Baha'i News -- Building a spiritual world, free from violence

Building a spiritual world, free from violence

By Kambiz Rafraf
Published December 4, 1999

Violence has always been part of human experience. It was practiced in prehistoric times and was part of classical cultures. It has been both deplored and glorified in poetry and song, in art and literature, in mythology and philosophy. Violence has plagued relationships between and among individuals and groups: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and workers, race, classes, unions, and corporations.

War -- violence organized and directed by government -- has for centuries been the proud activity of rulers and leaders and the shortest route to fame and honor. Even while attempts are made to establish world peace, other forms of violence grow and proliferate. Buildings explode in places far removed from centers of power, burying men, women, and children in the rubble. Airplanes are blown out of the sky. Murder and arson turn city life into a nightmare. Children and youth are targets at schools and places of worship. Beatings and torture are indulged in by those who are entrusted with enforcing the law. Malice, ravage, anger, and antagonism permeate politics and business as well as popular culture.

Dictionaries give the word aggressive its primary meaning of belligerent and hostile, but they also define it as bold and enterprising. In the phrase, "an aggressive young executive," it is used as a term of praise and one preferred to "vigorous" or "energetic" precisely because it carries the connotation of competition and hostility that is highly prized.

The elimination of violence from social and individual life is probably the hardest task humanity could set itself. It demands the spiritualization of civilization, the adoption of an ethos of tolerance, trust and love.

Such an ethos, unfortunately, is not created by legislative action or popular referenda. It must be laboriously constructed within every human soul that commits itself to a journey through many stages of life leading to a knowledge of self and a knowledge of God. The energy flowing from Divine Will must transform individuals and make it possible for them, in turn, to devote themselves to building a society free of the hatreds that are destroying the world we inhabit today.

The Baha'i Faith teaches that man possesses both a spiritual and material nature. It is stated that, "In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his divine nature are shown forth in live, mercy, kindness, truth and justice."

For the individual to acquire these spiritual qualities, he needs to be illuminated and guided by the divine spirit which reaches him through the teachings of the Manifestation of God for the age in which he lives. If the individual allows his rational soul and his power of understanding to receive this spiritual illumination and guidance, his sublime spiritual nature will manifest itself. On the other hand, if he doesn't use or develop his spiritual qualities,"they become atrophied, enfeebled and at last incapable."

The outcome of such a process is that the material qualities of man take ascendance, and consequently, "the unhappy, misguided man becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves."

Messengers or Manifestations of God have appeared to educate humanity to overcome its adolescent immaturity and enter an age of adulthood. It is this all-encompassing and spiritual education which helps the individual become aware of his essential nobility and learn to safeguard it. A faulty perception of man's true nature is only one factor that has contributed to violence and destructiveness.

More than a century ago, Baha'u'llah, Prophet of the Baha'i Faith, enunciated clear and specific teachings to accelerate and direct the maturation process. These teachings state, for example, that women and men are equal, that all individuals must be treated fairly and kindly, that racial differences must be overcome, that international systems to ensure equity and justice must be established, and that the values behind economic systems need to be radically re-conceived. Baha'is believe that periodic renewal of religion and the appearance of Messengers carry the promise and the hope that humanity can redeem itself, that it can overcome the turmoil of its adolescence and enter the age that would fulfill its ancient dream of living in a world characterized by justice, unity and peace.

Kambiz Rafraf is chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Dallas.


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