Unitarian Baha’is

Over the past two decades, I have gone from being a member of a Unitarian Universalist church, to being a member of the Haifa based Baha’i Faith, to returning to the Unitarian Universalist church. Now, it seems there has been found a way to merge the two religions and to use the internet to break the power of the “mainstream” Baha’i Faith and allow religious freedom to be a genuine concept for Baha’is to embrace among themselves.

Introducing the Unitarian Baha’is:

http://www.unitarianbahai.org/

{{{Bahaism, often called the Bahai faith, is a new religious movement started in the late 1800s by the spiritual teacher Bahaullah, an exiled Persian nobleman who devoted his life to proclaiming a universal message of peace, human rights, interfaith harmony, and ever-advancing global civilization.

The Unitarian Bahai Association is a liberal Bahai community and network of individuals, local groups, initiatives and resources that began emerging in 2009, independent from the Haifa-based Baha’i Faith denomination. We teach and practice Unitarian Bahaism, an understanding of the Bahai message that emphasizes the oneness and transcendence of God, the humanity and limitations of all religious leaders, the importance of inclusiveness and tolerance among Bahais and people of all faiths, and the responsibility of Bahais to engage with society to help build a better world. The UBA will be officially organized as a U.S.-based nonprofit in 2010.

Unlike most other Bahai denominations and traditions, the Unitarian Bahai Association welcomes openly gay and lesbian people, politically active people, all residents of Israel, all descendants of Bahaullah (including those who are shunned by other Bahais), and people in Muslim countries who need to hide their Bahai faith and publicly practice Islam. Ex-Bahais who have left the faith because of disillusionment with the authoritarian Haifan Bahai organization will find a welcoming home in the UBA

Associate with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. Whatsoever has led the children of men to shun one another, and has caused dissensions and divisions among them, has, through the revelation these words, been nullified and abolished. — Bahaullah

Unitarianism and Bahaism

The Unitarian Bahai Association chose this name for ourselves because we are Unitarians. There are three meanings of this word that apply to us:

  • We believe in Unitarianism, the absolute oneness and unity of God. Contrary to Bahais in the Haifan denomination, UBA members believe that God cannot be identified with any human being, not even the prophets or messengers of God who display God’s attributes and communicate divine revelations. Believing that any human being is infallible and perfect in a literal sense is idolatry. Even the great spiritual teachers have their limitations and flaws, though they may sometimes speak in the Divine Voice, as the Holy Spirit or “Manifestation of God.” The human person is not the Manifestation; the person is but a channel for the Manifestation of Divinity.
  • We accept the Unitarian interpretation of the Bahai message and its historical roots. Ghusn-i-Akbar, the second son of Bahaullah, argued that no successor may claim to be the equal of the prophet-founder of the religion. He disagreed with his brother Abdul-Baha’s claims to be writing sacred scripture and providing “infallible” interpretations of Bahai teachings and practices. Instead, he taught that the focus must stay on Bahaullah and his writings rather than on the charisma and supposedly absolute authority of any successor. Most of Bahaullah’s family supported Ghusn-i-Akbar’s view, and they called themselves “Unitarians.” A small but significant Unitarian Bahai movement arose in the United States in the 1930s, but unfortunately it did not last. We seek to revive this school of thought today, while also respecting that Abdul-Baha contributed many wonderful writings and teachings to the Bahai tradition.
  •   Unitarian Universalist Association

    We find community in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). UBA members are encouraged – though not required – to join their local Unitarian Universalist church. The UUA is a liberal, open-minded, interfaith association of congregations for spiritual fellowship and learning. Adherents of various religions who share a universal perspective about their faith are at home in Unitarian Universalist churches. Just as Bahaism grew out of Islam, Unitarian Universalism grew out of Christianity, and both traditions emphasize interfaith reconciliation and world-embracing social principles. Bahaism and UUism are thus like two sides of the same coin, one from the East and the other from the West, and are a natural complement to each other.  }}}

http://www.unitarianbahai.org/differences.html

{{{Differences Between the Unitarian and Haifan Bahai Faith

Unitarian Bahaism as understood and practiced in the Unitarian Bahai Association, and mainline conservative Bahaism as practiced in the Haifa-based Baha’i Faith organization, are very different from each other. Here is a list of the major differences between these two Bahai traditions.

