My personal journey to and from the Baha'i Faith


#1

A fellow CAF member PM’ed me and asked me to describe my attachment to and then separation from the Baha’i Faith, and I thought I would do so here, rather than in a return PM, since some research will be involved, and other people may benefit.

I first heard of the Baha’i Faith my senior year at college (1968). At this time I was pretty much living as a pagan (lower-case “p”). I had been raised in a holiness pentecostal denomination, almost quintessential “holy rollers,” except that we didn’t actually roll on the floor. It was a very strict denomination – no movies, no dancing, no slacks or divided skirts on the women, uncut hair on the women, no smoking, and absolutely no drinking, drugs, or any form of sex outside marriage. When I went to college, I dropped out of that form of Christianity altogether; I smoked, drank (when I could get it), cussed like a sailor, and the only thing that kept me from fornicating my way into early fatherhood was the fact that I was short, skinny, socially awkward, and generally unattractive to girls.

By my senior year I had started researching other religions, just to see what was out there. I even bought and studied a book on Wicca, but I abandoned that as laughably silly. One of the books I read during this period was a book about the Baha’i faith, written for popular consumption; I don’t remember the title or author. The book described the founder and early leaders of the faith, and detailed its precepts and teachings.

There were several things about the Baha’i faith that I found attractive. (Those who wish can read the Wikipedia article “Baha’i Faith;” it is reasonably accurate and comprehensive.) Those attractions included its calls for a unity of religion and of humanity, for the equality of men and women, for world peace (the Vietnam War was raging at this time), and for the elimination of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, while opposing mendicancy (it is against Baha’i teachings to give anything to someone who is begging).

However, I did not follow through on my attraction to this religion until several years later, while I was serving in the Air Force and was stationed with my wife (pregnant with out first child) overseas. I had borrowed a book on Esperanto from the library, and in the list of organizations supporting its spread was the U.S. Baha’i headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois (Baha’is believe in the need for an international auxiliary language). I contacted them, ordered some books, read them, and decided that I would become a Baha’i. We returned to the States on leave in the spring of 1973, and at that time I contacted a Baha’i community leader in Jacksonville, Florida, and went through the “conversion” process. I really don’t remember what was involved, other than basically stating that I believed in and would abide by the teachings of the faith.

However, when we returned to Japan, there was no “community” to teach me how to live this faith. I was the only Baha’i on the base. Somehow I got in touch with an American Baha’i couple that were living in Sendai, and I visited them a couple times, but that was it. It wasn’t until I was back in the U.S. in 1975, stationed in the Monterey, California, area that I found a community of any kind. I attended a couple meetings, but felt no connection with them, and I drifted away. We returned to Japan in November of 1975, and in February of 1976 I had my own personal Damascus Road experience that brought me back into the denomination in which I had been raised (now somewhat liberalized), and eventually into the Catholic church.

There were several reasons for my abandonment of the Baha’i Faith. For one thing, I had problems with the prescribed daily prayers. Prayer is easy when it means something, but these prayers didn’t make any sense to me, and I would constantly forget to do them, thus building up a long list of make-up prayers that I would have to do. Another was arbitrary nature of the Baha’i year – 19 months of 19 days each, with four (five in a leap year) intercalary days. To me, that looked like something that been just made up to be different. Another stumbling block was the required 19-day sunrise-to-sunset fast during the month of March – I don’t do well fasting. I subsequently found out that because I lived on Fort Ord and was going to Monterey every day for classes, passing through Seaside and Sand City to get there, that counted as “traveling” (going somewhere at least two communities away), and as a “traveler,” I was exempt from the fast. That didn’t make any sense; how could an 11-mile commute absolve me from a religious obligation that was rigidly imposed on someone who was staying home? Yet another was the fact that there didn’t seem to be anything in the teachings on how to avoid and receive forgiveness for sin.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back concerned the most holy book of the Baha’i scriptures, al-Kitab al-Aqdas (in Farsi, Kitab-e-Aqdas). This book was written in Arabic in the late 19th century, but as of the time that I was a Baha’i, there still was no official English translation. There was a translation that had been done by a British Arabic scholar and an anti-Baha’i Protestant clergyman, but Baha’is were forbidden to have anything to do with that translation. It irked me that a valid translation would be forbidden to me, just because it was done by someone who was not of the faith, while those who could have done an official translation appeared to be sitting on the project. It’s not that big a book; the .html file is only 383 kbytes. (An official translation was eventually published in 1993; it and other Baha’i writings can be found at the website sacred-texts.com/index.htm .

