Thursday, April 19, 2012

A framework for understanding

One way to understand the world around us is to think in terms of processes. First there are the twin processes of integration and disintegration. The world at large is undergoing the processes of disintegration of the Old World Order, while at the same time the Bahá’í community, along with a group of like-minded peoples and organizations, are experiencing the process of integration towards the ultimate goal of a New World Order.

And then within each one of these two processes there are other processes. These are complex, and interrelated to each other. We need to better understand them if we want to have any hope of effectively contributing to them. For example the process of integration itself is made up of “interacting processes that, in their totality, engender the expansion and consolidation of the Faith”. If we fail to properly appreciate these processes we cannot be as successful in the execution of the Divine Plan.

To help us better understand the nature and workings of these interacting processes the Universal House of Justice has provided us with a concept as part of a framework for analysis and understanding. This concept is that we recognize the existence of three participants in a global enterprise, which are the three protagonists of change, namely the individual, the institutions, and the community. At first this will sound like a simple concept, involving what appears to be obviously true. But after some reflection we realize that in fact there is a profound truth that appears to be hidden here and it is deceptively simple. 

Humanity’s past, in our collective stage of infancy, and the current disintegrating Old World Order, is characterized by conflict among these three, “with the individual clamouring for freedom, the institution demanding submission, and the community claiming precedence.”

In theory and in practice, in politics and in economics, there is great confusion about the relationships among these three. A famous British prime minister even went so far as to deny the existence of society, reducing it merely to a the existence of a collection of individuals.

Attempts at social and economic development of peoples have given rise to various ideas in political economics that are then variously labeled as conservative or liberal, republican or democratic, capitalist or socialist, business friendly or labor backed. Over a number of decades these thoughts and ideologies have crystallized and polarized leading to an antagonistic stand off that today use every means from propaganda to manipulation of the mass media to achieve partisan ends. Such activities often take the shape of short sound bites and slogans. The struggle for power between individuals, communities and institutions seems to be without end, consuming the vast majority of the resources of the planet. The fog of confusion is so thick that even many of our seemingly sharp minds are trapped in it.

Yet the Universal House of Justice, in its letter of 28 December 2010, the final paragraphs of 40-44, from which all quotes in this post are taken, gives us a tool for analysis in terms of the relationships among these three participants. If we better develop our skills in analyzing the human condition using this tool, we will readily see that what the Bahá’í community is doing in practice is to create a model community within which these three exist in harmony and mutual support.

“The worldwide crisis of authority provides proof enough.  So grievous have been its abuses, and so deep the suspicion and resentment it now arouses, that the world is becoming increasingly ungovernable – a situation made all the more perilous by the weakening of community ties.”

By contrast we are learning about developing new relationships that bind people together. “At a fundamental level these relationships are characterized by cooperation and reciprocity, manifestations of the interconnectedness that governs the universe.” While the legitimate rights of the individuals are inviolable, each individual sees himself or herself as a servant of God, and recognizes that his twin moral purposes can only be fulfilled through service to humanity. And ""wealth of sentiment, abundance of good-will and effort are of little avail when their flow is not directed along proper channels,” so that "the unfettered freedom of the individual should be tempered with mutual consultation and sacrifice," and that "the spirit of initiative and enterprise should be reinforced by a deeper realization of the supreme necessity for concerted action and a fuller devotion to the common weal."" 

Such a realization leads to mutual support of the legitimate institutions of society by and for individuals. “Composed of such individuals and such institutions, the community of the Greatest Name becomes that spiritually charged arena in which powers are multiplied in unified action.”

“It is of this community that 'Abdu'l-Baha writes:  "When any souls grow to be true believers, they will attain a spiritual relationship with one another, and show forth a tenderness which is not of this world.  They will, all of them, become elated from a draught of divine love, and that union of theirs, that connection, will also abide forever.  Souls, that is, who will consign their own selves to oblivion, strip from themselves the defects of humankind, and unchain themselves from human bondage, will beyond any doubt be illumined with the heavenly splendours of oneness, and will all attain unto real union in the world that dieth not."”