Spirituality

Today’s Global Uncertainties, Tomorrow’s New World Order

Posted on Nov 11, 2013 in Ethics, Featured, Politics, Spirituality

Today’s Global Uncertainties, Tomorrow’s New World Order

Honourable and distinguished guests, honoured members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i’s of Swaziland, eminent members of the Auxiliary Board of the Continental Counsellors for Africa, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am most grateful, indeed honoured, for being invited to share some thoughts on the subject of the prevailing global uncertainties and their possible and ultimate outcome’ on this auspicious occasion.   As we gather here to celebrate the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, it is befitting to pay homage to His message of love and unity, peace and prosperity for the entire human race. His mission is to establish a worldwide community, whose hallmark is ‘unity in diversity’. Back in the second half of the 19th Century, Baha’u’llah foretold the inevitability of the emergence of a global society, driven by the quest for the world peace, inspired by the divine vision of a united humanity imbued by spirituality, sustained by the eternal covenant, and founded upon justice and fairness.   At the first glance, the vision that Baha’u’llah offered  could hardly be more in contrast with the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstance in which we find ourselves, in every land on the planet. The prevailing uncertainties, the grinding poverty of so many of our fellow human beings in the midst of the opulence  and the plenty that the “other half” displays, the public and increasingly aggressive and demeaning manner in which societal issues are debated and often not resolved, the growing worldwide emergence of the extent of tyranny against children, youths, and the women, and the pervasive spread of corruption in the use of public and private resources across the international economic and financial system, all these are deeply unsettling and indeed emotionally depressing.  I am sure you have followed on the recent report about the prevalence of slavery, estimated at around 30 million in 2013! It is almost unthinkable that in this day and age, a global ‘slavery map’ highlights the fact that over 5 million slaves live on our continent of Africa, and even a larger number lives in the Indio-China sub-continent[1]. Equally disturbing is the reality that no region of the world is free of slaves! Modern slaves include women, children and men. This of course is but one of the manifestation of our prevailing moral crisis of humanity. There are many other social, emotional, and political manifestations. The upshot of them all is a rising level of despair for a considerable proportion of our fellow human beings.   The world is indeed in the throes of one of the most profound transitions in history. Not only do technological and economic changes have world-embracing effects, but also the prevailing socio-political dynamics has no historical precedence. This is not to say that in the past the world has not had periods of deep and game-changing transitions. For example the advent of industrialization in the 17th and 18th century culminated in the dawn of a new world order in which the West emerged as a dominant economic, military and colonial power. The ancient civilizations of India, Africa, China, Ottomans and Persians were subjugated for a few centuries to come. Yet in comparison with the contemporary transformative forces, the industrial revolution had limited reach and its impact was slow.   The many forces of contemporary transformation in human and social life may be broadly divided into two categories. One group tends to integrate socio-political, economic, and cultural life across regions and continents. Such integrative forces tend to narrow the gaps across communities and nations, build bridges within and across cultures, and...

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University of Pretoria Public Lecture on the Bahá’í Faith

