Bahai Faith: Bahai-Christian Dialogue

By Francis Beckwith

One religious group to originate in the past two centuries that has not received enough attention from evangelical Christians is the Baha’i World Faith.1 Baha’is believe that all of the world’s major religions are progressive revelations from God, each designed for its particular historical era. The Baha’i religion teaches that Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab (the Persian founder of a nineteenth-century religious movement which laid the foundation for Baha’ism) were all prophets or manifestations of God for their time.2 However, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i religion, the successor of the Bab, and the most recent manifestation, is the one who should now be revered and obeyed.

Read the Book of Francis Beckwith

Baha’u’llah’s greatest teaching was the oneness and unity of mankind. According to Baha’u’llah, every race, both sexes, and the great religious truths all come from one God. While Christians may appreciate some of the humanitarian and peace doctrines of the Baha’is, they take issue with the Baha’i claim to compatibility with their faith; for Baha’ism denies several essential Christian doctrines. Since the publication of my Christian response to the Baha’i World Faith, Baha’i (Bethany House, 1985), I have had several encounters with both Baha’is and non-Baha’is who have questioned my position on a number of key issues regarding the relationship between Baha’ism and Christianity. For example, in a detailed critique of my book, Steve McConnell, a non-Baha’i from Bellevue, Washington, asked me, “Could Christianity’s conception of God withstand the cursory logical tests to which you subject the Baha’i’s God?”3

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Walter Martin – Excerpt from Kingdom of the Cults

The Baha’i Faith is a non-Christian cult of distinctly foreign origin that began in Iran in the nineteenth century with a young religious Iranian businessman known as Mirza’ Ali Muhammad, who came to believe himself to be a divine manifestation projected into the world of time and space as a “Bab” (Gate) leading to a new era for mankind.

As Christianity, almost since its inception, has had heretics and heresies within its fold, so Islam was destined to experience the same fragmenting forces. Mirza’ Ali Muhammad, alias the “Bab,” thus became one of the sorest thorns in the flesh of Islamic orthodoxy; so much so that he was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 1850 at the age of thirty-one. He had derived much of his early encouragement and support from a small Islamic sect in Iran, and he was a prominent teacher among them for six years prior to his death. Though Christians have not been known historically for putting to death those who disagreed with them (notable exceptions are the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Inquisition, and certain phases of the Crusades), violence may generally be said to follow in the wake of “new” revelations in most other religions, and unfortunately, in the case of Mirza’ the pattern held true.

So then, the history of the Baha’i Faith began with the stupendous claims of a young Iranian to the effect that “the religious leaders of the world had forgotten their common origin. … Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were equal prophets, mirroring God’s glory, messengers bearing the imprint of the Great Creator.” 1

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A Christian Perspective of Bahai Faith

There is very little indeed that a true Christian can have in common with the faith of Bahai. There is simply no common ground on which to meet … The Bahai faith is at its very core anti-Christian theology.

The Bahai faith originated in Iran (Persia) in 1844 when a Moslem, Mirza ‘Ali Muhammed, announced that he was the forerunner of the World Teacher, who would appear to unite mankind and bring a new era of peace. He assumed the title of “Bab” (the Persian word for “Gate”). He was prosecuted and executed by the Moslems and the Persian Government for forming a new Moslem sect.

One of his disciples, Mirza Husayn ‘Ali, when an exile in Baghdad, proclaimed himself the prophesied World Teacher and took the name Baha’u’llah which means “The Glory of God”. The name Bahai faith is derived from that title. The world headquarters of the Bahai faith is in Haifa, Israel.

If we condense the teachings of this faith, we find that they revolve around three basic principles:

  1. The oneness of God.
  2. The oneness of religion.
  3. The oneness of mankind.

The “Bab” taught that he replaced Muhammed as God’s prophet and that he formed a new religion. This “new religion” subsequently was abrogated by Bahaullah, according to whom, the fundamental are:

  1. The independent search after truth, unhindered by superstition or tradition.
  2. The oneness of the entire human race.
  3. The basic unity of all religions.
  4. The condemnation of all forms of prejudice whether religious, racial, class or national.
  5. Harmony must exist between religion and science.
  6. The equality of men and women.
  7. The introduction of compulsory education.
  8. The adoption of a universal auxiliary language.
  9. The abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.
  10. The institution of work to the rank of worship.
  11. The glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society and religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations.

This sounds good and few people will object to some of these principles. But the crux of the problem is that in its basic beliefs Bahai collides head-on with Biblical Christianity. It rejects the cardinal doctrines of the Bible such as:

  1. The Trinity of God (which Islam also rejects),
  2. the Deity of Christ as one of the Persons in the Godhead,
  3. the virgin birth of Jesus;
  4. the bodily resurrection of Christ;
  5. the fact that Jesus died as the Lamb of God for the sins of all men and women;
  6. salvation by faith in Jesus alone,
  7. the final authority of the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ.

A Bible-believing Christian cannot believe that Jesus Christ is given a place in Bahai as only one of the prophets. He is the Divine Son of God. Read John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1:20; Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 13:8.

Furthermore, Bahai’s teaching of the oneness of religion is not Biblical. Christianity cannot compromise its teachings to accommodate the doctrines of the Hindu religion, Islam, or any other religion. None of them, including Bahai, accepts the teaching of the Bible concerning the lost state of man because of sin, and that the work of Christ in the redemption of lost sinners is directly related to this sinful nature (Isaiah 64:6; John 1:29; 3:14-17; Romans 3:23).

Dr Walter Martin, who studied Bahaism, came to the following conclusion in his book “The Kingdom of the Cults”: “There is very little indeed that a true Christian can have in common with the faith of Bahai. There is simply no common ground on which to meet … The Bahai faith is at its very core anti-Christian theology.”

Lessons for Christians in the History of the Bahai Faith

By Adrian Worsfold

When I was confirmed into the Church of England in 1984 I asked some Baha’is I met at their firesides to come along. None did. In the end I fell out with the Baha’is as I discovered academic material that presented their history differently from their own. They are very committed to the preservation of their history as monitored by the Universal House of Justice, the nine seater male-only assembly meant to be a combined secular and religious decision making body for the world, elected without campaigns by the National Spiritual Assemblies below them, these elected by delegates from the Local Spiritual Assemblies below them. It is a very conserving system, a sort of democratic centralism: what the top level says goes.

Very quickly summarising: the origins of the Baha’i Faith are in the Babi faith that developed out of Shia Islam in Iran and Iraq. They were waiting for the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam and a Holy War for the victory of Islam. In 1844 Sayyid Ali Muhammed Shrirazi claimed to be the Bab, the Gateway to the returning Imam. When he didn’t appear at Karbala, Sayyid Ali Muhammed escalated his status in stages to the Imam, then the Prophet and then superseding to a new Manifestation of God. The movement was surrounded by violence, and started much of it themselves. The Bab appointed Mirza Yahya (or Sub-i-Azal) to be his successor, but after the Bab was killed by the authorities the violence continued and the movement was in severe decline. Sub-i-Azal’s half brother, Mirza Husayn Ali, an elite Persian convert, built up his own faction and in 1863 he, Baha’u’llah (Glory of God) announced himself as the Bab’s next Manifestation of God. The authorities never left either faction alone, and the Azalis ended up in Cyprus and the Baha’is at Palestine. However, Baha’u’llah, in the course of the compulsory travels and his declaration to the few and then the world of his status, read Sufi and New Testament material, and completely remodelled the faith as it came into the Western orbit, making itself syncretistic in character, peaceful and expecting the unification of the world.

Baha’u’llah died in 1892, and Abbas Effendi, his eldest son, or Abdul-Baha, became the leader and only interpreter or “Centre of the Covenant”. Here there was factionalism, as a group known as the Unitarians (people of the Book, not Abdul-Baha’s interpretations) broke out and were excommunicated. The Young Turks’ victory meant an end to imprisonment, and Abdul Baha became a traveller around the West even more spiritualising and Westernising the movement, and was a charismatic figure as he attended mosques, Christian and Unitarian (the other sort) churches and synagogues.

