One of the most distinctive aspects of the worldwide Bahá'í community is the hopeful and yet pragmatic way in which its members face the future. Far from fearing it, Bahá'ís the world over are dedicated to creating a new and peaceful world civilization based on principles of justice, prosperity, and continuing advancement. This vision reflects not only an appreciation for humanity's historic longing for peace and collective well-being, but also our understanding that humanity as a whole has now reached a new level of maturity. That it is possible to create societies founded upon cooperation, trust, and genuine concern for others is at the heart of Bahá'í belief and action. Indeed, Bahá'ís believe that humanity is on the verge of an evolutionary leap that will carry humankind to a future where "world peace is not only possible but inevitable."
A number of other characteristics evident in the Bahá'í community today will, Bahá'ís believe, come to characterize the humanity of our planet's future.
The first of these is unity , the mainspring of humanity's future in a world where disunity is increasingly recognized as the ultimate source of danger and suffering. As national, religious, and ethnic conflicts divide peoples around the globe, the imperative of building bonds of reconciliation and understanding takes on greater urgency. Bahá'u'lláh asserted, "So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."
Second only to its unity is the universality of the community created by Bahá'u'lláh. No one is left out; no one takes second place. Embracing more than 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups, the Bahá'í community is quite likely the most diverse organized body of people on the planet. Its very existence challenges prevailing theories about human nature and the prospects for creating peaceful patterns of life.
Third is the new system of values necessary for the development of a global civilization. Such an ethos--where each member of the human race is regarded as a trust of the whole--is guided by an inner ethical orientation relevant to the challenges of the next stage of human development--an orientation that does not come only from legislation and education but from a divine source. Evidence that such a transformation in moral behavior is possible can be found in the response to Bahá'u'lláh's teachings in Bahá'í communities around the globe.
A mechanism promoting the ability to think and decide collectively is the fourth attribute of an evolving world civilization. A mode of decision-making both inclusive and cooperative and that avoids adversarial posturing and partisanship while still democratic in spirit and method now exists uniquely in the Bahá'í community. This administrative order functions at the village, regional, national, and global level.
The will to address the problems confronting humanity is a fifth attribute. In this, the Bahá'í community can offer its experience in the field of social and economic development . More than 1,500 grassroots projects in the areas of health, agriculture, education, and environmental preservation are now being undertaken by Bahá'ís throughout the world. These activities focus not on the delivery of services but rather on the development of capacities within people themselves. Underpinning such efforts is the recognition that every culture and segment of humanity represents a distinct heritage that must be permitted to bear fruit in a global society.
Such strength of will has also enabled members of the Bahá'í community to endure through recurrent waves of persecution and suffering, particularly in the cradle of their Faith, Iran, where over 200 believers have been killed for their Faith since 1979. This strength is also reflected by the systematic growth and consolidation of the Bahá'í Faith all over the globe. Tens of thousands of ordinary people have willingly accepted every type of sacrifice for this goal because of their love for Bahá'u'lláh. As a result, the five-million member Bahá'í community has become the second most widespread religion in the world.
Finally, the manner in which members of the Bahá'í community draw upon the resources of both reason and faith to address challenging problems is a significant model for a future civilization. Bahá'u'lláh stated that the greatest gift of God to humankind is reason, a quality that is continually developed through the maturation of Bahá'í administrative institutions. The turmoil and dislocations confronting present-day society will not be solved until both the scientific and religious genius of the human race are fully utilized.
While the pattern of a future global civilization already exists, in embryonic form, in their community, Bahá'ís see all of these attributes as endowments of Bahá'u'lláh's guidance to humankind in this day--guidance available to everybody and not the sole property of Bahá'ís. This conviction is the source of their inspiring and hopeful vision of the future.