The Holy Experiment 1

THE FIRST OF A fleet of twenty-three ships arrived at the mouth of the Delaware River on October 27, 1682. Commanding the lead ship, the Welcome, was William Penn, a pacifist Quaker with a land grant from the King of England, determined to fashion a utopia in the wilderness.

Penn had suffered imprisonment for his beliefs back in England, and set about building a “tolerance settlement” in the New World where freedom of worship would be absolute. His first act of business was to sign a “Great Treaty” with Tammany, the Chief of the Delaware tribe, a peace pact he never violated.

Thus began Penn’s “Holy Experiment” known as Pennsylvania. The King himself chose the name in honor of Penn’s recently departed father. Penn called the colony’s capital Philadelphia, a name that combined the Greek words for “love” and “brother.”

Penn’s City of Brotherly Love continued to attract those dedicated to the experiment well into the next century. Russell Conwell — a Civil War veteran, lawyer, author of ten books, and ordained American Baptist minister — arrived in Philadelphia in 1882.

Conwell held classes at his church to tutor adults in university subjects, in tune with Penn’s and Franklin’s commitment to improving their fellow men. By 1884 his effort had become Temple University. By 1912 the Baptist Temple — Conwell’s church — was surrounded by three hospitals and his congregation was one of the largest in America. It was here that Pastor Conwell welcomed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak, on June 9, 1912.

Talk at 309 West Seventy-eighth Street, New York 2

The body politic today is greatly in need of a physician. It is similar to a human body afflicted with severe ailments. A doctor diagnoses the case and prescribes treatment. He does not prescribe, however, until he has made the diagnosis. The disease which afflicts the body politic is lack of love and absence of altruism. In the hearts of men no real love is found, and the condition is such that, unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no healing, no agreement among mankind. Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. Therefore, the friends of God must adhere to the power which will create this love and unity in the hearts of the sons of men. Science cannot cure the illness of the body politic. Science cannot create amity and fellowship in human hearts. Neither can patriotism nor racial allegiance effect a remedy. It must be accomplished solely through the divine bounties and spiritual bestowals which have descended from God in this day for that purpose. This is an exigency of the times, and the divine remedy has been provided. The spiritual teachings of the religion of God can alone create this love, unity and accord in human hearts.

New York, Philadelphia, New York 3

Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in Philadelphia at 6:00 P.M. that same day and went to the Hotel Rittenhouse. Mahmúd wrote, “He was in a very exhausted … state. Notwithstanding this, He made two speeches before the friends … On account of extreme exhaustion, He did not attend some of the meetings and tendered His apology.”

  1. Sockett, Robert. “The Holy Experiment.” 239 Days in America, 8 June 2012, [return]
  2. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 170. [return]
  3. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 88. [return]