After he died Shoghi Effendi became the first Guardian. Some Germans did not accept the validity of Abdul Baha’s will appointing him and so the Free Baha’is emerged for a time. Shoghi Effendi should have had a serving Universal House of Justice under him, but he did not set it up. He should have left a will, but either he didn’t or it never appeared. So when he died in 1957 there was a crisis of leadership, after which in 1963 the Universal House of Justice was formed and took to itself powers of the Guardian, most importantly the sole power to interpret and the power to excommunicate.

The chief of Hands of the Cause, a forerunner to the UHJ, Mason Remey, thought he should be the new Guardian. Factions have arisen ever since from that branch, including one that now thinks the second Guardian was presumptive, but so was the Universal House of Justice taking power to itself.

The UHJ produces plans for growth. The millennial nature of the Bahai Faith is that it expects the Most Great Peace to arrive (instead we had George Bush) and a tipping point where “troops” of people convert to the Bahai Faith. Unfortunately, the Bahai Faith has been born in a rather irreligious age in Europe, and other than some growth in developing countries, Europe has been slow and with a high turnover of members. Plus, the UHJ in Haifa has a habit of turning members who don’t submit to censorship panels into covenant breakers. There are also quite a few people who find themselves mysteriously removed from the rolls of membership, but in the age of the Internet they continue the faith themselves with new freedom, the name Baha’i being in the public realm. A problem for the Haifa Baha’is is that only they can raise money for themselves, and members who can participate in Feasts as well as Firesides find themselves locked into administration details: the Baha’i Faith is an “Administrative Order” after all.

So at each stage of leadership transition elite groups have competed and been excluded, and it is reasonable to say that the quest for unity has been a failure because of its high cost in factions and breakaways, and now there is a more relaxed Bahaism emerging of excluded or drifter individuals. It matters not that the Universal House of Justice only recognises itself as legitimate, because anyone can read the Kitab-i-Iqan and Kitabi-i-Aqdas and the published materials that Shoghi Effendi translated into his strained olde-worlde English. Even infallibility is being questioned by individuals let loose.

The Bahai Faith is useful for Christians and Christian theology in a number of ways.

First of all we see something of a parallel in the Bab as a kind of announcer of a new manifestation, although he became what he expected. He gets positioned like a John the Baptist, and probably John the Baptist was his own man too. Then we have the central manifestation (Incarnation) figure, Baha’u’llah. Then we have the very important St. Paul figure, who becomes such an important interpreter and spreader into new cultures and giving a further twist to the faith.

Then we have the issue of authority. There is something of the Pope in the Guardian, of course, but the UHJ is like Orthodoxy or Roman Catholic centralism – with knobs on. In fact it is very Weberian-bureaucratic, and very pyramidal. Weber regarded such with great pessimism: it was anti the life-giving enchantment that he thought religion supplied.

The other lesson is that of allowing theology to grow organically and in diversity. There is a distinct double identity problem of Baha’i member scholarship in secular institutions including that of religious studies departments. It does the Baha’i Faith no favours. We see similar with some Roman Catholics. If Christians become more subject to such pressures of membership conformity, then there is a distortion to both the academic sphere and to the representational sphere.

I also suggest that Christians should express the truth as they find it even when it conflicts with doctrines or interpretations of the Bible. If there is some compelling finding about, say, the Jesus of history as an endtime Jewish rabbi, then this should come first, or at least people should be honest about the layer-cake nature of doctrines or how people interpret the Bible.

Older faiths have developed more maturity with time. They can sit light and worry less about how their faiths are represented. Or at least this is what we thought, as the Christian world gave rise to a secular and plural world.

There are pressures to go along a road of such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. There is a narrowing of what is legitimate expression of a faith, and there are calls for excluding those who are not biblical enough. An Anglican Communion, properly understood, would become a World Wide Anglican Church with authoritative statements handed down, with again distant high-up forms of selection of those with centralised power.

Who knows how these developments will work out. The Baha’is could not predict their own future, despite the claimed infallibility of the words of both their Manifestation of God and Centre of the Covenant. So Anglicans cannot predict theirs! Nevertheless, if secularisation and plurality lead down the road to authoritarianism and centralisation, there are going to be quite a few Anglican Communion Covenant Breakers who will continue to define the faith in a broad way, however they organise, meet and link up together.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

A thought-provoking letter to the Baha’is…

Jenifer Tidwell, March 21, 1999

The Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Arlington. Massachusetts

My dear Baha’i friends,

I hope this year’s Fast found you happy and healthy. This special season, which seems to arrive sooner every year, always makes us slow down and reflect upon spiritual matters — why we go through this physically exhausting fasting process, what we expect from it, and what we believe about God’s laws and our obligation to follow them. The Fast is a test, but it’s also a time of spiritual rejuvenation, and I have always looked forward to it.

But this year was different for me. I was not fasting with the rest of you. This year, I am observing Lent instead; and at the end of it, I will celebrate Easter, for the first time in my entire adult life.

You see, I’ve been going through a crisis of faith over the past several months. The problem is this: I love the Baha’i Faith dearly, but there are some doctrinal and spiritual issues in it that I can no longer accept. Since I began attending an Episcopal church last year, many of those issues have been thrown into sharp relief. Seeing them “from the outside” has helped me understand the latent problems I’ve had with being a Baha’i all these years.

What it ultimately comes down to is that, now, I feel closer to God and to my fellow human beings than I did while I was an active Baha’i. That’s the only factor that really counts, I think. Everything else either contributes to it, or is secondary to it.

I think I should explain some of my reasons for making this rather unusual move (I don’t personally know of anyone who has gone from being a Baha’i to being a Christian, let alone an Episcopalian). This letter is my apologetic. I hope that it will also help some Baha’is and Baha’i communities understand some of the factors that I think are causing them problems, at least in the United States; some of these points, while controversial, should at least spark some good discussion or soul-searching.

* * *

1. Our Feasts are not spiritually nourishing. They must be for some Baha’is, but for me, they don’t even come close to a good church service, or a private meditation, or even a walk in the woods.

The big problem is the content. It’s limited to readings and prayers from the Baha’i Writings (which truly are a wonderful source of wisdom), and sometimes instrumental music or singing. Nothing else. There’s no spontaneous prayer, or personal reflections, or creative praise. There’s no ritual, either; even though the Writings don’t actually rule out the creation of new rituals for short-term use, they discourage ritual use over the long term (such for Feasts and for marriage ceremonies), and Baha’is as a rule stay away from ritual altogether.

I think that’s a sad loss. Ritual is a “door to the sacred” — the familiar repetition of a ritual, combined with one’s periodic reinterpretation of the traditions and symbolic meanings attached to it, really do help open one’s mind and heart to God. It lends focus and framework to our worship, gives rhythm to our spiritual lives, connects us to our history, and constantly reminds us of what’s important in our chosen faith. Yes, it has the potential to mechanize worship (I’m sure many churchgoers have this problem) and to distract us from our core beliefs, but that’s something each person can learn to rise above. Besides, Baha’is already have individual rituals such as the 95 repetitions of the Greatest Name. Why are community rituals so much worse?

(Incidentally, I didn’t understand these truths about ritual when I was growing up in the Christian faith. At the time, it just seemed repetitive and boring. I readily believed what Baha’is told me about ritual — that it calcifies the faith of a community, and becomes an end in itself, supplanting a living and creative worship. This is not at all true in the church I now attend, which is as vital and creative a faith community as I’ve ever been in. Maybe I needed to be deprived of the blessings of ritual for a while to appreciate it!)

Another problem is that I need music when I worship, and Baha’is do not have a strong musical tradition yet. There are a few well-known songs here in the United States — other countries may have more — but not nearly enough to provide a source deep enough to dip into at every Feast. Of course, it’s not fair to expect that a 150-year-old religion will have a musical tradition as large as the 2000-year-old church! But the Faith is culturally so diverse. It has so much talent in its ranks. Baha’is all know each other and travel everywhere. Countless wonderful songs should be flowing all over the Baha’i world by now! Where are they? And lacking those, why don’t Baha’is reach into the musical traditions of other faiths more often?

Finally, I am saddened by the exclusion of non-Baha’is from Feasts. I understand that people who have not chosen to be a member of the Baha’i Faith shouldn’t take part in the business-meeting part of the Feast, but why can’t they merely observe? And why should they be excluded from the worship aspect of the Feast? I’m sure it must be discouraging for people looking into the Faith, who want to experience how we worship. Their presence may enhance the Feast in unexpected ways, too. I will have more to say about this exclusion later.

