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George Townshend was born in Ireland and was a well known writer and clergyman. He spent many years near Ballinasloe, County Galway, where he was incumbent of Ahascragh and Archdeacon of Clonfert. He later became the Canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. However, at the age of 70, Townshend renounced his orders to the Anglican Church and wrote a pamphlet to all Christians under the title “The Old Churches and the New World Faith” proclaiming his allegiance to the Bahá’í Faith.
“The mightiest proof of a Prophet has ever been found in Himself and in the efficacy of His word. Bahá’u’lláh rekindled the fires of faith and happiness in the hearts of men. His knowledge was innate and spontaneous, not acquired in any school. None could gainsay or resist His wisdom and even His worst enemies admitted His greatness. All human perfections were embodied in Him. His strength was infinite. Trials and sufferings increased His firmness and power. As a divine physician He diagnosed the malady of the Age and prescribed the remedy. His teachings were universal and conferred illumination on all mankind. His power has been poured forth more abundantly since His death. In His presence He stood alone and events have proved and are still proving its accuracy.
From The Mission of Bahá’u’lláh
Alain LeRoy Locke was an American writer, philosopher, educator and patron of the arts. He is best known for his writings about the Harlem Renaissance. He is unofficially called the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance”. His philosophy served as a strong motivating force in keeping the energy and passion of the Movement at the forefront.
“The gospel for the Twentieth Century rises out of the heart of its greatest problems – and few who are spiritually enlightened doubt the nature of that problem. The redemption of society – social salvation, should have been sought after first. The fundamental problems of current America are materiality and prejudice. And so we must say with the acute actualities of America’s race problem and the acute potentialities of her economic problem, that the land that is nearest to material democracy is furthest away from spiritual democracy…And we must begin heroically with the greatest apparent irreconcilables: the East and the West, the black man and the self-arrogating Anglo-Saxon, for unless these are reconciled, the salvation of society cannot be. If the world had believingly understood the full significance of Him who taught it to pray and hope “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven,” who also said ”In my Father’s house are many mansions,” already we should be further toward this great millennial vision. The word of God is still insistent, and more emphatic as the human redemption delays and becomes more crucial, and we have…Bahá’u’lláh’s “one great trumpet-call to humanity”: “That all nations shall become one in faith, and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and difference of race be annulled…These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and men be as one kindred and family.”
From The Gospel of the Twentieth Century
Alfred W.Martin was a Unitarian minister and writer on religion. He was the leader of the Ethical Culture Society and author of many books about comparative religion including Great Religious Teachers of the East, Psychic Tendencies of Today, Comparative Religion and Religion of the Future, and Objective Evidence for Life after Death.
“Inasmuch as a fellowship of faiths is at once the dearest hope and ultimate goal of the Bahá’í movement, it behooves us to take cognizance of it and its mission…. Today this religious movement has a million and more adherents, including people from all parts of the globe and representing a remarkable variety of race, color, class and creed. It has been given literary expression in a veritable library of Asiatic, European, and American works to which additions are annually made as the movement grows and grapples with the great problems that grow out of its cardinal teachings. It has a long roll of martyrs for the cause for which it stands, twenty thousand in Persia alone, proving it to be a movement worth dying for as well as worth living by.
From its inception it has been identified with Bahá’u’lláh, who paid the price of prolonged exile, imprisonment, bodily suffering, and mental anguish for the faith he cherished-a man of imposing personality as revealed in his writings, characterized by intense moral earnestness and profound spirituality, gifted with the self same power so conspicuous in the character of Jesus, the power to appreciate people ideally, that is, to see them at the level of their best and to make even the lowest types think well of themselves because of potentialities within them to which he pointed, but of which they were wholly unaware; a prophet whose greatest contribution was not any specific doctrine he proclaimed, but an informing spiritual power breathed into the world through the example of his life and thereby quickening souls into new spiritual activity. Surely a movement of which all this can be said deserves-nay, compels-our respectful recognition and sincere appreciation.
Taking precedence over all else in its gospel is the message of unity in religion…. It is the crowning glory of the Bahá’í movement that, while deprecating sectarianism in its preaching, it has faithfully practiced what it preached by refraining from becoming itself a sect…. Its representatives do not attempt to impose any beliefs upon others, whether by argument or bribery; rather do they seek to put beliefs that have illumined their own lives within the reach of those who feel they need illumination. No, not a sect, not a part of humanity cut off from all the rest, living for itself and aiming to convert all the rest into material for its own growth; no, not that, but a leaven, causing spiritual fermentation in all religions quickening them with the spirit of catholicity and fraternalism.
