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Ottawa Creative Writers’ Group

April 10, 2011

Question: Is there such thing as a collective conscience?

 Here I am equating “conscience” with consciousness. The forms of unity that exist in the world all reflect various degrees of collective conscience. For example, a political party is based on a partisan collective conscience. Collective conscience may be clannish or tribal. Nationality is based on the collective conscience that is confined to the borders of any particular country. Race identity is based on collective conscience in so far as it extends to members of that race. The workforce of any corporation is based on a corporate collective conscience. Clubs, societies and associations are likewise all based on forms of collective conscience which serve to form a temporary identity. In sum, collective conscience may be motivated by political, economic, patriotic, familial or racial considerations. They are all expressions of various degrees of love and solidarity.

But from a Bahá’í point of view, all these forms of collective conscience are limited and tend to be self-serving. For example, one may love one’s clan or tribe but hate others (tribalism); one may love one’s race to the exclusion of other races (racism); one may love one’s nation above all others (nationalism); members of the same family may end up hating, even killing one another (fratricide); partisan politics engenders a multitude of adversarial behaviours; corporations may seek to dominate and exploit.

So the question becomes: what is the most universal, unlimited form of collective conscience? The cornerstone of Bahá’í belief is that the oneness of mankind, the love of the whole human race, is at the present stage of humanity’s evolution, the most perfect expression of collective conscience.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the eldest son and authorized interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, explains: “All these ties of love are imperfect. It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love. The great unselfish love for humanity is bounded by none of these imperfect, semi-selfish bonds; this is the one perfect love, possible to all mankind, and can only be achieved by the power of the Divine Spirit. No worldly power can accomplish the universal love”(Paris Talks, p. 36). His father Bahá’u’lláh revealed: “It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.” - Jack McLean

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© The Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Ottawa, Canada 2011