December 23, 2012
The Return, The Apocalypse, No End Needed:
Far from the never-ending cycle of the next "doomsday" prophecy about to befall humanity or the breathless anticipation awaiting the Rapture - a word never mentioned anywhere in the Bible and a concept created out of thin air in the mid-20th century - the Baha'i Faith holds a totally different view: that Jesus Christ Himself has already returned, that He did so exactly as foretold "...like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3) and that this last 150 year period is properly referred to as the apocalypse which no one saw coming, enveloped everyone, and has changed everything.
Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, began His Mission in 1863 after a long trial of torture, confiscation, imprisonment, and the horror of watching 50,000+ members of the Babi Faith founded by the Bab in 1844 butchered by Persian authorities in the tumult following the Bab's execution in 1850. Indeed the Life and Writings of Baha'u'llah and the accomplishments they represent defy the mind to comprehend, so great a story are they that it has not yet come to pass that humanity can easily relate to or about them in any easily accessible form such as news media and they all took place just before the modern era of electronic communications which may have been able to capture at least some of the grandeur and awe that He inspired in so many thousands of His followers. But let us be clear, during His lifetime, tens of thousands of people took up His Cause, risked their fortunes and their lives, and many lost their lives at the hands of those who were (and still are) determined to do anything and kill anyone necessary to stop the spread of the Faith. Remarkable considering that the principles revealed by the Baha'i Faith have mostly been adopted by much of the world, at least in name: equality of the sexes, harmony of religion and science, the need to end war, freedom from all forms of prejudice, individual investigation of the truth. But, at the risk of going into albeit worthy yet tangential details, let us return to the original intent of this post and examine how it could be that an apocalypse happened and that Jesus Christ returned and yet the world marches on seemingly oblivious to this.
Many people believe that the foretold apocalypse necessarily means everything comes to a screeching halt on earth and supernatural miracles shatter our fabric of reality and toss everyone into some sort of floating post-earth judgement zone awaiting to be deemed as a saved or a damned soul. Endless theological debates could be had concerning this notion but fundamentally a few things went wrong with it over the last 2,000 years and countless linguistic translations that brought these Scriptures to the modern world. For one, the Prophetic Language has always been understood to be that of a metaphor. Far from minimizing the impact or importance of prophecy - for they certainly do have real-world impacts and meanings - the language used always contains multiple meanings and was never looked at as something you could directly turn into a literal representation of what was literally going to happen. Also, many times Jesus Himself states that at the End Times we will be responsible for keeping our own eyes out for His return because it may not be all that obvious and without keeping our own watch for Him, we become too easily swayed by the countless soothsayers and false-seers who always permeate every society, including ours.
Mind-bending, Epic Changes:
Let's look at this then from the benefit of living in the modern era and look back at what has happened over the last 150 years and do a bit of side-by-side comparison of the Baha'i Faith and other religions. Consider the following:
- Humanity began the 20th century on horseback and mostly by candlelight, but ended the 20th century in automobiles, on the internet, surrounded by electricity, lights, and devices. That trend has gone even farther as of 2012 and has even reached the inner Amazon and central Africa.
- All previous centuries since recorded history began circa 5,000 B.C. show humanity using horses and candles.
- 99% of all patents, theories, and technologies ever created have been created since 1860.
- In 1930 no human had ever left the atmosphere. In 1970, two manned missions to the Moon had been completed. That only took 40 years! In 1900 no human had ever flown anywhere. By 1970 BILLIONS of humans had flown. That only took 70 years!
- Every way in which we live our lives today involves the transfer of energy over distance, a notion that by itself would have completely baffled and frightened anyone from the ancient or biblical worlds including philosophers. It would appear to all of them that we live by magic, not by science.
- In 1860 and for all previous human history virtually no one had any knowledge of the atom; by 1960 virtually everyone knew what the atom represents and what it can do as either energy source or weapon and the atom was being regularly used as an energy source and as a weapon. This one advancement involved more scientific discovery and development than took place in the entire history of humanity before it.
