June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
If you have spent a considerable amount of time reading the Writings of the Baha’i Faith, it is likely that you have come across language regarding the relationship between the Faith and a new “World Order.” One of the passages that is most frequently quoted in relation to this theme is this poignant statement by Baha’u’llah:
The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System–the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.
Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 118
Those who came across such language early in their investigation of the Faith may have been surprised, or even taken aback, at the use of this terminology in the context of religious scripture. Indeed, while some derivative of this phrase is found in countless passages in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, the Baha’i community is not the only one that uses this terminology. The term was frequently used by governmental leaders in public discourse during the post-WWI period in their arguments for greater international cooperation and support of the fledgling League of Nations (now the United Nations).
However, more recently it has become the language of conspiracy theory, evidence of a secret plot for world domination being orchestrated by a handful of nefarious individuals who wield undue influence on global affairs. (In my research on the subject, I even stumbled across websites pondering whether Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is the Antichrist because of his use of “world order” language).
It seems prudent, therefore, to distinguish the meaning of the phrase as it is used in the Baha’i Faith from other, possibly less savory connotations. I’ll attempt to do this by discussing the “World Order” that Baha’is envision as it pertains to a number of subjects: politics and governance, economics, society, and religion.
Politics and Governance
One of the lenses through which Baha’is view the progress and evolution of humanity is the lens of unity. From this perspective, we understand mankind as progressing successively through various stages of affiliation and cooperation. Although the specific stages and their order may have varied from culture to culture, we can generally say that peoples around the world have traversed, or are in the process of traversing, the unities of the family, the tribe, the town/city-state, the empire (a loose conglomeration of city-states), and the nation-state. Each stage brings new challenges of coordination, but also unleashes humankind’s potential to a greater degree. There are surely a number of examples of governmental instability around the world, but the majority of nation-states are now fairly well established. Baha’is therefore view the final and inevitable stage of humanity’s evolution as the achievement of global unity. This is why Baha’is support efforts such as the United Nations (although not necessarily all of its policies and practices, a full discussion of which is outside the scope of this post) which attempt to achieve political and governmental unity on a global scale.
Many view this new “World Order” of international governance as a threat to national sovereignty. This fear appears to be driven by a paradigm of political competition and a “zero sum game” mentality, whereby the victory of one group (such as a political party, nation, etc.) is necessarily a loss for another. Sadly, this paradigm, even in democratic societies, is far too common given the widespread influence of partisanship, which necessarily pits different groups against each other. 1
But the existence of a global system of government by no means necessitates the elimination of national autonomy, just as the establishment of states and provinces did not eliminate local control, nor did the creation of nations eliminate states’ rights. On the contrary, Baha’is believe the establishment of international governance is necessary to ensure that the rights of all individuals and communities are fully safeguarded against tyranny, despotism, and political repression.
Much of humanity has experienced tremendous growth in its material prosperity over the last two centuries, and Baha’is fully believe that both spiritual and material development are noble goals for humanity to pursue. However, this prosperity has not been enjoyed equally, and the disparities between the wealthy and the destitute are tremendous and growing; the top 0.5% of the population controls more than a third of the world’s wealth, while the bottom two-thirds of the population (roughly four billion people) control less than one-twentieth. 2
One of the foundational principles of the Faith is the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, so we view this growing inequality as something that must be combated. This does not mean we support measures to artificially equate the incomes of all people or promote economic systems such as communism which attempt to do so, but nor do we believe that the “unbridled capitalism” which has come to dominate the world economy is achieving a just distribution of resources. 3
In the World Order Baha’is are hoping to build, all peoples of the world will have the ability and capacity to contribute meaningfully to the world’s economy, abject poverty will be eliminated, and the extremes of wealth and poverty will be greatly reduced.
