239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

August 28, 1912
Boston, MA
Storify Feature

The Responsibilities of Oneness

“UPON THE FACES of those present,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said as he looked out at the crowd, “I behold the expression of thoughtfulness and wisdom.” It was August 27, 1912, and he was speaking to the Metaphysical Club of Boston. The organization, which had been meeting for about seventeen years, devoted itself to an exploration of the relationship between the physical matter and abstract realities. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a talk that gracefully united the two.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá began by discussing the interconnectedness of matter at the atomic level. It was an extremely timely illustration, since British physicist Ernest Rutherford had just determined the structure of the atom the year before. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted that the smallest of particles are in a state of “perpetual motion, undergoing continuous degrees of progression.” A single atom, he said, can progress through the mineral world, into the vegetable world, the animal world, and even the human world. As atoms progress, he stated, they become “imbued with the powers and virtues,” as well as “the attributes and qualities,” of whatever category they embody.

“It is evident,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá concluded, “that each elemental atom of the universe is possessed of a capacity to express all the virtues of the universe.” He was claiming the essential oneness of everything in existence. He then argued that God is the power that underlies and animates these transformations. “[T]he origin and outcome of phenomena,” he said, “is the omnipresent God; for the reality of all phenomenal existence is through Him.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned his attention to the human world. “This human plane,” he stated, “is one creation, and all souls are the signs and traces of the divine bounty.” The implication, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted, is that no one could be rejected. “In this plane there are no exceptions,” he said.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá then laid out for his audience at the Metaphysical Club the responsibility this places on each of them. “[S]ome souls are weak,” he said, “we must endeavor to strengthen them.” He added: “Some are ailing; we must seek to restore them to health.” It may have sounded obvious enough to those assembled that evening, but in an America where Social Darwinism was beginning to take root in both economics and the social sciences, and where eugenics was seriously debated by mainstream intellectuals, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was making a clear statement.

“[W]e must exercise extreme patience, sympathy and love toward all mankind,” he said, “considering no soul as rejected. If we look upon a soul as rejected, we have disobeyed the teachings of God.”


  • Guy

    This is very interesting! I wonder whether there is any connection between this Metaphysical Club and the ‘pragmatist’ Metaphysical Club that met at Harvard in the 1870s and included Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Pierce etc? Thank you for all your amazing work on this project.

  • Guest

    By exercising “extreme patience, sympathy and love toward all mankind.” And that’s ALL mankind (humankind). We get into trouble when we make exceptions to God’s rules.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547226759 Khalilah A

      thank you Guest, i find your answer very helpful.

  • Paul Reynolds

    Any fair minded athiest would have to say :”This man had only miinimal edcaiton of a few years before becoming a prisoner from age 14 to his 60s – yet he grasped atomic theory and could speak about it before scientists. Remarkable.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/estherbill Esther Bradley-deTally

    loved today’s post; i was born in boston 74 years ago, the day after his talk

  • Loie Mead

    Kaitlin Shayda Jone’s article and all the comments are outstanding …so valuable for present times.

  • Nicolas

    We can promote oneness in social structures by possessing a generous spirit … by being generous with our love, generous in our assistance, generous in our patience, generous with our time, generous with our resources, and generous with our knowledge

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.d.boyle Charles David Boyle

    These terms are not necessarily exclusive nor bad: perhaps it would be better to ask what place onenss, conflict and competition have in society?

  • Myra Grassfield

    It reminds me again that it is not my place to judge who is “saved” and who is not. As Baha’u’llah says in “The Tablet to The True Seeker”, “No one knows what his own end will be…”. Humility is necessary for the promotion of oneness.