In short, it seems like different people simply have different needs with regard to worship. Many people I know (including some Christians) honestly don’t like church services. Some need different kinds of rituals, some need private meditation, some need to get out into the woods and mountains. To each their own. Unfortunately, the Baha’i Faith doesn’t allow much choice in how to conduct Feasts, and what it does allow doesn’t work for me.

2. There’s no clergy. I find this issue difficult to discuss because it’s a core doctrine of the Baha’i Faith, but I really think the Faith has “thrown the baby out with the bathwater” — there are good reasons to have clergy, and the lack of clergy causes problems for individual believers and for the community.

It’s my understanding that the Baha’i Faith does not have a priesthood partially to avoid the trouble that an overly-powerful clerical class can cause (witness the history of the Faith in Iran), and partially to drive home the point that each one of us is responsible for our own spiritual life, with no intercessors necessary between us and God. Both are valid arguments. However, many Protestant denominations (among other groups) have solved both problems, through theology and church structures that have evolved over time. They do fine. I think it’s healthier to meet such problems head-on than to do away with the priesthood altogether.

I’ve also sensed a naivete on the part of some lifelong Baha’is about what clergy actually do, especially Christian clergy. In mainline Protestant churches, which is all I have any real experience with, a priest’s or rector’s job includes these roles:

Facilitator for worship. They act as sort of a “living center” for sacred rituals, or they preach, or they are simply responsible for planning and executing the regular worship services. This is not a bad thing, and Baha’is might do well to have knowledgeable people responsible for planning and carrying out Feasts, for instance.

Teacher. They’ve spent years learning about history, theology, other faiths, and so on. In sermons, in Bible studies, in Sunday school classes, and in private conversations, they teach us all this.

Spiritual advisor. Since priests are trained in theology, and sometimes also in such things as psychotherapy, marriage counseling, or conflict resolution, they are people you know you can go to when you need guidance. In fact, that’s their job. Thus, there’s a higher level of responsibility that you can’t get from volunteers or from random members of a Baha’i community. (Just before I got married, I really needed someone like this to talk to. I did not find such within the Baha’i communities that I knew, and since I wasn’t living in a town that had an LSA, I didn’t “have” an institution available to talk to either. It was a terribly lonely time, at a point when I feel like I should have had loving support from a religious organization.)

Community leader. Each church has its own personality, and some of it (though not by any means all of it) comes from its priest. They are partially responsible for the health of a community, and again, that’s part of their job. No one in a Baha’i community has its health and happiness as their primary concern, day in and day out.

Of course, Baha’is have their Local Spiritual Assemblies to take care of administrative and spiritual matters. But it’s much harder to run things effectively with a committee. And you know what? If I have a real crisis, I don’t want to talk to a nine-member LSA, even if it does have God’s blessings. I want to talk to a single human being. I want to talk to someone one-on-one, someone who has experience and knowledge that may help, someone with whom I have an ongoing personal relationship, someone whom I know will find time for me. Yes, I know no priest is perfect. But I’ll take my chances with a trained priest who has chosen to make serving God his or her life’s work, rather than go before an LSA with its nine volunteer members, all of whom I know socially and are probably tired, pressed for time, distracted by their “real” jobs, and woefully untrained in difficult personal issues.

As much as I love my fellow LSA members, I have never felt comfortable going before them with anything personal. It wasn’t their fault; nine people is just too many, and their time was always in such short supply that I didn’t want to add one more thing to their agenda. Even while I was on the LSA, I never felt we were fully qualified to deal with other people’s problems that came before us, even though our ranks did include professional therapists!

In general, I’m hard-pressed to believe that the Baha’i Faith can throw out a role as old as the oldest religions, and not suffer the consequences. The role of priest / elder / shaman / teacher probably exists for good social and psychological reasons (not to mention spiritual ones), and it’s present in every other religion that I know. It does not have to be incompatible with the Baha’i tenets of personal spiritual responsibility, the independent investigation of the truth, or anything else.

3. Chronic community fatigue and “burnout.” The Baha’i Faith seems to attract more than its share of responsible, intelligent overachievers. This is wonderful, up to a point — the Faith’s small numbers in the Boston area belies the huge amount of activity that goes on! But this takes an enormous toll on people. I think the typical active Baha’i works a 50-hour week (either in a job or at home), serves on at least two committees or an LSA, gets lots of Faith-related email every day, goes to talks and deepenings and Feasts, and maybe somehow finds time for daily prayers in the midst of it all. Then they’re asked to host a talk or a party or something. Or to make something for a potluck. Or to serve on one more committee. And they cannot say “no” to the Faith they want to serve, until they are just too tired to say “yes” anymore.

After all, the Faith’s needs are so great; who are we to decline the opportunity for service?

I’ve thought about this issue for a long time. I now believe that the Baha’i Faith in the United States is simply too demanding of its active members. Except in the really big urban areas, everything is done by volunteers, who all have their own lives to deal with. (Hired administrators and secretaries and such would help, but there’s never enough money for such luxuries.) Furthermore, service to the Faith is implicitly expected of its members — and active teaching is explicitly expected. There’s always so much that we’re being asked to do, to fulfill teaching plans and meet fund-raising goals. Plans are made by LSAs, Regional Councils, National Spiritual Assemblies, the World Center, the Universal House of Justice, and so on and so on. We constantly overreach ourselves, often fall short of our goal, then set the next goal higher. Sometimes victories are won, but at a high human cost: people who were once enthusiastic “burn out,” or just get too discouraged to keep going.

I think a religion should allow for more balance. We should all have time for contemplation and reflection. Time to be with our families, time to do our jobs really well without being tired, time to allow spontaneous things to happen like talking to a friend or taking a walk. Can we be spiritually whole without that? When we’re so busy serving and running around, we can’t hear the “still small voice” of God whispering into the ears of our souls. And that’s so important.

Why do we have an endless conflict between taking the time we personally need, and giving the Faith the time and energy it needs? Faith and sacrifice go hand in hand, but does God want us to sacrifice our spiritual well-being for the immediate needs of the Faith? I just can’t believe that.

4. The pressure to teach. This is directly linked to the burnout problem: if we had more people, the work would be spread out more, but at the same time, teaching is the reason we spend so much time and effort and money in the first place! Sometimes it seems that the Baha’i Faith’s whole purpose is to spread itself. In fact, this is probably a sound theological point — if the Faith’s only ultimate purpose is to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, then growth to a “critical mass” is exactly what it should be trying to do.

But is this what religion is all about? No, of course not. A religion is also about an individual’s relationship with God and the rest of humanity. It’s about seeking truth, and it’s about learning how to love other people beyond love for one’s self. The Christian denominations that I grew up in keep these things paramount; growth is secondary (though it’s certainly wonderful when it happens). That comes closer to matching what I know, deep in my soul, to be true.

Now, if I truly believed that the Baha’i Faith is the right answer for everyone else, then teaching it would come naturally. But I don’t. I know that many of my closest friends and family are spiritually content where they are; or maybe they’re not interested in religious topics, and would be bored or put off by my constantly mentioning the Faith. Love and consideration for the people in my life should take precedence over teaching them.

In a more sinister vein, the Faith sometimes encourages us to use friendship as a means to the end of teaching. A recent letter from the Regional Council for the Northeastern States recommends that we choose a single seeker to take under our wing, and make friends with them — with the express purpose of opening their heart through kindness and friendship, so that they will be more receptive to the Faith. Isn’t this putting the horse before the cart? If I were that seeker, I would be offended if I found out that such a “friendship” was built on the other person’s drive to teach, not on a genuine liking and respect for each other.

Finally, I think the emphasis on teaching pulls energy and resources away from non-teaching-oriented service and charity efforts. Perhaps if Baha’is were less focused on teaching, and less overwhelmed by the weight of all their other activities, they could do more in the way of community service, which they are enjoined to do by the Writings. Then again, maybe what’s really needed is a change of heart — away from growth as a primary goal, and towards love and compassion for all people regardless of their beliefs. (Mind you, individual Baha’is are among the most loving and compassionate people I’ve ever met; here I’m talking about the Baha’i Faith as an institution.)

