Advancing Civilization: A Personal Reflection

Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

I know we have all been there. That moment (which happens way too often, unfortunately) when you watch or read the news or hear stories about the most terrible violence, injustice and corruption happening right before our eyes, all over the world. You might feel almost powerless, or that no effort you make could save the world from so much pain and suffering. 

It is evident, then, that what the world needs is a transformation. The world is undergoing a painful disintegration, but the integration of a new world is on its way. This transformation is greater than we can imagine, it requires the building of a whole new civilization while we see the old civilization crumble and decay. Baha’u’llah states that the goal of every religion is

to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions.1

This makes me ask myself: How can we assist with this transformation?

Aha! We are indeed very fortunate. We have the ongoing guidance from the Universal House of Justice as well as the the vast experiences in communities around the world where this transformation is already taking place through devotional meetings, study circles, children’s classes, and junior youth groups and through home visits, firesides, deepenings, and acts of service – to name a few! We have the opportunity to be engaged in this process of transformation wherever we are, and to learn alongside others how this transformation is shaping new patterns of community life. The forces of disintegration will challenge us, but if we are firm and devoted we can contribute to these incredible forces of integration with the unquestionable certainty of the higher station that God has destined for humanity.

I take courage in knowing that “the community-building efforts being exerted around the world by Baha’is and friends are not simply good social projects by selfless individuals”; these efforts are contributing to this process of integration which is “influencing increasing numbers of people to work for unity and progress”.2

This is not something that can happen overnight or by a small group of people. These processes of integration and disintegration, both, are helping the advancement of the world spiritually and materially. As we strive to build community life and unite the material and spiritual in all aspects of our lives, these words by our beloved Master are so befitting and clear:

Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light in that lamp. If the material and spiritual civilizations become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect.3

Undoubtedly, we all long for that perfect outcome, for that lamp to shine brightly. In order to learn to unite the material and spiritual, youth from around the world have been reflecting on the 2013 Youth Conference materials. They contain so much and could make us reflect for a lifetime on what it means to advance our civilization, but there are two particular points that drew my attention.

The first one is the acceptance of the vital truth that we are all one. This is most definitely the essential step to building a new civilization where we are learning to avoid prejudices of all types and where all of our relationships at the various levels of society, are based on love and justice, making sure each and every individual is given the opportunity to serve and do social good.

The second one is the understanding of the shared right and duty we all have to contribute to this process of integration. We can find great joy in bringing to everyone’s awareness their potential to help build a new world, and enabling them to arise to fulfill their duty as conscious builders of this new and bright civilization.

I am attempting to carry these fundamental points in my heart and mind as I make decisions, as I consult with my family, work with my community, and as I strive to help others become effective and conscious builders of the vibrant, peaceful and radiant new civilization the world is awaiting so desperately.

My heart breaks every day when I see the effects of climate change, the levels of poverty rising, the unimaginable life refugees are facing, the high levels of crime and how normal it has become, the degradation of every ounce of morality, the immense food insecurity, the injustice that is so evident at every level of society and even the stress that we are all under for having to live in such a chaotic world. Yet, these heart-wrenching realities can provide us with a sense of mission and be a source of extra encouragement, the catalyst that propels our efforts and fuels our souls as we make herculean efforts to advance civilization to its true destiny.

As I continue to strive in my service to the betterment of the world, here are some words from Baha’u’llah that give me added inspiration:

O friends! Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny. Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain imaginations which certain hearts have devised. Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll. With the utmost unity, and in a spirit of perfect fellowship, exert yourselves, that ye may be enabled to achieve that which beseemeth this Day of God. Verily I say, strife and dissension, and whatsoever the mind of man abhorreth are entirely unworthy of his station. Center your energies in the propagation of the Faith of God. Whoso is worthy of so high a calling, let him arise and promote it. … Be ye guided by wisdom in all your doings, and cleave ye tenaciously unto it. Please God ye may all be strengthened to carry out that which is the Will of God, and may be graciously assisted to appreciate the rank conferred upon such of His loved ones as have arisen to serve Him and magnify His name.4

What inspires you to advance civilization?


