Who is Writing the Future? Reflections on the Twentieth Century
Author: Bahá'í International Community
Publisher: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, February, 1999; many editions online
Review by: Iain S. Palin
Historians have pointed out that as the
developed world came to the end of the Nineteenth Century of the Christian Era
there was a mood of optimism. People took it for granted that progress was
being made and would continue without interruption. Science was overcoming
barriers to communication and bringing prosperity for all, a prosperity that
would sweep away social tensions and international conflicts. An influential
book “proved” how the countries of Europe were now so thoroughly
linked together by economic factors that a major war between them was
How different from the public mood at the
end of the Twentieth Century. The promise of its start seems to have been a
false dawn. The century has seen two of the three bloodiest wars in human
history as well as countless smaller ones, what was probably the worst pandemic
since the Black Death and many other clear indications that sickness and
disease are not things that will easily be confined to the past, a rise of
virulent nationalism and religious fundamentalism that would have shocked our
Victorian ancestors, a social decline which shows itself in a multitude of ways
and is placing tremendous strains on the fabric of society, and a degradation
of the environment that seems to threaten humanity itself.
In the face of people’s experiences
and perceptions the Bahá'í vision of a better future seems
naïve, and the idea that this has been the “century of light” as
downright perverse. And without the vision of humankind’s development that
comes from an understanding of Bahá'u'lláh and His revelation
this is understandable.
The Universal House of Justice pointed
out this tension in a particularly powerful paragraph in its message to the
Bahá'ís of the world for Ridvan 156 BE:
This projection of portentous
happenings cuts across the divide in time between the twentieth century and the
new millennium, according to the reckoning of the common era. It is a
projection that underscores the contrast between the confident vision that
propels the constructive endeavours of an illumined community and the tangled
fears seizing the millions upon millions who are as yet unaware of the Day in
which they are living. Bereft of authentic guidance, they dwell on the horrors
of the century, despairing over what these could imply for the future, hardly
appreciating that this very century contains a light that will be shed on
centuries to come. Ill- equipped to interpret the social commotion at play
throughout the planet, they listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into
a slough of despond. Troubled by forecasts of doom, they do battle with the
phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. Knowing nothing of the
transformative vision vouchsafed by the Lord of the Age, they stumble ahead,
blind to the peerlessness of the new Day of God.
The contrast and the processes that
underlie it are the central theme of Who is Writing the Future?
It acknowledges what has happened and analyses it, showing how each new advance
in understanding, in science and in other fields, has had the potential for
both good and evil use, the two sides of the same coin. It does not seek to
minimise the evils of the past century, but (unlike many other commentaries) it
also does not minimise the progress that has been made and the promise inherent
in so many developments. Above all, it makes it clear that with a coherent
vision, such as that offered by Bahá'u'lláh, people can see the
prospect of a better future and even that in times to come this past century
will be seen as one of struggle but ultimately of new birth.
The statement is short and powerful,
written in a direct manner. It does not present as a “religious”
document as the term is usually understood, and its points are well set out in
a way that will not deter those who see religion as one of the harmful
influences that have contributed to the dark side of the past century.
It can be seen in the latest in a series
of documents that set out the Bahá'í view on matters of public
concern in a way that people can understand. This began with The Promise
of World Peace
, Turning Point for All
, The Prosperity of Humankind
and other more
specialised titles. All of these have been used by the Bahá'ís to
a greater or lesser extent although one can question whether the more recent
ones were given an opportunity to fulfil their potential as sharers of our
ideas and vision. It is to be hoped that Who is Writing the Future?
In its covering letter to National
Spiritual Assemblies the Universal House of Justice indicated what it wanted
done with the document. It can be distributed widely in its own right if that
is felt appropriate, and this reviewer certainly hopes it will be. It should
not be abridged, which is understandable, cuts would cause it to lose impact
and important points, and it is not a long or heavy statement to start with.
Perhaps most interestingly, the House of Justice expresses the hope that it
will call forth “a range of responses” from the Bahá'ís
themselves. Such responses could take a variety of forms, including the
artistic, and these will themselves both deepen the Bahá'ís and
give new ways of sharing our Faith with others.
For there to be responses, of course, the
Bahá'ís themselves will have to read, study, perhaps discuss and
deepen on, the statement. The National Spiritual Assembly has said that while
all Believers will respond to it in their own way, those who generate responses
in written, or some other easily disseminated, form are asked to share them
with the Assembly. Suitable ones will be made available to the community as a
whole. In this way resources to serve the Faith will be distributed and ideas
and inspiration will flow through the community.
Who is Writing the Future?
offers a way of addressing what people are thinking and saying now – we
should read it, and share widely both the statement and what it is saying. It
is available as an attractive booklet from the Bahá'í Publishing
Trust, and on the World Wide Web in various places including the
Bahá'í Information Office’s Millennium Website.