5. An uncomfortable split between Baha’is and non-Baha’is. We talk about unity this and unity that, but we still use that declaration card to draw a sharp dividing line between who can attend Feast and who can’t, who can read certain letters and who can’t, who can give money and who can’t, and so on. It creeps into our language — “I’m inviting a non-Baha’i to this deepening, is that OK?” “We had six non-Baha’is and ten Baha’is come to this event.” It affects our social lives — we draw a cozy circle around “us Baha’is” and occasionally widen it to include a new declarant or an enthusiastic seeker. It subtly alters the way we view humanity, so that we no longer see one world, but two: Baha’i and non-Baha’i.

This is a particularly thorny problem for those of us who have spouses who are not Baha’is. For instance, if there’s a special event coming up that my husband and I want to go to, I have to ask if we can both go, or if only I can go. Yet we both enjoy the company of our beloved Baha’i friends (not to mention each other’s company), so tension is the result. Another side of this issue came up a few months ago, when I told a Baha’i group that I was willing to loan or give them a large amount of money, but I had to discuss it with my husband first to make sure it was financially feasible at that point in time. Even though it would ultimately have been my own money, I was turned down flat, because he was not a Baha’i and shouldn’t be involved with giving money to the Faith!

In contrast, the church we now attend welcomed us right from the beginning, regardless of where we were in our spiritual journeys. Nothing was barred to us before officially becoming members, except for voting rights in the annual meeting. In fact, we didn’t even know there was such a thing as officially signing up, until just before that annual meeting. No one made a big deal out of it. Even Vestry meetings (the Vestry being the lay governing committee of an Episcopal church, roughly the equivalent to the administrative aspect of an LSA) are open to anyone who wants to observe. Overall, I felt much more welcome there than I probably would have if I had visited Baha’i events as a non-Baha’i.

Isn’t this Revelation for everyone? What are Baha’is afraid of? Why can’t we welcome people into our events and lives with open arms and no prejudices based on whether or not they’ve signed a card? Maybe in some countries there’s a security issue, but here in the United States, there’s no political reason to fear outsiders! Are we afraid people will laugh at us, or that they’ll think we’re foolish or naive? Are we afraid they won’t approve of us if they see how we talk to each other or conduct our community business? Surely the Faith is stronger than that.

This kind of insularity can only hurt the Faith. Worse, it undermines our belief in unity, and borders on hypocritical. I can’t imagine Abdu’l-Baha’ making a big deal out of whether or not someone has signed a declaration card; on the contrary, I think he would welcome everyone, without even pausing to ask whether they were technically Baha’is or not.

6. An uncertain intellectual foundation. I’ve been fighting against this one for years, afraid to look too hard at some of the belief structures given to us in the Writings. I still can’t force myself to study some of the more pedantic works, like “Some Answered Questions,” because I can’t reconcile myself to believing what’s in them.

For example, the unity of all religions is a wonderful idea, and for ten years, I truly wanted to believe it. Guided by the Baha’i Writings, I tried my best to make myself believe in it. There are some assertions in the Writings about other faiths that I never could believe, though. One is about the resurrection of Christ being strictly symbolic. Yes, a physical resurrection is hard to understand and accept, but isn’t that the whole point of the ends of the Gospels? Over and over again (in three of them, anyway), they emphasize that he really did physically return, wounds and all, to the shock of his friends and disciples; the letters in the rest of the New Testament keep coming back to that point. It’s so fundamental to Christian doctrine that to reinterpret it as “only symbolic” is to dismiss nearly the entire history of Christian theology, not to mention the obvious meaning of the Gospels. In my opinion, it’s intellectually dishonest for Baha’is to claim unity with a theological construct that most Christians never believed in the first place.

But that isn’t the half of it; that doesn’t address the central core of beliefs that the Baha’i Faith says is common among all the revealed religions, like a belief in a monotheistic God. Buddhism does not necessarily teach this belief. Some individual Buddhists do believe in God, which may be OK within the tenets of some Buddhist schools (I don’t know this for sure), but the earliest Buddhist writings we have — the Pali texts — apparently indicate that Buddha himself did not teach monotheism at all! Yet Abdu’l-Baha’ claims he did. Again: how can Baha’is honestly claim unity with this religion whose doctrine they have changed to be something different from what was historically taught, and against all evidence found by historians and scholars?

The Baha’i counterargument I have heard most often is that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’ had direct knowledge from God about these other religions, and therefore we should believe them and not what the other religions currently teach. That may be so; we can’t prove or disprove such a claim, at least not in this world. But in a sense, this is a false unity — the theological sleight-of-hand may help Baha’is feel like they’re standing on a firmer foundation, but it does nothing to help them find genuine common ground with modern-day Christians and Buddhists and others. If anything, it hinders any such efforts, because it tends to put people of other faiths on the defensive by essentially telling them they’ve been wrong all this time. I’ve seen that happen on the Net, and it’s not pretty.

Besides, at some point, our own common sense has to kick in and decide whether or not a revelation is correct, or else we’d be blindly following every nut case who claims direct revelation from God. We chose to believe in Baha’u’llah not just because he told us to, but because his teachings resonated with us at some level; either logically or intuitively, we already believed most of what we heard him teaching. Now if Abdu’l-Baha’ had seriously told us that the moon was made of green cheese, and that in the year 2000 we’d all follow the cow in jumping over it in order to bring about the lesser peace, wouldn’t a rational person begin to question the fundamental correctness of the Writings? At some point, credibility vanishes and one ceases taking everything on faith. I have reached that point.

7. A lack of open intellectual discussion. This isn’t entirely true, of course; since the spark of truth comes from the clash of differing opinions, open discourse is fine, as long as it stays within certain bounds. But those bounds have felt awfully constricting lately. Personally, I haven’t wanted to be accused of not being “firm in the Covenant,” so I have avoided certain topics that I’d really have liked to talk openly about. This includes many of the issues I’ve brought up in this letter. (Even if my dear Baha’i friends didn’t explicitly accuse me of anything, I know they would still be saddened and disturbed to hear me bring up these topics, and they would probably feel torn between their friendship with me and their loyalty to the Faith. I’d hate to put them through that.)

I did a Web search a few months ago and ended up on Frederick Glaysher’s Web site. While exploring there, I found an article called “A Modest Proposal,” written by a handful of Baha’is in 1987 for the now-defunct “Dialogue” magazine. It was an excellent article, well-written, insightful, and full of courageous and loving suggestions for revitalizing the Baha’i Faith in the United States. But the National Spiritual Assembly did not allow its publication. Personally, I could see nothing in it that might be considered blasphemous, or disrespectful of the Covenant, or even disunifying; to this day, I have no idea why its publication was prevented.

That got me wondering why it’s still necessary to review articles written by Baha’is before publication. Is it really just to make sure the Faith is presented in a dignified manner, and to guarantee factual accuracy? If so, why wasn’t the Dialogue article corrected and then published? Or is it because certain ideas are considered dangerous, even when they don’t directly conflict with the Writings? That frightens me. If the Faith is true and from God, it should be strong enough to remain standing in spite of all our questions and reinterpretations. Eternal truth is like that. If all serious Baha’i discourse has to be vetted for intellectual acceptability before publication, that belies a deep insecurity on the part of the Baha’i institutions.

In relation to this incident, the Talisman email list incident, and other things, I have heard many anecdotes that indicate that academics engaged in Baha’i studies feel ignored, belittled, or distrusted because of their work. Add to this the May 1997 correspondence between the Universal House of Justice and Susan Maneck, and I’m almost certain there’s an anti-academic undercurrent running through the Faith, in America and elsewhere. (This letter implied that traditional, non-religious methods of analyzing religious texts and histories by Baha’is are less worthy than a faith-based approach, in which the basic tenets of the Faith are already accepted as truth by the investigator.) Again, one wonders what the UHJ is afraid of. Shouldn’t we be eager to learn more about the historical context of our Faith, regardless of the source of the knowledge? Why would a dispassionate analysis of the Faith, done by methods widely accepted by the world at large, be worth less than those done from the perspective of faith? It seems to me that we need both, for balance.