  • Terminology: Unitarian Bahais sometimes use the academic term Bahaism – in widespread popular use until a few decades ago – to refer to the Bahai faith, as a way of distinguishing between the religion itself and the Haifan Bahai organization which refers to itself as “the Baha’i Faith.” The Haifan denomination sees itself as the only legitimate form of Bahaism, and this is why they use the same term to refer both to the religion and their organization. We consider this to be an inaccurate and presumptuous conflation. Also read about dropping the apostrophe in the word Baha’i.
  • Where We Meet: Unitarian Bahais mostly meet in Unitarian Universalist churches, wherever such congregations already exist, rather than in private homes. We regard UU churches and any other buildings where all-inclusive, interfaith spiritual communities meet as the Bahai mashriq al-adhkar (house of worship).
  • Gay Rights: The Unitarian Bahai Association accepts openly gay and lesbian Bahais – including those in committed same-sex relationships – as fully equal members of our organization.
  • Full Equality of Women: Women are eligible to be elected to the international Board of Directors of the Unitarian Bahai Association.
  • Politics: The Unitarian Bahai Association does not prohibit its members from participating in partisan politics. In fact, we encourage responsible political activism and public service in democratically elected office as ways that Bahais can work to implement the social principles of the Bahai cause.
  • Multiple Religious Affiliations: Many members of the Unitarian Bahai Association choose to be full members of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which allows its members to belong to specific religious traditions and organizations in addition to the UUA. UBA members are allowed to be members of other spiritual communities as well, such as Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, Hindu or Buddhist temples, etc. All spiritual paths have value and Bahaism is not intended to nullify one’s interest or relationship with other religions. In fact, the UBA encourages its members to explore various religious traditions and practices and to attend different worship services from time to time, to develop and maintain a full appreciation for the rich tapestry of human spirituality.
  • Concealing One’s Faith: Bahais who live in Islamic countries that forbid organized Bahaism are allowed by the Unitarian Bahai Association to hide their Bahai faith and publicly identify and worship as Muslims, while maintaining a private relationship with the UBA. This practice is known as hikmat (wisdom), and is intended to preserve peace in society and prevent needless discrimination, harassment, imprisonment, torture, or death of believers. Many early Bahais in the Middle East continued to follow Islamic religious traditions after becoming Bahai – even Abdul-Baha, the son and successor of Bahaullah, regularly attended mosque his entire life. In the Christian West during the same period, many ministers and church members secretly believed in Bahaism but continued practicing Christianity as well, to avoid losing their social and professional relationships. The UBA accepts the practice of hikmat, as long as it is done for serious reasons and in good conscience.
  • Israelis: Residents of Israel are allowed to become members of the Unitarian Bahai Association.
  • Individual Interpretation: Unitarian Bahais are free to interpret the Bahai scriptures according to their own study, reason, and conscience, rather than being required to agree or pretend to agree with “official” interpretations and doctrines.
  • Translations of Scripture: Unitarian Bahais are free to translate Bahai scriptures themselves from the original Persian and Arabic text, and to read and use any translations they prefer, rather than only using one “official” version. In general, Unitarian Bahais tend to regard the translations of Shoghi Effendi and the Haifan denomination as needlessly old-fashioned (e.g. using King James or Shakespearean English) and in some cases inaccurate and misleadingly distorted in meaning.
  • Freedom of Speech and Scholarship: Unitarian Bahais are free to write and publish books, articles, and scholarly papers about the Bahai faith and Bahai issues without needing to get permission and be subject to censorship (“pre-publication review”) by any Bahai institution.
  • “The Covenant”: Unitarian Bahais reject the concept of “Covenant-breaking” and believe that what Haifan Bahais refer to as “the Lesser Covenant” (or simply “the Covenant” for short) – the successorship of individuals or institutions of supposedly infallible religious leadership in the Bahai faith – does not exist in reality. There were successors of Bahaullah but they fought among each other and none of them have been infallible, and no Bahai organization today has leadership institutions that are infallible.
  • Descendants of Bahaullah: All of the blood descendants of Bahaullah – including those descended from people who are considered “Covenant-breakers” in the Haifan tradition and who do not wish to renounce and condemn their ancestors – are welcome in the Unitarian Bahai Association as fully equal members.
  • Shunning: Unitarian Bahais do not believe in shunning Bahais of other denominations and traditions. We are open to fellowship with all, regardless of differences of opinion or organizational allegiance.
  • Successors of Bahaullah: Unitarian Bahais regard Abdul-Baha as the first successor of Bahaullah and Ghusn-i-Akbar as the second successor, as appointed in Bahaullah’s will. We regard Shoghi Effendi as a competitor to leadership (alongside Ghusn-i-Akbar), whose position was created by Abdul-Baha in his will. In a sense, Shoghi Effendi could be considered the third successor of Bahaullah, since he outlived Ghusn-i-Akbar by about 20 years and had considerable influence on the development of the Bahai faith; but his appointment was of questionable legitimacy and much of his work and teachings were of a sectarian nature. We do not regard any of these three men as perfect or infallible. We do not believe there are any other successors of Bahaullah after them – neither individuals, as some small Bahai denominations believe, nor oligarchic institutions as the Haifan denomination believes.
  • The House of Justice: Unitarian Bahais have a different understanding of the institution of the House of Justice. We follow what Bahaullah wrote in his book of laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas: that the House of Justice consists of local meetings in which at least nine believers (who may be both men and women) gather to discuss and vote on matters of charity, education, politics, and other applications of Bahai principles. Houses of Justice throughout a region, such as a state or country or even the whole world, may agree to vote on the same resolution and thus reach a mutual decision relevant beyond a single locality. The Haifan “Universal” House of Justice conforms neither to Bahaullah’s original plan nor to the modified plan of his successor Abdul-Baha, and it views itself primarily as a doctrinal and administrative body – functions not assigned to the Bayt al-Adl (House of Justice) in Bahaullah’s writings. }}}

