The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey, Part II

19 January 2007

Becoming Bahá’í

My only venture into the world of internet chat rooms came one night over winter vacation from college.  Before I knew Beth, I would always go to my parents’ house by myself, and I would often suffer from insomnia while there, usually for the first night, and sometimes on later nights as well.  I eventually figured out that 2010: The Year We Make Contact (starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, and Bob Balaban) puts me to sleep in about 20 minutes and cures my insomnia.

At this point, however, I did not know the solution lay as close as an old VHS tape in the living room, so I was left to my own devices.  I logged on, and found a group of religious chat rooms.  All manner of faiths were represented: from Mormons, who attempted to convince me that the Jews had always known about Jesus and were expecting Him, but through wickedness eventually forgot about him, to Hindus.

I had heard of the Bahá’í faith before stepping into their chat room, but had never given them much thought.  It was a fairly orderly place, with friendly, courteous participants.  They directed me to several websites and answered many questions.

I was quite intrigued.  When I told them I went to college in Chicago, they suggested I stop by the House of Worship found in Wilmette.  The House of Worship is not a place of worship in the way a church is.  The House of Worship is not owned or controlled by any local Bahá’í community, and it is the home of no-one congregation.  According to the Bahá’í administration, each community should eventually have its own House of Worship with many appendant institutions like a hospital, a school, an old folks home, and other charitable and service agencies.  For now, there are eight or nine in the world, and they serve as centers of pilgrimage as well as hubs for Bahá’í organization.  If you’re ever at the House of Worship in Wilmette, the small white building across Sheridan Road to the southeast is the seat of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.

Bahá’í’s teach that their founder, Bahá’u’lláh, was the Second Coming of Christ, and the fact that very few people took notice of this exiled Persian holy man fulfilled the Gospel prophecy that Christ would come like a thief in the night, like a flash of lighting across the sky, that is there and gone before anyone can notice.  I remember where I was —right in front of the Crown Center at Loyola’s campus— when I thought to myself that being a Bahá’í was a fulfillment of my Christianity.  If Christ’s promises were true and Bahá’u’lláh’s claims were true, then my responsibility as a Christian was to recognize Christ’s second coming.  This realization filled me with warmth and comfort.

I would visit the House of Worship, I read some books, and continued to think about the Bahá’í Faith.  About a year later, at the prompting of a roommate who saw how seriously I was taking it all, suggested I become a Bahá’í.  I decided to do so, and on January 20, 1998, I became a Bahá’í, by declaring my faith at the House of Worship.

It is not an impressive event, and there is not a bit of ceremony.   I went to the office at the House of Worship, and told them of my desire to declare my faith.  A nice woman met with me and spent several minutes convincing me that to be a Bahá’í involves a conversion of heart and not the signing of a document.  She made it very clear that I did not have to sign my declaration card to be a Bahá’í, that I already was one, and that signing the card really meant that I was accepting certain responsibilities as a Bahá’í to the world community of Bahá’ís.  I convinced her that I wanted to sign the card, and I did.

Someone from the Chicago Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA), the Bahá’í equivalent of a parish, met with me and made sure I knew what I was doing.  Soon thereafter, I began attending the local Feasts, which were held every 19 days, on or near the first of the Bahá’í month.  I prayed the Long Obligatory Prayer, which fulfilled my Bahá’í obligation for daily prayer, and even chanted the sacred name of God, Allah’u’Abha, 95 times on a set of homemade prayer beads, before the Universal House of Justice (UHJ), the supereme, global  Bahá’í council, made it obligatory.  (Incidentally, I used the cord and beads from this set of prayer beads to make myself an Anglican Rosary.)  I kept the Fast and voted in local Bahá’í elections.  I would not go to class or work on Bahá’í Holy Days.

But something did not feel right within me.  Bahá’ís are forbidden to drink, and I drank.  At this point in my life, I did not drink as much as I would later, but I would drink on the weekeneds to excess.  This was not the fault of the faith, as much as it was an indication that I was not mature enough to become a Bahá’í.

Additionally, Bahá’í claims of the equality of the sexes did not hold true in their practice; for example, women are forbidden from service on the Universal House of Jusice.  Gay Bahá’í’s, and I knew a few in the Chicago LSA, were advised to seek counseling to “cure” them of the disease.  Bahá’í claims of the unity and purity of the faith seemed undermined by the UHJ’s labeling dissenters as “covenant breakers” and ordering all Bahá’ís to shun them.

Whoever Bahá’u’lláh was, his followers certainly hadn’t lived up to his teachings.  Gradually, as I saw that many of the things that disenchanted me about the Catholic Church were also present in the Bahá’í faith, I fell away from it.  I gradually stopped going to Feast, stopped praying, and began drinking more heavily.

I began to enter a period of pluralistic agnosticism which coincided with a time of profound unhappiness.  I drank too much, I often felt lonely, and it didn’t help that some of my best friends also drank too much.


8 Responses to “The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey, Part II”

  1. I’ve been acquainted with the local Bahá’ís for about 10 years and found them lovely people, both the Persians and the converts. Thanks for the insider’s view.