Finally, there’s the matter of Covenant-breakers. We’re not supposed to talk with them, nor read what they write. Why not? We’re adults, not children; for the most part, we’re not so fragile that we can’t hear bad things about our Faith and not be seduced into believing them. We might believe on an individual basis that we’re not prepared to read such stuff, or that we just don’t want to, but that should be a personal decision, not one imposed upon us. For the most part, I bet their arguments against the Covenant couldn’t stand up to logical analysis or spiritual wisdom. (The few I’ve read aren’t worth the electrons they’re printed on!) If they can, well, maybe it’s good for us to argue against them, up to a point — we could learn from the experience, and grow spiritually and intellectually. Maybe we could even bridge the chasm between us, and view them as human beings deserving of respect and empathy. But sticking our heads in the sand gets us nowhere. Once again, it indicates a fundamental insecurity about the truth of the Faith — or, even worse, a lack of trust in the faith of individual Baha’is. Either way, it’s very authoritarian, and I can’t bring myself to agree with it anymore.

8. An overemphasis on unity as an ultimate good. Unity is wonderful, of course, but odd things happen when it becomes the highest ideal that we try to attain. I’m not sure that it ought to be.

When I began looking into the Episcopal Church a few months ago, they had just held the Lambeth Conference, a worldwide bishop’s conference which happens every ten years. I read the news stories. Boy, did they have unity problems! There were conservative factions, and liberal factions, and harsh words, and behind-the-scenes politicking, and a near meltdown of the Anglican Communion — all over the single issue of the Scriptural acceptability of homosexual behavior. I found myself thinking, “How awful. This would never, ever happen in the Baha’i Faith.”

Later I thought, “Maybe it should.”

Look at what brought about the conflicts at Lambeth: many different interpretations of Scripture, to be sure (which Baha’is aren’t supposed to have), but also a love for God, for the truth, and for the Church’s spiritual direction. And, importantly, a knowledge that they could express their opinions freely, even if those opinions were unpopular with other bishops or were a break with the past. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if they ever do find unity, given these circumstances? That would be a hard-won, genuine unity. That would be a unity based not on an order that “Thou shalt be unified!”, but on care and respect, forged in the furnace of real conflict. On love, not on law.

I think this “difficult unity” is ultimately better and stronger than one that tends to subsume the search for truth in the name of unity. This happens among Baha’is, like during LSA meetings — for instance, someone may want to keep discussing a point they know is right, but according to consultation rules, shuts up in the name of unity. It also happens in public discourse, as I discussed above — if someone has an interpretation of some aspect of the Writings that differs from the standard one, they may feel discouraged from talking about it, for fear of causing strife and disunity (or, horror of horrors, being seen as a schismatic).

Instead of resolving such conflicts honestly, Baha’is tend to bury them, lest those conflicts fester and cause disunity. It seems a little cowardly to me now.

Also, there’s a little logic problem in Baha’i doctrine that has bothered me for a while. Baha’is believe that the Faith has never been split into sects (lasting ones, anyway), and will in fact remain basically undivided. But those groups that do separate from the mainstream of the Faith are declared non-Baha’is, simply because they separated. It’s a semantic trick, no more. I’m sorry, but there are other Baha’i groups that do not consider the Universal House of Justice an authority. They do believe in Baha’u’llah (though not in the Covenant as we understand it, hence the term “Covenant-breakers”), so the rest of the world would consider them Baha’is. They consider themselves Baha’is too. Only mainstream Baha’is don’t, and they have a powerful psychological motive for not doing so: the bedrock of their faith would be shaken if these breakaway groups were acknowledged as Baha’is.

This is very shaky ground for the claim that this faith is superior to Christianity and Islam, with respect to a lack of internal division. It also causes mainstream Baha’is to actively shun the company and opinions of certain other people who believe in Baha’u’llah; my soul tells me this is neither healthy nor just, and paradoxically, it makes the Faith less tolerant of diversity than many other religions.

And at some levels, what’s really wrong with division, as long as it doesn’t cause hatred or unloving behavior? I can choose to worship in a progressive church and still love conservative parishioners who leave to go someplace more suited to their beliefs. I can be an Episcopalian and still love my Unitarian and Catholic friends. (And my Muslim friends, and my Baha’i friends, and my Pagan friends, and so on!) I can even play Democrat to my Republican friends, or vice versa. It may be a little harder to understand where they’re coming from, since I don’t share their beliefs, but tests such as these are opportunities for intellectual and spiritual growth, not an indication that we need enforced uniformity of beliefs. I think what the world really needs is not a ban on divisions, but a spiritual discipline that prevents those divisions from causing hatred and prejudice.

9. Too many answers, not enough mystery. The Baha’i Writings are vast. In my ten years as a Baha’i, I’m sure I haven’t read even half of all the English works, and of course I don’t stand a chance at reading all the untranslated Arabic and Persian works. Between the writings of the Central Figures and the decisions of the Universal House of Justice, there’s probably something authoritative written on almost any topic of spiritual significance!

It really does makes life easier, having such an extensive set of laws and beliefs that I can subscribe to as a body. It means I don’t have to think all the time. I can just say, “Sorry, I don’t drink,” rather than having to decide how much alcohol is too much. It means I can believe in the ultimate unity of the religions and then shape my observations to that belief, rather than doing the hard work of forming hypotheses based on what I observe. It means I don’t have to have any doubts about the humanity’s future, since we pretty much know what’s eventually going to happen. It means I have a perfectly good explanation of Christ’s Resurrection; no need to keep going back to it year after year, looking for new layers of meaning. It means that there are very few unanswered questions left.

And this is supposed to help me grow spiritually?

It seems to me that all my real spiritual growth has come during periods of doubt, when I was unconvinced that the answers offered by the Christian or Baha’i doctrines were true. (This is one of those periods.) During those times, I have to go looking for my own answers; those that are given free, without the search, somehow lack the same weight. I feel like I have to use the mind that God gave me, even — especially — in religious matters, and to do otherwise would be something less than human. I take the independent investigation of truth very seriously.

The Baha’i Faith tells us that humanity has finally outgrown its adolescence and reached adulthood. Why, then, are we given yet more laws and answers than before? To me, it just doesn’t seem to fit.

Furthermore, the set of Baha’i beliefs and laws can only grow over time, as the Universal House of Justice issues more infallible interpretations over the years. They certainly don’t seem to be in the business of abrogating anything that the Central Figures have said, nor what they themselves have said in the past. Therefore, the amount of authoritative “stuff” in the Faith cannot shrink; it can only grow. If it continues this way, it seems to me that the Faith will calcify — with so many unchangeable answers, it will gradually lose its ability to adapt, even if it must do so in order to fulfill its divine station.

There is one non-religious idea that I’ve concluded is a fundamental truth about the world: the concept of incremental change, of slow adaptation to changing conditions while retaining an unchangeable core of individuality or “self.” It’s required for anything to thrive, whether it be an organism, a species, a personality, a building, a city, a software artifact, even a belief system. Christianity tried for centuries to resist change, only to be rocked by periodic upheavals like the Reformation. Now many denominations have learned to adapt to a changing world and an advancing understanding of morality, and they work pretty well. The Episcopal Church, at least, offers a relatively simple Gospel-based core doctrine, but its non-core beliefs change with the times. The changes are done thoughtfully, not according to whims or fads, but slowly — just enough to maintain a certain aliveness. The Church once condoned the subordination of women; now it doesn’t. It may once have been silent on the issues of slavery and racism in America; it certainly isn’t anymore. The institution learns and adapts.

(Ironically, the Baha’i Faith explicitly teaches incremental change, in the form of progressive revelation — each religion teaches a core of unchangeable truths, but with a set of beliefs and laws that change from one revelation to another. But the time scale is all wrong; will we really be living with all these same early-twentieth-century interpretations for a thousand years? I find that hard to believe.)

Christianity in general seems to fit this incremental-change model particularly well. There are many Gospels, and none of them are guaranteed to have accurately recorded the exact words and deeds of Christ. Their authors had certain audiences, certain agendas. They contradict each other sometimes, in fact. But because of these loving yet human retellings, the story of Christ’s life takes on a mythic status, more so than a historical one. And here the importance of mystery arises: because the Christ story is myth-like, its meaning shifts and deepens throughout a person’s life (or a culture’s). How can there be any one interpretation to something as profoundly simple as the Last Supper? It’s a holy mystery. Different interpretations are appropriate for different people, or at different stages of a person’s life, or in different cultures. No one can force a certain interpretation on me, nor should they — it would lose its mystery, and ruin any chance that I can get other meanings out of it later. Nailing down a single interpretation would damage the myth beyond repair, by stripping it of its mysterious aspect.

