The Socio-Economic Crisis and Failure of Religious Systems

Dr. AK Merchant
Dec 1, 2016 · 8 min read

Published on Samachar Alok Parva

Recognizing that the world’s “prevailing order” was “lamentably defective,” Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said that the solution to the world’s problems would be found only in an ethical approach as expressed in the spiritual principles of the world’s religions. In a statement addressed to the world leaders, he described religion as “the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwells therein. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant…”

Today, corruption in the system has so deeply penetrated into the vitals of human institutions that the United Nations had to adopt a Convention against Corruption which has been signed by 129 countries and ratified by 30 so far. The UN cites corruption as a major impediment to development in poor countries and regions, as well as a chronic barrier to the realization of goals outlined in the Millennium Declaration. Corruption is difficult to eliminate through laws alone; fostering the value of trustworthiness is the ultimate remedy. Developing capabilities for value-based governance are indispensable to the sustained progress of human beings and the effectiveness of the rule of law.

A senior advisor to the World Bank is reported to have remarked: “Like ignorance and environmental degradation, corruption is a great enemy of development.” Further, “Corruption undermines the State’s legitimacy and, in extreme cases, may render a country ungovernable and lead to political instability and even war.” The Bahá’í writings state: “If a man were to perform every good work, yet fail in the least scruple to be entirely trustworthy and honest, his good works would become as dry-tinder and his failure as a soul consuming fire. On the other hand, if he should fall short in all his affairs, yet act with trustworthiness and honesty, all his defects would ultimately be righted, all injuries remedied, and all infirmities healed.”

Gandhiji once stated that one cannot create a system that is so good that people do not have to be good. In other words, it is impossible to create a system that is ethically strong without the people involved in it acting from moral principles and this is the raison d’etre for religion. Until we accept that all people, regardless of caste, creed, gender, class or national status, are equal members of one human family, each with unalienable rights — and act out of that belief — we are likely to overlook the obscene disparities that now divide humankind into rich and poor. Therefore, the real purpose of religion is to promote the acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, betterment of morals and the spiritual development of humankind. Can India lead by examples?

The following principles are equally vital for the effective contribution of religion and the political system to lift the masses of our countrymen from bondage, ill health, poverty and backwardness.

Harmony of religion and science, Bahá’ís believe that truth transcends all boundaries. Scientific and religious truth emanate from the same universal source. They are like the two sides of the same coin. To Bahá’ís, science and religion are as the two wings of a bird that enable humanity to fly to the summit of its potential.

Equality of men and women: the Bahá’í faith is probably the only religion to grant full rights to women. Both men and women are equal partners for the advancement of civilization as we know it. The denial of equality between the sexes in our society perpetrates an injustice against one-half of the nation’s population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations.

Bahá’ís are enjoined to be loyal to the government of the country where they reside. However, this love for their native land should be extended to the entire planet and all its people. For, Bahá’u’lláh says: The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens. Prejudices of all sorts — religious, racial, caste, national and political — must be eradicated; prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all, they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world. So long as these prejudices survive, there will be continuous and fearsome wars.”

Participatory decision-making is encouraged: Bahá’ís believe in the value of consultation, “a process where everyone, irrespective of any consideration” has a voice in making decision. Placing greater importance to the education of the girl child: under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a lot is being done but to reach out to the levels already attained in Europe or America there is a great deal more that needs to be done. Education begins in the mother’s womb and is as unending as the life of the individual itself. It is a perennial necessity of right living and the foundation of both the individual and the social welfare.

The UNESCO document on education in the 21st century titled: Learning: The Treasure Within identified four pillars of education — Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Be, Learning to Live Together — presents a societal model for ensuring the advancement of civilization, as we know it. All the human sciences — anthropology, physiology and psychology — agree that there is only one human species, although we differ endlessly in lesser ways. Aggressive forms of behaviour must give way to more gentle ideals. The need for a binding agreement among nation-states demarcating the international frontiers in a just and fair manner, and proportionate reduction of national armaments so that “…weapons of war throughout the world may be converted into instruments of reconstruction and that strife and conflict may be removed from the midst of men.” Likewise, rights of the minority of every sort would have to be guaranteed.

The most pressing problems at present threatening the security of the world and of every individual in it are the economic problem, the problem due to mindless state-conflicts, and problems due to degradation of the living environment of our planet. If human life is to go on progressing in a stable and secure civilization solutions must be found and implemented without further delay. For the solution of the social problem of bridging the gap between the vast population of the have-nots and the haves Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahá’í Faith promulgated three great principles which would revolutionize the social life on our planet. First, a system of income and inheritance taxes designed to assist in the abolition of the extremes of poverty and wealth. Secondly, an obligatory system of profit-sharing by which, over and above a minimum wage, labour would have a definite share agreed upon beforehand in the net profits of a business or industry. This system of profit-sharing would harmonize the interests of labour and capital and put an end to the economic warfare which at present threatens the stability of industry.

The third principle given for by Baha’u’llah is that in a true civilization the state has responsibility for the welfare of all, but on the other hand this responsibility is balanced by the obligation laid on each individual to engage in some useful trade, art or profession. When these teachings were first enunciated over one hundred fifty years ago, they were not anywhere in practice in the world. Today, so rapid has been the evolutionary progress of human thought and practice under the great exigencies of the happenings and events of the 20th century that all of these great principles are becoming firmly rooted in world-consciousness. If we translate these principles in action we shall see that they not only offer economic security; they would also bring about universal prosperity, for they would establish and preserve a consuming power in the masses of people which would at all times equal the productive power of agriculture and industry. Thus would the world experience a climate of wellbeing never imagined before

The Bahá’í writings further indicate: “Disunity is a danger that the nations and peoples of the earth can no longer endure; the consequences are too terrible to contemplate, too obvious to require any demonstration…” “Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.” “It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet — in the words of one great thinker, ‘the planetization of mankind’.”

Bahá’u’lláh has further prophesied that a universal fermentation and horrendous social upheavals would mark the transition from a warlike world to a peaceful one, with an assurance that no specific cataclysmic event would occur that would annihilate all life, as we know it. Ostensibly, the movement leading to world unity must encounter opposing tendencies rooted in stubborn habits of chauvinism and partisanship that refuse to yield to the expectations of a new age. The torturous suffering imposed by such conditions as poverty, war, violence, fanaticism, disease, and degradation of the environment, to which masses of people are subjected, is a consequence of this opposition.

Hence, before the emergence of a united world authority flaws in the prevailing system of governance would make conspicuous the inability of sovereign states organized as United Nations to exorcize the spectre of war, the threatened collapse of the international economic order, the spread of anarchy and terrorism and the intense suffering which these and other afflictions are bound to cause to increasing millions, nay billions. In fact, so much have aggression and conflict come to characterize our social, economic and religious systems, that many have succumbed to the view that such behaviour is intrinsic to human nature and therefore ineradicable.

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” “The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day”, was Bahá’u’lláh’s warning uttered over a century ago. “Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake…” Bahá’ís appeal for the necessity of using the spiritual powers of religions in tandem with the secular resources of the government and the state. Indeed, in an age of interdependence tackling world-afflicting trials and tribulations a global government is the need of the hour.

For humanity to survive, the human habitat, like that of any other species, must be sustainable. This will not happen if war and a host of other conflicts are allowed to continue. These acts of insanity must be supplanted by an ordered society in which the diversity and richness of the parts must be preserved and nourished. Such approach and attitude must be manifested in restoring the natural equilibrium of our precious environment. “We cannot segregate,” Baha’i writings state, “the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”

Dr. AK Merchant

Written by

Author & researcher on culture, religion & environment.