The Lost Prophet of the Millennium

Remember the old Y2K scare? We generally look back at that anxious time as an anticlimax, understanding that nothing much happened at the turn of the millennium. I remember how the Bahá’ís expected world peace to flower by the end of the 20th Century. Since then, many Bahá’ís have sought out alternative interpretations of their failed peace prophecy.


Mustaghath, shortly before his occultation

I say “failed,” but I know something that most Bahá’ís don’t. Truth be told, at the close of the year 2001, on the very last day that fell within the Y2K window, a young prophet discovered his calling. Evidence of this portentous moment can be found with the help of the tool known to nostalgic Web surfers as the WayBack Machine:

Dec 02, 2001

This page doesn’t provide any actual information on the youthful prophet, but information would soon be forthcoming:

The hour is approaching when the most great convulsion will have appeared. I swear by Him Who is the Truth! It shall cause separation to afflict everyone, even those who circle around Me….

—Baha’ullah (Mar 29, 2002)

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Imagine what the Bahá’í Faith might become if its idols were stripped away. What if the burden of divine authority were cleansed from every portrait, every image, every institution, and every holy word?

Imagine there’s no Cov’nant. It isn’t hard to do.

What if the Bahá’í religion were not a cult of divine images (“manifestations”), but rather a fellowship of principles (or virtues)? What if Bahá’u’lláh had said, “never mind about me and my station; let’s get down to the business of world reform.”

I know. It’s a stretch.

Imagine by Rachel Boden

Imagine, by Rachel Boden

If Bahá’ís were to forfeit their sense of divine entitlement, would they lose their famous, unquenchable sense of purpose?

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I’ll try to keep it serious.

They’d have to give up some very comforting expectations, it’s true. I’m not saying it would be easy.

There’s a word for a religion of principles: unitarianism. Christian unitarians practice “the religion of Jesus, not a religion about Jesus.” What if Bahá’ís could say the same about their religion? What would their religion look like?

Progressive Religion

A central, defining principle of the Bahá’í Faith is “progressive revelation.” According to Shoghi Effendi, it is the most fundamental Bahá’í principle, but alas, it is not completely compatible with unitarian thought, because revelation is a concept that depends on singling out one man or book as standing for God. That’s idolatry, so it will have to go, but we can reform the idea of “progressive revelation.” Rather than thinking of religion as leading mankind according to mankind’s needs, let us rather think of religion as evolving organically in response to mankind’s needs.

Independent Investigation of Truth

This is the most unitarian of Bahá’í principles. Named the first principle of Bahá’u’lláh by `Abdu’l-Bahá’ in Paris Talks, independent investigation of truth is often cited as a fundamental principle of the Bahá’í religion, but it has been undermined by qualifications and exceptions in the interests of idolatry since the earliest days of the Bahá’í religion.

God: To Unity and Beyond

Unity is a problematic notion, because it tends to imply uniformity and common fealty to a single book, person, or idea.

“Absolute Unity excludeth all attributes.”

—Saying attributed to the Imam `Alí, cited by Bahá’u’lláh in The Seven Valleys

Care must be taken when speaking of “Unity of God.” Unity, in this case, must be taken to mean inaccessibility and unknowability. Nothing whatever should be permitted to represent God. The very term “Manifestation” must be stricken from the lexicon. God must be seen as utterly unknowable. To suggest that a particular image, such as a holy book, is more holy than anything else is idolatry.

Ultimately, we must get beyond the term “unity,” for unity itself imposes an image of God that is presumptuous. How can we know that divinity is not fundamentally dualistic? We cannot. We can think of God being characterized by unity in some trivial, truistic way, but to declare the unity of God from pulpits and mountaintops is utter pretense and presumptuousness.

Religious Harmony

“Unity of religion” presents a big problem. It tends to encourage triumphalism, and it threatens cultural diversity. What must be aimed for is not unity, but rather harmony and tolerance.

Human Harmony

I don’t have a problem with the idea that we ought to think of all people as having a great deal in common, and I certainly like the idea of equal treatment under the law, but unity is a dangerous word. Just as it can be abused by religion, it can be abused by the state. Let’s stick with “harmony,” just to be safe. “Harmony” is for unitarians. “Unity” is for idolators.


Curiously, `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Eleven Principles mention “equality” more times than “unity.” Here are the three equalities that he emphasizes explicitly, plus a fourth principle that implies equality quite strongly:

  • Abolition of Prejudices.
  • Equalization of Means of Existence.
  • Equality of Men before the Law.
  • Equality of Sex—Education of Women.

I find it hard to argue of any of these points. They may not be unitarian ideas per se, but they certainly do not conflict with the unitarian principle.

Peace and Non-interference

Here are three more of the principles that don’t conflict with the unitarian principle:

  • Religion ought to be the Cause of Love and Affection.
  • Universal Peace.
  • Non-Interference of Religion with Politics.


I find only two of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Eleven Principles to be idolatrous:

The first might not seem so bad at first, but it implies that religion and science are one and the same–that “true religion,” because it is infallible, will always confirm science. The implication being that if science fails to comply with “true religion” then science must adapt. I would sooner keep religion and science at arms length, lest the one strangle the other.