I’m convinced that this is why Christianity has lasted so long, and is still growing, in spite of its fragmentation. Its mythic basis allows for changing interpretations, while still remaining firm on the fundamental Christian truths (those pronounced uniformly by all the Gospels). It permits a diversity of denominations, for people with different needs and values. And above all, it offers an infinitely deep pool of spiritual truth, never running dry, no matter how many times a person goes back to it during his or her lifetime.

In contrast, the Baha’i Faith offers a pool which is large, but necessarily finite; definitive answers are always there for the asking.

* * *

As you can see, I seem to have irreconcilable differences with the Baha’i Faith. The question remaining to me is: am I still a Baha’i? If I believe in Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this day, then I would still be a Baha’i. That’s the only test that counts.

The answer is, I just don’t know anymore. I no longer have the certitude I once had. I know I’ll find out if He is or not in the next world, but until then, I just can’t make myself believe it. Because of the solidity, coherence, and authority of its teachings, the Baha’i Faith is not a religion in which one can just pick and choose what to believe or not believe.

My soul is still moved by Baha’u’llah’s writings, and probably will always be; their beauty is simply incomparable. I’m sure they’re divinely inspired (though I’m no longer sure exactly how). But most of the issues I’ve described here come from later interpretations, not from His own pen. Therein lies the problem. With the Covenant, Baha’u’llah made it very clear that Abdu’l-Baha’ was his successor, and that what he said was authoritative; and then it passed to the Guardian, and so on down to the Universal House of Justice. To believe in the authority of some of these institutions and not others is to break the Covenant, which is emotionally impossible for me. It’s also illogical. I don’t see how I can believe that Baha’u’llah was who He said He was, and yet discount what He clearly said about the succession of His authority.

That leaves two choices: I accept all of it, or I accept none of it.

Now you know what I have to do. Since I can’t make myself accept all of it anymore, I feel like I have no choice but to resign my membership in the Baha’i Faith.

Please understand that this was not an easy decision for me to make. It took months. It’s still deeply painful, and it will remain so for a very long time; I have been a Baha’i for my entire adult life, and it is part of my identity. Its teachings are deeply entwined with my personal value system, to the point where I don’t know sometimes where my own beliefs end and the Baha’i doctrines begin. I still have a great love for my Baha’i friends, and I’m acutely aware of how much pain this will cause them. To spare them this pain, I considered quietly “going inactive,” but I don’t think that would be intellectually honest, especially since I plan to be active in the church that we’re attending. I also need closure to this whole matter, and leaving it open-ended like that just prolongs it unnecessarily. And besides, every new beginning requires an ending!

I hope that the Baha’is that I know and love can understand why I am doing this. I don’t think the Faith is entirely wrong — I’m just not sure it’s entirely right, that’s all. It’s definitely not right for me, at this point in my life. I know that many of my Baha’i friends do know it’s right for them; may they continue growing happily in the Faith! My prayers will always be with them. And the Faith will be right for many seekers. I do think that growth will come, in time; the Faith offers so many wonderful solutions for the problems of this world.

But I also hope that if “entry by troops” does not happen in the way that Baha’is expect it to, that they may better understand why the Faith is not right for many seekers. I tried my best to make it right for me, but couldn’t do it — and I was a deepened Baha’i with a strong incentive to stay with it! One of the ways I think the Faith must adapt is to accept its place as one of many, many diverse religions in the world, not as a tiny religion which assumes that it will eventually claim the majority of the world’s people. It will not appeal to all those people, because many people’s spiritual needs will not be fulfilled by the Faith. If this letter can help the Baha’is understand that better, then that’s really the best I can hope for.

I read a book recently called “Things Seen and Unseen.” It’s an autobiographical work by an Episcopalian woman who describes her slow transition into a church community as being “pushed by God” — as though there was an invisible hand at her back, gently pushing her in the direction that she needs to go to achieve spiritual maturity. That’s what I’ve been feeling for the last six months. When you feel the hand of God, you go with it. I don’t know where I’m going. But I trust that it will be where God wants me to be.

I love you all dearly, and I pray that God may walk with you through all your journeys.

Exodus by Troops in Bahai Faith…

(I’m praising and thanking God for enlightening our hearts and minds to know the Truth. He truly delivered us from a deception of an ordinary man. Now as Christians, we are hopefully waiting for the “TRUE PROMISED ONE”. Lastly, we fervently pray that God will touch the hearts of other Baha’is to discover the Truth.)

To the National Spiritual Assembly of the Philippines and to the entire Baha’i Community,

After a very careful scrutiny and study about the Baha;i Faith, my family have found out that the teachings of Baha’u’llah is not the Truth. It did not conform with the teachings of Christ and the Holy Bible. We know that the Spiritual Teachings of Moses and Christ would last forever and will not be altered by an ordinary man like Baha’u’llah. Just as we are overjoyed in becoming Baha’is before same is our exultation now of professing this new found truth-we want to inform all the Baha’is that since the month of March 2012, me and my husband Rudy and my 3 sons namely Christopher, Rudy Jr. and Francis have decided to recant our Faith as a Baha’i.

We have served the Baha’i Faith for more than twenty years and as Baha’is before, we have applied to ourselves the principle of Baha’u’llah’s “Independent Investigation of Truth” to deepen more ourselves in the Baha’i Faith, but to our disappointment , hopelessness and dismayed we have searched that his teachings on marriage is really wrong ( ref. KITAB- I- AQDAS*Tagalog translation,Ang Pinakabanal Na Aklat p.52 no.63; Mga Tala p. 260 no.89) . We felt that we were being deceived by Baha’u’llah and his son Abdul- baha because of the inconsistencies in their writings. Baha’u’llah allowed bigamy in marriage, but Abdul- Baha corrected the teachings of his father, and he said, that the teachings of the Baha’i Faith on marriage is monogamy. This is a blasphemy to God. We know that the teachings of the TRUE MESSIAH is always perfect cause it is from God and there’s no need that his teachings will be corrected by an ordinary man. During the time of Moses, where polygamy was rife because of their tradition, God gave His strict commandment to man that, they should not commit adultery, they should not covet their neighbor’s wife and to have only one wife. And when Christ came, He continued to preach monogamy on marriage and the Holy Bible is the living witness on this. The teaching on “Covenant” is not a good excuse and be used as a shield to support the succession and infallibility of Figures and Institution of the Faith. Man can only have Covenant with God and not with an ordinary man. Aside from this, there were other teachings of the Baha’i Faith which is wrong and we don’t want to be misled.

I’m praising and thanking God for enlightening our hearts and minds to know the Truth. He truly delivered us from a deception of an ordinary man. Now as Christians, we are hopefully waiting for the “TRUE PROMISED ONE”. Lastly, we fervently pray that God will touch the hearts of other Baha’is to discover the Truth.

In God We Trust,

CRISTINA H. VILLAMIL

– Former National and International Resource Person to non- active clusters, Former Auxiliary Board Member for NCR-CALABARZON, Former Regional Institute Coordinator For Southern Luzon, Regional Baha’i Council for Southern Luzon- Former Member, Local Spiritual Assembly of Caloocan- Former Member, Interfaith Dialogue- Former Representative

The Bahai Faith: Exchanging Darkness for Light By Steve Lagoon

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). After an extensive study, the above words of Isaiah the prophet seem to me a most appropriate description of Baha’i religion.

This may seem a most harsh way to begin a treatment of a faith that prides itself on its commitment to peace, unity, and the love of God. It is certainly true that many of the goals and principles of Bahaism are noble, and that its adherents are sincere people.

Nonetheless, the overall teachings of Bahaism are antithetical to biblical Christianity. Virtually every important teaching of Christianity is denied by Bahaism. Therefore, Christians need to be aware of this growing threat to the souls of mankind, and how to defend the truth against deceptions of the Baha’i religion.

