The ‘There-Is-No-Evil’ Paradigm

To understand the ‘There-is-no-Evil’ paradigm of the Baha’i Faith, we must first understand that the physical reality does not occur, for the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, as real. Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and successor, explained, “Know thou that the Kingdom (Spiritual World) is the real world, and this nether place is only its shadow stretching out. A shadow hath no life of its own; its existence only fantasy, and nothing more; it is but images reflected in water, and seeming as pictures to the eye.”1 From this perspective, physical reality is not evil but an ingenious device through which the Divine Will trains us to understand the nature of the spiritual world.

Abdu’l Baha, in stating the purpose of the Baha’i Faith, defines evil as the “insistent self”2 whose submission is the only crusade and victory. To understand what he means by the ‘insistent self’, we need to look at the  numerous other talks and letters, in which he explains the nature of Child and human development.

In a commentary on the development of the child, made much before Western psychologists had developed their own theories, and long before the current understanding of the how the human brain develops, Abdu’l-Baha pointed to a number of issues relating to the diversity of character of the human being within a paradigm of ‘there is no evil’.

  1. Characteristics seen in the ‘nursing child’ are neither evil nor good until they are realised in a type of behaviour. “you can see in a nursing child the signs of desire, of anger, and of temper”, He says, “desire is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably (eg) to acquire science and knowledge, or to become compassionate, generous, and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he does not use these qualities in a right way, they are blameworthy.3
  2. All characteristics vary in degree, creating diversity of capacity and worthiness. “One has the highest degree, another the medium degree, and another the lowest degree. So man exists, the animal,  the plant, and the mineral exist also — but the degrees of these four existences vary”4  
  3. Capacity, though, ” is of two kinds, natural capacity and acquired capacity. The first, which is the creation of God, is purely good;”5. He also seems to equate this with a concept of “divine ego”10  
  4.  The determination of individuality comes through different habits and training. Training can pervert the natural capacity or “crowd out the qualities of the divine ego.” “One does not criticize vicious people because of their innate capacities and nature, but rather for their acquired capacities and nature.” 10 In the same vein, Abdu’l-Baha directs training of habits toward “a way of life will be firmly established that will conform to the divine Teachings in all things.”11 “Good character must be taught. Light must be spread afar, so that, in the school of humanity, all may acquire the heavenly characteristics of the spirit.  Thus will be kindled the sense of human dignity and pride, to burn away the reapings of lustful appetites.”13  Without the correct training or with the wrong training a person becomes “a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness.”10   Ultimately, “evil is the state of man in the world of the baser nature, (imbued with) defects such as injustice, tyranny, hatred, hostility, strife.”12
  5. The judgement of whether some behaviour is evil or not, then relies on divine law. “It is evident that in creation and nature (and all the natural qualities of man) evil does not exist at all; but when the natural qualities of man, which constitute the capital of life, are used in an unlawful way, they are blameworthy”.5

He goes on to promote the necessity of law to apply degrees of prohibitions from acts that are so ” so vile that even to mention them is shameful”; and “things which do not cause an immediate evil and of which the pernicious effect is only gradually produced” such that “cleanliness and sanctity, spotlessness and purity, the preservation of health and independence are required by these interdictions.”6 Other prohibitions include slander and backbiting, wishing evil to the government7, dissension and discord8. Abdul-Baha notes that Baha’u’llah has prohibited war, “the greatest evil.”9

Divine Law, therefore is ultimately educational in nature. “It is evident therefore that man is in need of divine education and inspiration; that the spirit and bounties of God are essential to his development…. the divine gardeners who till the earth of human hearts and minds educate man, uproot the weeds, burn the thorns and remodel the waste places into gardens and orchards where fruitful trees grow. The wisdom and purpose of their training is that man must pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained.”14

Likewise the created world is also educational in nature. “Man must walk in many paths and be subjected to various processes in his evolution upward. Unless you have passed through the state of infancy how would you know this was an infant beside you? If there was no wrong how would you recognize the right? If it were not for sin how would you appreciate virtue? If evil deeds were unknown how could you commend good actions? If sickness did not exist how would you understand health? Evil is non-existent; it is the absence of good; sickness is the loss of health; poverty the lack of riches. Therefore on the one hand we have existence; on the other, nonexistence, negation or absence of existence. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment.”14

 

  1. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha p 150
  2. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 256
  3. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 320
  4. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 318
  5.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 320
  6.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 334
  7.  Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 440
  8. Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 442
  9. Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 45
  10. Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 133
  11. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 125
  12. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 177
  13. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 136
  14. Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 77
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