Here is a Yahoo discussion forum about it:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/unitarian-bahai/

Here is a Facebook group for it:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=347597207967

And here is its Twitter account:

http://twitter.com/UnitarianBahai/

This is what the Baha’i Faith should have been from the beginning to this day. And what it may become in the future, if we work at it. I have not (yet) converted to it, but I will give it my full support.

15 thoughts on “Unitarian Baha’is

  1. Pingback: Gay Spirituality: On The Journey

  2. The problem Dale, is that this group is started by someone who does not even believe in Baha’u’llah anymore. Eric Stetson is a Christian, so how can he start a new “Baha’i” sect?

    • http://www.bahai-faith.com/

      http://www.christian-universalism.com/

      Like most Baha’is, Eric was probably brainwashed into believing that if the authority of the current Baha’i leadership (the Universal House of Justice) was not valid, then the credibility of Baha’u’llah himself was also destroyed. That’s how I lost MY faith in Baha’u’llah. Eric has made no secret of his becoming a “Universalist Christian”, which is not incompatible with his being a “Unitarian Baha’i”, since Baha’u’llah himself was said to be the “Return of Christ” and Baha’is accept the validity of many other world religions. I myself am a Unitarian Universalist by church membership and an agnostic by theological conviction, yet I am allied with Eric. Confused, Susan? It’s called freethinking and tolerance. Try it sometime!

