Socially Unacceptable Unity

Bahá’ís promote love and unity, and stand against disunity, discord and estrangement.  At least, this is what we claim.

“The first utterance of Him Who is the All-Wise is this: O children of dust! Turn your faces from the darkness of estrangement to the effulgent light of the daystar of unity. This is that which above all else will benefit the peoples of the earth. O friend! Upon the tree of utterance there hath never been, nor shall there ever be, a fairer leaf, and beneath the ocean of knowledge no pearl more wondrous can ever be found.”
– Bahá’u’lláh

It is likely that if you know anything about the Bahá’í Faith, you will be familiar with the themes of Bahá’u’lláh’s message above.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as the perfect example of how loving Bahá’ís should be, lived these instructions which He detailed for the Bahá’ís:

“let them be kindly fathers to the children of the human race, and compassionate brothers to the youth, and self-denying offspring to those bent with years. The meaning of this is that ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies, and welcome them all with unalloyed friendship, good cheer, and loving-kindness. When ye meet with cruelty and persecution at another’s hands, keep faith with him; when malevolence is directed your way, respond with a friendly heart. To the spears and arrows rained upon you, expose your breasts for a target mirror-bright; and in return for curses, taunts and wounding words, show forth abounding love. Thus will all peoples witness the power of the Most Great Name, and every nation acknowledge the might of the Ancient Beauty, and see how He hath toppled down the walls of discord, and how surely He hath guided all the peoples of the earth to oneness; how He hath lit man’s world, and made this earth of dust to send forth streams of light.”

This love and unity is not just about feeling good within ourselves, it is the very lifeblood of the human race:

“attraction and composition between the various elements is the means of life, and discord, decomposition and division produce death. Thus the cohesive and attractive forces in all things lead to the appearance of fruitful results and effects, while estrangement and alienation of things lead to disturbance and annihilation. Through affinity and attraction all living things like plants, animals and men come into existence, while division and discord bring about decomposition and destruction.

“Consequently, that which is conducive to association and attraction and unity among the sons of men is the means of the life of the world of humanity, and whatever causeth division, repulsion and remoteness leadeth to the death of humankind.”
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

For Bahá’ís there is a clear warning from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about the consequences of choosing contention:

“O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace.”

Immediately after this warning, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues to remind Bahá’ís of the standard they must meet:

“It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving-kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of God and all limitations earthly. Thus man must strive that his reality may manifest virtues and perfections, the light whereof may shine upon everyone. The light of the sun shineth upon all the world and the merciful showers of Divine Providence fall upon all peoples. The vivifying breeze reviveth every living creature and all beings endued with life obtain their share and portion at His heavenly board. In like manner, the affections and loving-kindness of the servants of the One True God must be bountifully and universally extended to all mankind.”

And then, again, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá warns the lovers of Bahá’u’lláh that:

“Regarding this, restrictions and limitations are in no wise permitted.”

Following which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá again reminds us of the standard to which Bahá’ís must strive and the effect that this can have on the world:

“Wherefore, O my loving friends! Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Baha, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity.”

When such teachings are taken in the context of situations where it would be widely acknowledged that the best social or political act would involve unity, they simply reinforce a Bahá’ís desire to enforce it as lovingly as possible. But when social or political values suggest that discord, disunity, estrangement or hatred are the expected norm, it is often hard for Bahá’ís to remember the different standard that they have been set.

The above quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues:

“Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you show your fidelity unto them, should they be unjust toward you show justice towards them, should they keep aloof from you attract them to yourself, should they show their enmity be friendly towards them, should they poison your lives sweeten their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you be a salve to their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the attributes of the truthful.”

Whether it is in the way he handle tensions in the workplace, or the way in which we deal with our family or friends as circumstances change, or the way we react to people who promote laws, policies or views that we disagree with, we live in a society where discord and estrangement are not only acceptable, they are considered correct.

The challenge that these instructions offer to Bahá’ís is not just in the degree to which we have internalised the meaning of “the oneness of the world of humanity”, such that we are able to carry out the instructions to love each member of the human race as if they were all our own children or siblings, but also in the degree to which we can sever ourselves from social norms and replace discord, estrangement and hatred with unity and love, even when the world around us will consider us wrong for doing so.

“Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.”
– Bahá’u’lláh

The standard for Bahá’ís is clear, it is repeated throughout our Holy Books, we offer it to others as one of the key principles of our Faith. We must be diligent, therefore, that we are ever mindful of its importance, and that we don’t fail to heed the warnings given to us by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá by mistaking social and political norms as spiritual justifications for estrangement and disunity, when no such justifications – and only warnings – exist within our Faith.

“Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”
– Bahá’u’lláh

 

3 thoughts on “Socially Unacceptable Unity”

  1. I’d love to hear more about your understanding of how unity and justice are related. It is my current understanding that we cannot achieve unity without justice being established. To hold to a false appearance of unity within our community where injustice (based on race, socioeconomic standing, or gender) yet remains would be hypocrisy – also forbidden of Bahá’ís.

  2. Beautifully written, linking these quotes together. Thank you. Sometimes it can be difficult to put our egos aside when others are attacking us for what we are doing in the wider world. These quotes a a guidance and a solace.

  3. Thank you, Cora, this is an interesting perspective and perhaps it depends on how we define unity. I would have to agree with you that we cannot be united behind a single purpose, for example, if that purpose is not supported by the parties we are speaking of uniting, and if that lack of support also represents an injustice then there is clearly a case where that particular unity cannot exist in the same cause as that injustice.

    In my rather broad post above, the unity I feel I am referring to is our essential unity as a human race, the reality that we are, one and all, the same creation, loved equally by God, with our own qualities and capacities, and that like the limbs and members of the human body, we are all part of the body of mankind, that, in the Words of Bahá’u’lláh, the “well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established” and, in the Words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day.”

    It is my understanding that the increasing understanding and acceptance of this unity is what will bring about justice.

    I understand that we are called upon as Bahá’ís to act in accordance with the recognition of this oneness, to act as one family, and for that matter a more loving version of a family than many family units in the modern world. So, although we are upholders of justice, we do not exclude those who are unjust from our love. Indeed there is a strong argument that we should be all the more diligent in approaching those who are unjust with love and unity as our pure and genuine motives. At this point it would help me to explain my understanding of this if I first share two quotes from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which reference injustice:

    “Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory. For each of the creatures is a sign of God, and it was by the grace of the Lord and His power that each did step into the world; therefore they are not strangers, but in the family; not aliens, but friends, and to be treated as such.”

    “Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind: for love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest.”

    My “understanding” of the relation between justice and unity can be offered in relation to the above quotes. Bahá’ís are not only asked to *tell* the world how it can be united, but to *show* the world how can be united. We are asked to look after those who have been disadvantaged by the world they find themselves in and to stand up for their rights, but we do so with love and not hostility, we recognise in each individual the sign of God and treat them accordingly. This is part of our example, and it will not work if it is “in appearance only”, as you also point out, we have to truly believe that the essence of a soul is something much more than an injustice that the individual supports, or a contrary view that the individual holds. Injustice is a darkness that is removed by the light of love, and so our most powerful tool in tackling injustce, or estrangement, or disunity, is sincere love.

    The Bahá’í community at large, while it is not immune to the prejudices and injustices that we are surrounded by, is committed to eradicating these injustices, and in this cause exists unity at the level of thought and belief, as well as our underlying reality. In some places, inequalities based on the factors you refer to are so ingrained in society that large-scale change is required for those injustices to be removed, what will hasten the advent of that day is the speed with which humanity comes to recognise the underlying unity of the human race, ceases to see otherness based on differences of race, socioeconomic standing, gender, political views, nationality, sexuality or religious affiliation, and sees all humanity as component parts of the same family who will only progress properly when the needs of each and every individual are given equal concern. When, as individuals, people who treat us badly based on ignorance and suspicion get to know us and see that we are warmly concerned for their well-being, their treatment of us improves, when the people of the world recognise the essential unity of the whole human race, injustice will no longer be tolerated, and justice will be a natural consequence.

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