I count my time as a Baha’i as a phase that I was going through, and I really don’t remember much about it, except for the fact that as a Baha’i, I wasn’t a very good one.


#2

DaveBj,

Brother thank you very much for your story of the time you spent as a Baha'i. I found it interesting because I am familiar with the Baha'i Faith and have had many an internet correspondance with members of the religion.

:)


#3

Thanks for sharing your personal faith journey.


#4

The time you entered the Baha'i Faith was the end of a long period of growth when older, more staid Baha'is found themselves inundated with interest from hippies seeking peace and love.

Interestingly, I entered the Baha'i Faith at nearly the same time, actually in early June (the Feast of Núr, Light) in 1973. I only left in the fall of 2003, returning to the Episcopal Church.

The Baha'i Faith is an interesting religion, liberal in its way, but in many respects, dogmatically orthodox. Baha'is are very certain that there is no private revelation, and its texts state that there will be no revelation for a thousand years following the appearance of Baha'u'llah (the founder).

The Baha'is teach that the "Messengers of the Past", Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and Krishna all teach the same divine truth, but that religions look different because of cultural and historical conditions. It is pretty hard to swallow that, but I did for a long time. I knew a dedicated Baha'i who wrote a book asserting that Buddhism is theistic. I showed this book to a professor of Buddhist studies who was also a Buddhist and he could not imagine where this fellow got his ideas. And, on its face, Islam and Christianity are at loggerheads when it comes to the Trinity. You really can't cogently argue that the teaching in the Gospels that led to the doctrine of the Trinity are the result of misunderstanding or manipulation.

The Baha'i Faith tends to attract liberal people, but many liberals bristle at its teaching about homosexuality (which are quite similar to those of the Catholic Church. Its teaching about abortion, though less public, also mirror those of the Catholic Church.)

By the way, the calendar of 19 months with 19 days each may be of Zoroastrian origin. In any case it is quite difficult to follow.

One interesting thing about Baha'i scriptures in English is that they are translated into a kind of King James-Prayerbook language. This is because the primary translator, a great grandson of the founder worked with an Anglican priest who rendered the texts into quite lovely English. This priest eventually became a Baha'i in the last years of his life. There have been a few Catholic priests, monks and nuns who have become Baha'is. Also good number of laity. Baha'is come from really every possible religions background.

Having been a Baha'i for 30 years has left its mark on me. Somehow, however, the Episcopal Church never really left me, and now nearly 10 years later it feels like I never left.

I retain good relationships with a number of my Baha'i friends, even those from 40 years ago.


#5

[quote="Usbek_de_Perse, post:4, topic:310369"]
The time you entered the Baha'i Faith was the end of a long period of growth when older, more staid Baha'is found themselves inundated with interest from hippies seeking peace and love.

Interestingly, I entered the Baha'i Faith at nearly the same time, actually in early June (the Feast of Núr, Light) in 1973. I only left in the fall of 2003, returning to the Episcopal Church.

[/quote]

I can identify with the "hippies seeking peace and love" thing; that described me perfectly. I did join the Air Force, but at the time that was more to evade the draft; at heart, I was a hippy folk-singer. And actually, you entered the Baha'i faith only 3 months after I officially did.

snip

By the way, the calendar of 19 months with 19 days each may be of Zoroastrian origin. In any case it is quite difficult to follow.

I checked "Zoroastrian calendar" in Wikipedia; they didn't get the 19x19 from there.

One interesting thing about Baha'i scriptures in English is that they are translated into a kind of King James-Prayerbook language. This is because the primary translator, a great grandson of the founder worked with an Anglican priest who rendered the texts into quite lovely English. This priest eventually became a Baha'i in the last years of his life. There have been a few Catholic priests, monks and nuns who have become Baha'is. Also good number of laity. Baha'is come from really every possible religions background.

