Seventeenth Reflection

The Seventeenth Reflection: Freedom vs. the Struggle for Existence Nader Saiedi

“Abdu’l-Baha writes: And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is man’s freedom, that through the ideal Power he should be free and emancipated from the captivity of the world of nature; for as long as man is captive to nature he is a ferocious animal, as the struggle for existence is one of the exigencies of the world of nature. This matter of the struggle for existence is the fountain-head of all calamities and is the supreme affliction. (Tablet to The Hague) In this reflection we will study one of the historic statements of ‘Abdu’l-Baha about the meaning of true freedom and liberty. In one of the previous reflections we have discussed Baha’u’llah’s discussion of true liberty. We noted that he equates freedom with the emergence of a new culture when honor and glory are seen not in loving oneself or one’s own particularistic group, but rather in loving the whole world. This beautiful idea is further explored and elaborated, in most novel ways, in the writings of the next leader of the Baha’i Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. In 1919, close to the end of his life, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote a letter to the Organization for a Durable Peace in Hague, in which he discussed Baha’u’llah’s concept of peace. In this short reflection we will not address ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s complex theory of peace but address one of the main components of that theory. One of the essential preconditions of peace, Abdu’l-Baha argues, is the realization of true freedom. Likewise, ‘Abdu’l-Baha defines this new concept of freedom as one of the main teachings of Baha’u’llah, teachings that are usually referred to as the 12 teachings of Baha’u’llah (which in fact are at least 17). In this short reflection we explore a few dimensions of this novel philosophical and sociological worldview. 1. Freedom as Liberation from the Bondage of Nature Following Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s worldview is based on a spiritual interpretation of reality. Human beings are reflections of divine names and attributes, and for that reason, human freedom is realized through actualization of human potentialities. This self-actualization is both true freedom and true peace. Such freedom requires emancipation from the laws of material nature, and a life that is regulated by the laws of spirit. This freedom, therefore, requires two forms of liberation from nature, both external and internal. ‘Abdu’l-Baha frequently discusses the dynamics of the emancipation from the external nature. Science and technology are the means for realization of this external freedom. Through science and technology humans learn the laws of nature and through such knowledge they can overcoming them. According to nature, human beings cannot fly. But human reason provides the basis for overcoming this natural limitation. Humans learn about this law and create airplanes. This way we humans can become partly autonomous from our immediate environment. This increasing complexity of social organization makes it possible to become progressively autonomous from one’s immediate environment. In his talk at Columbia University in 1912, and in a language which reminds us of the future system theory, ‘Abdu’l- Baha praises reason as the agent which liberates humans from the bondage of nature:

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