I don’t know about you, but I lead a fairly easy and luxurious life. My daily challenges rarely go further than deciding what to have for dinner and how not to get angry amongst crowds in small spaces. I rarely need to think about the starving masses or the homeless I walk past on the streets every day.
But now and then, the problems simmering underneath our casual lifestyles come to the surface in dramatic fashion and remind us that all is not well. The recent riots in London remind us that we are witnessing a breakdown in social order and that our commitment to serving our communities is necessary.
As Baha’is, we believe in the nobility of man and do not consider these types of events to be inevitable:
Man is said to be the greatest representative of God… If he comes under the shadow of the True Educator and is rightly trained, he becomes the essence of essences, the light of lights, the spirit of spirits; he becomes the centre of the divine appearances, the source of spiritual qualities, the rising-place of heavenly lights, and the receptacle of divine inspirations. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions
A recent letter written by the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK accurately describes what the London riots represent:
What we are seeing on the streets is the outcome of a society that has, in essence, rejected its spiritual reality, and this is just one of the symptoms from the resulting disease. Religion is no longer seen as the potent force that it is; instead it has been supplanted by false gods, such as materialism, which claim the hearts and minds of people. But, Baha’u’llah warns “[s]hould the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue. Letter from the NSA of the UK, 15 August 2011
The terrible events that have been witnessed on the streets of England provide an opportunity to pause and reflect on the causes of the social problems we see in our communities. However, it is unfortunate that much of the time, we – as a society – fail to do so.
When such situations arise, society looks for someone to blame; it refuses to see the cause, but rather dwells on the symptoms. Letter from the NSA of the UK, 15 August 2011
This focus on symptoms rather than on the underlying causes leads to the inevitable recurrence and continuation of the breakdown of society. As Bahai’s, we believe that simultaneous and parallel to this process of societal disintegration, is a growing level of societal integration, and it is these shocking events that often spur us on to further contribute to positive community building and to engaging in meaningful conversations with those around us:
Those who strive to understand the Revelation of Baha’u’llah and to apply it to their lives and their communities can take this opportunity to engage in distinctive and meaningful spiritual conversations in every social space where they engage, in a manner that throws light upon the root cause of the nightmare that terrorized so many streets of our cities… It was also reassuring to understand that we can see the constructive processes that are associated with the Faith of Baha’u’llah “in the outpouring of feeling, especially from the young, that springs from a longing to contribute to societal development… this longing, which wells up inexorably from the human spirit in every land, is able to find such eloquent expression in the work of the Baha’i community. Letter from the NSA of the UK, 15 August 2011
Rather than heading out into the streets to protest ourselves, or ‘take sides’ regarding the issue, the letter suggests what our role should be.
We must remain attentive and resolute, conscious of how and where to direct our energies, focussed on principle, avoiding the tendency to be partisan, striving to be distinguished in our contributions, engaging with all and empowering others to make their contribution to the betterment of the world and to the processes of profound spiritual and social transformation that are necessary for the building of a new civilization.
Society is witnessing the destruction of communities. Our study circles, devotional gatherings, children’s classes and junior-youth activities, by contrast, are activities that build communities. At this time, we can do no better than to revisit Book 2 of the Ruhi Institute, which helps us to develop the skills and capacity to share the insights we gain from the Writings and view the occurrences of the world through the light of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. A revisiting of Unit 3 of Book 2 would undoubtedly serve as an aid to each of us, alone or in small groups, to practice our skills and prepare more confidently for meaningful and distinctive dialogue.”
Now is the perfect time to reflect on our own contributions to the community around us, and be reminded of Abdu’l-Baha, our exemplar in the Bahai Faith, who “imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. Uncompromising in defence of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner… He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focussed their energies.Letter from the NSA of the UK, 15 August 2011
You can download a copy of the response by the NSA of the UK to the social unrest in the UK (pdf).
What are your thoughts on the spiritual significance of the recent events in England?