Perspective: Signs of Hope for the New Millennium

At the United Nations in September, world leaders met in their largest gathering ever and signed a values-based Declaration upholding the primacy of peace, justice, equality and human dignity.

This was an historic event and a sign of great hope for the world.

Although cynical observers might say the Millennium Summit was mostly a "talk shop" that resulted in few concrete commitments, the mere gathering together of so many leaders, their resounding support for the United Nations and its principles, and their distinctive emphasis on certain key common values, specifically "freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility," make the event an important milestone in humanity's progress towards a peaceful, prosperous and just world civilization.

Likewise, in the companion Millennium World Peace Summit in August, the gathering together of more than 1,000 religious and spiritual leaders and their concurrence on a similarly values-oriented Declaration, calling for peace, tolerance, equality and religious freedom, is another historic event and sign of hope for the world community.

Indeed, in some respects, given the history of conflict and dissension among many of the world's religions and their various sects, the success of the religious Summit in reaching common ground on many issues is perhaps more surprising than the agreements reached at the Millennium Summit by world leaders.

To the Bahá'í observer, what is remarkable about both of these events - as well as an earlier Millennium Forum, held by civil society organizations last May also as a companion to the Millennium Summit - is the degree to which the main principles of agreement are congruent with the principles of the Bahá'í Faith.

More than 100 years ago, well before the new set of values discussed at all three Millennium meetings were in wide circulation, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed that humanity had entered a new stage in its collective development.

When fully realized, this new stage would fulfill ancient prophecies in all religions for an age of peace and enlightenment, Bahá'u'lláh said, and be marked by the wide acceptance of the following principles: the oneness (or interdependence) of humanity; the common foundation of all religions; the equality of women and men; the equality of all races and ethnic groups; the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty; the importance of individual dignity and human rights; and the need for an international institution to bring all nations together in the safety of collective security.

Any dispassionate analysis of the documents, including the speeches, that emerged from these three Millennium meetings, shows that the agenda of progressive social values and collective action called for by Bahá'u'lláh has now been essentially adopted by the world at large.

At the Millennium Summit, for example, world leaders stated that "the United Nations is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which we will seek to realize our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development."

As noted, the final declaration by world leaders emphasized the importance of certain key values. "We recognize that, in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level," world leaders said.

At the religious Summit, religious and spiritual leaders proclaimed that "no individual, group or nation can any longer live as an isolated microcosm in our interdependent world, but rather all must realize that our every action has an impact on others and the emerging global community" and that "religious and spiritual traditions are a core source of the realization of a better life for the human family and all life on Earth."

Of special significance, religious leaders further stated explicitly that "men and women are equal partners in all aspects of life" - a view which has not historically been a teaching of most world religions.

And at the Millennium Forum, civil society organizations proclaimed that "we are one human family, in all our diversity, living on one common homeland and sharing a just, sustainable and peaceful world, guided by universal principles of democracy, equality, inclusion, voluntarism, non-discrimination and participation by all persons…"

One could argue, of course, that many of these same principles are largely embodied in the United Nations Charter and in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And one would be correct. Certainly both of these documents are visionary in nature.

But what makes these Millennial events so dramatic is the concurrent unfolding of events in the world over the last decade: the end of the cold war, the spread of democracy, the integration of the world's people and cultures, the widespread advancement of women; the steady victories of the new human rights regime, and the increasing prosperity of many people in many countries.

Of course, there remains a gap between the rhetoric on the mountain top and the reality in the foothills and plains below, where the majority of humanity dwells. It will undoubtedly be some time before all peoples are truly free, before all racial, religious and ethnic tensions are utterly eliminated, and before the world's poor have access to adequate food, water, shelter and health care, let alone a sense of genuine prosperity.

And, on the peace front, there is ever the sense of "two steps forward, one step back," inasmuch as some world trouble spots continue to boil and the threat of wider conflict in some regions still remains.

Yet the trends toward peace, freedom, justice and prosperity are dominant. And the resounding affirmation of the United Nations and its principles by world leaders, gathered in the largest Summit meeting ever, brings this into focus.

It is now possible to say that peace is the norm in the world, whether within or among nations. The use of war to solve differences is now seen as abhorrent, a violation of human rights and, even, an ineffectual means of settling disputes. Consultation, arbitration and mediation are now the accepted means of resolving differences within and between nations. Moreover, the promulgation of peace is now understood to include an emphasis on justice and actions to promote development.

We see great hope, then, in the proclamations issued by the Millennium Summit and its companion meetings. When they are set alongside the clearly emerging trends in world affairs, they offer signs of hope that, as Bahá'u'lláh promised more than a century ago, the world is moving inexorably towards an age of peace and prosperity for all humanity.

As the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote in 1985, in a statement entitled "The Promise of World Peace":

"The Great Peace towards which people of good will throughout the centuries have inclined their hearts, of which seers and poets for countless generations have expressed their vision, and for which from age to age the sacred scriptures of mankind have constantly held the promise, is now at long last within the reach of the nations. For the first time in history it is possible for everyone to view the entire planet, with all its myriad diversified peoples, in one perspective. World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet - in the words of one great thinker, 'the planetization of mankind'."