  3. I don’t have any problem with freethinking or tolerance, Dale. It is just that it is rather weird for someone who does not accept a religion to go about trying to form a new sect of it! It does cause one to question their motives, don’t you think?
    As you may be aware Eric Stetson claimed at one point to be a prophet himself. Then he had a vision that persuaded him of the existence of the devil and became an evangelical religion. Now he is a Christian universalist. That’s all fine, but once someone has repudiated a religion, why put so much energy in trying to recreate it in your own image? If Eric Stetson truly believed, as you suggest, that Baha’u’llah is the Return of Christ, there might be some logic to his actions, but to my knowledge he does not.

    • If Eric Stetson truly believed, as you suggest, that Baha’u’llah is the Return of Christ, there might be some logic to his actions, but to my knowledge he does not.

      Want to know what I think? That you assume that if someone truly beleived in Baha’u’llah, one would submit not only to him as infallible but to Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice as infallible also. And if you had bothered to read my earlier blog entries on the subject of the Baha’i Faith and indeed on religion in general, you’d know already why I find that absurd. Eric Stetson made some mistakes and learned from them. So have I and so should everyone else, instead of swallowing rationalizations to continue to adhere to a religion that is wrong or at best has no rational foundation.

      • Maybe you should ask what I think rather than speculating about it. If Eric Stetson said he believed Baha’u’llah was the Return of Christ I would take him at his word no matter what other weird things he believed.
        I have not even brought up the issue of infallibility. It is therefore irrational for you to throw in that red herring.

  4. In reply to Susan Maneck:

    My spiritual journey has taken me from the Bahai faith (1998 to 2002); to evangelical Christianity (2002 to 2004, which was largely as an overreaction to the tremendous hurt I experienced in the process of leaving the Bahai faith); to Christian Universalism (2005 to present, which I now realize was largely motivated by my desire to find and follow a liberal and all-embracing religious tradition since I couldn’t find that in the corrupted Bahai faith); and now to Unitarian Universalism (2009 to present).

    I remain a Christian Universalist. I also have regained my belief in the prophethood of Bahaullah. I see no incompatibility in the two beliefs — especially in the context of the fact that I’m a Unitarian Universalist. The UU churches encourage their members to explore and believe in a wide variety of religions, sometimes simultaneously, since it is an interfaith community. As for me, I currently consider myself all of the following: Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Sufi, and Bahai — all in the context of being a Unitarian Universalist. I am a member of a UU church and intend to become more and more active in the UU community.

    The Unitarian Bahai Association has come about as a result of a grassroots movement of people who are interested in exploring Bahaism outside the confines of the Haifan tradition, with a more liberal interpretation such as would be found in Unitarian Universalist churches. Many, but not all “Unitarian Bahais” in this movement are members of UU churches. Much of the evolution of the movement has come about through the input and actions of people other than myself.

    Yes, I started a discussion forum in mid 2009 for Unitarian Universalists to discuss the Bahai faith — http://groups.yahoo.com/group/unitarian-bahai/ . I started it mainly out of curiosity to see what would happen, since I was regaining my interest in the Bahai religion and wanted a place to discuss it that was free from Haifan biases. The group has grown from 1 to 90 people currently, and is very active, and in fact it has far surpassed my expectations in such a short time.

    I am not the leader of the Unitarian Bahai Association (there is no leader), but I am involved in it. I was actually going to quit the Unitarian Bahai discussion forum a few months ago; but as a result of various things that happened in my life, and some forum members asking me not to leave, I decided to stay and continue to be involved. Most of the work being done in the Unitarian Bahai Association is actually not done by me. There is a large team of volunteers who are running things, producing articles and other resources, etc.

    Eric S.

    • Oh, and by the way, since somebody posted the link, I just haven’t had time to update my http://www.bahai-faith.com website yet, to reflect my newfound belief in the prophethood of Bahaullah. I plan to make some significant changes to that site soon.

      I also want to add that I do not believe Bahaullah or any of his successors were infallible. Nobody is. In fact, I don’t even believe that Jesus was infallible. I’m a Unitarian. All prophets have their flaws, since they are human. But sometimes they speak with the Divine Voice.

