Several years ago, philosophy and religious studies Professor Dann May and his wife Phyllis E Bernard, current Robert S. Kerr Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law, Oklahoma City University, were devoted Baha’is. They were prominantly featured in this article about a private Baha’i School:
School in Bonny Doon emphasizes religious tolerance
Sunday, 04 January 2004 17:00
By ROSY WEISER
BONNY DOON — There aren’t many landmarks in these densely forested mountains just north of Santa Cruz. Outside of the area’s couple thousand homes, there’s a vineyard, a small church, the fire station and an elementary school.
But there’s also the Bosch Bahai School. And if you turn at the huge sign and follow the arrows, you’ll find an 85-acre resort that includes rustic cabins, a large dining hall, several conference and prayer rooms, a couple of pools, a playground, a bookstore-cafe and trees as far as the eye can see.
The Bahai school, ensuing from a faith that emphasizes social equity, is one of only three in the country, and people from all over the world come here year-round, sometimes hundreds at a time, to attend various workshops and sessions.
“We have a theology that’s really quite radical,” said Dann May, an Oklahoma City philosophy professor who recently came to the retreat to teach a class on comparative religion. “We believe in changing the global structure, we believe that all religions came from God.”
The school in Bonny Doon started in 1974. Plans for a freeway forced it out of its previous location in Geyserville, where it was founded by two Swedish immigrants, John and Louise Bosch, 50 years earlier.
“There are other Bahai schools, but this one has the most beautiful, quiet setting. You really feel like you’re the only people here,” said May.
Because Bahais acknowledge, even embrace, all of the world’s religions, May said it is important for followers to study and understand as much as possible about other faiths.
Education, and not just religious education, is a major focus of the Bahai faith. That is one reason the school in Bonny Doon is so widely visited, many students and teachers said. And independent investigation of the truth is mandatory in the Bahai faith.
“We don’t accept anything crammed down our throats,” said May’s wife, Phyllis Bernard-May, a law professor whose end-of-the-year workshop was called “Walking The Spiritual Road With Practical Feet.”
Bahais number about 20,000 in California, about 150,000 in the country and more than 5 million worldwide. Followers can be found in more than 200 countries, with the highest concentration in India.
The faith emerged in Iran in the mid-1800s as an outgrowth of Babism, a religion which had its roots in Islam. The Bahai religion is based on the writings of its prophet, Bahaullah, a man who wrote thousands of religious documents during his lifetime, many of which were spent in a penal colony of the Ottoman Empire.
In his doctrine, Bahaullah explained that there is one God who has been progressively imparting his revelation to humanity through divine messengers, including Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed.
“The religions are different, but the essential message is the same — which is really human virtues, honesty, sharing, caring, uprightness. These are unchangeable truths,” said Ghasem Bayat, a Bosch Bahai school resident scholar originally from Iran who has studied Bahaullah’s writings.
Bahais, according to tradition, must also live purely — which means they must not drink, gamble, gossip, participate in partisan politics, or proselytize. Divorce is discouraged, as is abortion, unless a woman’s health is at risk, and birth-control is permitted.
“Bahais must strive to be ‘model citizens’ who obey the laws of the land,” Bayat said.
The Bosch Bahai School offers free religious seminars on weekends year-round, with additional classes during the week in the summertime. There is a fee for overnight room and board. The school is run largely by volunteers.
Jamie Ibibey is a “youth volunteer” from Fresno who came to Bonny Doon for a three-month stint but has extended her stay to one year. She is a recent Bahai convert, her religious upbringing having included aspects of Catholicism.
“When I went to church, that was the time to be spiritual, but when I went home I was drinking,” she said. “As a Bahai, the church isn’t just a church. You’re always striving to be the best in your life — it’s not like a once-a-week thing.”
On a recent December morning, 60 people attended one of several daily prayer meetings. They sat in chairs circled around a large Persian-style rug, with a large Arabic painting in the foreground that read, “Ya Baha Ula Abha” or “God is the Most Glorious.”
With their heads bowed and their eyes closed, they listened to a middle-aged Iranian-American woman, Bahia Farah, the school administrator and one of 13 resident staff members at the school, sing a Farsi song.
Then came a more traditional hymn-like piece sung by professional jazz guitarist James Findlay and opera singer John-Davey Hatcher, followed by a Zulu song. Bahai literature boasts scripture translated into more than 800 languages and a faith that is second only to Christianity in its geographic reach.
The gathering feels impromptu and not at all solemn — just a bunch of friends celebrating together. There’s clapping, some sit, some stand, and there’s lots of laughter and dialogue between the performers and the audience.
“We don’t have any set way to do things, so each community kind of sets its own style,” said attendee Darrell Rodgers.
There is no clergy among Bahais. The organizing bodies are called “spiritual assemblies” and include groups of elected people on local, national and worldwide levels.
They celebrate all the major religious holidays, like Christmas, Passover and Ramadan, with extra prayers and have a handful of their own celebrations.
Bahais fast for 19 days from dawn to dusk in the spring. Fasting ends with a New Year’s celebration, which falls on the vernal equinox.
