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.