Although we believe that international political unity is necessary to achieve world peace, Baha’is also believe it is insufficient. A necessary precondition of true unity and prosperity is the recognition by all people of the fundamental oneness of humanity. This consists of an elimination of all forms of prejudice, be they racial, ethnic, national, or of any other type, an appreciation for the incredible diversity of humankind, and a respect and protection of the freedoms which all individuals must be granted. This interpersonal and spiritual unity, rather than international political cooperation, is the true bedrock and foundation of the World Order Baha’is hope to achieve.
Although the implications of a new World Order for the three themes discussed above may seem innocuous, some may wonder what role the Baha’i Faith itself wishes to play in the unfoldment of this new age. Are Baha’is set on world domination? Do they want the whole world to become Baha’i? The short answer is: it depends what you mean by Baha’i. Just as it has become commonplace to view politics through the lens of competition and dichotomies, so do we often think about religion. You are either a Christian or a Buddhist, a Muslim or a Jew, a Zoroastrian or a Hindu, as if an acceptance of one faith necessarily entails the rejection of all others.
From the Baha’i perspective, this is one of the most destructive paradigms of present-day society. Instead, Baha’is view all of the major world religions as chapters of an ever-unfolding book which is the revelation of God. While social teachings may differ between religious traditions, at the foundation of all religions is a common set of spiritual principles: be kind, be just, be truthful, be generous, be compassionate, and the like. To Baha’is, what matters not is the religion by which one identifies himself or herself, but the degree to which one reflects these spiritual principles.
So do Baha’is want everyone to call themselves a Baha’i? It doesn’t matter to us at all. What matters is that we all strive to embody these spiritual principles, recognize the commonalities in our respective Faith traditions, and use those commonalities as the foundation for a world civilization built on respect, collaboration, and unity.
Matt Giani is a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on stratification and social mobility in education, with an emphasis on helping underprivileged students make successful transitions to college after high school. Matt draws his inspiration from his exuberant daughter Clara, his incredible wife Shadi, and the Baha'i teachings.
I just wanted to say thank you for writing this article. I have encountered situations before where I was introducing the faith and somewhere along the way this term “New World Order” was uttered. Boy, did I get a few looks, ha. I think that’s precisely were I lost them as an interested audience.
I just have one question however about the word “final” in this sentence.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my understanding, the Bahai goals of global unity are absolutely inevitable but not the final stage of humanity’s evolution. Can you explain more about what you meant by this?
Again, thank you for providing a good explanation of what “New World Order” means from the Bahai perspective.
Cliff Weiler (June 6, 2014 at 1:01 PM)
I understood that as a reference to something Shoghi Effendi had written in the World Order of Baha’u’llah. In the message “The Goal of a New World Order, under the heading “the Principle of Oneness,” he wrote,
Greg Hodges (June 6, 2014 at 3:46 PM)
As you can probably surmise Shoghi Effendi did NOT write what I have in a little quote box there. Those are my own thoughts on the above essay. Can the HTML tags this website uses come with some instructions on how to use them properly? Here’s the actual quote from the Guardian.
Greg Hodges (June 6, 2014 at 3:52 PM)
Me too. Lots of folk hate that term ‘new world order’ because dictators like Hitler liked it lots and lots and pots and pots. The problem I’ve found trying to defend ‘new world order’ as a term in front of middle class audiences is that the whole discussion goes onto the defensive and I find myself placating the implacable – merely over a phrase, a relatively innocuous phrase at that. A real storm in a tea cup develops which nevertheless for some becomes real enough at the time! My American friend John Dale came up with a milder form which seems to calm the troubled waters. Consider instead of ‘new world order’ as part of your own speech patterns – NEW WORLD ORDER THEORY. Needless to say I’m not suggesting that one consider altering the Guardian’s peerless terminology
Paul Desailly (June 6, 2014 at 10:59 PM)
Baha’is around the world strive to change the present competitive, discriminatory society by working with their neighbors (of all religions and beliefs) to build a society best represented by humanity’s noblest qualities: trustworthiness, honesty, kindness, etc..