    • Dear Eric,

      I’m a little confused here. I realize that your claim to prophethood was partly motivated by your desire to see the Faith as more inclusive than you believed it was (though at the time you claimed you had a vision), but my recollection of your conversion to evangelical Christianity is that it was the result of an assault you supposedly experienced from Satan. I do recall that later on you had some kind of vision or dream that persuaded you not to attack Baha’u’llah any longer but this is the first time I’d heard that you accepted Him as a Prophet. Do you also believe He is the Return of Christ as Dale and I were discussing?

      (Dale Husband: Speaking for myself, I take little stock in visions or dreams. I think Eric would be wise to be as skeptical as I am. Perhaps he is becoming that.)

      I realize that one can be a member of the UU Church and believe all kinds of things, but I was under the impression that you had formed your own Christian Universalist Church which unlike the UU Church, is explicitly Christian in orientation. Has that church now fallen apart?

      (Dale Husband: Whether it still exists or not is irrelevant to the issue of what the Unitarian Baha’i movement may offer others who no longer support the Haifa based Baha’i Faith.)

      I am, of course familiar with your Yahoo group though I rarely visit its website anymore. My impression is that it is a site more aimed at disenchanted Baha’is or ex-Baha’is than a UU site per se. My recollection is that you tried unsuccessfully to tie it to the family of Muhammad Ali which also called his group ‘unitarian.’ That is a bit amusing because the term ‘unitarian’ in Arabic has a fundamentalist connotation quite different from what it connotes in English. Wahhabis, for instance, are called Unitarians.

      (Dale Husband: Your impression was correct. But any movements in Islam that happen to call themselves “unitarian” [Islam by defintion rejects the Christian Trinity] are irrelvant. We are talking about a movement involving Unitarian Universalism and Baha’i. If any Arabic speakers want to know more, they can merely ask instead of making mistaken assumptions without doing their own research.)

      I can see why you would want to reject the notion of infallibility but without it revelation no longer has any authority. If that is the case, then why have prophets at all? Prophethood infers revelation and revelation infers authority. Without that what you have is a man-made philosophy, not a religion. I think your situation and that of your friends very much resembles what Ian Semple (one of those House members you so despise) described:

      “Alas, we have all met members of the Baha’i community who have suffered from this limitation. Take, for example, someone who is afire for social justice and who, from his own experience in life and from ideas that he has drawn from others, has evolved a philosophy of social reform that is very close to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. When he meets the Faith, he finds a whole community of people with similar ideas. He declares himself a Baha’i and is registered as a member of the community. If his attraction does not develop into true understanding of the teachings and into obedience to Baha’u’llah, he sooner or later meets with Baha’i teachings which do not fit into his own philosophy, so he challenges them and tries to change the Faith to be closer to his own ideals. He does not succeed, so, in disillusionment, he leaves the Faith and drifts off to link up with others of like mind with whom, in due course, he comes again to disagree. Because he is self-centred he remains alone, in a sense, throughout his life. He may connect with some people but then break up again.”

      warmest, Susan

      (Dale Husband: Only those who are weak minded or weak willed are content to live under absolute authority. And have you considered that most religions may also be man-made philosophies, given enhanced authority by the claim that they came from a higher power than any human being? And if having one’s own opinions is being “self-centered”, does that mean that all liberal movements are cesspools of selfishness? Aren’t authoritarian leaders (including that Universal House of Justice that Ian Semple was a member of) also being selfish? Why are you and all other authoritarians so afraid of allowing a diversity of opinions and ideas among yourselves?

      • Susan,

        It seems you’re replying in the same post both to things I said and things Dale apparently said. I will only address the points regarding me.

