239 Days in America

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

Day
157
 | 
September 14, 1912
Chicago, IL
Storify Feature

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

“LOVE IS FICTION,” an article published in The Chicago Tribune on January 28, 1912, stated. “There is no such thing,” it declared. “We talk of love, we read of love, we think of love. Yet we know there really is no love.”

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Edward Burnett Tylor, often credited as being the founder of cultural anthropology, wrote the Tribune article. He based his argument on his extensive research into “primitive” societies, which he viewed as the kernels of modern polities. Marriage, he believed, originated as a dowry transaction to deal with surplus cows; he didn’t think much had changed.

Love, in its many forms, was something ‘Abdu’l-Bahá talked about throughout his time in America. While it is, perhaps, a word more likely to be found in an anniversary card than in mainstream social discourse, and an easy one to disregard, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out to redefine it.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted that love, at its most basic level, is a bond between human beings that begins in the family unit. “Marriage,” his father Bahá’u’lláh had written, is “a fortress for well-being.” The Reverend Howard Colby Ives, whose chronicle of his time with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America spends an entire chapter explaining the Bahá’í teachings on marriage, wrote “the development of the institution of marriage. . . from the promiscuity of the earliest history of mankind to the more or less monogamous ordinance now in vogue. . . have been in direct ratio to the ethical and spiritual development of the race.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá told Americans that in the current age they had the capacity to extend the love that exists within families to ever wider circles of humanity. “A family is a nation in miniature,” he said. “Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá often referred to the bond that must exist between all humanity as “brotherhood.” Yet he warned that if this brotherhood is simply based on material interest, it will amount to nothing. It must be based on a love such that people are willing to sacrifice their lives for one another. True love, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued, moves beyond words, and comes from conscious decisions. He called on people to exhibit a love that isn’t simply “the yielding of the hearts to the accidents of life.” In other words, love isn’t something that simply happens to you.

Ultimately, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, love originates from a source beyond the human realm. “The very cause of life is the Supreme One’s love,” he told journalists on Tuesday in Buffalo, “for by His grace we move, we see, we hear, we feel, and all phenomena is based on His love. . . .” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s primarily Christian audience would have understood much of his mystical discourse on love in the context of the creative “Word” described in the Gospel of John, where God calls His creation into being. This divine act of creation, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, is ultimately an act of love, and that all other forms of love flow from it. Human love must therefore be mediated by the love of God, he said, so “Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul.”

Edward Burnett Tylor argued of love that “Most of it is in the story books. The rest of it is in the divorce courts.” But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá believed that love had the power to transform the reality of human relationships. “Love is the light that guideth in darkness,” he said, “the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul.”

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  • maryanika

    Making sure we never leave out that ingredient in our relationships with others.

  • EllenWP

    It’s fascinating to learn that Mr. Tylor’s 1912 article argued of love that “Most of it is in the story books. The rest of it is in the divorce courts.” I naively didn’t realize that divorce was something people were concerned about 100 years ago.

    Abdu’l-Baha’s teachings (as follows) stand in stark contrast to Mr. Tyler’s views: “Love is the light that guideth in darkness,” he said, “the living link
    that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined
    soul.” Beautiful…

  • Yi Chi

    Love, as the world God, is misinterpreted in a way that is very different from what Abdul-Baha talks about. In that case, Edward’s claim may be right. That is, love is not an accident. I don’t think there is actually a friend’s love or spouse love. Love is Love. The sexual impulse is not in spiritual world. Is it?

  • Loie Mead

    Yes, we do live in a society that believes in LOVE. However, our society is in the process of abusing science with its emphasis upon technology, and most of society is becoming increasingly enamoured with technology. We only have to look around us to see that we are in danger of giving way to mad science. We have been well-cautioned against this outrageous imbalance if our society fails to heed the Word of God for this Age. Yet, members of our society seem afraid to speak out against run-away technology! Technology can only serve civilization’s needs by advancing the knowledge of God’s latest Revelation. We must be updated! The hour is late!

  • Firuz

    Love is the best and the ultimate fruit (result) of wisdom and intelligence. It is then natural that love understands and surpasses wisdom and wisdom can never understand or as Abdu’l-Baha has used the word (surround) it. The whole Persian poetry praises love and downgrades wisdom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pascal-Molineaux/1203381202 Pascal Molineaux

    Alas! Our society, generally speaking, has trivialised love to its mere material, hormonal dimension, completely ignoring the spiritual, transcendent dimension. This trivialisation of love leads to unstable relationships and weak bonds. It also leads to a very limited understanding of love’s potential to heal, to unite, allowing us to grow out of ourselves and dedicate our energies and will to the betterment of the human condition. Such holy persons as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, even Mandela, were able to delve into that extremely wealthy dimension of love. The Manifestations of God, no doubt, were the impersonification of such a condition of detached, pure love for all. It is, I believe, a basic human striving to attain such condition of boundless love for all. As we do this, we gradually submit to the Divine Will and forsake our own. Thus we will build a better world and bring unity to te family of man.

    • Alan C

      couldn’t agree more. if we could only allow selfless love to dominate, our use of material resources would follow suit. when all humanity have love – for themselves, for each other and the world, we will be able to act with justice and live in peace.

  • Rebecca

    “Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.”

  • Rosie S. Age 13

    In 1912 Edward Burnett Tylor wrote, “Most of [love] is in the story books. The rest of it is in the divorce courts.” However, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says that “if this brotherhood is simply based on material interest, it will amount to nothing. It must be based on a love such that people are willing to sacrifice their lives for one another.” He also says that love begins with the family. I chose this story because the title grabbed my attention and I wondered what it meant. I liked this story because it changed my perspective of love and family and how love can make a difference in one’s life. I will definetly try to incorporate this new lesson into my daily life by not loving through material resources and try to show my family how much I love them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.cundall.3 Janet Cundall

    love is the cause of the unfoldment of Divine civilization, love is the golden rule of all the great spiritual teachings in the evolution of humankind – e.g. treat others how you want to be treated, prefer your brother before yourself, a moral frame. yet many people in the West think it is each person’s human right to love who they want to, if they want to, rather than trying to see something to love about everyone they meet. how to connect – that a loving, peaceful, fair planet home for everyone requires love to be something we all strive to be more of, more loving, to be a more loving person, to see something loveable in everyone.