Posted on Nov 6, 2013 in Ethics, Featured, Spirituality

University of Pretoria Public Lecture on the Bahá’í Faith

On 14 March 2012, Iraj Abedian delivered a public lecture at the University of Pretoria entitled: “Social Development and Religion: A Bahá’í Perspective”. The lecture had been organized by the Dept of Theology of University of Pretoria. All theology students were obliged to attend as it was part of their academic curriculum.  In addition other interested individuals were free to attend. The lecture was publicized on the university campus. In addition to the students from theology, political  science and sociology, the following high ranking university academics also attended the lecture:   Professor  Johan Buitendag, The Dean of Theology, Prof. Antony Melck, Executive Director of the University of Pretoria, Prof.  Niek Schoeman, the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, Prof. Maxi Schoeman, Head of Dept of Political Sciences Prof. Alfonso Groenewald, Dept of Theology;   Counsellor Christopher Songok together with NSA member Mrs Freshteh Samadi were present too. Also present were two members of the LSA of Tshwane, as well as Miss Khwezi Fudu of Bahai Diplomatic Office of the External Affairs Directorate. Members of Pretoria University’s Bahai Students Association as well as some Bahai students from Wits University participated too. All in all, an estimated 600 people were present at the public lecture. The lecture explored the role of religion in the progressive evolution of socio-economic development on earth from a Bahai perspective. Explicit references to the Bahai Faith, its theological and socio-economic teachings were made right through the lecture.  The analysis presented argued that “….in nearly all spheres of human activity the dominance of the materialistic approach has caused systemic distortions with deep social, political and economic impact.” The reality is that : “The debate about religion in the public sphere, however, has been driven by the voices and actions of extreme proponents on both sides — those who impose their religious ideology by force, whose most visible expression is terrorism — and those who deny any place for expressions of faith or belief in the public sphere. Yet neither extreme is representative of the majority of humankind and neither promotes a sustainable peace”. The lecture concluded that: “Clearly, humanity stands at a crossroads of convergence or divergence between religion and social development. From the perspective of the Bahai scriptures, the concurrent transformation of the individual, the institutions, and the society is vital for the effective and constructive processes of social development. In this process, religion has a pivotal role to play.”   As part of their academic programme, all 250 theology students were expected to write a short ‘project report’ on the Bahá’í Faith based on the lecture. A short write up on the lecture is posted on the website of the university of Pretoria’s Theology Dept at the following URL address:   http://web.up.ac.za/default.asp?ipkCategoryID=4721&ArticleID=10564 The full transcript of the lecture is available from the National...

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Religion and Social Progress: Beyond the Clash of Extremes

Posted on Oct 24, 2013 in Ethics, Spirituality

Religion and Social Progress: Beyond the Clash of Extremes

It is fairly safe to suggest that, over the past century, hardly any issue has been as controversial as the role of religion in public life. It is also a  historic fact that over the period, a mix of scientific, technological, and social developments have made socio-economic life far more complex, intellectually exciting, yet systemically unstable and with rising vulnerability to socio-political volatility. It is equally true that in the process our human conducts, both personal and collective, have drifted away from largely spiritual to manifestly functional utilitarian objectives. The rapid pace of globalization has compounded the complexities and accelerated the move towards a utilitarian human and social functioning.   Experts may differ as to the root causes of these developments, yet there is little disagreement that the upshot of them all is the prevailing unstable and troublesome socio-political system the world over. Widespread human suffering, abuse of political power, misuse of financial and economic resources, the spread of corruption, the rise of malfunctioning of public administrations, and the scarcity of inspired leadership are the common phenomena in both developing and developed countries, in established and emerging democracies, in democratic and totalitarian states, in traditional tribal settings and in modern unified societies, in poor as well as in resourceful territories. In short, our sophisticated socio-economic system is facing a crisis of sustainability, legitimacy, and integrity.   The evolution of social progress, propelled by unprecedented advancements in technology, communication, transportation, and fostering of ideas, has systemically reduced the role of morality and ethics in various spheres of human civilization. Perspectives have shifted away from essential and long term considerations to functional and short term preoccupations. As such, this paper argues, a systemic issue has emerged which needs a systemic solution. Partial measures driven by opportunistic exigencies would at best deal with symptoms, leaving the root causes intact. This paper maintains that the systemic fault-line is largely due to the rise of materialistic secularism in the name of modernity and near neglect of religion and spirituality[1]. The working premise of this paper is that science (as the engine of secularism) and religion (as the propagator of spirituality) are the two forces of social advancement. This is one of the central tenets of the Bahá’í Faith. The challenge facing us is, thus, not to sacrifice one on the alter of the other. To this end, Section I will review the rise of materialistic secularism and its aftermath. Section II will focus on social governance and the notion of development as pervades public policy. This will be followed, in Section III, by a discussion of the spiritual nature of humankind and the need for a paradigm change in unlocking human potential towards social progress. Section Four will offer some concluding remarks.   I- The Rise of Secularism and Its Aftermath The general notions of “free thought” have existed throughout history. Whilst the term “secularism” was first coined by the British writer George Holyoake in 1851, early secular ideas involving the separation of philosophy and religion can be traced back to Muslim polymath, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) and the Averroism school of philosophy. Holyoake’s used the term secularism to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. However the term secularism itself has evolved over time. Karl Marx’s famous phrase; “religion as the opiate of the masses”, helped shift the connotation of secularism into a materialistic domain. The subsequent emergence of socialist and communist states in 20th century expressed a vast and prominent social experimentation inspired by the materialistic notions of secularism.   Interestingly, the...

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