The World Before the War 1
“THE CONTINENT OF EUROPE is one vast arsenal,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a New York newspaper. Even though he spoke energetically of peace, he harbored no illusions about the convulsions that were about to overtake Western civilization. The European arsenal, he said, “only requires one spark at its foundations and the whole of Europe will become a wasted wilderness.”
The decades leading up to the Great War have often been interpreted by historians as bursting with confidence — an unbounded faith in the future. In many ways it was true. The preceding century had seen an unprecedented pace of change. The signs of progress were everywhere.
Humanity, many people thought, had become less warlike. The better off countries became, the less violent they would be. Norman Angell, an English journalist, had made this thesis the core of his 1910 book, The Great Illusion. It was only an illusion, he said, that countries actually benefited by war and conquest. But Angell had missed a key point: Europeans had merely transported their aggression to other, less visible parts of the world.
“Divine civilization is like a shining lamp” 2
When the Master left Milford, as well as the influence of His explanations, His kindness and gifts to the servants of the household made a great impression. Calling them before Him, He thanked them and gave each two gold coins. Much affected, all bowed their heads then turned their faces turned towards ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as He left with majesty and grace. As He turned to observe the lush greenery of that place, tears suddenly poured from His eyes. He was thinking about the Blessed Beauty and was grieved and saddened, recalling the afflictions and sufferings of the Pre-Existent Face.
When the Master returned to New York in the evening, He went to a house built on the shore of the Hudson River which had been rented at His request. Here, at a gathering of the friends, He spoke about the achievements of American civilization in education, agriculture and commerce and the high standard of its government and people, saying:
Their material civilization resembles a glass of the utmost transparency and purity but divine civilization is like a shining lamp. When these two combine, the utmost perfection will be realized. The light of the oneness of humanity, of universal peace, of equality of human rights and of divine morals will emanate from this country to all the regions of the world and will illumine them all.
Someone asked whether, with all these worldly occupations and physical labors, it is possible that such a spiritual condition can be realized. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied:
Provided they behave moderately, the more people advance in the material realm, the more their capacity for attaining spirituality is augmented. The sounder the body, the greater is the resplendency and manifestation of the spirit. Truly, what impedes spirituality are the dogmas and imitations that are contrary to true science and a sound mind.
New York, Philadelphia, New York 3
On Tuesday, June 4, before leaving the estate, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called all the servants together and gave each of them money. On His return to New York, Abdu’l-Bahá, went to the house He had rented along the Hudson River
- Sockett, Robert. “The World Before the War.” 239 Days in America, 4 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/04/the-world-before-the-war/. [return]
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#n126 [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 87. [return]