An Ultimately Disastrous Notion of Human Nature 1

NOW THAT ‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ’S final few weeks in America are upon us, we might reflect on how frequently he challenged what we today refer to as “Darwinism.” In 2012, our public conversation continues to invoke Darwin’s name as shorthand for a fully naturalistic explanation of human existence, where everything in life is interpreted as the result of the mechanistic workings of evolution, where a Creator has no reason to exist. …

When you read ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talks in America, you realize that he rarely engaged with the biological science of evolution, many aspects of which he agreed with. But he was intensely concerned with its wider implications — how the perception that human beings are nothing more than evolved animals generates an ultimately disastrous notion of human nature. Instead of highlighting the aspects of human life that we share with animals, he articulated a distinct conception of human nature rooted in the factors that make us different: consciousness, abstract thought, scientific advancement, moral reasoning, and qualities such as love, compassion, and justice. …

Looking back on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s discourse in 1912, you can see him engaged in a constant rhetorical battle against the destructive ideologies he found flourishing in America. He took on Social Darwinism, and the idea of the survival of the fittest, over and over again. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address at Stanford stood at the climax. “There is no lower degree nor greater debasement for man,” he said, “than this natural condition of animalism.”

The Journey East: Chicago, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Baltimore 2

…[T]he Chicago Record-Herald reported:

Abdul Baha Abbas, head of the oldest man-made universal peace movement, spoke in Chicago congregational churches yesterday [Sunday, November 3]. … In the afternoon he occupied Dr. Joseph A. Milburn’s pulpit in Plymouth Church and in the morning he spike at Pilgrim Church. With Abdul Baha Abbas was Dr. Ameen N. Fareed, who interpreted for him, and Mirza Ali Akbar, Mírzá Ahmad Sohrab, Mirza Mahmood and Fugita. They have been touring the United States for eight months.

Praise be to God that the centuries of darkness have passed and the age of enlightenment has arrived! 3

Today was the last day of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Chicago. He was invited to speak at four gatherings. In each meeting the power of His utterances and His explanations produced great interest and enthusiasm in the audience.

In the morning, in the hotel’s main hall, the Master encouraged the friends and others to be united and to create within themselves the utmost love and harmony. He ended His talk with praise and gratitude for the assistance of the Abhá Kingdom and left for one of the churches.

The pastor of the church introduced the Master in glowing terms and was full of praise and admiration. He referred to Him as the Persian apostle and Prophet of the East and described His 40 years of imprisonment and hardship, His freedom, His travels to Europe and America, His addresses in churches and large gatherings in both continents and lastly his own conviction of the value of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanations and talks.

’ Abdu’l-Bahá stood and put forward decisive proofs and arguments, describing the appearance of the Manifestations of God, the veils and opposition of the people, the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh to the kings and the influence of the Cause of God among the people. His words were so penetrating that every soul was stirred and informed of the circumstances prevailing in this day of the Manifestation.

There was a meeting in the afternoon at the Congregational Church. Its pastor, Dr Milburn, expressed his great joy to the Master for blessing and honoring the church with a second visit. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá delivered a magnificent address on the greatness of this age, the necessity of achieving the oneness of humanity, universal peace, the oneness of creation, and concluding with explanations of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. His address was delivered with such majesty and power that all hearts were quickened with the love of humanity and became lovers of peace and harmony, abandoning prejudice and disunity. After the talk, people rushed to the stage and surrounded the Master as He left the pulpit for His automobile, supplicating His spiritual blessings and assistance.

From there He went to Dr Milburn’s home where a number of people met Him. Among them was an editor who asked that a message from the Master be given through his journal to the whole of humanity. The Master’s message was this:

Praise be to God that the centuries of darkness have passed and the age of enlightenment has arrived!

Praise be to God that all traces of superstition and imitation have vanished and the minds and thoughts of men have broadened, inventions have gained new life, the arts and sciences have been revived, new plans have been evolved, discoveries have increased, all things have been revitalized, the rulings that regulate the world have been renewed! Thus it was necessary that the laws of God also be changed and the reality of divine religions be renewed, for divine teachings had been forgotten and there was nothing left but dogmatic imitation. The foundation of the divine religions is one and that is the truth which generates love and affection and is the cause of the unity of mankind. But imitations vary and they are the cause of disagreements and are the destroyers of spiritual foundations.