Yes, the English is very flowery, which doesn't help comprehension. However, in the early '90s I changed languages on my job to Arabic, so I got a little more used to flowery language :D

Having been a Baha'i for 30 years has left its mark on me. Somehow, however, the Episcopal Church never really left me, and now nearly 10 years later it feels like I never left.

I retain good relationships with a number of my Baha'i friends, even those from 40 years ago.

You certainly would have gotten a lot more out of being a Baha'i (30 years, actually in communities) than I did (2 years, all by myself). For you, it was your religion; for me, it was just a phase in my life, and that that was more my fault than the fault of the religion.


#6

Its always good to see someone leave something like the bahai faith and come closer to Christ.

Bahai at first for me also offered an initial attraction, but its theology is severely lacking and reinventive, almost gnostic in nature (they emphasise when speaking about Christ the uselessness of the human body). It was an attempt by their prophet to make a universal religion by combining elements of each into one, but when you abandon the theology of a certain religion, you abandon the meaning and the morals of that religion. You can't take Budha and say he was a manifestation of God (a being pre-existent who perfectly reflects god like a mirror but is not God to the bahai) when the buhda did not concern himself with God.

I like what someone else said describing bahai, Muslim unitarian universalists.


#7

[quote="DaveBj, post:5, topic:310369"]

I checked "Zoroastrian calendar" in Wikipedia; they didn't get the 19x19 from there.

[/quote]

I had a Persian friend, perhaps the only Persian at Berkeley who was not studying engineering, and his area was Old (pre-Islamic) Iranian. He was not a Baha'i. He mentioned the 19 month calendar as being of some Old Iranian origin. But you are right, there is nothing about that in the Wikipedia article, so I doubt it. Interestingly, the Baha'i Calendar does coincide with the Persian calendar with Naw Ruz, March 21.

[quote="DaveBj, post:5, topic:310369"]
Yes, the English is very flowery, which doesn't help comprehension. However, in the early '90s I changed languages on my job to Arabic, so I got a little more used to flowery language :D

[/quote]

The funny thing is that for me, a then former Episcopalian, the language of the translations of Shoghi Effendi and George Townsend was beautiful and intelligible. Some of the Baha'i prayers in Arabic are quite moving. There are some passages I still could probably recite by heart. It is interesting to note that Baha'u'llah, being a non-native but highly competent writer of Arabic, wrote in a style that is easy to read. I have read the Hidden Words, parts of the Aqdas long before the translation became available, and a number of prayers.

I'm guessing you were not at the Oklahoma City youth conference in June 1973, or were you?


#8

[quote="Usbek_de_Perse, post:7, topic:310369"]
snip

The funny thing is that for me, a then former Episcopalian, the language of the translations of Shoghi Effendi and George Townsend was beautiful and intelligible. Some of the Baha'i prayers in Arabic are quite moving. There are some passages I still could probably recite by heart. It is interesting to note that Baha'u'llah, being a non-native but highly competent writer of Arabic, wrote in a style that is easy to read. I have read the Hidden Words, parts of the Aqdas long before the translation became available, and a number of prayers.

[/quote]

The Arabic text of Aqdas is accessable on the 'net. I might try reading a bit of it, when I have time. I've read sections of the Qur'an in Arabic, and I think I'd rather have more root canals than have to extract meaning from that text.

I'm guessing you were not at the Oklahoma City youth conference in June 1973, or were you?

No, by June 1973 I was back in Japan.


#9

Hi Dave and Usbek,

You guys aren't the only ones who have traveled to and from the Baha'i Faith. I joined the Faith in August of 2010, after investigating it for nearly 6 months before I decided it was correct for me or not. I had heard about the teachings for quite some time, and attended several group firesides at the Navy's Boot Camp chapel in December of 2009. The teachings made a lot of sense, and I deliberately overlooked many of the inconsistencies which you all had mentioned such as the Trinity, Buddha being theistic, etc..

I was happy for a little while, believing in the teachings and following the prayers. Ritual was something I have always felt a need for in my life, and it was good to pray three times a day. It was a huge stress reliever for me. I went to several of the Feasts which occurred every 19 days or so, and met many lovely people. I can truly say that many of them were very polite and wonderful and far more Christ-like than many Christians have been in my interactions with them.