  2. John Bryden Says:

    I very much like the manner of your writing, and your sincerity shines through. It’s a shame you felt “unworthy” to be a Baha’i and left the Faith on this account. Although the Baha’i teachings offer high aspirations to aim for, we all inevitably fall short of them. The thing is, not to make an intolerable burden for ourselves out of the struggle to become a better person. Take it little by little, one day at a time. About dissenters, individuals who come to disagree with the Baha’i teachings, or who intellectually question aspects of the Faith, are most definitely NOT labelled Covenant-breakers and shunned. The term “Covenant-breaker” is only applied by the Head of the Faith to someone has knowingly taken a stance of grave disloyalty by attacking the Baha’i Covenant, which is the bedrock of Baha’i unity. Regarding the equality of women and men, the fact that only men may be members of the Universal House of Justice does not vitiate the practical application of equality in the affairs of the Baha’i community globally. In the almost 30 years of being a Baha’i, I have seen the equality of women and men being vigorously promoted and developed in practice. Regarding homosexuality, homosexuals are understandably sensitive about prejudice towards them, in the light of appalling indignities and abuse that have been heaped upon them. There is no justification for treating homosexuals with disdain. The Baha’i teachings do not regard a homosexual orientation as a blot on someone’s character. But, on the other hand, the Baha’i teachings do indeed advise the homosexual that their condition is not something to be reconciled to. Not all the Baha’i teachings are politically correct. We Baha’is adhere to them in the belief that they are true, even when they conflict with widely accepted theories. Warm best wishes to you, on the spiritual path.

  3. John,

    Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

    Yes, you are correct, a “covenant-breaker” can only be named by the Head of the Faith. I have, however, heard individual Baha’is label other Baha’is “covenant-breakers.” Their doing this was incorrect and incongruous with Baha’i teachings regarding unity and calumny. My point in mentioning this was that Baha’is are, lamentably, like adherent of other faiths, and just as prone to attacking each other when they disagree.

    I know that Baha’is teach that the ban on women on the UHJ does not constitute inequality, but I think it does. I think most women would agree with me. I realize that Baha’is teach otherwise —I am not saying they don’t— but that’s how it seems to me. I will grant that the exalted and important positions that Rúhíyyih Khanum and Bahíyyih Khanum held during their lives show how forward-thinking Baha’is are regarding the equality of men and women, but the male-only composition of the UHJ falls short of this.

    Although I could not read it Arabic, the Kitab-i-Aqdas seems to forbid pederasty and not homosexuality; Shoghi Effendi interpreted the Kitab-i-Aqdas to mean all homosexual relations (Kitab-i-Aqdas ¶107 and n. 135). It seems to me that Shoghi Effendi has added onto the original teaching. In addition, problems with the Baha’i Administrative Order, among them the lack of a Guardian, bothered me.

    Although I felt unworthy of being a Baha’i, I doubted the authority of the Faith as it now stands. I think something went wrong. I do not think that today’s Baha’i Faith is the Faith that Baha’u’llah intended. That is my opinion; it is not fact, but it is the reason why I left the Baha’i Faith.

    I apologize if some of this is too blunt or offensive. I hope you read my ‘blog again, but I wished to make my opinions clear.

  4. Although I could not read it Arabic, the Kitab-i-Aqdas seems to forbid pederasty and not homosexuality

    As Baha’u’llah and the Bahá’í faith came from Persia wouldn’t it be in Persian/Farsi? I understand that like Urdu and pre-1920s Turkish it’s written with the Arabic alphabet but is a completely unrelated language.

  5. John Bryden Says:

    Jorge, I appreciate your comments and clarifications. I find none of what you say to be blunt or offensive. You are making a plain statement of your beliefs and observations. It is only right that you should do so. I will bookmark your blog and perhaps check back from time to time. Enjoy life!

    An aside to “The young fogey” — Baha’u’llah wrote in both Arabic and Persian. Jorge is correct about the Kitab-i-Aqdas. It was written in Arabic.

  6. Robbie Smith Says:

    Thank you so very much for your honesty. There are many who truly believe that there is “Baha’i Faith” and “Abdu’l-BahaFaith”! Every thing you have said is as it is in the Writings and the changes that occurred, such as no women on the UHJ and homosexuality is forbidden in the faith (pederastry) were made as interpretations by Abdu’l-Baha. There are many others, including the “two wives” allowance of Baha’u’llah and the “strict monogamy” interpretations.
    These problems should be addressed openly, the UHJ does have the authority to change sub-laws: not direct laws as set out in the Aqdas, but those which were not clearly delineated by Baha’u’llah.
    The problem is that everyone is so afraid of talking about anything other than how wonderful it will be when the whole world becomes baha’i and all of these problems no longer exist. Forbidden to proselytize but admonished to “Teach! Teach! Teach!” —this is the example of lying through their teeth and preaching honesty as a virtue inherent in the faith—or give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are merely confused sheep–eitherr way, the truth needs to be told: the surface of the Baha’i Faith is sacharin sweet, beware what is waiting below in the depths.
    thanks for having your blog available. good luck to you all.

  7. […] 27, 2007 in Food, Personal/Family, Prayer The Little Guy has a set of prayer beads.  They were (once upon a time)  part of my Baha’i prayer beads, but had since, through the addition of some knots and the […]

  8. […] see this as a successor to The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey (here, here, here, and here). Posted in Metanoia, Wingèd Man's Faith Journey | Leave a Comment […]

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