December 21, 2020


What brings someone to a spiritual awakening, or religious conviction?

One of the wonders of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation is that many come to believe in it because of its governance. (“I came to the Bahá’í Faith because it has the only organizational structure that can solve our problems!” says one member of the Ottawa Bahá'í community.) “How Can 8 Billion People Govern Themselves Better?” was Maury Miloff’s question, introducing another “Big Ideas” talk to over 175 listeners.

Miloff, a long-serving development professional in both governmental and NGO organizations, spent many years abroad promoting good governance. He began, “Governance is fundamentally a spiritual and moral problem.” Policies and technical matters are secondary; they depend upon summoning the necessary resources, and upon finding the collective will to utilize them. What Miloff termed “competitive democracy” has become the most admired form of human administration.

However, contemporary democracy still results in societal divisions (racial, religious, economic), polarization, inequality and widespread unhappiness. It rewards aggressiveness. It is profoundly vulnerable to corruption by wealth, “short-term-ism”, and “solutions” expressed as campaign slogans. Despite widespread approval, democracy remains shockingly unstable. But an approach to governance, little known to the public, is steadily growing.

In his 40-year mission during the 19th century, Bahá’u’lláh called for a new vision of human life and institutions, and proclaimed its world-shaping power:

“Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall…affect both its inner life and external conditions?...

“The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System – the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed…”

The working model of this System – the one Bahá’ís are building – must be able to answer key questions: “how to bring together people of different backgrounds” with a “unity of thought and action [that] elicits wholehearted participation”; how to “break free from the confines of passivity and…oppression”; how to empower all to serve “the advancement of civilization”; how to avoid “estrangement towards an illusory ‘other’”; how to make decisions that “benefit from a diversity of perspectives…[and] does not…define truth as the compromise between opposing interesting groups…”

Miloff proposed, in answer, seven characteristics of this truly original governance system which gradually influences the world’s affairs.

ELECTIONS: Bahá'í electoral systems eliminate power-seeking, bargaining, and partisanship. The elector is empowered to consider, with dignity, only the true qualifications for service. Voting takes on an entirely different flavour.

CONSULTATION “the art of dialogue in the pursuit of unity”, Miloff explained. Those elected have no platform or vested interests. They offer their opinions freely but humbly, seeking only shared understanding of the truth and dedication to acting on it together.

ONENESS is the central Bahá’í principle, and governance depends upon it. Some believe that humanity is not ready to act on its unity; the Bahá’ís feel that our growing maturity requires it. The unification of the human race is in progress.

LEADERSHIP and the INDIVIDUAL: As humanity matures, said Bahá’u’lláh, individuals will no longer seek leadership. Members of Bahá’í institutions do not put themselves forward for election, and have no individual power or status once elected. The institutions constantly encourage personal initiative. Individuals, in turn, love and support their elected bodies.

COOPERATION: The Bahá’í teachings compare humanity to a single body, all parts of which depend on the health of the whole. The Bahá’ís do not imagine that they alone are changing the world, but simply heeding Bahá’u’lláh’s advice to “associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the world with joy and radiance.”

JUSTICE and ECONOMIC GOVERNANCE: “The best beloved of all things,” said Bahá’u’lláh, “is Justice.” It is the cause of stability and well-being, and requires the elimination of extreme wealth and poverty. Only through justice can true unity be achieved. The supreme institution of the Baha’i governance model, notably, is named the Universal House of Justice.

ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT: A new global order will not be imposed. It is evolving organically. The Bahá’í Faith is a learning organization, inquiring into the relationships among individuals, communities and institutions.

In fact, says Miloff, “in trying times, we’re evolving toward a better world, and building a flourishing working model of a global community.” The conversation continues.

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