I have always been a socially anxious person, so when I went to the Feasts it would never be a comfortable experience for me. I would go and they would talk about finances, and we might read a couple of prayers in King James English after eating and that was all. I was beginning to feel very little connection to God, or to the person of Baha'u'llah at all in my life. Intellectually it resonated with me, but emotionally and spiritually I still felt I was being malnourished.

I attended the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for the first time in my life at a local Greek Orthodox Church in January of 2011. The liturgy was truly angelic, and I felt that I was transported to a much more heavenly place. It was so beautiful and the Liturgy still touches my heart to this very day. I instantly knew that this was the place which God was calling me to be at. I started talking to the priest, sitting down for several meetings with him and eventually in April of 2011 I was confirmed or chrismated into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. It was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, and she was a saint that I have always had a great respect for -- whose life's story had also been very endearing to me.

I can truly say that there have no comparisons ever since, and I am so glad that I felt I have finally found the true Faith. Orthodoxy has not been easy by a long shot, but I can still sense the presence of Christ when I receive the sacraments and for that I am grateful.


#10

Nowadays, there’s a vigorous online community in English, with general forums such as Planet Bahai and Bahai Forums, and many email lists for specific topics such as history, theology, and translation.

I think being different is part of it. Most religious communities have some signs of identity that are arbitrary in themselves, but remind the faithful who they are. The Bab was very interested in numbers, and in elegance and aesthetics. But there’s a practical dimension too - he was living in a society using a lunar calendar, which did not keep in step with the seasons, and he chose to make a new calendar based on the solar year, which is practical for farmers and seafearers and for other reasons. It is not Zoroastrian, but contains sufficient resemblances to the Zoroastrian calendar for an Iranian to feel that it is Iranian in origin.

I have never heard of that definition. Officially, you have an exemption for travel when the travel is longer than 9 hours (or 2 hours if travelling by foot) (Smith, Peter (2000). “fasting”. in A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith.) However fasting is a personal spiritual obligation, not imposed on anyone and never supervised - so basically you undertake to try it because you want to, and you make it flexible when you feel you must. Hard labour and ill health are other exemptions: each person defines these for themselves.

It’s there in spades: see reference.bahai.org/search?max=10&lang=en&first=1&query=sins for example.

There is no ban on Bahais reading translations by non-Bahais; some such as Abdu’l-Baha’s A Traveller’s Narrative translated by EG Browne are on any well-stocked Bahai bookshelf, and are used in Bahai devotions. EG Browne also favoured a King Jamesian style of English, and he explains the reasons for this in his Foreword or Introduction to the first edition of A Traveller’s Narrative. Shoghi Effendi adopted not only his style by the translations he had chosen for some key theological terms. In places Shoghi Effendi takes over a translation by Browne with hardly any changes. But Browne was a first-class literary translator, thoroughly versed in Persian literature and Shiism. Elder & Miller, who translated the Aqdas, were not: their translation is clumsy and often wide of the mark. I wouldn’t put any faith on their translation of any Persian or Arabic text, whether it was one they were trying to denigrate or not. I speak as a translator of Persian and Arabic.

There is also another early translation (1906?), by Anton Haddad, which is reasonably reliable. It is available online at bahai-library.com/provisionals/aqdas/aqdas.parallel.html . Elder’s translation is included on the same site, for comparison.


#11

The best answer that I can give to your excellent and informative post is to say, “This (= what you are describing) is now; that (= what I experienced) was then.” In the 1970s I was working with the information that I was being given, some of which may have been faulty. Obviously, the cavils that I had then would not obtain now, especially those dealing with quick and easy access to accurate information and answers to questions.

Although I appreciate the Elizabethan language of the King James Bible, in the translations of the Baha’i texts that I have read, it seemed stilted and artificial, and it was a barrier to the easy transfer of information. For what it’s worth, it’s not any easier to read in the 19th-century translations of the early Church Fathers.

