“‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ HARDLY REQUIRES an introduction, as nearly all who are present have been looking forward to his coming to Sacramento.” The speaker was Christine Fraser from The Home of Truth, a branch of the New Thought movement gaining momentum in America at the turn of the twentieth century. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had left San Francisco that morning, on October 25, 1912, arriving in Sacramento by noon. At 8:30 p.m. that same evening, an audience gathered in the Assembly Hall of the Hotel Sacramento to hear him speak.
The city of Sacramento prospered during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. It was named the capital of California in 1879, and became the Western transportation point for the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad.
The Home of Truth movement was initiated by Annie Rix Militzin the 1880s. She was Christian, but at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, met Swami Vivekananda, and afterwards took an interfaith approach to religion. By 1903 there were eight Home of Truth centers in the United States. In her introduction on October 25, Christine Fraser expressed her thanks that “someone can come to us from the far ends of the earth, from that beautiful place Palestine, for Mt. Carmel, we are told in scripture, was the school of the prophets.”
But what The Home of Truth received from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that evening was far different from the ancient, mystical sayings Americans were used to hearing from Easterners. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew parallels between the lives of Christ and Bahá’u’lláh, who both suffered severe persecutions because they revealed systems of faith that challenged the religious authorities of their times. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid out some of the principles contained in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
First, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá distinguished what he called “true religion” from the “dogmatic interpretations and imitations of ancestral forms of belief.” True religion caused unity, peace, and love, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remarked, while religious imitations led to war and strife. Bahá’u’lláh wrote that all should investigate reality for themselves, for, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained, “Reality is one; and when found, it will unify all mankind.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá went on to underline the importance of universal peace, and of expelling prejudice, whether racial, political, patriotic, or religious, arguing that these prejudices are the primary causes of war. Another principle he introduced was that “religion must be in conformity with science and reason. . . .” The main reason that people turn to irreligion or atheism, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued, was because “the blind imitations or dogmatic interpretations current among men do not coincide with the postulates of reason. . . .”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá then affirmed woman’s equality with man. “In the estimation of God there is no gender,” he explained. “The one whose deeds are more worthy, whose sayings are better, whose accomplishments are more useful is nearest and dearest in the estimation of God, be that one male or female.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá described the two genders as complementary, like the two wings of a bird. “So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly,” he said.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá delineated two kinds of civilizations that evening. “Material civilization,” he explained, “concerns the world of matter or bodies, but divine civilization is the realm of ethics and moralities.” The Prophets of God, such as Christ, are the founders of divine civilization, without which, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “eternal happiness cannot be realized.”