As for the Holy Spirit, I don’t have a problem with admitting the existence of unseen, intangible powers, but what `Abdu’l-Bahá’ asserts with respect to this “Spirit” is pure, unmitigated idolatry.


`Abdu’l-Bahá’s idolatry, superstition, traditionalism, and orthodoxy aside, I think that a unitarian theme can be identified in his message. I believe therefore that it would not be unreasonable for a Bahá’í to adopt a unitarian view of the Bahá’í Faith. I also believe that a fundamentalist view would be equally justifiable. No view of the Baha’i Faith can be free of contradiction. The unitarian approach, however, enjoys a particular advantage: it accepts contradiction as an attribute of all human endeavors and moves forward. The fundamentalist clings to the purity of idols until the strain reaches a point of fracture.

Our Daily Bread: Candles in the Wind

“The Seven Candles of Unity,” found in `Abdu’l-Bahá’s authoritative writings, was one of his approaches to foretelling the future progress of the world toward unity.

The most noteworthy—and controversial—of the seven is the fifth candle, of which `Abdu’l-Bahá’ says:

… is the unity of nations—a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá’, pg. 32

Because of prophecies such as this one which `Abdu’l-Bahá’ was fond of repeating, Bahá’ís expected world peace to be “securely established” in the 20th Century. This expectation was confirmed and encouraged by Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. If any Bahá’ís believed otherwise, I didn’t hear of it.

Now that we find ourselves a decade into the new millennium, world peace and unity seem as remote as ever—no surprise for those among us not graced by divine foresight.

Let’s have a look at those candles, and see if we can hold them up to the winds of change.

Unity of Politics & Action

First, let’s look at the first two candles of unity.

  1. Unity in the political realm … the early glimmerings of which can now be discerned
  2. Unity of thought in world undertakings … the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed

It is interesting that `Abdu’l-Bahá’ seems to have expected these first two candles to be on the verge of realization, but of course, they are both cold and dark a century after the prophecy was made. If either candle bears the slightest flicker, it would have to be the latter, as some efforts toward common action have been made among groups of nations, but we’re a long way from unity. We can’t even cooperate enough to stop bands of Somali pirates!

Universal Freedom

“Unity in freedom” is in as much danger as ever, as slave labor is becoming more mainstream in the new international marketplace. Sex slavery in particular is thriving.

Any progress in lighting the first and second candles is likely to take the oxygen from this third candle. Cooperation between governments is likely to come into direct conflict with progress in civil liberties and human rights, as international cooperation depends upon compromise.

Unification of Religion

This one gets my vote for the most comical candle. `Abdu’l-Bahá’ doesn’t speak here of harmony or tolerance; no—he speaks of unity. This can only mean conversion.

Eventually, “all nations and kindreds” will be converted to the Bahá’í Faith:

“all nations and kindreds will be gathered together under the shadow of this Divine Banner, which is no other than the Lordly Branch itself, … Religious and sectarian antagonism, … will be eliminated. All men will adhere to one religion, will have one common faith, …”

Some Answered Questions, pg. 65

Bahá’ís refer to this great world conversion as “entry by troops.”

Did `Abdu’l-Bahá’ mean that the world would convert to his religion in the 20th Century? It would be difficult enough to achieve harmony and tolerance among the world’s religions, but to foretell the conversion of all the world’s peoples to one faith—particularly such an obscure one—is to overtax the imagination.

One World Nation

Back to the big kahuna:

The fifth candle is the unity of nations—a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

Shoghi Effendi, `Abdu’l-Bahá’s authorized—and purportedly unerring—interpreter, confirmed this prophecy by bringing it to the Bahá’í world’s attention:

“This is the stage which the world is now approaching, the stage of world unity, which, as `Abdu’l-Bahá’ assures us, will, in this century, be securely established.”

—The Promised Day Is Come: Religion and Social Evolution (1941)

And again:

The fifth candle is the unity of nations—a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

—World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Seven Lights of Unity (1931)

As a world, are we even close to this ideal? If anything, nations have fragmented and multiplied. Political convergence, which would be necessary for the first candle, seems as remote as ever. Strife among the peoples of the world has led more to talk of ideological warfare and irreconcilable cultural divides with failures at nation building in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. How can one even speak of unity?

This candle which was promised to be “securely established” in the 20th Century, but it has not even appeared momentarily. It would be absurd to claim that the unity of nations is “securely established.”

This was not an isolated case. `Abdu’l-Bahá’ was found to make similar prophecies on other occasions:

“[The permanent peace] will be established in this century … It will be universal in the twentieth century. All nations will be forced into it … the nations will be forced to come to peace and to agree to the abolition of war … By international agreement they will lay down their arms and the great era of peace will be ushered in.”

—`Abdu’l-Bahá’, “A Compilation on Peace” compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice


This one is going to take awhile yet:

The sixth candle is unity of races, making of all that dwell on earth peoples and kindreds of one race.


The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse.

This one’s gonna be a piece of cake. It may be the one candle that can actually hold a flame.

God help us

How sure was `Abdu’l-Bahá’ of all this? Here’s his answer:

Each and every one of these will inevitably come to pass, inasmuch as the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realization.

So there you have it. This is no mere vision; this is the will of God. It’s got to happen.