On Cows and Materialist Philosophy 1

“THEY SAY THAT HAD there been a spiritual world they would have sensed it,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked at the Dublin Inn on August 5, 1912. He was talking about modern materialist philosophers. “If inability to sense constitutes proof of perfection,” he joked, “the cow must be the greatest philosopher, for she does not realize anything beyond the animal world.”

Although ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s take on materialist philosophy that day was jovial, he generally treated the subject with great seriousness. The philosophical schools he appeared to be addressing were the materialists of the Enlightenment, the German dialectical materialists of the nineteenth century, and perhaps empiricism and naturalism which were influential in Anglo-American philosophy. …

… On June 9, 1912, at Russell Conwell’s Baptist Temple in Philadelphia, he argued that “There have been two pathways in the world of humanity, one the natural or materialistic, the other the religious or spiritual.” The materialistic, he said, “is the pathway of the animal realm.” “One of the strangest things witnessed is that the materialists of today are proud of their natural instincts and bondage.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá founded his argument on bold dichotomies between humankind and the natural world: “Nature is inert; man is progressive. Nature has no consciousness; man is endowed with it… . Nature is incapable of discovering mysteries or realities, whereas man is especially fitted to do so.” “Man can voluntarily discontinue vices,” he said, “nature has no power to modify the influence of its instincts.” “How strange then it seems that man, notwithstanding his endowment with this ideal power, will descend to a level beneath him.”

New Hampshire 2

On Sunday, August 11, while eating at the home of one of the friends, after He had Spoken in the Dublin Unitarian Church, Abdu’l-Bahá gave answers that were so well worded and so complete that some of the newcomers thought He had written them out beforehand and memorized them.

Think about His words, to meditate on the holy verses, to investigate truth and to gain a full knowledge of divine realities. 3

A glorious meeting was held at the Unitarian Church in Dublin. He went to the church at 11:00 a.m. and as He entered the entire audience rose to its feet. The pastor sang a beautiful song in praise of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. After the preliminary ceremonies, the Master was introduced by the pastor with the utmost reverence and esteem. He then stood and gave a detailed address on the necessity of true education and spiritual power and spoke of the coming of Bahá’u’lláh and His teachings. At the end of His talk He chanted a prayer, His life-giving melodies penetrating the souls and attracting the hearts. A wonderful spirit of humility seemed to permeate the building and the voice of acceptance seemed to issue from all sides.

Many who had not already had the honor of visiting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to Him with such eagerness that the Master said, ‘The Call of God has been raised here and the work is finished.’

He was invited for lunch at the home of Mr and Mrs Parmelee. There He was asked about the Cause of God and about the new principles. Although He responded to the questions of those present, still they thought that the talk had been prepared beforehand and that the interpreter had committed it to memory. They felt no one would have been able to speak extemporaneously with such clarity and perception. The vastness of His knowledge is even more evident. My point is that His talk and explanations seemed extraordinary in the eyes of the people and that the unseen confirmations of Bahá’u’lláh assisted the Center of the Covenant.

After this meeting the people’s spirits were raised. In the afternoon a multitude gathered at the home of Mr and Mrs Parsons. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke, encouraging everyone to think about His words, to meditate on the holy verses, to investigate truth and to gain a full knowledge of divine realities. It is merely owing to a lack of understanding among the leaders of religions, He said, and to their blind imitations and superstitions that statements contrary to science and common sense have crept in and caused intellectuals and scientists to deny religion and disputes to arise among the people, obscuring the true meaning of the laws of God.

  1. Sockett, Robert. “On Cows and Materialist Philosophy.” 239 Days in America, 11 Aug. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/08/11/cows-the-french-and-materialist-philosophy/. [return]
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 122. [return]
  3. ’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=6#section140 [return]