The Universal House of Justice has just released a long essay, called *One Common Faith*, which is commended "to the study of the friends" i.e. it is primarily addressed to Baha'is. I found it interesting, so I'd like to make some comments about it, and these major statements are very important for understanding the direction that the UHJ wants to take the Baha'i Faith -- however, it is such a long document that it would be impractical to put it all on one blog entry, or for me to try to do that in one sitting. So, I'm going to have to do this in installments, and over a long time:
THERE IS EVERY REASON FOR confidence that the period of history now opening will be far more receptive to efforts to spread Bahá'u'lláh's message than was the case in the century just ended. All the signs indicate that a sea change in human consciousness is under way.
Early in the twentieth century, a materialistic interpretation of reality had consolidated itself so completely as to become the dominant world faith insofar as the direction of society was concerned. In the process, the civilizing of human nature had been violently wrenched out of the orbit it had followed for millennia. For many in the West, the Divine authority that had functioned as the focal centre of guidance-however diverse the interpretations of its nature-seemed simply to have dissolved and vanished. In large measure, the individual was left free to maintain whatever relationship he believed connected his life to a world transcending material existence, but society as a whole proceeded with growing confidence to sever dependence on a conception of the universe that was judged to be at best a fiction and at worst an opiate, in either case inhibiting progress. Humanity had taken its destiny into its own hands. It had solved through rational experimentation and discourse-so people were given to believe-all of the fundamental issues related to human governance and development.
It always makes me a bit nervous when I hear the UHJ denouncing "material interpretations of reality" because it was, at least partly, on that basis that Baha'i academics and intellectuals were persecuted. But, leaving that aside for the present, the UHJ here is complaining that "materialism" rather a religious outlook had become dominent "insofar as the direction of society was concerned", leaving religion to the individual. I'm not sure why they think this is a bad thing; after all, it is because of that freedom that the Baha'i Faith has been able to spread all over the world. A religion largely composed of converts has good reason to be grateful for the separation of church and state, which allows for individual choice in religious matters. Iran has got rid of such "materialistic" ideas in its philosophy of government, and it hasn't worked very well -- and most certainly has not been a benefit for the Baha'is there. At the same time, the U.S. which separates church and state completely, is manifestly a better society according to any measure you want to name, and has the strongest Baha'i community in the world. American society is also profoundly religious, as far as individual participation in religious and spiritual activities -- certainly much more so in European countries where there usually are "established" churches. Certainly, the events of history have proven that the best thing a government can do for religion is to leave it the heck alone to develop in its own way, with individuals free to make their spiritual choices. Religious viewpoints certainly influence politial ones -- in fact, so much so that I simply have to disagree with the UHJ here that American society, at least, religion has ever stopped exercising a profound influence. (Just find me an American politician that doesn't claim to be "a man of faith" or who admits to being an atheist!) We *have* a religious society; we don't have a religious government -- which most of us think is a good thing. It just goes to prove 'Abdu'l-Baha' right when he said that freedom in religious matters causes religion to flourish.