Who shall say but that just as the little company of the Mayflower, landing on Plymouth Rock, proved to be the small beginning of a mighty nation, the ideal germ of a democracy which, if true to its principles, shall yet overspread the habitable globe, so the little company of Baha’is exiled from their Persian home may yet prove to be the small beginning of the world-wide movement, the ideal germ of democracy in religion, the Universal Church of Mankind?”
Frenchman Romain Rolland was a Nobel Prize winning author, art historian and pacifist. He visited the Bahá’í Centre in Geneva and corresponded with Tolstoy and Forel about the Bahá’ís. He quotes from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Some Answered Questions in his novel, Clerambault.
I first learned of Bahá’ism at Geneva, where they hold a meeting of believers in the doctrine on the 19th of each month…
It is or wants to be a fusion of all the religions of the East and West. It denies none, it accepts them all. It is above all a religious ethic, which does not conceive of religion without putting it into practice, and which seeks to remain in accord with science and reason, without cult or priests. The first duty is that each has a profession: work is holy, it is divine benediction.
I have noticed an analogy with Christian Science. In my spirit, I prefer Bahá’ism. I find it more flexible and subtle. And it offers the poetic imagination a rich feast. Its roots are sunk in the great metaphysical dreams of the Orient. There are some luminous pages in the discourses of St Jean d”Acre (ie: Some Answered Questions) of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Bahá’u’lláh, a prisoner, succeeded in writing and answering some ‘tablets’ of an admirable and moral beauty, under the name ‘the Oppressed One’…
Marcus Bach was an American writer and lecturer on religion, and founder and director of “The Fellowship for Spiritual Understanding.” At one point in his life, Dr. Bach set out to meet the five people of his time whom he felt best exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. He travelled 40,000 miles in pursuit of this aim, interviewing Helen Keller, Pope Pius XII, Albert Schweitzer,Therese Neumann, and Shoghi Effendi.
“I went to Israel recently, to the harbor city of Akka, for it was there that Baha’u’llah, banished from Baghdad, spent his years of exile. To this windswept land, where Francis of Assisi once walked, Baha’u’llah came in chains in 1865. I went to the old prison where he was held captive for 25 years and where his son, Abdul-Baha, was a prisoner for 40 years. As I poked around behind the old walls and peered into the dungeons, the Baha’i story came to life. Baha’u’llah, like Jesus, had a forerunner who called himself the Bab, which means “the Gate.” In the midst of the religious and political wrangling of Moslem, Christian and Jew, the Bab said in effect: “A plague on all your houses. You have all lost sight of your common origin.” He preached that God is the Father of all men and the Founder of all faiths, and that the time had come when heaven would personify this truth. Like John the Baptist, the Bab announced the coming of a messiah: Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed himself in 1863.
I went to Bahji, some six kilometers inland. Here is the sheik’s mansion where Baha’u’llah lived like a prince after his release from prison and where he died in 1892. Here is the holy spot where Christians, Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians and Buddhists came to “lament the loss and magnify the greatness of the herald of God.” Baha’is even today do not speak of the death of Baha’u’llah but, rather, of his ascension. In reverence, I knelt beside the bier.
As I walked through the majestic rooms I was reminded that it was here, years ago, that the noted Cambridge University Orientalist, Edward G. Browne, visited Baha’u’llah. His impressions, widely quoted, are precious to every ardent Baha’i: “The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul…. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!”
This was Baha’u’llah whose power and grace Baha’is saw reflected in his successor, Abdul-Baha, and which they see mirrored today in the present leader, Shoghi Effendi, the eldest son of the eldest daughter of Abdul-Baha, and a distant relative of the Bab. This was Baha’u’llah who, as my minister friend insisted, “can never be sold to Americans; even his name is against him.”
But quietly in the heart of every Baha’i there lives a feeling that he and his fellows are children of destiny as well as children of light. Baha’u’llah assured them in his writings: “Be not dismayed! Arise to further my cause and to exalt my word among men….. We are truly almighty. Whoso hath recognized me will arise and truly serve me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.”
I have met Baha’is in many parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern: heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha’u’llah, zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries, want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than in receiving. Typical were two Baha’i women I met in Chichicastenango. They had been in this Guatemalan village for two years and had won two converts among the Maya-Quichés. “Isn’t this slow progress?” I asked. “That all depends on how you figure it,” I was told. “Who knows the power or the value of one soul?”
The Baha’i faith may have been slow in getting started in America because of its ambitious and altruistic world-uniting program. It may have put the cart before the horse. It may have oversold Baha’u’llah on the basis of the oneness of all faiths. But a second look shows that by way of its devotion and the opening door, it may loose itself from captivity. It may also be that the minister was quite right when he said, “If these Baha’is ever get going, they may take the country by storm!””