 

  1. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan: The Book of Certitude (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2003, 2005 printing), para. 270. []
  2. Youth Conference Materials, retrieved from http://american.bahai.us []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, from a talk in New York, 14 April 1912, at Church of the Ascension, para. 2. []
  4. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah (US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990 printing), pages. 195-197. []

About the Author

Delaram Erfanian

Delaram is an environmental scientist with a love for chocolate, her nieces and nephews, and above all, laughter. Her parents and two older siblings pioneered from Iran to Ecuador, where she was born and raised. She has since been blessed to live in four different continents and now lives with her husband in Toronto, Canada. Delaram holds a Bachelors degree in Geography and Environmental Studies and a Masters degree in Environmental Science. Her work and research is focused in developing greater understanding of complex environmental issues.

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Discussion 7 Comments

  1. “My heart breaks every day when I see the effects of climate change, the levels of poverty rising, the unimaginable life refugees are facing, the high levels of crime and how normal it has become, the degradation of every ounce of morality, the immense food insecurity, the injustice that is so evident at every level of society and even the stress that we are all under for having to live in such a chaotic world. Yet, these heart-wrenching realities can provide us with a sense of mission and be a source of extra encouragement, the catalyst that propels our efforts and fuels our souls as we make herculean efforts to advance civilization to its true destiny.”

    The problems you listed as seeing in the world were much worse centuries ago then today (with the notable exception of climate change). The media makes things more visible, but the actual rates of those things are lower than centuries ago or even decades ago. The increased visibility via the media only gives the impression otherwise. Media fearmongering for ratings is a new trend in the history of the world. Throughout most history people had all this bad stuff, but didn’t know about it as much because media didn’t report on it as much. Now we have media that reports on even the tiniest little thing which gives the impression that the present is worse than the past.

    1. Thank you for reading my article, Stephen. You raise an interesting point. Undoubtedly, the transformation of humanity will require the efforts of all. In writing this article I aimed to share a Baha’i perspective on this transformation from some of the efforts underway that I have personally witnessed are contributing to the material and spiritual well-being of humanity. I agree that each and every person in the world has that shared duty with the process of transformation and we are all learning about what that transformation looks like as we exert efforts towards the process of integration.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. The goal of every religion is transformation, yet you only mention Baha’i Core Acitivities as where the transformation is happening? Yet you only mention Baha’is and friends as agents of transformation? Yet you also don’t mention Core Activies or the equivalents done by other religions, their followers, and friends of those religions to de facto give the impression the Baha’i Faith has a monopoly on transformation?

    1. Hi Stephen!

      I won’t reply on Delaram’s behalf but I wanted to thank you for commenting and add my own thoughts to what you have written in both of your comments.

      For one, I think that transforming our civilization is the work of everyone, regardless of their beliefs or cultures. The Golden Rule, shared by so many faiths and cultures, showcases our responsibility to make the world a better place, on the most basic of levels, by preferring others over ourselves. I think that this article, however, attempts to look at advancing civilization through the lens of the Faith, its current activities, and its teachings — albeit very, very briefly considering Baha’i Blog articles are so short. Volumes and volumes could be written on this subject. Looking at transformation through this lens however, doesn’t discredit or dishonour the valuable contributions many people, from a variety of backgrounds, are making for the betterment of society.

      As to your other comment, I agree that the media can bring our attention to human suffering in remote parts of the planet that years ago, very few people would have heard about. In one way, this brings us closer together as a human family. For example, whenever a natural disaster strikes, my local grocery store will often collect donations on behalf of aid organizations. If it weren’t for the news, the majority of the people in my remote community would either not know of the disaster nor be moved to help. This isn’t to say that the media is flawless, but it highlights a strength of journalism and the media.

      I also believe that God sends Divine Messengers precisely because of human suffering and that, almost in a cyclical fashion, humanity has gone through some very dark periods. I don’t feel knowledgable enough to compare the state of the world today with past human suffering but I think that the problems of today — and the suffering Delaram highlighted — cannot be ignored, regardless of whether it’s worse today than it was in previous centuries. And that knowing about these problems can really motivate us to contribute to the betterment of the world in whatever way we can.

      Thank you for being a Baha’i Blog reader and for being moved to comment!

      -Sonjel

  3. Wonderfully written. Will be sharing this article with Inquirers and Friends at the Youth Gathering at our home today. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Indrani.
      I am happy you found the article useful. I hope the Youth Gathering was wonderful!
      Delaram

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