Abdu'l-Bahá's "Tablet of the Two Calls"
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #53
Bosch Bahá'í School: California, USA
May 27–30, 2004
(see list of papers from #53)
published in Lights of Irfan, volume 6, pages 161-72
© 2005, Irfán Colloquia
The earth seemed unearthly. We were accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there--there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were--No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it--this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity--like yours--the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you--you so remote from the night of first ages--could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.
The immortal words of Marlow, the narrator in Joseph Conrad's enduring classic, Heart of Darkness, as he journeys deep into the unknown, the darkness, to retrieve Kurtz, at one time civilization personified, but now the embodiment of crassness, avarice, barbarity.
Conrad's novel is a rumination on the thin line between civilization and barbarity. This relationship is the central theme of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet of the Two Calls. "Civilization is conjoined with barbarism," states `Abdu'l-Bahá.
There is arguably nothing more apt to ponder in our political (politicized) and ideological climate than how thinly civilization, a "terrible beauty," to borrow from W.B. Yeats, cloaks the darkness that envelops humanity. We will use `Abdu'l-Bahá's civilization and barbarity construct to understand the capabilities of humanity absent the "call of God," "the Most Great Guidance." In developing our theme, we will borrow liberally from literature and poetry. We will employ the construct also to situate the political and historical events alluded to by `Abdu'l-Bahá in his Tablet and to illuminate contemporary events where the boundaries between civilization and barbarity overlap uncomfortably, and where beauty and violence coexist indistinguishably.
Note: a version of this same paper was later presented at Session #58.
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