Monday, January 19, 2009

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I'm hoping that readers of Baha'i Thought got a chance to catch some of the inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial last night (I missed it due to attending the Feast of Sultan). The theme of the concert was "We Are One". The New York Times has coverage of what sounds like an amazing event:

"Agenda points were ticked off: the economy, the environment, the arts, respect for the military, community service. After quotations from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy came Mary J. Blige, belting the affirmations of Bill Withers’ gospelly hit “Lean on Me”; HBO’s cameras showed Michelle Obama singing along. Mr. Springsteen and one of his role models, the 89-year-old folk and agitprop singer Pete Seeger,

Yet “We Are One” was also very consciously a recognition that Mr. Obama is America’s first African-American president-elect. There was video from the concert Marian Anderson gave at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after being refused the use of Constitution Hall. When the sexagenarian soul singer Bettye LaVette and the New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” they changed the last verse to declare: “A change has come.” And when U2 sang “Pride (In the Name of Love),” its song about Martin Luther King, Bono spoke about the 1963 March on Washington and added, “On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass!”

Bono also changed the lyrics of U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” to praise Mr. Obama and vow, “America is getting ready to leave the ground.” He also offered what may have been the concert’s only contentious, off-message moment; during “Pride,” he preached about Ireland, Europe and Africa sharing Martin Luther King’s dream and added, “It’s also a Palestinian dream.”" (Read the whole thing here)

Regardless of a person's political leanings, the unbridled euphoria surrounding this inauguration can only be described as inspiring. While much has and should be made of the advent of the first African American President, I've realized that that is not as significant for me as the fact that "oneness" and "unity" have emerged as central to the political discourse of millions of Americans. For Baha'is "We Are One" is more than a catchy phrase or even a "vague and pious hope". It is a spiritual reality whose translation into social reality is the supreme challenge facing the human race:

"Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind -- the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolve-- is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds -- creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world -- a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.

It represents the consummation of human evolution -- an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it."
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 42)

It may be that America has reached a stage in its history where embracing the oneness of humankind as a way of life and the distinguishing feature of our national identity is greater than it has ever been. Can we do it? I have to say "yes we can".


O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

- 'Abdu'l-Bahá