A reflection on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh
Eleven days ago, Bahá’ís across the planet celebrated the bicentenary of the birth of the Prophet-Founder of our Faith, Bahá’u’lláh.
In every country where the law does not forbid such things, the Bahá’ís held local celebrations over the impact that Bahá’u’lláh has had on their lives, their communities, and the planet. It would take several pages to adequately summarise everything that happened here in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) to mark this anniversary, let alone the celebrations across a whole nation or across the world, but a glimpse of the global celebrations can be viewed here – I am likely to write more about these celebrations in the coming days or weeks.
For Bahá’ís, Bahá’u’lláh is the fulfilment of God’s promise to humanity that another Messenger would come to aid us in establishing peace throughout the world.
The impact that Bahá’u’lláh has had upon the world might not be immediately obvious to the average casual observer, the world seems teemed with troubles, prejudice is still deeply rooted, and political affairs – national and international – are very polarised. Conflict of one form or another never seems far away, and religion is increasingly considered irrelevant by many in the West. This is the picture many of us see in the news, in our social media feeds, and in our discussions with friends.
200 years ago, there were no microphones, no typewriters, no telephones or telegraphs, no moving pictures, and no gramophones. There were no trains before 1822, no cars, motorbikes or busses before the closing decades of the 19th century, nor – even – light bulbs. There were no postage stamps before 1840, no international postage standards before 1863, and no scheduled international airmail services before 1919.
Our species have been inhabiting this planet for about 200,000 years, but it is only in the last 200 years that huge leaps forward in scientific discovery have taken place such as to make it possible, now, to communicate with each other, to see each other and to hear each other, at any two points on the planet, almost instantly. The very notion that this would one day be possible would have been beyond comprehension for most people 200 years ago, let alone the idea that about 30% of the world’s population would be holding the technology to do this in the palms of their hands.
The world has shrunk, we are no longer strangers through lack of opportunity to connect. While our politicians debate how to keep our borders secure we are crossing them – either physically or virtually – all the time. When we use the Internet, as you are now, the data packets that make everything work are very likely travelling through several countries at the speed of light. How we eat, what we drink, and how we entertain ourselves, have all been heavily affected by the rapid unification of the human race at the levels of communication and transport. In 2017 we can transport goods from the other side of the world in less time than they could be transported from the other side of a typical country in 1817, and we can connect more easily with somebody on the other side of the world in 2017 than we could with somebody in the next room in 1817. Even when Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed that the “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”, most countries would have seemed much bigger to their populations than our entire planet seems to us today.
While our ever more efficient communications mean that we are often more aware of terrible things that happen around the world than our preceding generations could have dreamt of being, the number of conflicts taking place in the world and the number of deaths from war has been in rapid decline, especially since the end of the cold war. The human race is now in its most peaceful period since at least the 1400’s, according to readily available published studies.
Whether we are ready to see these encouraging advancements as evidence of God’s promise to humanity being fulfilled with the arrival of Bahá’u’lláh and His Teachings, or remain sceptical that a correlation could exist between the two, there is one question worth reflecting on as we move forward in this interconnected world, a world the likes of which was unpredictable even 25 years ago, and that question is simply: Who knows how to guide us through these changes? Who can help us to maintain our individual identities while welcoming others? Who can show us how to abolish prejudice and inequality from our society? Who can lead us in removing poverty from our planet? Who is there that can explain what is happening to the world and what the next stages in its advancements are?
As a species, have we become too confident in our own abilities, blinded by the wonders of our scientific discoveries, such that we can no longer see the light that has always guided us, that has always been at the heart of civilisations’ biggest leaps forward, that clearly illuminates the path in front of us? Surveyed from the perspective of the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the state that humanity currently finds itself in, the challenges and quandaries it is yet to solve, even the hardships that likely lie in our immediate path, are not in the least unexpected, nor are they omens of a final Armageddon for our kind, they are signs and symptoms of humanity passing through adolescence to maturity, a maturity that will mark the beginning of a golden age for our species, having finally established the fundamental unity of the entire human race and – equally importantly – having finally understood what that means.
Even if we are sceptical about religion, about the course that humanity is on, or that Bahá’u’lláh offers the answers which I – and millions of other Bahá’ís – are claiming He does, is it not at least worth investigating such a claim properly? Especially given that there really is nobody else claiming to offer such insights into the state that the world finds itself in.
I may well come back to write some more light-hearted posts about how the Bahá’í world – and Newcastle upon Tyne – has celebrated this anniversary, but today I wanted to offer this video produced by the Bahá’í World Centre for the occasion, a video that tells the story of who Bahá’u’lláh is from the perspectives of individuals around the world who are putting His Teachings into practice, who are recognising that their responsibility as individuals is not just to ask their leaders to improve their lives, nor to complain about the things that others are doing wrong around them, but to rise up and make the difference themselves, with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh as their guiding light, whether they have become members of the Bahá’í Faith or not.
If you use this link to reach the video, you can either stream it online or download it for offline viewing. Individuals have also uploaded it to YouTube. Wherever you watch it, I strongly recommend that you get it onto your biggest screen and set aside 51 minutes of quiet time to enjoy high-definition visits to villages, towns and cities across the globe as you learn about the life and sacrifices of the Prophet-Founder of a Faith that rests deep in the hearts of communities, projects and individuals all around the world, myself included.