Can Human Nature Change?
Education and religion are alike based on the assumption that it is possible to change human nature.
In fact, it requires but little investigation to show that the one thing we can say with certainty about any living thing is that it cannot keep from changing. Without change there can be no life. Even the mineral cannot resist change, and the higher we go in the scale of being, the more varied, complex, and wonderful do the changes become. Moreover, in progress and development among creatures of all grades we find two kinds of change—one slow, gradual, often almost imperceptible; and the other rapid, sudden and dramatic. The latter occur at what are called “critical stages” of development. In the case of minerals we find such critical stages at the melting and boiling points, for example, when the solid suddenly becomes a liquid or the liquid becomes a gas. In the case of plants we see such critical stages when the seed begins to germinate, or the bud bursts into leaf. In the animal world we see the same on every hand, as when the grub suddenly changes into a butterfly, the chick emerges from its shell, or the babe is born from its mother’s womb. In the higher life of the soul we often see a similar transformation, when a man is “born again” and his whole being becomes radically changed in its aims, its character and activities. Such critical stages often affect a whole species or multitude of species simultaneously, as when vegetation of all kinds suddenly bursts into new life in springtime.
Bahá’u’lláh declares that just as lesser living things have times of sudden emergence into new and fuller life, so for mankind also a “critical stage,” a time of “rebirth,” is at hand. Then modes of life which have persisted from the dawn of history up till now will be quickly, irrevocably, altered, and humanity enter on a new phase of life as different from the old as the butterfly is different from the caterpillar, or the bird from the egg. Mankind as a whole, in the light of new Revelation, will attain to a new vision of truth; as a whole country is illumined when the sun rises, so that all men see clearly, where but an hour before everything was dark and dim.
“This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a rose garden and a paradise.” - 'Abdu'l-Baha
The analogies of nature are all in favor of such a view; the Prophets of old have with one accord foretold the advent of such a glorious day; the signs of the times show clearly that profound and revolutionary changes in human ideas and institutions are even now in progress. What could be more futile and baseless therefore, than the pessimistic argument that, although all things else change, human nature cannot change?
Excerpt from Baha'u'llah and the New Era.
Originally published in 1923, this book by Dr. John E. Esslemont—an early British Bahá’í—has been translated into numerous languages and remains a key introductory text to the Bahá’í religion.