My Take on the Baha’i Faith: Much to Recommend It But Not My Cup of Tea

The symbol of the Baha'i Faith

I have just completed a four-month study of the Baha’i Faith. This is part of my self-defined training as an interfaith minister and student. While four months of somewhat regular reading and occasional conversation with a Baha’i friend hardly constitute a thorough grounding in the religion, it seems appropriate for me to record some of my thinking about this spiritual path. Like everything I write of a spiritual nature, this should be viewed as quite malleable and subject to future modification based on new learning.

The Baha’i Faith has much to offer. I have found many of its teachings and principles to be in complete alignment with my own self-realization and studies over the past 20 or so years.

This path is a monotheistic one, but one which is inclusive rather than exclusive. Its  spiritual foundation is built upon three basic principles: the unity of God; the unity of religion; and the unity of humanity. In other words, it is built on a foundation of Oneness. This, quite obviously, is a very attractive feature of the Baha’i Faith for me.

But there are other teachings and principles I find equally attractive. In the following sections of this document, I will try to set forth briefly the main teachings of the Baha’i Faith as I understand them and which I find most intriguing. Such an oversimplification will, of necessity, gloss over many nuances that a serious student of the subject will want to pursue for his or her own edification.

The founder of this religion,  Baha’u’llah, was a mid-19th century Iranian who became a disciple of a man named The Bab. In 1863,  Baha’u’llah publicly announced his mission on earth as the latest “Manifestation of God”. Despite its origins in the Middle East, the Baha’i Faith has no direct connection to Islam.

The Baha’i Faith teaches that at periodic intervals throughout human history, God has sent to the human race numerous Manifestations of God to convey God’s Truth to succeeding generations despite their cultural and social differences. Baha’u’llah is the most recent Manifestation of God, but another such being is projected to appear on earth within 1000 years of his appearance.

Earlier Manifestations of God include Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Mohammed, Krishna, and other such incarnations of the divine. All of these are recognized by the Baha’i Faith as “mouthpieces of God” who brought to each of their respective dispensations new and in some cases updated teachings suitable for that time, that place, and those people.

Baha'i Founder, Baha'u'llah

Baha’i Founder, Baha’u’llah

Baha’u’llah is seen by adherents of the Baha’i Faith as being the messianic fulfillment of the previous Manifestations of God. However, they do not worship Baha’u’llah, believing only the one God is worthy of such treatment. Rather, they treat him as they do others mentioned earlier as divinely commissioned beings whose teachings are worthy of veneration and following.

To a Baha’i, God is Love. He is unknowable by the finite human mind and is revealed only through the periodic Manifestations he sends to earth to act as Messengers. All of the Manifestations of God have taught their followers to be loving, generous, humble, truthful, to see their own faults rather than the faults of others, and to return good for evil. Some of the teachings of these various Manifestations, however, are not alike but offer different social laws; each of the Manifestations of God taught different social laws and mores suitable to the people to whom they were the Messenger.

These Manifestations of God manifest in their own lives the attributes of God to a degree that far exceeds the capacity of ordinary human beings. These characteristics include love, mercy, justice, and power.

As I said earlier in this piece, one of the key tenets of the Baha’i Faith is a belief in the unity of religion. Adherents of the Baha’i Faith believe that all major religions teach:

  • belief in a Creator,
  • the centrality of a Holy Figure whose love has changed the lives of millions and whose words are a source of hope and inspiration many centuries after they were spoken;
  • and that there is more to come, that The Great One will appear together the children of men from the four corners of the earth and usher in the day of universal Brotherhood.

Need for Individual Investigation and Discovery of Truth

In my particular personal spiritual path, which is based in the teachings of Unity, a flavor of metaphysical Christianity, along with a strong influence from Vedism and particularly Advaita, a high premium is placed on individual learning and intellectual investigation of the Truth. In fact, followers of this path are not referred to as believers, but rather as Truth Students.

The Baha’i Faith treats the need for individual investigation of spirituality in Universal Truth similarly to Unity.

To the Baha’i, all of the Messengers of God have each given the people they were sent to minister to, as much of the whole Truth of the Universe as could understand. But all of them have prepared their followers for the coming time when they would be able to receive and understand more. Baha’u’llah taught that everyone is responsible for what he or she believes and should not blindly imitate anyone. If people would investigate Truth with an open mind, he said, overcoming the training of others, then everyone would become united because Truth is the same wherever it is taught.

Baha’u’llah thought that those who seek the truth can’t afford to begin their quest with any preconceived ideas. Such a student needs to be fair in his judgment and humble.

But the Baha’i Faith goes beyond religious and spiritual boundaries when considering the necessity of educating one’s self to prepare for a full life on this plane of existence. Baha’u’llah, at a time when education of the masses was unknown, called upon his followers to educate their children. In one of his teachings, he says, “Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.”

Now I want to turn my attention to specific themes or topics on which I have been able to form an opinion.

LIFE AFTER DEATH

This is one of the few areas in which I find myself in disagreement with the Baha’i Faith. I have become convinced over the many decades I’ve considered the subject that the human experience is divided into many lives which are experienced through the process of reincarnation.

Baha’is vehemently deny that they believe in reincarnation, even though there are some passages in some of Baha’u’llah’s writings that appear contradictory to that position. (As I understand it, these passages have not been officially translated and therefore apparently don’t form a part of the official scripture of the Baha’i Faith.)