Background information

The Baha’i faith publishes an introductory magazine which provides much helpful background information including the following:

“The Baha’i Faith is today among the fastest-growing religions. With more than five million followers, who reside in virtually every nation on earth, it is the second-most widespread faith, surpassing every religion but Christianity in its geographic reach.” (The Baha’is: A Profile of the Baha’i Faith and its Worldwide Community [magazine format]. Baha’I International Community, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 2005, p. 5, hereafter:Profile).

Some basic Baha’i principles:

  • The Oneness of humankind
  • The equality of women and men
  • Full racial integration
  • Economic justice
  • Universal education
  • The harmony of science and religion
  • The adoption of a universal auxiliary Language
  • The creation of a world commonwealth of nations that will keep peace through collective security

Other important beliefs are:

  • That there is only one God
  • That all of the world’s religions represent one changeless,neternal faith
  • That the purpose of life on earth is to develop ourselves spiritually, in preparation for an everlasting existence; hereafter:Profile, (Back cover).

The foregoing information is from “The Baha’is: A Profile of the Baha’i Faith and its Worldwide Community”[magazine format]. Baha’i International Community, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 2005.

Historical Roots of Bahaism

John Boykin gives a good summary of the beginnings of Bahaism:

“The Baha’i Faith developed in the nineteenth century in Iran, then known as Persia. It is named after its prophet, Baha’u’llah, whose title in Arabic means ‘Glory of God.’ Like most Iranians for the past 1300 years, its founders and early converts were all Shi’ite Muslims. Of the twelve men Shi’ites recognize as legitimate successors to Muhammad, the last was Imam Mahdi. A recluse, Imam Mahdi communicated with his followers through spokesman called Babs (‘gates”). Ever since communication from him ceased in A.D. 941, devout Shi’ites have awaited his return as a conquering messiah.

In 1844 a twenty-four-year-old Persian wool merchant took the title Bab [Mirza’ Ali Muhammad 1819-1850] and began to preach . . . [and] claimed to be a prophet greater than Muhammad. . . Muslim leaders. . . soon locked him in jail, where he spent most of his six-year ministry. The Bab’s followers, called Babis, staged several insurrections, mainly in 1848-50. The Persian government suppressed the Babi uprisings with unbridled cruelty. Finally, in an effort to kill the movement at its source, they executed the Bab in 1850.

After his death the Babi community turned for spiritual leadership to twenty-year-old Subh-i-Ezel [Mirza Yahya], whom the Bab had named as his successor. Subh-i-Ezel was poorly suited for leadership, so practical administrative responsibilities fell to his older half-brother, Baha’u’llah [Mirza Husayn ‘Ali 1817-1892]. . . The Bab had taught that a prophet even greater than himself would one day appear. In 1863 Baha’u’llah declared that he was that prophet. Most Babis accepted Baha’u’llah’s claim and shifted their devotion from the Bab to him. They became known as Baha’is. The rest, unable to reconcile Baha’u’llah’s claim with the Bab’s appointment of Subh-i-Ezel as his successor, remained loyal to Subh-i-Ezel. The two factions clashed violently in 1868, the civil authorities intervened. They sent Subh-i-Ezel to a prison in Cyprus and Baha’u’llah to a prison at Akka, now in Israel. Every word Baha’u’llah uttered was scrupulously recorded. He dictated over one hundred books and tablets. His book of laws, the Kitab-I-Aqdas (‘Most Holy Book’), is considered his ‘most weighty and sacred’ work. . . Baha’u’llah had appointed his eldest son, Abdu’l Baha [Abbass Effendi 1844-1921], to succeed him. Though he did not claim to be a manifestation of God like his father, he did assume sole authority to interpret Baha’u’llah’s teachings. He claimed infallibility for his interpretations. . . Abdu’l- Baha was primarily responsible for spreading the Baha’i faith outside the Middle East. He died in 1921, leaving his Oxford-educated grandson, Shoghi Effendi [1897-1957], as Guardian of the Faith. Shoghi Effendi died in 1957 and, in violation of Baha’i law, left no will. He had no appointed successor. Six years later the first Baha’i universal House of Justice was elected. Among Baha’is this nine-person board is held to be infallible and governs Baha’i affairs today from their world headquarters in Haifa, Israel” (John Boykin, The Baha’i Faith in A Guide to Cults & New Religions (Ronald Enroth Ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983, pp. 26-27, hereafter:“Boykin”).

Will the real manifestation please stand up!

Boykin correctly pointed out that the Bab had appointed Mirza Yahya as his successor. Baha’u’llah essentially stole control of the movement from his brother, despite the fact that the Bab, the very manifestation of God (in their view) had appointed Mirza Yahya. The Baha’i explanation of this is as ingenious as it is sinister. They claim that the Bab only appointed Mirza Yahya publicly as a rouse or cover for Baha’u’llah. That is, the Bab actually appointed Baha’u’llah as his successor, but publicly put forward Mirza Yahya in the event of persecution.Wilson states it thus:

“We have seen that Subh-i-Azal, the half-brother of Baha’u’llah, was appointed by the Bab as his successor. According to Abdul Baha, this appointment was a dishonest subterfuge on the part of Baha, arranged by him through secret correspondence with the Bab, in order that Baha might be relieved of danger and persecution and be protected from interference. . . This account shows the low ideas of honour and truthfulness in the minds of Baha and Abdul Baha” (Wilson, p. 204).

Wilson (Wilson, p. 204) also quoted from Abul Fazl’s account of the same event in his book ‘Baha’i Proofs,’ p. 52, in which Fazl “states the position of the ‘Traveler’s Narrative”:

“The Bab and Baha Ullah, after consulting together, made Azal appear as the Bab’s successor. In this manner they preserved Baha Ullah from interference.”

Fazl’s testimony is important because he is quoted as an authority in Baha’i literature. For example, see J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era.Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Books, 1923, Revised edition 1970, 1976, 1978 edition, p. 113, hereafter:Esslemont).

Another authority that Wilson quotes (Wilson, p. 204-205) is Professor Edward G. Browne who is frequently quoted in Baha’i literature, particularly because of his description of a meeting he had with Baha’u’llah, and his friendship with Abdul-Baha. For example, see ‘The Baha’is: A Profile of the Baha’i Faith and its Worldwide Community”[magazine format]. Baha’i International Community, Baha’i World Centre; Haifa, Israel, 2005, pp. 21, 57.

Wilson’s note quoting Professor Browne is thus: “The Baha’is are impaled on the other horn of the dilemma also, for, as Professor Browne says (‘Mirza Jani [‘s History]’, p. xxxiii.) ‘The difficulty lies in the fact that Subh-i-Azal consistently refused to recognize Baha’s claim, so that the Baha’i is driven to make the assumption that the Bab, who is acknowledged to be divinely inspired and gifted with divine knowledge and prescience, deliberately chose to succeed him one who was destined to be the ‘point of darkness,’ or chief opponent, of ‘Him whom God should manifest’” (Wilson, 204).

There are problems as a result of the foregoing. First, it shows that Baha’u’llah’s half-brother, Mirza Yahya rather than Baha’u’llah was the one chosen by the Bab to be his successor. Also, it shows that Baha’u’llah was dishonest, a strange activity for a manifestation of God. Finally, whenever, we read Baha’i literature that quotes the Bab as speaking of “Him who God will manifest,” it is not Baha’u’llah whom he had in mind. Incidentally, the same Professor Browne that is regularly appealed to as a source by Baha’is, reported about the regular use of opium by the early Baha’is: “All present were Babis (Baha’is) and we sat sipping our tea and whiffing opium.We sat talking late and smoking opium. The wildest ascriptions of deity to Baha were made when intoxicated with wine and opium” (Wilson, p. 215).

What do Baha’is believe?

At this point, we will do well to compare the beliefs of the Baha’i religion with those of biblical Christianity.We begin by looking at the doctrine of Scripture and authority.

Scripture and Authority

For the Christian, the Bible (Old and New Testament) is the only authoritative Scripture. Christians do not recognize the holy books of other religions, and reject the idea that they are inspired of God.