Edit: I looked briefly at Anton Haddad’s translation, and it does appear to be more readable than Shoghi Effendi’s. Just out of curiosity, do you know of a link to a clear copy of the Arabic original?

Edit #2: Never mind, I found one at the same website that you linked to above.


#12

[quote="DaveBj, post:11, topic:310369"]
... do you know of a link to a clear copy of the Arabic original?

[/quote]

It's online in word and pdf format at reference.bahai.org/fa/t/b/. This site also has a Persian/Arabic search engine for the Bahai writings, top right on the same page.

In my own translations of the Bahai writings, I do not use the thee's and thou's and -eth endings. I think that choice was a matter of taste, intended to give a certain atmosphere to the text, and tastes have changed and the effect is no longer achieved. But I still think Shoghi Effendi was the best translator the Bahai community has had (followed by Browne, who was not a Bahai himself, and then by Ali Kuli Khan).


#13

[quote="DaveBj, post:11, topic:310369"]
Just out of curiosity, do you know of a link to a clear copy of the Arabic original?

[/quote]

The Arabic original I have came from the Zapiski of the University of St. Petersburg around 1899 or so. I discovered the reference in the Encyclopedia of Islam and, being in the UC Berkeley library, was able to locate the volume within a few minutes. I still remember the thrill I felt. I do not know the Cyrillic alphabet, but I can read Arabic, so I found the whole text of the Aqdas as well as some other Persian or really Perso-Arabic texts that were also printed in the book. I photocopied everything in the article in Arabic script, whether or not I could read the Persian. I remember trying to read the Perso-Arabic with a Persian friend and he could read the Persian glue and I read the Arabic phrases that filled the text. I still have it.


#14

I’ve been on this forum a few years now and basically whenthe subject of the Baha’i Faith occurs I attempt to respond if the information seems inaccurate… I did have a few comments to make on the inituial post of the thread by Dave Bj…

*There were several reasons for my abandonment of the Baha’i Faith. For one thing, I had problems with the prescribed daily prayers. Prayer is easy when it means something, but these prayers didn’t make any sense to me, and I would constantly forget to do them, thus building up a long list of make-up prayers that I would have to do. *

Actually you are refering to the obligatory prayers and as you recall you have the choice of reciting one long oblig. prayer a day… or a medium prayer three times a day… or a short prayer around noon…actually from noon to sunset. Therea are no make-up prayers actually required at present… The prayers are to be recited in private …and not in unison or in say a group.

Dave wrote:

*Another was arbitrary nature of the Baha’i year – 19 months of 19 days each, with four (five in a leap year) intercalary days. To me, that looked like something that been just made up to be different. *

Actually the Baha’i calendar was revealed by the Bab and was further developed by Baha’u’llah after 1863. The number nineteen means “unity” or Vahid. Each day of the month and each weekday were named after attributes of God…Each month is also named after an attribute of God… So this calendar you could say was to keep the believers focused on the attributes of God whixch they were also expected to reflect…and reflecting an attribute of God was the purpose for our creation.

Dave wrotye:

Another stumbling block was the required 19-day sunrise-to-sunset fast during the month of March – I don’t do well fasting. I subsequently found out that because I lived on Fort Ord and was going to Monterey every day for classes, passing through Seaside and Sand City to get there, that counted as “traveling” (going somewhere at least two communities away), and as a “traveler,” I was exempt from the fast. That didn’t make any sense; how could an 11-mile commute absolve me from a religious obligation that was rigidly imposed on someone who was staying home?

The obligation to fast is also a spiritual obligation… No body reports on you if you are not fasting… and there are several exemptions from fasting given for those who are travelling, doing heavy manual labor or who have a medical reason…also fasting is only obligatory for those between fifteen and seventy years of age. The reason travelling is exempt for Baha’is is that in the nineteenth century travelling was an arduous ordeal… So you can imagine if you had to ride horseback or whatever in the dusty trail you would be in a much more difficult situation than your eleven mile communte…but it is still an exemption.