Published in The Christian Century, Volume 74, Number 15 (April 10, 1957)
Major Wellesley Tudor Pole was a writer, philosopher and English mystic. He authored many pamphlets and books and was a life long pursuer of religious experiences and mystical visions, being particularly involved with spiritualism and the Glastonbury movement.
“The fundamental truths of life and conduct as proclaimed through Jesus have been reaffirmed in picturesque language by the Bahá’í leaders, this reaffirmation being worded to meet the needs of our complex modern “civilisation”. The Founders of both these Faiths possessed outstanding powers of healing and seership.”
“What is the special appeal voiced by Bahá’u’lláh and his son, which has resulted in so many of their followers the world over asserting that they are no longer Jews, Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, as such but have become Bahá’ís? The answer may well be that as each religious revelation becomes crystallised, dogmatic and formal, the need arises for Truth to be restated in terms that conform to the needs of the new hour.”
“The most abiding impression I received from intimate contact with him was his immense breadth of outlook, permeated with the spirit of deep and loving kindness. Whatever the topic under discussion – ranging from religion to the weather, from sunsets to the flowers, from ethics to personal behaviour, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always struck the universal note, the note of Oneness as between the Creator and all His creation, great or small.”
“He was a man of great spiritual stature and prophetic vision and I shall always cherish the affection he bestowed upon me and the inspiration that his life and example have given to me ever since he first came into my life in I908…
Although of a little less than medium height, Abdu’l Bahá made an impression on all who met him by his dignity, friendliness, and his aura of spiritual authority. His blue-grey eyes radiated a luminosity of their own and his hands were beautiful in their grace and healing magnetism. Even his movements were infused with a kind of radiance.
His compassion for the aged, for children and the down-trodden knew no bounds. I remember once after he had visited a Salvation Army refuge near the Embankment, in London, tears came to his eyes. He could not understand how a wealthy nation like Britain could allow such poverty and loneliness in its midst. He spoke about this to Archdeacon Wilberforce of Westminster Abbey and to Dr. R. J. Campbell of the City Temple and he provided a sum of money through London’s Lord Mayor for the succour of the poor and derelict, then so prominent a feature of the London scene.
In speaking to me, he often referred to the need for providing food and sustinence for those in want, as a primary requisite to supplying moral and spiritual food for the heart and for the mind.”
“I well remember him, majestic yet gentle, pacing up and down the garden whilst he spoke to me about eternal realities, at a time when the whole material world was rocking on its foundations. The power of the spirit shone through his presence, giving one the feeling that a great prophet from Old Testament days had risen up in a war-stricken world, to guide and inspire all who would listen to hlm.”
“Though by no means a fanatic, I am bound to say that my visit to these places, sacred to Bahá’u’lláh and his son, have deepened my conviction that the Bahá’í movement has an important part to play in the religious regeneration of the world, and especially the Eastem world.”
From The Silent Road, 1960
“This, then, is our mission: that we who are made in the image of God should remember that all men are made in God’s image. To this divine knowledge we owe all we are, all we hope for. We are rising gradually toward that image, and we owe it to our fellow men to aid them in returning to it in the Glory of God… It is a celestial privilege and with it comes a high responsibility, from which there is no escape.
In the Palace of Bahjí , or Delight, just outside the Fortress of ‘Akká, on the Syrian coast, there died a few months since, a famous Persian sage, the Bábí Saint, named Bahá’u’lláh-the “Glory of God”-the head of that vast reform party of Persian Muslims, who accept the New Testament as the Word of God and Christ as the Deliverer of men, who regard all nations as one, and all men as brothers. Three years ago he was visited by a Cambridge scholar and gave utterance to sentiments so noble, so Christlike, that we repeat them as our closing words:
“That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religions should cease and differences of race be annulled. What harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Spoken at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago.
Vincenc Lesny, was a Professor of Indology and Iranian studies at Charles University of Prague. He was one of the first members of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. He was an admirer and translator of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore.
“The conditions are so changed now, since the technique of the present time has destroyed the barriers between nations, that the world needs a uniting force, a kind of super-religion. I think Baha’ism could develop to such a kind of religion. I am quite convinced of it, so far as I know the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh….
There are modern saviours and Bahá’u’lláh is a Saviour of the twentieth century. Everything must be done on a democratic basis, there must be international brotherhood. We must learn to have confidence in ourselves and then in others. One way to learn this is through inner spiritual education, and a way to attain such an education may be through Baha’ism.
I am still of the opinion that I had four years ago that the Bahá’í Movement can form the best basis for international goodwill, and that Bahá’u’lláh Himself is the Creator of an eternal bond between the East and the West…
The Bahá’í Teaching is a living religion, a living philosophy.”