- None of the Gospels nor the Koran were written down by the Messenger Himself nor even in His Lifetime; All of the writings in the Baha'i Faith were written down directly by Baha'u'llah Himself in His Own Hand.
Now this may not sound like a literal apocalypse but consider also that World War 2 killed more people than all the previous wars all of humanity ever fought combined. Short of actually shattering the world and ending civilization, these last 150 years have been the most epic period of time humanity has ever witnessed. It has taken a bit longer than a human life for it all to transpire, but that should not be confused with a lack of epic scale and shocking rapidity. On any time scale, the amount and power of the changes which have washed over the world of humanity like a metaphysical tsunami are stunning.
In every age of humanity, a blossoming of new thinking and societal advancement took place associated with the advent of the coming of the Messenger of God for that Age. Moses lead directly to dramatically improved conditions for the Jews who followed Him to the Promised Land; with Jesus Christ the Pax Romanum and a Golden Age for the Roman World took place that resulted in nearly a century of unprecedented peace and prosperity for the Mediterranean world. The coming of Muhammad lifted Saudi Arabia out of unspeakable barbarity and into a civilization that would outshine Rome in it's time. With the advent of Baha'u'llah, unbelievable changes and advancements have brought into the world on a common basis the things that all humanity for all the time before only ever dreamed about being able to do.
A Word About Exclusivity and Technology:
It should be mentioned that there is a very real risk to euro-centric thinking concerning the notions surrounding the 20th century idea of the Rapture and the school of thought which advocates for a literal world-ending apocalypse to strike mankind. None of the Prophets of God have ever been from Europe, and indeed the Prophets have only ever appeared directly in those lands in greatest need of Divine Guidance. In Jesus' time, the Jews had monumentally so lost their way that only 12 would stand up to be counted with Him and even after His death and resurrection, the vast majority of Israel would never believe in Him. Multiple thousands of Arabs fought against Muhammed even after witnessing His mercy and society-transforming actions; even Moses lost followers in the desert to doubt and disbelief. In Baha'u'llah's own lifetime, by contrast, multiple tens of thousands took up His Call and began immediately to spread His Faith no matter the risk to their own persons and this trend continues to today. At 6 Million followers after just 150 years, the Baha'i Faith has begun the work of taking His Message to everyone on earth with a track record of ZERO forced conversions, ZERO military conquests, absolute abstention from violence, and no coercion. The Baha'i Faith wants you to believe because you believe, not because we brow-beat, frighten, denigrate, threaten, or corrupt you into saying you believe in it. The cruelty of the idea surrounding the exclusivity of truth invented to shield other religions from the possibility of their own prophetic fulfillment taking place cannot be overstated and it is the view of this author and of the Baha'i Faith that this represents a truly un-holy joining of partners with God whose only goal is to interfere in your God-given right to choose what you believe. We are all given the freedom - indeed, this is the only real freedom we have during this short life - to choose what we believe in and having the right to examine, question, and consider in order to make this choice must not be interfered with. Providing information and engaging in communication is not interference, but spreading false, man-made ideas not from the Prophets in the guise of Divine Guidance is interference.
Technology too cannot be allowed to fool us into thinking we are now somehow past the point of needing God or that God is a left-over relic from the ancient past no longer relevant in the era of the Higgs-Boson and discovery of new planets around other stars. For all our new and amazing science and ways of life we cannot control our fingernails growing nor do we really know what is it that sparked life to begin and continues to make life work. The knowledge of God is necessary because It is what we take with us from the world when we pass from it, and we will all pass from this world before too long a time. The way of God is not the way of violence, corruption, or flim-flamery but the way of God is consistent, totally honest, and becomes radically more important and relevant as one deals with more instances of the passing from this life. The best thing for you to have in life is the belief in the next life and in a All-Loving, All-Compassionate God Who has an eternity of existence in store for us all. Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, Quantum Mechanics, money in the bank account, none of this helps with the inescapable oblivion of this material condition. The ability to have an ongoing relationship with the Word of God however does soothe the soul in ways that you can directly feel and do not need to be told by other mere mortals is right - give it a try, you may very much love what you find!