immediately inspired by events which are already growing dim in mankind’s memory, The Promised Day is Come has not lost, nor will it ever lose, any of its relevance and significance. On the contrary, its message will seem even more urgent to a generation which lives in the threatening shadow of the Bomb. Better than anyone else it should be able to understand the full implications of these words of Bahá’u’lláh translated and quoted by Shoghi Effendi: “And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appears that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake.”
This remarkable book, ostensibly addressed to the Western Bahá’ís, is a challenge to everyone. Rapidly and dramatically, it tells the story of the last of God’s messengers speaking to the entire humanity but being heard by only a few. It shows the frightening consequences of such recalcitrance: the downfall of the old order and the obscure birth of the new. It shows the depth of present-day darkness and predicts a new dawn to a humanity which would respond to the Divine Call. But above all, it forcefully reminds modern man that he is not alone in the universe, that his existence is not meaningless, that his destiny is significant, and that the way to God is once again open to him.
New Haven, Connecticut, June, 1961