Monday, March 26, 2012

Within and Yet Apart

One of the goals of the Baha'i community is to help transform the society around us. This goal applies equally to all societies the world over. Such a goal is rooted in the belief that we humans are capable of creating societies that are significantly better than what we see today. Therefore there are positive and hopeful sentiments that drive this goal.

When we analyze the condition of our societies we may see numerous signs of injustice, of greed, of inhumanity, of heedlessness, and so on. It is easy for us to be driven to a stage of hopelessness and give up. But the power of faith and assurances given in the Baha'i Writings encourage us to keep on going.

Some puritan groups may suggest that to create a just society we must separate ourselves from the current societies, and create a smaller group of people, who live in isolation. We can then implement stricter codes of conduct, and engineer the conditions to bring about greater justice, or greater equality, or greater love and fellowship. We do not subscribe to this view.

We believe that we should "become increasingly involved in the life of society". And it is for this reason that we try to reduce any barriers that may exist between the Baha'i community and the wider society. It is also for this same reason that the core activities of the Baha'i community are designed to be open to all. In our engagement with the society at large, we should benefit "from its educational programmes, excelling in its trades and professions, learning to employ well its tools, and applying themselves to the advancement of its arts and sciences." And indeed where I live, in the US, the Baha'i community is among the most educated, and most accomplished communities. 

At the same time that we are within the society, and operating within its tools, we have to be careful not to be contaminated by its vagaries. If we want to be able to effectively transform the society then we cannot become victims of its forces. We have to be within it and yet apart from it. This represents an interesting challenge. "The magnitude of the challenge facing the friends in this respect is not lost on us", wrote the Universal House of Justice. We "are never to lose sight of the aim of the Faith to effect a transformation of society, remoulding its institutions and processes, on a scale never before witnessed."  We "must remain acutely aware of the inadequacies of current modes of thinking and doing -- this, without feeling the least degree of superiority, without assuming an air of secrecy or aloofness, and without adopting an unnecessarily critical stance towards society."   

This challenge is presented to us in paragraph 36 of the letter of 28 December 2010 from the Universal House of Justice. Within a cluster, a group of friends who are engaged in building communities in neighborhoods can ask ourselves to what extent we are able to overcome this challenge. It is easy to remain dry if you always stay out of the water. But as we need to dive in to help rescue others from the onrushing floods of materialism, it is normal to get wet, and that is understandable, so long as we ourselves are not swept away.

As we think about these principles, does the quote below begin to take on new and added meanings for you?

Baha'u'llah wrote: "O Son of Being! Make mention of Me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee..."