Note: This is a guest entry by Eric Stetson.
Dale Husband, a fellow Unitarian Universalist and former Baha’i, invited me to write a short summary of a book I edited which has recently been published, A Lost History of the Baha’i Faith: The Progressive Tradition of Baha’u’llah’s Forgotten Family.
This book tells the story of the Baha’i faith through the writings of some of the children and grandchildren of its founder, and others who knew Baha’u’llah personally. They called themselves “Unitarian Baha’is” and stood for a broad-minded faith based on reason and individual freedom of conscience. Because of their liberal views and skepticism of absolute religious authority, they were excommunicated and shunned as the Baha’i faith developed into an organized religion. In fact, all but three descendants of Baha’u’llah – totaling dozens of people – were excommunicated by their own relatives who led the religion after its founder’s death.
The Baha’i faith was founded in the mid 1800s by a Persian nobleman in exile who claimed to be a new messenger of God. Baha’u’llah taught that all nations, races, and religions should come together to build a global civilization of peace and justice for all. Although Baha’i began as a pluralistic, reform-oriented offshoot of Islam, it quickly relapsed into a form of fundamentalism based on claims of infallibility by its leaders.
The Baha’i organization expects its members to believe that Baha’u’llah’s successors were perfect and infallible and that their interpretations and decisions can never be changed. A Lost History of the Baha’i Faith offers a different perspective on what Baha’i could have become – an Islamic-inspired faith with similar progressive values as Unitarian Universalism – if the Baha’i prophet’s own descendants had not been ostracized and expelled as heretics.
This book reveals how even liberal religious movements can be hijacked by dogmatic thinking. A cautionary tale for people of conscience of any faith.
Read this about a certain Baha’i leader:
Mr. Stephen Birkland is currently serving as a member of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Bahá’í Faith. Before his election to the House of Justice, he was a member of the International Teaching Center. Prior to his service at the World Center, Mr. Birkland served as an Auxiliary Board member beginning in 1976 and a Counsellor from 1993. He also served on the board of Trustees for Huqúqu’lláh in the United States for 10 years.
1. State that religion no longer needs clergy……and replace them with leaders that are as authoritarian as the clergy ever was.
2. Claim that men and women should be equal……but then deny women membership in the all-powerful leadership council of the religion.
3. Condemn as heretics those who believe in your religion but dare to challenge the claims of your religion’s current leadership, while at the same time claiming to welcome as friends the followers of other religions.
4. Claim there is harmony between science and religion, but also claim that anything your leaders say is absolutely true, even if on topics science is expected to address.
Any one of these makes a religion not worth following, but what do you do if you find a religion that has all four such contradictions?
Someone made a comment below one of my oldest blog entries here and it ended up in my spam folder. I not only pulled it out of that folder and approved it, I wish to respond directly to it here to make sure that it gets maximum exposure, because I found it to be sheer nonsense! The original parts of the statement will be in red italics and my responses will be in green bold.
The Baha’i Faith claims to support the ideal of equality of men and women as a basic teaching. Equality implies that members of both genders, all else being the same, have the exact same rights and opportunities in society. Continue reading
Image by Adib Roy via Flickr
This ironic title above refers to the incestuous relationship that has recently been established between two major bodies of the Baha’i Administrative Order (BAO) : The Universal House of Justice (UHJ) and the International Teaching Center (ITC). The former is the supreme governing body of the BAO, while the latter’s membership is appointed by the UHJ. The bureaucratic nature of this system is illustrated by the “alphabet soup” I used here, much like that of American governmental institutions. Note also that the buildings of the Baha’i World Center look a lot like the governmental buildings in Washington, D. C. Would you call this spiritual?
When the UHJ was first established in 1963, its membership included former members of the International Baha’i Council (these had been appointed by Shoghi Effendi) and members of various National Spiritual Assemblies. Later, the UHJ established the ITC, intended to take the place of the dwindling Hands of the Cause of God. Over several decades, however, more and more members of the UHJ have tended to come from the ITC, until today, ALL the UHJ members were elected from the ITC’s membership, which was appointed by the UHJ previously. This is known as a “feedback loop”. The result is a system that is by nature extremely conservative and not open to new ideas that could allow it to adapt to changing circumstances.
This is truly no better than the Roman Catholic Church, in which the Popes are elected by the College of Cardinals, and these Cardinals are themselves appointed by the previous Popes!
I just read something interesting in this article:
I participated for a time in a Los Angeles-area peace and justice group, an interfaith group filled with good and righteous people. Following the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, it was decided that we should be reaching out to area congregations to ask if we could provide them with guest speakers who would then tell the members of those congregations just how wrong and pointless the war and occupation was. There were few takers. Meanwhile, but on a separate track, this same group was establishing relationships with returning soldiers and military family members who opposed the war. I suggested that we might ask congregations whether they would care to hear from a service member or a military family member, someone who would simply tell their story, rather than hear from one of the well-briefed peaceniks. My suggestion was rejected, as this would have deprived the peaceniks of a chance to sound off about how wrong (how very wrong) George W. Bush and Don Rumsfeld had been in regard to principles of international law. I withdrew from the group shortly thereafter.