Dave wrote:

*Yet another was the fact that there didn’t seem to be anything in the teachings on how to avoid and receive forgiveness for sin.
*
I find that interesting… Forgiveness of sins in the Baha’i Faith is through asking forgiveness of God… not a priest… There are many prayers asking forgiveness of God. we are also of course encouraged to ask those we have wronged to forgive us as in the following:

O ye Cohorts of God! Beware lest ye offend the feelings of anyone, or sadden the heart of any person, or move the tongue in reproach of and finding fault with anybody, whether he is friend or stranger, believer or enemy. Pray in behalf of all and entreat God for forgiveness and bounty for all. Beware, beware that any soul take revenge or retaliate over another even if he be a bloodthirsty enemy. Beware, beware that any one rebuke or reproach a soul, though he may be an ill-wisher and an ill-doer.

(Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 45)

There is also intercessory prayer in the Baha’i Faith… We can ask say a Manifestation of God to intercede for us.


#15

Finally let me comment on the last statement by Dave above:

But the straw that broke the camel’s back concerned the most holy book of the Baha’i scriptures, al-Kitab al-Aqdas (in Farsi, Kitab-e-Aqdas). This book was written in Arabic in the late 19th century, but as of the time that I was a Baha’i, there still was no official English translation. There was a translation that had been done by a British Arabic scholar and an anti-Baha’i Protestant clergyman, but Baha’is were forbidden to have anything to do with that translation. It irked me that a valid translation would be forbidden to me, just because it was done by someone who was not of the faith, while those who could have done an official translation appeared to be sitting on the project. It’s not that big a book; the .html file is only 383 kbytes. (An official translation was eventually published in 1993; it and other Baha’i writings can be found at the website [*http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm]("http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm") .*

As Sen mentioned above there is no prohibition against reading say a translation of the Aqdas before the one authorized in 1992. Yes it was the first complete authorized translation into Englsih.

Prior to that the Universal House of Justice published "A Synopsis and Codification of the The Kitab-i-Aqdas the Most Holy Book of Baha'u'llah" in 1973 and it included an overview of the Aqdas with translations by Shoghi Effendi.

The Aqdas is to me quite unique as it's ordinnances are not all enforced .... only a relatively few are enforced and the implementation of a good number of these ordinances can only occur through the Universal House of Justice that is the details of implementation and how to are yet to be determined.

A good portion of the Aqdas abrogates laws of the Islamic dispensation and the comparatively brief dispensation of the Bab.

Another portion of the publsihed authorized text deals with Questions and Answers that are also authoritative and were absent from earlier translations of the text itself.

Because the Persian community was closer to the original language of course there were some obligations that were implemented earlier than for non-farsi and non-Arabic speeakers in the West.

One of the best places to review the text in my view is at

bahai-library.com/writings/bahaullah/aqdas/aqdas.html

and

theaqdas.org/

In Arabic:

h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/vol1/aqdas/aqd.htm


#16

I had also a quote that I wanted to add that explains the language of translation of the KItab-i-Aqdas as well as other English translations of Baha'i texts that originally were in Arabic or Farsi:

A word should be said about the style of language in which the Kitáb-i-Aqdas has been rendered into English. Bahá'u'lláh enjoyed a superb mastery of Arabic, and preferred to use it in those Tablets and other Writings where its precision of meaning was particularly appropriate to the exposition of basic principle. Beyond the choice of language itself, however, the style employed is of an exalted and emotive character, immensely compelling, particularly to those familiar with the great literary tradition out of which it arose.* In taking up his task of translation, Shoghi Effendi faced the challenge of finding an English style which would not only faithfully convey the exactness of the text's meaning, but would also evoke in the reader the spirit of meditative reverence which is a distinguishing feature of response to the original. The form of expression he selected, reminiscent of the style used by the seventeenth-century translators of the Bible, captures the elevated mode of Bahá'u'lláh's Arabic, while remaining accessible to the contemporary reader.** His translations, moreover, are illumined by his uniquely inspired understanding of the purport and implications of the originals.*

theaqdas.org/introduction.php


#17

Thanh you, Anthra for the link to the Aqdas. I remember the Arabic text from the first time I encountered it.

It reinforces my earlier comments about Baha'u'llah's Arabic being highly intelligible while being at the same time quite elegant. It doesn't read like Arabic written by Arabs, but it does remind me of say, the Bible translated into Arabic.


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