The emergence of the materially and spiritually prosperous global civilization associated with humanity’s age of maturity requires that the practical and spiritual aspects of life advance harmoniously together. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that while “material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind,” until it is “combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained.”1 He continues:
Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness.2
For the material and spiritual dimensions of civilization to advance in harmony, the very notion of prosperity needs to be re-examined. Material means are clearly vital to the advancement of civilization, and achieving prosperity implies that all people should have access to such means. Prosperity, however, cannot be understood as the mere accumulation of personal wealth. Such an individualistic conception—bereft as it is of the values of spiritual civilization—inevitably places undue weight on indulging desires and tends to cultivate a love of luxury. To contribute to the advancement of material and spiritual civilization, material means need to be used for far higher purposes: to foster unity, to uplift and edify the life of society, and to facilitate access to knowledge for all people, to name but a few.
A word of caution is also needed about our understanding of spirituality. It is too easy to view the concept in a superficial way—to comprehend it as little more than a tool for maximising satisfaction or as a veneer of activities or rituals designed to soothe the nerves and anxieties roused by a materialistic life. True spirituality reaches to the very roots of human existence: it permeates action and channels individual and collective efforts for the betterment of society, it cultivates thirst for knowledge, it elevates work to the station of worship, it promotes empathy, it provides for the control of selfish impulses, it emphasises oneness and interconnectedness, it fosters generosity and humility, and it nurtures appreciation for diversity and attraction to beauty. “[S]pirituality”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “is the greatest of God’s gifts…May you, one and all, increase daily in spirituality, may you be strengthened in all goodness, may you be helped more and more by the Divine consolation, be made free by the Holy Spirit of God, and may the power of the Heavenly Kingdom live and work among you.”3