understand that the dramatic changes and transformations we have witnessed over the last
century and which we are continuing to see--have been initiated by the coming of a new
Messenger of God and influenced by the breaking light of a new Revelation.
few years ago, the phrase "new world order" suddenly and dramatically re-entered
the world's popular vocabulary.
In 1988, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev
spoke at the United Nations of a need to search for "universal human consensus"
as humanity moves toward a "new world order." In 1990, United States President
George Bush seized on the term to describe the new level of post-cold war cooperation
among nations--and especially to the United Nations action against aggression in the
Since then, the phrase has gained currency as
academics, journalists and world leaders have taken it up. The term has come to frame the
discussion over how the next stage of our planet's social and political life might best be
Yet for all of the discussion, the new world
order remains without real definition. Its dawn is apparent; its details, however, are
only guessed at.
For Bahá'ís, the term "new world order" has a special and
clear-cut meaning. More than 100 years ago, Bahá'u'lláh invoked the phrase to categorize
a future series of momentous changes in the political, social and religious life of the
world. "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can
now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably
defective," He wrote. "Soon
will the present-day order be rolled up and a new one spread out in its stead."
Bahá'ís understand that the dramatic
changes and transformations we have witnessed over the last century--and which we are
continuing to see--have been initiated by the coming of a new Messenger of God and
influenced by the breaking light of a new Revelation. That may seem a dramatic leap of
faith. Yet, if God exists and His representative walked the earth a century ago, the
effect would obviously have extended far beyond the horizon of His immediate presence.
Thus, for Bahá'ís, the idea of a new
world order encompasses something far more than a mere political reorganization, the
visionary proclamation of a few world leaders, or the legalistic construct of a few
academics. Instead, it is that "wondrous System" outlined by Bahá'u'lláh that represents the full
implementation of His principles and teachings. The new world order, like the Bahá'í
Faith itself, covers the full range of human activities, from the social and political
realm to the everyday relationships in our cultural, spiritual, economic and community
lives. It is both an internal and an external re-ordering.
This grand vision is what Bahá'ís
both work for and see as imminent. It is, in essence, the fulfillment of the vision set
down by Isaiah in the Bible, of the time when the nations "shall
beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks..., nor shall they
learn war any more." It is what Christians have prayed
for throughout the centuries when they recite the Lord's Prayer, testifying to the coming
of God's Kingdom: "Thy will be done on earth as in
It is the intent of the Islamic promise
that the light of God's justice will one day break over the entire earth and "Thou shall see in it no hollows or rising hills."
The seeds of this historic transition can be
seen today in the changes and transformation that portend this new world order. The
emergence of this order can be seen in thousands of ways: the century-long trend toward
greater equality for women and minorities; in the century-long trend toward greater
economic justice and the elimination of the traditionally vast differences over wealth and
class; and in the century-long trend toward global interdependence.
Bahá'u'lláh foresaw all of these trends. He spoke of humanity's
impending transformation and promulgated a framework of principles and ordinances that
could promote social progress in this new age.
Many visionaries today promote similar
principles and ideas; indeed, as noted earlier, Bahá'u'lláh's social teachings have in
many ways become synonymous with the modern definition of a progressive society.
Yet the promulgation of a new social ideology
alone is not enough to transform the world and bring about the new world order--as the
collapse of communism has shown.
The new world order can only be built upon
the deep comprehension of humanity's spiritual reality--a reality that lies at the very
essence of our beings.
It is the spiritual world that is the source
of those human qualities that engender unity and harmony, that lead to insight and
understanding, and that make possible cooperative undertakings. Among such qualities are
love, courage, vision, self-sacrifice, and humility. Essentially spiritual in nature,
these qualities form the invisible yet essential foundation of human society.
In considering the connection between
spiritual qualities and social development it is helpful to recall how the world's
previous great religious teachers have guided humanity in the past. The moral code of the
Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule--both of which find their expression in nearly every
religious tradition exemplify those religious teachings and serve both as ethical
guidelines and a summons to spiritual achievement. They have permeated human consciousness
and re-structured cultures everywhere. Even for the non-believer, the value of such
teachings is evident.
In the past, such spiritual teachings have
been concerned primarily with individual actions--or with the harmony of relatively small
groups of people. Moral concern has likewise focused mostly on individual behavior: do not
steal; do not lie; love your neighbor.
Today, our understanding of spirituality must
embrace not only personal and group life, but also the collective progress of humanity as
a whole. Indeed, it is only because the human race has at last entered on its age of
maturity that the age-old prophecies of an era of peace and justice can now be fulfilled.
The essential message of Bahá'u'lláh
is the call to unity; its audience, the entire world: "Let your vision be
world-embracing, rather than confined to your own selves." A century after His
passing, this summons has begun to take visible shape in a community that represents a
microcosm of the human race itself, and that is established in every corner of the globe.
The emergence of the Bahá'í community
offers persuasive evidence that humanity, in all its diversity, can learn to live and work
as a single people in a global homeland. It represents, as well, a compelling argument for
earnest and dispassionate examination of the claims of the extraordinary Figure whose
spirit created and sustains it.