This spring will mark the Bahais’ 159th year.
Dann May wrote this brilliant defense of the Baha’i Faith:
Notes on the Christian “Antichrist”
To all those interested in topics dealing with Christian teaching: Here is the first installment of my notes on the subject.
First of all, I need to mention several caveats: (1) Much of what I will post is discussed in some detail in Michael Sours three volume work on Preparing for the Baha’i/Christian Dialogue; (2) I approach this subject from an apologetical and rhetorical perspective. That is, from a stance of explaining the Baha’i position to those who may initially be hostile or critical of the Baha’i revelation. Those looking for deep hermeneutical analysis of Hebrew and Greek terms or lengthy historical arguments will be disappointed — I save such discussions for my colleagues at the university; and (3) My approach is intended to attract the hearts and allay the fears of our Christian brothers and sisters — it is not about engaging in philosophical hairsplitting and polemics (No small task for one such as I, since I teach philosophy). To paraphrase Aristotle, if a speaker does not consider his audience, he will fail to convey his message.
With that being said, let us begin. Probably one of the most initially difficult challenges Baha’is face when teaching more conservative and fundamentalist Christians is their charge that Baha’u’llah is the antichrist and false prophet mentioned in the scriptures. Given the biblical descriptions of such fearsome individuals, Christians have every right to be both concerned and anxious about the station of Baha’u’llah. Be this as it may, this is probably the easiest of all Christian challenges to deal with!
Definition: “Antichrist” (English) from “antichristos” (Greek): “anti” = against, opposed to, opponent of “christos,” the Greek word for “Messiah” (Hebrew). Obviously, even from this very simple analysis, Baha’u’llah cannot possibly be the antichrist.
Biblical References: Using a concordance or computerized database, these are the only direct references to the antichrist:
1. 1 John 2:18-19, 22-23, 4:1-3
2. 2 John 1:7 (Note: these two epistles are located just before the
book of Revelations, the last book of the Bible.)
While the antichrist is “commonly identified with the Man of sin (2 Thess.
2) and the Beast of Revelation 13,” according to Dr. Henry Halley, minister and biblical lecturer, the “Bible itself does not make the identification” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, new rev. ed., 1965, p. 673).
Based on these four references, here are the six characteristics of the Antichrist:
1. Denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22). In other words,
denies the Jesus is the messiah, the manifestation of God.
2. Denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22). In other words, denies
God and Jesus. 3. Denies that Jesus came in the flesh [was a historical being; had a body]. (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7)
Obviously, given these first three characteristics, Baha’u’llah is clearly not the antichrist. For example, Baha’u’llah, far from denying Christ, lavishes numerous praises and honorific titles upon Him (for a more complete understanding, see Mike Sours new compilation “Jesus Christ in Sacred Baha’i Literature”)
SOME TITLES OF JESUS IN THE BAHA’I SACRED WRITINGS
1. Jesus (Kitab-i-Iqan [hereafter KIQ] 18, 1:17)
2. Christ (Tablets of Baha’u’llah [hereafter TBA] 61, 6:11)
3. Jesus Christ (Gleanings [hereafter GWB] 83, #35)
4. Christ Jesus (Selections from the Writings of `Abdul-Baha
[hereafter SWA] 247, #202:5)
5. The Messiah (SWA 42, #19:11)
6. The Son (TBA 9, #2:2)
7. The Son of God (SAQ 63, PDC 99, WOB 105)
8. The Son of Mary (KIQ 130, 2:40)
9. The Son of Man (GWB 85, #34)
10. The Lord Christ (SWA 161, #139:6)
11. The Lord Jesus Christ (Paris Talks [hereafter PTA] 88)
12. The Lord of all Being (epistle to the Son of the Wolf [hereafter
ESW] 100, #156)
13. The Lord of the visible and invisible (GWB 57, #23)
14. That Holy Being (SWA 46, #20:2)
15. The Spirit (ESW 148, #213)
16. The Spirit of God (ESW 81, #130)
17. That divine Spirit (SWA 44, #20:1)
18. The Essence of the Spirit (Promised Day is Come [PDC] 109)
19. The Essence of Being (GWB 57, #23)
20. That Essence of Detachment (KIQ 119, 2:25)
21. The Word of God (SWA 44, #20:1)
22. The Author of the Gospel (KIQ 150, 2:58)
23. That peerless Beauty (KIQ 22, 1:21)
24. The Revealer of the unseen Beauty (KIQ 20, 1:19)
25. The Daystar of the heaven of divine Revelation (KIQ 132, 2:43)
26. His Holiness Christ (PTA 276)
Three other characteristics follow:
4. Equated with deceivers and linked with false prophets (1 John 4:1;
2 John 1:7)
5. The writer of 1 John indicates that the antichrist is already in
the world during the writing of these epistles, c. 100 C.E. (1 John
2:18, 4:3). Therefore, the antichrist is not merely associated with
the “end of time” but has been present from practically the
beginning of the Christian dispensation.