They do it by working with people of all ages in a grand experiment of true community building where every participant is encouraged to contribute not only with their time, but in the formation of this very society.
I don’t believe Baha’is compete to become one more or the “best” or the “winning” ideology. Instead more and more they are realizing that through pure and goodly actions the world can improve:
“The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.”
All are welcome.. all are invited… as long as the aim is unity, fellowship and the betterment of this world.
am (June 6, 2014 at 6:57 PM)
Great article and very timely as well as the Faith emerges further and further out of obscurity into the spotlight in front of a suspicious world!
There is way too much fear going around. Though certainly some of it is appropriate considering actual threats, many people fear those groups who appear or act differently when there is no threat at all. Fear is like that sometimes: illogical. One thing that will help us in our struggle to build a new world order based on unity and diversity is our freely spoken words about these groups emphasizing whatever is good about them. These should be easy to find with a little thought and research. After all, we have much more in common than we have differences. We must build unity from points of agreement.
Doing things with other groups is important too. We should find out their interests and needs and try to help. One good way to do this is to join an interfaith group. Another good way to build unity is to find a receptive neighborhood and build it up with things like children’s classes, English as a second language classes, Ruhi classes, or maybe help building raised garden beds. There are many possibilities. Reaching out to others in helpful ways can do much to dispel fear and mistrust.
Rich Young (June 6, 2014 at 8:08 PM)
There is a good article on Antichrist in Wikipedia. The warnings in the Gospels against false teachers and opposition at the time of Jesus continue in the Epistles by Paul and also John. 1 John 18:” ….even now antichrists have come.” The history of the Christianity seems to be one of the most fascinating and sometimes quite turbulent, even in the general history of the world and a major part of it. The Bible itself is the most talked about and critiqued book ever. For instance, Joshua was involved in pogroms and his zeal in his wars was so crucial that ” sun stopped in the middle of sky for the whole day ” for him, according to the Bible. Further, the myths of Hercules, Samson and Delilah and Apocryphal stories (according to the Church) in the Hebrew Bible are just a few samples among many.
In Matthew 24 and John 14 future redeemers are anticipated, and in 1 Corinthians 15/24 the will come and Jesus will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. Baha’u’llah says the Father has come: “And further We have said: “He Who is the Father is come, and the Son (Jesus Christ), in the holy vale, crieth out: ‘Here am I, here am I, O Lord, my God!’, whilst Sinai circleth round the House, and the Burning Bush calleth aloud: ‘The All-Bounteous is come mounted upon the clouds! Blessed is he that draweth nigh unto Him, and woe betide them that are far away.’
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 57)
Just a final comment on the question of human evolution. World unity or a world federal commonwealth, I believe, concerns the administration of the world, if you will, but spiritual evolution of mankind always continues.
Hooshang Sadeghi-Afshar (June 6, 2014 at 3:41 AM)
A very nice article, well written and crisp. I feel internet is one of the best media to propagate and spread Positive energy and constructive thoughts.
The pen guided divinely can vibrate pure hearts…..
Thanks to the writer…
Sameer Sharma | India
Sameer Sharma (June 6, 2014 at 5:57 AM)
Gee, I thought that Baha’is consider their religion to be better suited to the modern world than the older ones, whose scriptures have become distorted and/or whose institutions evolved in ways unintended by their founders. And that in order to truly follow Jesus, Buddha, etc., one ought to recognize their “return” in the person of Baha’u’llah. And that multiple religious identities were forbidden by Shoghi Effendi. And that a major goal of Baha’i Five-Year (or however many) Plans is “entry by troops,” and a consolidation of the existing membership.
Woofus (June 6, 2014 at 11:36 PM)
Interesting to me that you use the term “spiritual principles” to describe behaviors, acts. The spiritual principal in Catholicism is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, which then, after being with grace, we are able to behave with love and kindness and compassion. But the spiritual principal is to first know, love and serveGod the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.
northwesterner (March 3, 2015 at 3:48 PM)