The spring equinox marks what many traditions since Zoroastrianism celebrate as a holy day — the New Year, known as Naw Ruz. On this day, Bahá’ís around the world complete their 19-day Fast, gather for Naw Ruz, and redirect their renewed energies, along with the rest of progressive humanity, toward spiritually-minded civilization-building efforts.
What does it mean at this moment to build civilization while cities are being destroyed, a country invaded in the center of Europe, and bombed and traumatized women and children survivors are being forcefully deported into the oppressive land of their occupier? What does spiritual renewal mean now — that is the question that occupies me on this last day of my Fast.
A great and relatively little know spiritual educator at the turn of the 20th century, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, explained the time in which we live now as the collapsing of existing centers of moral authority and governance and the painful emergence of a new and more universal collective center. In his words:
In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between people … patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are, in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal — temporary and not everlasting. With the appearance of great revolutions and upheavals, all these collective centers are swept away.
We are now witnessing how existing collective centers — democratic governments and even the United Nations — for all their united condemnation of Putin’s violence in Ukraine, and enforcement of sanctions, cannot move beyond economic measures and galvanize the spirit of justice that millions of people around the world long to see prevail. Why? It seems that the reason is a moral paralysis — we are afraid to say unambiguously that there is such a thing as universal human values that have to be defended if life on earth is to prevail.
If we were to uphold this reality, affirmed by every wisdom tradition, we would have to admit that not just totalitarian China and Russia have violated the universal principle of the sacredness of life and the dignity of a human being, but many democratic nations have also violated at times these universal values and also stand accountable. Invading Iraq on a false pretense, even as it brought down a cruel dictator, still parallels the fabricated claim that Ukraine is being invaded because of its bioweapons labs that threaten Russia. Corruption in Russia is a bedfellow to corruption in the West, which is why the two have quietly worked together since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
If governments and the United Nations were to galvanize the spirit of justice at this critical point, when the world is sliding into war and climate disaster, there would have to be the moral fabric to take ownership of half-truths and stand for what all of us can recognize as genuine moral value.
The United Nations and its Secretary General would have to publicly admit that its current structure no longer reflects the needs of the planet and has to be urgently restructured if it is to uphold its mandate to protect global peace. Urgent restructuring would have to begin immediately, working through the General Assembly rather than the compromised Security Council. The 141 countries that voted to condemn Russian aggression can create a peace-keeping force which can enforce protected skies and the suspension of the bombing of civilians. That would be a humanitarian act, not coming from a military alliance such as NATO, but from the collective will of 141 countries to uphold the right of innocent civilians to be protected.
Meanwhile, the European Union can step out of its bureaucratic impasse and recognize Ukraine as an EU member to grant moral support to a besieged country. Each country would have to take ownership of its historical half-truths and step forth in a genuine effort to do better. This is no longer about politics as usual. We are living through an upheaval which is sweeping away existing authorities and is requiring a higher order of thinking and operating from a place of integrity. No less than that will resolve the current crisis and finger pointing will continue. Most recently, China, which refuses to condemn the unwarranted Russian violence in Ukraine, went as far in its public statements as to claim that it stands on the right side of history. How surreal when anything can be claimed in the public space, and we do not even speak of clear universal values as an ultimate frame of reference. Everything, then, becomes a matter of maneuver.
Will we not look to our wisdom traditions to help us differentiate what is universally substantive from what is a just a claim? Why do we tolerate religious clergy endorsing violent acts that serve their narrow interests? How do people of faith feel when they watch the Russian Patriarch celebrate Putin’s invasion as “high and responsible service to the Fatherland”? Do we not have the discernment to recognize the difference between core spiritual values and empty claims? Are we still afraid to speak of universal values across traditions and convictions, even as advanced science is supporting the primacy of consciousness over matter and the interdependence of all life?
Our world has been fragmented in its partial truths for too long. In psychology, fragmentation is the root of mental suffering and dysfunction — in individuals, families, and communities. The opposite of fragmentation — integration — implies unity around core principles. Can we find that moral muscle in this divine springtime? Or are we going to continue to watch and make partial gestures while generations of children are being traumatized and killed before our eyes?
We do have a choice. The very act of the above steps will signal to the world that we do, in fact mean, to stand behind some universal principles and will rally the will and the spirit of the remaining part of humanity even in countries, whose self-interested dictators do not want to join in a genuine quest for justice.
May this Naw Ruz mark the coming together of humanity and its institutions around spiritual justice for all.
To understand more deeply the direct links between psychological fragmentation and our global predicament, explore my recent book, Global Unitive Healing.