My own Resurrection Experiences provide me all the proof I need of an existence beyond this one, and what I learned while experiencing those events convinces me that we do not have a single lifetime in which to achieve Enlightenment or Salvation, or whatever we want to call the ultimate reunion with God that marks the end of our spiritual quest according to all religions and spiritual paths, including the Baha’i Faith.

EQUAL RIGHTS FOR MEN AND WOMEN

The Baha’i Faith clearly teaches that men and women are equal in the sight of God and neither sex is superior in any way to the other. This is a most enlightened view of society, and one which is not found explicitly taught in most major religions or spiritual paths.

While Jesus seemed clearly to teach this principle, Paul and the early Christian church clearly didn’t follow his direction on the subject, treating women as inferior in a great many ways that fit the culture within which Christianity took root.

This is an example of the multiple Manifestations of God appearing across cultures and offering different sets of rules that were not strictly speaking of a theological nature, but more of a social or practical nature. Baha’u’llah clearly clarifies the role of women in the more modern era when compared to the Manifestations of God who preceded him, although he was writing and teaching in the mid-19th century before equal rights for women was a topic of conversation, let alone a social rule, anywhere on Earth.

On the other hand, the Baha’i Faith is staunchly opposed to gay rights and gay marriage, a position I find difficult to reconcile with their teachings about gender equality, and one which I cannot accept or condone.

RELIGION AND SCIENCE

Baha’u’llah taught that true religion and true science are always in agreement. In fact, he goes farther than that. He says that true religion can never be opposed to scientific fact and that God, having given man the power of intellect, does not expect us to lay it aside when investigating religious Truth. From the Baha’i perspective, science provides us with tools and means of understanding and manipulating the Universe, while religion teaches us how to use them to our and our fellow man’s best advantage. “Science without religion leads to materialism and destruction; religion without science breeds fanaticism and superstition.”

In the case of an apparent conflict between science and the Baha’i Faith, the Baha’i teaching is that science should be presumed to be correct to the extent that it has been objectively proven. I find that viewpoint refreshingly unique.

WEALTH AND POVERTY

Baha’u’llah taught that society must not permit extremes of either wealth or poverty. In this part of his great body of teachings about how society should work, Baha’u’llah provided certain general economic principles.

For example, he taught the principle of graduated taxation, which we would call the progressive income tax. According to this principle, when one’s life reaches the point where one is comfortable and his income exceeds his needs, he should pay into the public fund a percentage of tax which increases as the surplus over his necessities increases. On the other hand, anyone who falls into bad times due to a bad harvest or illness or some other reason for which he is not responsible should be helped from the same public fund.

Abdu’l-Baha (who took over as the leader of the Baha’i movement when his father was martyred, at his father’s explicit instruction) expanded on his father’s teachings by saying that besides his wages, a worker should receive a percentage of the profits of capital. This is a fairly radical idea given the time in which it was offered. Adherents of the Baha’i Faith believe that this economic model will, in the future, be adopted by all the societies on the planet.

ONE WORLD COMMONWEALTH

A key teaching of the Baha’i Faith is that eventually all the nations on the planet will merge into one grand commonwealth, united under the banner of the principles of the Baha’i Faith. In fact, practitioners of the faith have already established such an organization which regularly meets to discuss matters of global importance and to outline rules and procedures under which the new world government will operate when it is formed.

According to this view, the nations of the world will join together voluntarily when they see the advantages of this approach to governance. This world commonwealth would, according to the Baha’i teaching, preserve the autonomy of each nation and safeguard the personal freedom of individuals. It would require universal disarmament except for national and regional police forces designed to keep order within the old boundaries.

Not only does this plan envision a uniform system of currency, weights and measures, it also advocates for the adoption of a single world language. For many years, the Baha’i Faith was a strong advocate of adopting Esperanto as that language, but in recent years English has become the favored language since it is the most ubiquitously spoken as either a first or second language throughout the world.

This utopian view will, Baha’i’s believe, eventually lead to world peace. Baha’u’llah taught that before that time arrives, the weapons of war would reach such terrible proportions that the governments of the world would be forced to come to some agreement regarding the abolition of war.

CONCLUSION

I have in this brief document only discussed some highlights of my findings and opinions about the Baha’i Faith based, as I have said, on a fairly brief but not shallow examination of this spiritual tradition.

I find myself unable to consider becoming a Baha’i, principally for three reasons.

First, their belief in a single lifetime to achieve spiritual enlightenment clashes directly with my strong belief, built on personal experience, in reincarnation.

Second, while the idea that Baha’u’llah will be followed in no fewer than 1000 years by another Manifestation of God is appealing from the perspective of interfaith principle, the declaration of a nearly precise time frame seems both unnecessary and suspect. It acts as a pre-emptive disqualifier preventing God from sending a Manifestation sooner if one were needed.

Finally, like all of the religions of the world, Baha’i teaches that there is a divine intelligence behind the creation of multiple cultures, societies and governments, all designed to take advantage of and provide for the welfare of different groups of people. The concept of a single world government, as appealing as it is from the perspective of world peace and Unity, does not seem to me to be either necessary to the extension of a world religion nor necessarily a positive outcome in any case.

Still, I left this study with a good feeling about the Baha’i Faith and its adherents, and I suspect they will play a role in the coming century of bringing the world closer together and spreading the message of Oneness far and wide. And for that, I will be appreciative.

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