        1. Events of my life in 2001-02. I had some mystical experiences, first which made me think I had a mission from God to try to reform the Bahai faith, and then which made me think that there was some kind of battle being waged over my soul and that the Bahai faith was evil. I don’t think I interpreted those experiences correctly. They were very personal and, like most such experiences, can be subject to various interpretations. Most likely these experiences were the product of my overactive and stressed out mind at the time, since I was feeling very confused and anguished about my spiritual beliefs, identity, and affiliation. In any case, these experiences I had in 2001-02 are irrelevant to my present support of the Unitarian Universalist church and my present belief that Bahaullah was a spiritual teacher who should be celebrated.

        2. Return of Christ. Bahaullah never claimed to be the literal return of Christ, as Christians expect that Jesus will return. Nor did he claim to be the reincarnation of the soul of Jesus Christ. What Bahaullah claimed — in very mystical and metaphorical language — is that his cause is the same cause as Christ and that the Divine Spirit inspiring him is the same Spirit that inspired Christ. I have no problem with that. But frankly, this is not central to my renewed belief that Bahaullah was an inspired spiritual teacher. It has little or nothing to do with it, actually.

        3. My involvement in a Christian Universalist church. In late 2009, I briefly worked with two other ministers to try to plant an independent nondenominational Christian Universalist church in Nashville, Tennessee. The church did not succeed and has been shut down. After that, I decided to fully commit myself to the Unitarian Universalist Association. I do continue to serve as the executive director of a nonprofit organization called the Christian Universalist Association, which was founded in 2007 and has over 1,000 members worldwide. I don’t plan to remain in that position indefinitely, however, as I’m planning to go back to graduate school and there are other highly qualified individuals who could take over the job when that becomes necessary.

        4. Relationship of the Unitarian Bahai Association and Yahoo discussion group to Muhammad Ali Bahai Ghusn-i-Akbar. The only such relationship is simply that we do not regard him as an evil “Covenant-breaker,” but rather as a man who objected to Abdul-Baha’s authoritarian leadership style and grandiose claims to be writing new Bahai scriptures, preferring instead to keep the focus of the Bahai faith on Bahaullah and his writings. We strive for a historically accurate and balanced view of the terrible conflict that occurred between these two brothers, rather than supporting a one-sided polemical narrative as was developed in the Haifan Baha’i Faith tradition.

        5. Your description of me as supposedly being like a person described by Ian Semple — “he sooner or later meets with Baha’i teachings which do not fit into his own philosophy, so he challenges them and tries to change the Faith to be closer to his own ideals. He does not succeed, so, in disillusionment, he leaves the Faith and drifts off to link up with others of like mind with whom, in due course, he comes again to disagree. Because he is self-centred he remains alone, in a sense, throughout his life.” Fortunately for me, this description doesn’t fit me. My spiritual life, and my life in general, has been greatly enriched as I have been on a journey of continual discovery and building new relationships with people in various religious traditions, such as Christianity and Unitarian Universalism. I am blessed to have developed great friendships with Christians, UUs, and people in the interfaith movement. Since I am not self-centered, I am not alone, because I am willing to interact with and learn from people of all faiths. I attend a UU church, a Sufi meeting group, and occasionally also go to Christian churches. I have friends who are Muslims from the Middle East. I belong to several religious organizations. My spiritual life is so much richer today than it was when I accepted the Haifan Baha’i Faith party line and just wanted to convert everybody to Haifan Bahaism and its insular and authoritarian organization.

        Take care,
        Eric S.

        • Okay, I didn’t realize you had given up on a Christ-centered universalism and had now embraced the UU entirely.

          (Dale Husband: That is NOT what he said. There is Christ-centered religion within the UU. See here: http://www.uuchristian.org/ )

          To call Baha’u’llah a spiritual teacher is not really saying very much. Even Joseph Smith was a spiritual teacher of sorts.

          (Dale Husband: You focus on ONE thing Eric said about Baha’u’llah and ignore everything else. Are you seriously allowing for Joseph Smith and Baha’ullah to be on the same level or assuming that Eric does? I don’t!)