An English politician and diplomat, Herbert Louis, Viscount Samuel of Carmel, was one of the first Jewish members of the British cabinet. He was perhaps most important as the first British high commissioner for Palestine from 1920-1925.
“It is possible indeed to pick out points of fundamental agreement among all creeds. That is the essential purpose of the Bahá’í Religion, the foundation and growth of which is one of the most striking movements that have proceeded from the East in recent generations…The Bahá’í Faith exists almost for the sole purpose of contributing to the fellowship and the unity of mankind. Other communities may consider how far a particular element of their respective faith may be regarded as similar to those of other communities, but the Bahá’í Faith exists for the purpose of combining in one synthesis all those elements in the various faiths which are held in common.
Its origin was in Persia where a mystic prophet, who took the name of the Báb, the “Gate,” began a mission among the Persians in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. He collected a considerable number of adherents. His activities were regarded with apprehension by the Government of Persia of that day. Finally, he and his leading disciples were seized by the forces of the Persian Government and were shot in the year 1850. In spite of the persecution, the movement spread in Persia and in many countries of Islam. He was followed as the head of the Community by the one who has been its principal prophet and exponent, Bahá’u’lláh. He was most active and despite persecution and imprisonment made it his life’s mission to spread the creed which he claimed to have received by direct divine revelation. He died in 1892 and was succeeded as the head of the Community by his son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was born in 1844. He was living in Haifa, in a simple house, when I went there as High Commissioner in 1920, and I had the privilege of one or two most interesting conversations with him on the principles and methods of the Bahá’í Faith. He died in 1921 and his obsequies were attended by a great concourse of people. I had the honour of representing His Majesty the King on that occasion.
Since that time, the Bahá’í Faith has secured the support of a very large number of communities throughout the world. At the present time it is estimated that there are about eight hundred Bahá’í communities in various countries. In the United States, near Chicago, a great Temple, now approaching completion, has been erected by American adherents of the Faith, with assistance from elsewhere. Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, is now the head of the community. He came to England and was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, but now lives in Haifa, and is the center of a community which has spread throughout the world.”
Introductory address delivered at the Bahá’í session of the World Congress of Faiths, held in London, July, 1936
“In 1920 I was appointed as the first High Commissioner for Palestine under the British Mandate, and took an early opportunity of paying a visit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Effendi at his home in Haifa.I had for some time been interested in the Bahá’í Movement, and felt privileged by the opportunity of making the acquaintance of its head. I had also an official reason as well as a personal one. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been persecuted by the Turks.A British regime had now been substituted in Palestine for the Turkish. Toleration and respect for all religions had long been a principle of British rule wherever it extended; and the visit of the High Commissioner was intended to be a sign to the population that the adherents of every creed would be able to feel henceforth that they enjoyed the respect and could count upon the good will of the new Government of the land.I was impressed, as was every visitor, by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s dignity, grace and charm. Of moderate stature, his strong features and lofty expression lent to his personality an appearance of majesty. In our conversation he readily explained and discussed the principal tenets of Bahá’í, answered my inquiries and listened to my comments. I remember vividly that friendly interview of sixteen years ago, in the simple room of the villa, surrounded by gardens, on the sunny hillside of Mount Carmel.I was glad I had paid my visit so soon, for in 1921 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá died. I was only able to express my respect for his creed and my regard for his person by coming from the capital to attend his funeral. A great throng had gathered together, sorrowing for his death, but rejoicing also for his life.”
“It would be unwise…to attempt to picture even in broad outlines what might be the kind of social system that would be most likely to emerge after a profound reorganization of mankind on a global scale. For a relatively long time the process of re-structuring a society of such a scope and obvious complexity would almost inevitably know ups and downs, and perhaps crucial conflicts; unless a very large section of the coming generations spontaneously would experience such a change of consciousness that, perhaps under some quasi-divine guidance, they can readily accept as valid and necessary some basic principles of social organization, such as, for instance, is envisioned by adherents to the Bahá’í Faith.”
From Directives for New Life
“…Thus the “massacre of the Innocents”, among whom Herod hoped to have the newborn Jesus destroyed, is really to be interpreted as the cyclic destruction of those Initiates who pave the way for the Great One, and whose sacrificial deaths leaven the soil in whom His mission is to become rooted. These Initiates represent the John-the-Baptist phase of the avataric descent. They are heralds as well as martyrs. They close a cycle, and make the opening of another possible.
We find the same series of happenings in the Bahá’í traditions. The Báb and the thousands of his followers who underwent martyrdom leavened the soil trod by Bahá’u’lláh, the “Glory of God”.”
From New Mansions for New Men