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COLLECTIONBook reviews
TITLEWho is Writing the Future? Reflections on the Twentieth Century, by Bahá'í International Community: Review
AUTHOR 1Iain S. Palin
TITLE_PARENTBahá'í Journal (UK)
NOTES Mirrored with permission from
TAGSFuture (general); Who is Writing the Future (statement)
CONTENT Who is Writing the Future? Reflections on the Twentieth Century
Author: Bahá'í International Community
Publisher: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, February, 1999; many editions online
Review by: Iain S. Palin

Historians have pointed out that as the developed world came to the end of the Nineteenth Century of the Christian Era there was a mood of optimism. People took it for granted that progress was being made and would continue without interruption. Science was overcoming barriers to communication and bringing prosperity for all, a prosperity that would sweep away social tensions and international conflicts. An influential book “proved” how the countries of Europe were now so thoroughly linked together by economic factors that a major war between them was impossible.

How different from the public mood at the end of the Twentieth Century. The promise of its start seems to have been a false dawn. The century has seen two of the three bloodiest wars in human history as well as countless smaller ones, what was probably the worst pandemic since the Black Death and many other clear indications that sickness and disease are not things that will easily be confined to the past, a rise of virulent nationalism and religious fundamentalism that would have shocked our Victorian ancestors, a social decline which shows itself in a multitude of ways and is placing tremendous strains on the fabric of society, and a degradation of the environment that seems to threaten humanity itself.

In the face of people’s experiences and perceptions the Bahá'í vision of a better future seems naïve, and the idea that this has been the “century of light” as downright perverse. And without the vision of humankind’s development that comes from an understanding of Bahá'u'lláh and His revelation this is understandable.

The Universal House of Justice pointed out this tension in a particularly powerful paragraph in its message to the Bahá'ís of the world for Ridvan 156 BE:
This projection of portentous happenings cuts across the divide in time between the twentieth century and the new millennium, according to the reckoning of the common era. It is a projection that underscores the contrast between the confident vision that propels the constructive endeavours of an illumined community and the tangled fears seizing the millions upon millions who are as yet unaware of the Day in which they are living. Bereft of authentic guidance, they dwell on the horrors of the century, despairing over what these could imply for the future, hardly appreciating that this very century contains a light that will be shed on centuries to come. Ill- equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet, they listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into a slough of despond. Troubled by forecasts of doom, they do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. Knowing nothing of the transformative vision vouchsafed by the Lord of the Age, they stumble ahead, blind to the peerlessness of the new Day of God.
The contrast and the processes that underlie it are the central theme of Who is Writing the Future? It acknowledges what has happened and analyses it, showing how each new advance in understanding, in science and in other fields, has had the potential for both good and evil use, the two sides of the same coin. It does not seek to minimise the evils of the past century, but (unlike many other commentaries) it also does not minimise the progress that has been made and the promise inherent in so many developments. Above all, it makes it clear that with a coherent vision, such as that offered by Bahá'u'lláh, people can see the prospect of a better future and even that in times to come this past century will be seen as one of struggle but ultimately of new birth.

The statement is short and powerful, written in a direct manner. It does not present as a “religious” document as the term is usually understood, and its points are well set out in a way that will not deter those who see religion as one of the harmful influences that have contributed to the dark side of the past century.

It can be seen in the latest in a series of documents that set out the Bahá'í view on matters of public concern in a way that people can understand. This began with The Promise of World Peace and includes Bahá'u'lláh, Turning Point for All Nations, The Prosperity of Humankind and other more specialised titles. All of these have been used by the Bahá'ís to a greater or lesser extent although one can question whether the more recent ones were given an opportunity to fulfil their potential as sharers of our ideas and vision. It is to be hoped that Who is Writing the Future? will.

In its covering letter to National Spiritual Assemblies the Universal House of Justice indicated what it wanted done with the document. It can be distributed widely in its own right if that is felt appropriate, and this reviewer certainly hopes it will be. It should not be abridged, which is understandable, cuts would cause it to lose impact and important points, and it is not a long or heavy statement to start with. Perhaps most interestingly, the House of Justice expresses the hope that it will call forth “a range of responses” from the Bahá'ís themselves. Such responses could take a variety of forms, including the artistic, and these will themselves both deepen the Bahá'ís and give new ways of sharing our Faith with others.

For there to be responses, of course, the Bahá'ís themselves will have to read, study, perhaps discuss and deepen on, the statement. The National Spiritual Assembly has said that while all Believers will respond to it in their own way, those who generate responses in written, or some other easily disseminated, form are asked to share them with the Assembly. Suitable ones will be made available to the community as a whole. In this way resources to serve the Faith will be distributed and ideas and inspiration will flow through the community.

Who is Writing the Future? offers a way of addressing what people are thinking and saying now – we should read it, and share widely both the statement and what it is saying. It is available as an attractive booklet from the Bahá'í Publishing Trust, and on the World Wide Web in various places including the Bahá'í Information Office’s Millennium Website.
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