6. And most surprisingly, the Bible indicates that antichrists are
former Christians (1 John 2:19). Clearly, Baha’u’llah, born into a
Muslim family, and Himself a loyal Muslim, was never a Christian.
Thus, Baha’u’llah is not the antichrist mentioned in the Bible and we proved this by using only biblical references!
Here are the full biblical references to the antichrist:
“Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23, RSV)
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3, RSV) Note: This passage indicates that Christians must seek out and investigate (“test the spirits”) the claims to be from God.
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward.” (2 John 1:7-8, RSV)
“Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.” (1 John 2:18-19, RSV)
The concept of the antichrist (i.e. anyone who opposes or persecutes Christ, or more generally, anyone who opposes the manifestation) is also found in the Baha’i writings:
THE ANTICHRIST IN THE BAHA’I WRITINGS
“We do not believe in the Anti-Christ in the sense the Christians do. Anyone who violently and determinedly sought to oppose the Manifestation could be called an ‘anti-Christ’, such as the Vazir in the Bab’s day, Haji Mirza Aqasi.” (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance [hereafter LOG] #987, pp. 366-67; Note however, that Shoghi Effendi gives us the Biblical definition of the “antichrist”)
“Siyyid Muhammad, the Antichrist of the Baha’i Revelation … the Antichrist of the Babi Revelation, Haji Mirza Aqasi …” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, [hereafter GPB] 164)
Abdu’l-Baha broadens the definition of the antichrist to not only include anyone who opposes the manifestation, but also anyone who goes against Their teachings and laws:
“These wars and cruelties, this bloodshed and sorrow are Antichrist.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Univ. Peace [hereafter PUP] 6)
“Whenever discord prevails instead of unity, whenever hatred and antagonism take the place of love and fellowship, Antichrist reigns instead of Christ.” (Abdu’l-Baha, PUP 6)
In a few days I will post my notes on dealing with the charge that Baha’u’llah is a false prophet.
Warmest greetings, Dann May, Philosophy, OK City Univ.
But look what happened in March of 2006! The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States learned that the husband and wife professors were intending to leave the Baha’i Faith!
From: COMMUNITY [mailto:COMMUNITY@usbnc.org]
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 10:01 AM
To: May, Dann
Subject: Request to meet with you
Dear Baha’i Friend (Mr. Dann May), March 10, 2006
The National Spiritual Assembly has tried twice to reach you and your wife by phone at the only phone number we have for you, so we hope that this email address is current. The National Assembly was sorry to learn of your desire to withdraw from membership in the Baha’i Faith and would like to hear in fuller form the thoughts you expressed in your January letter.
To that end it has asked that two representatives fly to Norman, OK on Saturday, March 18 to meet with you and your wife at a time that is convenient for you. We hope that you will be agreeable to sharing your perspectives and concerns with these representatives and ask that you kindly reply at your earliest convenience so that airline tickets may be purchased.
With loving Baha’i greetings,
For the Office of the Secretary
To all those concerned:
Perhaps you don’t understand – we already view ourselves as no longer members of the Baha’i community and we regularly attend Unitarian and Buddhist activities.
We do not present ourselves as Baha’is and do everything we can, when people try to introduce us as Baha’is, to politely disabuse them of that perception.
We have not attended feast in over a year, or for that matter, any other official Baha’i activity.
I think that it would be best for all those concerned, that we simply be allowed to withdraw.
We are deeply disillusioned with the unofficial and official Baha’i views on the war in Iraq, with the rise of Baha’i fundamentalism and intolerance and with the growing “ghettoization” of the Baha’i community in general.
We increasingly feel unwelcome at Baha’i events where everything seems to be scrutinized by rather mindless “Ruhi Book” mentalities rather than thoughtful discussions of the Baha’i Sacred Texts.
One-size-fits-all mass theology serves to only alienate anyone and everyone who wishes to pursue spiritually inspired and independent investigations of the truth. There appears to be, these days, little room or toleration for Baha’i scholars, Baha’i scholarship, or thoughtful approaches to the Baha’i sacred texts.
We are outraged over the Kalimat Press decision! We are, therefore, increasingly embarrassed to be associated with the Baha’i community. We often hear from our colleagues in the academic world, that they too perceive the Baha’i community as increasingly becoming more and more fundamentalist, alarmist, and cultish.
We are not interested in talking to anyone from the National Center and we will not meet with them, even if they come to Norman. Please do not send your representatives to Norman.
Use the funds for their plane tickets to do some good at one of the Baha’i schools or to feed the homeless. Please let us get on with our lives. Your response only convinces us more completely that the Baha’i community has become an authoritarian and fundamentalist movement.
Most religious scholars’ perceptions of cults are that they make it difficult for members to resign or leave the community with their reputations intact – please don’t confirm our suspicions! Let us resign and withdraw quietly and without fanfare or with inquisition-like exit interviews. We are willing to leave the Baha’i community without recriminations, regrets, or active criticisms on our part. Please let us fade from the Baha’i community as gently and as quietly as possible.
Dann May and Phyllis Bernard