          As for your relationship with the family of Muhammad Ali, from reading your posts on your yahoo group it certainly seemed as though you were seeking some kind of formal relationship as you were actively trying to contact members of the family. That seems to go far beyond merely believing Muhammad Ali is not the devil incarnate. I realize that your attempt failed, probably because you bought into Nima’s pretensions of being somehow connected with them. Nearly all of the family now consider themselves Muslims. That’s isn’t the case with Nigar, of course, because she married a Jewish denist. That’s why she stayed in Israel after 1948, unlike the rest who mostly went to Jordan.

          (Dale Husband: Gee, you seem obsessed with almost everything Eric does. I wonder if you were specially assigned by the Haifa based Baha’i Administrative Order to spy on him constantly. Sure looks like it! Do they think he is THAT much of a threat?)

          As for Ian Semple’s remark about being self-centered, I think you misunderstood him because you aren’t familiar with the entire talk. You can read it here:

          http://bahai-library.com/talks/semple.obedience.html

          By self-centered he doesn’t mean selfish, what he means is that there is sovereign center that governs ones life other than the self. When that happens there is nothing around which to form community in any abiding sense of the word. That’s what he means by ending up alone.

          (Dale Husband: And with confusing language like that [self-centered DOES mean selfish in any other context imaginable], you destroy your credibility. Perhaps you should no longer comment on my blog, lest you end up looking even more rediculous than you already do.)

          • I can’t resist replying to a few things Susan said in her last comment.

            Susan wrote: “I didn’t realize you had given up on a Christ-centered universalism and had now embraced the UU entirely.”

            Eric’s response: It seems that the idea of having multiple religious affiliations is alien to you. I’ve been a member of a UU church for over 2 years. I have gradually moved away from various elements of Christian orthodoxy over the past 5-6 years, but Christ is still central to my faith. I love Jesus and believe he was the greatest spiritual teacher the world has ever seen. This is in no way incompatible with believing that Bahaullah was inspired by God and was a mighty prophet for the modern era, or that Buddha was a great guru, or that the Tao Te Ching is a sacred wisdom text just as good as the Psalms (better, actually, IMHO), or whatever other non-Christian beliefs and sources of truth.

            Susan wrote: “To call Baha’u’llah a spiritual teacher is not really saying very much.”

            Eric’s response: I’m a Unitarian. Unitarians don’t believe any religious figure is ever more than just a “spiritual teacher.” No matter what exalted titles they may used for themselves or that others may give them. It’s all just cultural conditioning anyway. If Bahaullah had grown up among the elite of 19th century Boston instead of Persia, he probably would have ended up a radical and super-charismatic Unitarian preacher and tract writer, rather than assuming the mantle of Shiite-Babi revelatory prophethood.

            Susan wrote: “As for your relationship with the family of Muhammad Ali, from reading your posts on your yahoo group it certainly seemed as though you were seeking some kind of formal relationship as you were actively trying to contact members of the family.”

            Eric’s response: Do people passively try to contact someone? No, I think the only way to contact a person is actively. And the fact that somebody wants to contact someone doesn’t imply that any “formal relationship” is necessarily being sought. I never wanted to have a formal relationship with the descendants of Ghusn-i-Akbar and never expressed a desire for that kind of relationship. But yes, I did want to contact Nigar Bahai Amsalem and correspond with her, mainly for purposes of historical research and also to show her that not all Bahais are sectarian fundamentalists who shun co-religionists who have a different interpretation of their faith. Oh, and by the way, I succeeded in getting her contact information.

    • As far as I know, Unitarian Bahais, while accepting Abdu’l-Baha as the legitimate successor of Baha’u’llah, insist that Mirza Muhammad Ali should have been made Abdu’l-Baha’s successor and that it was wrong for Abdu’l-Baha to designate Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Cause of God. We do not assume that the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha was forged, however. Unitarian Baha’is also have moral teachings similar to those of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

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