The Arc of Ascent: The Purpose of Physical Reality II

As the title implies, this sequel expands the discussions begun in The Purpose of Physical Reality because, as is so often the case in the study pf theology and philosophy, the answer to one question almost invariably leads to another more encompassing question. For if there is an underlying logic connecting our lives to creation, then, as the Bahá’í writings often remind us, there is no end to the questions we can ask, nor can there be any dearth of answers, so long as we are relentless in our curiosity and persistent in our willingness to invest the time required to discover how everything in creation works in concert to bring about the will of God—that the earth manifest the qualities of the spiritual realm.

So it was that following the temporary pleasure I experienced in believing I had resolved a major question regarding the purpose of physical reality, there soon began to percolate in my brain a logically related question following close on the heels of the answer as to why we humans must traverse a physical experience on the journey to our eternal existence in the realm of the spirit.

The question concerned the fact that while we are each responsible for our own spiritual development and are in the afterlife made to assess how well we have done in this assignment, what meaning can “spiritual development” possibly have unless and until it becomes expressed in some form of action? And, inextricably related to that axiom, is the inescapable verity that virtually all forms of spiritually motivated action must needs become expressed in a social context.

The question first sprang to mind after I considered in depths the opening paragraph of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas where Bahá’u’lláh affirms that there are two essential tasks all must undertake—recognition of the Manifestation of God when He appears, and obedience to the laws and guidance He provides us. But these are not really separate tasks because there is an inescapable reciprocity between these actions—neither action is acceptable without the other.

An issue that has been debated at least since the theological arguments between Paul and the other apostles, the question of which is superior—faith or deeds—is thus very simply answered by Bahá’u’lláh. Faith or belief mean nothing unless and until these intangibles become expressed in action, even as actions, however benign, cannot contribute to our spiritual development unless we undertake them as an expression of belief in the advancement of the human condition.

But as I considered further the reciprocity, escalation, and progression of this paradigm for spiritual development—how action leads to a more expansive understanding, which, in turn opens up for us more lofty avenues of action—I began to appreciate that the action expressing a spiritual virtue must find expression in a social context. Doubtless, this is one reason Bahá’u’lláh revealed a mandate against monasticism and asceticism, for how can one claim to be just, or kind, or generous, or forgiving, or patient unless one has practiced these virtues, and the practice of each of them requires being just, kind, generous, and forgiving with another human being

Stated more succinctly, an unpracticed virtue is entirely theoretical, and the only way to practice most virtues is with other human beings. Therefore, there is an inescapable social imperative in individual spiritual development.

But even as the answer to the question posed in The Purpose of Physical Reality led to this further question and answer, so this answer during the course of writing The Arc of Ascent began to expand and evolve until it ultimately encompassed the entire Bahá’í vision of a global commonwealth. That is, on the one hand, individual spiritual development is most immediately promoted by interaction with one’s family, then the neighborhood and community. At the same time, one’s goal in the practice of attaining spiritual detachment and selflessness requires awareness of and involvement and connection with humankind as a whole so that we come to regard ourselves as “the leaves of one tree” and the global community as one family.

This ostensibly simple conclusion turned out to be not so simple to study, and, in order to present a coherent discussion about the subject, I found I needed to study sequentially and completely the writings of the Guardian about the evolution of the Bahá’í commonwealth, and to do so systematically. This focused study not only enabled me to extend further my discourse on the Bahá’í vision of how blueprint for a global commonwealth will emerge, but I found that my systematic concentration on the Guardian’s insights provided me with immense joy as each daily I seemed to occupy this future society through the Guardian’s vivid and detailed portrayal of the mechanisms and constituent structures of territorial and national communities will become integrated into a global world order.

For me, the Bahá’í vision of the future was no longer some pipedream of world peace, unity, and justice. I began to appreciate the framework for that society, its foundational political structure, and the logical methodology for the interaction among its various components. This expansion of my understanding about the Bahá’í vision of the future, and how our present actions are helping to lay the foundation for that edifice, empowered me to write what I hoped would enable others to enjoy the same experience of having a glimpse of that glorious outcome, despite whatever consternation and disunity presently plagues the peoples of our increasingly interdependent global community.

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