Glad tidings, glad tidings, that the Sun of Truth has shed its radiance!

Glad tidings, glad tidings, that the heavenly light has encompassed all regions!

Glad tidings, glad tidings, that the gates of the Kingdom have been opened!

Glad tidings, glad tidings, that the melody of the Supreme Concourse has been raised.

Glad tidings, glad tidings, that the breaths of the Holy Spirit are giving life and the world of humanity is reborn!

Awake, O people of the world, awake! Give heed, O peoples and nations, give heed! Destroy the root of conflict and strife; abandon imitations and prejudices which lead to cruelty, so that you may acknowledge the Truth and the light of the oneness of humanity may shine brilliant and manifest as the sun; the standard of universal peace be hoisted; perfect love and harmony may reign among the races, religions and nations; and the world of man may find peace and acquire a divine image and likeness. This is my message.

That night He went from there to the home of Mrs Davies where, through the generosity of whose daughter a splendid banquet had been arranged for the Nineteen Day Feast. Several people visited the Master on the second floor of the house, among them some engineers who wanted His comments about the House of Worship. The Master answered:

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is circular in shape. It has nine paths, nine gardens, nine pools with fountains and nine gates. Each path will lead to a center such as an orphanage, a hospital, a school, a university and other buildings that are dependencies of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. In the building there will be an organ, balconies and a rostrum especially for prayers and devotional programs but addresses may be given there as well.

Later the Master spoke of the importance of the House of Justice and the significance of the laws of this Dispensation, stating that each is a complete and powerful proof for the unity of the peoples of the world.

He then went downstairs for a public meeting and gave a farewell address to the believers in which He described the harmfulness of imitations and superstitions.

‘Imitations’, He said, ‘destroy the edifice of human prosperity and conflict with the religion of God. Beware lest you occupy yourselves with such superstitions.’

It is not possible to describe the impact on the minds, the exhilaration of the spirits and delight of the souls. When His automobile left, everyone wept and expressed their sorrow at their separation from their beloved.

1 November 1912, Talk at Home of Mrs. Corinne True, 5338 Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 4

It is stated in certain prophecies that when the standard of God appears in the East, its signs will become evident in the West. This is truly good news and glad tidings for you. I hope that this promise may be fulfilled in you and that all may be able to testify to the spirit and truth of the prophetic announcement, saying, “Verily, the standard of God did appear in the East, and its tokens have become resplendent in the West.” This realization will be a source of great joy to all the friends in the Orient who anticipate the good news and await the glad tidings from the land of the Occident. They look forward to hearing that the friends in the West have become firm and steadfast, that they have distinguished themselves by establishing the oneness of the world of humanity, that they are even offering their lives for the foundations of international peace, that they have become the lights of the Kingdom and have proved to be the manifestations of divine mercy, that the friends in the West are the expression of the favors of the Blessed Perfection, the very stars of the bestowal of God, blessed trees and flowers in the garden of His purity and sanctity. Any good news from here is the cause of rejoicing in the East and a source of deep gratitude to them. They hold a feast and praise God for the blessed tidings. If the occasion demanded, they would give their lives for you without the least hesitation. The friends in the East are all united and agreed.

There are none who waver in the East, none who oppose the Covenant of God. There is not a single soul among the Bahá’ís in Persia who is opposed to the Covenant. They are all steadfast. If any soul wishes to speak in this Cause, they will ask, “Is this a word of your own, or is it by the authority of the Center of the Covenant? If you have the authority of the Center of the Covenant, produce it. Where is the letter from Him? Where is His signature?” If he produces the letter, they will accept it. If he fails to do so, they say, “We cannot accept your words because they emanate from you only and return to you. We have no command from the Blessed Perfection, Bahá’u’lláh, to obey you. He has revealed a Book in which He has covenanted with us to obey an appointed Center of the Covenant. He has not covenanted with us to obey you. Therefore, the statement you make is rejected. You must furnish proof of your authority and sanction. We are commanded to turn to one Center. We do not obey various centers. The Blessed Perfection has made a Covenant with us, and we are holding to this Covenant and Testament. We do not listen to anything else, for people may arise who speak words of their own, and we are commanded not to pay attention to them.”

  1. Sockett, Robert. “An Ultimately Disastrous Notion of Human Nature.” 239 Days in America, 3 Nov. 2012, [return]
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 178-179. [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. [return]
  4. 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, 384-385. [return]