Baha’is claim to accept the holy books of all the major religions of the world. They assert that each book was the authoritative Scripture for its era, but that all of them are superceded by the Scriptures of the Baha’is. These Scriptures are most fully seen in the writings of Baha’u’llah. Further, Abdul-Baha is believed to be the inspired interpreter of the works of Baha’u’llah. Finally, the authority for Baha’is moved from Abdul-Baha to his grandson Shoghi Effendi, who had the title of the “Guardian of the Faith.” After the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, it would be six years until the Universal House of Justice was established. Baha’is believe the Universal House of Justice is infallible in its official pronouncements.

Immediately, three major problems strike the mind of a Christian. One, we cannot accept the untenable notion that God would inspire such divergent ideas in different holy books (Monotheism/polytheism). Two, we cannot accept any ideas that contradicts what God has already revealed in the Bible (Jesus is Almighty God in the Bible/ Jesus is not Almighty God for Baha’is). Third, we cannot believe that Baha’is prophets are inspired of God when they contradict each other (Polygamy accepted and practiced by Baha’u’llah/ Polygamy condemned by Abdul-Baha). Let us look at each of these a bit closer. How can we believe the Baha’i claim that the Scriptures and beliefs of all the major religions of the world are in essential agreement? I reproduce a chart from Francis Beckwith to illustrate this:

“God and the Major World Religious Leaders

Moses ………….God is personal, .strict, uncompromising monotheism

Krishna ……….Polytheistic, but ultimately pantheistic and impersonal.

Zoroaster……..Two Supreme Beings; philosophical dualism

Buddha………..God is not relevant; essentially agnostic.

Confucius …….Polytheistic.

Jesus Christ…God is personal, able to beget a Son; strict, uncompromising monotheism.”

(Francis Beckwith, Baha’i. Minneapolis, MN. Bethany House Publishers, 1985, p. 17, hereafter:Beckwith).

Beckwith summed up the chart by saying: “Though Shoghi Effendi has said that the manifestations disagree on ‘non-essential aspects of their doctrine,’ it would stretch credibility to the limit to suppose that the nature of God is one of these non-essential aspects. God cannot be impersonal, personal; transcendent, polytheistic; pantheistic. monotheistic; able to beget, not able to beget; relevant, and irrelevant all at the same time” (Beckwith, p. 18).

Shoghi Effendi represents the idea that all religions are essentially the same:

“The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society” (Shoghi Effendi, “The Faith of Bahá’u’lláh” in World Order, Vol. 7, No. 2 1972-73, p. 7).

Beckwith’s chart shows the impossibility that “all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony.” It is grossly unfair for Baha’i apologists to reinterpret the world’s religions in such a way as to make it appear there is basic agreement among them. This is done by denying the essential teachings that are unique to each faith. This is clearly done with Christianity, in that all its most important teachings are denied by Baha’is. It is sheer dishonesty to say that the world’s religions “differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines.” How can what a religion teaches about God or salvation be rendered “a nonessential aspect”?

The Baha’i Faith and other religions

While on the surface Baha’is are open and accepting of other religion, in reality, and ultimately, they are the very opposite. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah is the only messenger for today, and that all other religions have been superceded by Bahaism.

“In order to find truth . . . an open mind is essential . . . that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest obstacle in the path to unity” (Universal Peace: More than an End to War).

It is difficult to understand how Baha’is can make the above statement when they believe they are the only true religion on the face of the planet!

God

In Theology proper, for the Christian, there is only one God asserting a strong monotheism. The Baha’i faith also asserts monotheism. It strongly denies the existence of more than one God. Yet, this God is not well defined.Wilson’s description is to the point: “The teaching of Bahaism regarding God is hard to grasp, because it oscillates between Theism and Pantheism” (Wilson, 88).

Wilson’s charge seems well founded. Bahaism teaches that the Holy Spirit is a separate entity from God, yet is ‘itself” eternal. Further, it teaches that all of “creation,” the universe itself is eternal, in that it is forever proceeding from God.

Esslemont relates:

“Baha’u’llah teaches that the universe is without beginning in time. It is a perpetual emanation from the Great First Cause. The Creator always had His creation and always will have . . . Abdul-Baha says . . . this endless universe, had no beginning” (Esslemont, 208-209).

Since Bahaism affirms the eternality of the universe, it is forced into two possible conclusions. One, that the universe is a part of God (pantheism). If the charge of pantheism is denied, then you are left with the idea that the universe is a separate entity from God that nonetheless is eternal (some sort of dualism). Similar to Islam, from which it sprang, Bahaism believes that God is unknowable, and can only be known indirectly through his manifestations.While Baha’is reverence Baha’u’llah as the manifestation of God for this age, they do not worship him. Worship belongs to God alone.

Christianity teaches that God can be known, and in fact, salvation depends upon knowing him. John 17: 3 says: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Martin sums up the Baha’i attitude about God: “For the average Baha’i God is an impersonal force, a being devoid of personality” (Martin,Walter R. The Rise of the Cults. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1955, 1957 edition, p. 119, hereafter:Martin, Rise of Cults)

The Trinity

Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible affirms that while there is only one God, he exists in a tri-personal way. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each distinct personalities in relation to each other, yet share the nature and essence of the one being of God. Baha’is reject the Trinity. In Walter Martin’s classic work “Kingdom of the Cults”, he relates an interview with a Baha’i teacher. I will quote the exchange relating to the Trinity:

“Question: Do you in Bahaism believe in the Holy Trinity?

Answer: If by the Trinity you mean the Christian concept that the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are all the one God, the answer is no. . .We cannot accept the idea that God is both three and one and find this foreign to the Bible which Christianity claims as its source” (Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, MN.: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, 1985 edition, p. 273-274, hereafter:Martin, Kingdom).

In a brochure called “Christianity and the Baha’i Faith”, we find the following:

“What about the Trinity? Baha’is believe that ‘the essential oneness of Father, Son and Spirit had many meanings and constitutes the foundation of Christianity . . . Here is one way to understand the Trinity: The Bible compares God to the astronomical sun, and Christ to its reflected image. The Holy Spirit, in this analogy, is the light shining in and through the mirror. Thus the Trinity means the Father is the Divine Essence, the Holy Spirit is the Divine Light, and Christ is the Divine Reflection. From one point of view, these three are the same; from another, they are distinct” (Christianity and the Baha’i Faith: Frequently Asked Questions. Knoxville, TN: Stonehaven Press, 1999, hereafter: Christianity).

For those who complain about the difficulty in understanding the Trinity, this explanation does not seem an improvement. Further, it is a complete redefinition which bears no resemblance to the biblical teaching concerning the nature of God. The very fact that Baha’is deny that Jesus is Almighty God illustrates their rejection of the Trinity.

The Manifestations

In order to understand Baha’i teaching on the Godhead, it is necessary to understand their view of the ‘Manifestations,’ which they define as follows:

“The Manifestations represent a level of existence intermediate between God and humanity” (From “Baha’i Topics, ‘Who Are the Prophets?’ At http://info.bahai.org/article-1-4-0-3.html) “The great prophets of God are his chosen Messengers, who appear in every age. The Manifestations of God are not God descended to earth but are perfect reflections of his attributes, just as a mirror reflects the sun but is not the sun itself. All the Manifestations have the same spirit, although their outward forms are different, and they manifest different attributes of God relevant to the needs and circumstances of the age in which they appear. They differ only in the intensity of their revelation and the comparative potency of their light. The Baha’i writings identify several Manifestations, among them, Abraham, Noah, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah” (Baha’u’llah. Mona Vale NSW, Australia.: Baha’i Publications Australia, 1991, p. 80, hereafter:Baha’u’llah).

Important in the above quote is that “All the Manifestations have the same spirit.” This raises the question; what is this spirit? Is it personal? If so, how could both Baha’u’llah and the Bab, who lived at the same time, both be this same person? If this “spirit” is impersonal, then how can it be maintained that Baha’u’llah is the same person or the return of Jesus Christ? In their tract, “The Glory of Christ,” Bahaism states:

“In terms of human identity, these mirrors are distinct, having different human bodies and souls. But they are the same divine spirit, for they manifest the one eternal Christ” (The Glory of Christ: A Baha’i Testimony. Knoxville, TN.: Stonehaven Press, 1997).

Again, if all the manifestations are “the same divine spirit.” how could both the Bab and Baha’u’llah, who were contemporaries both, be that one person? “The Manifestation then is not simply an ordinary person whom God chooses at some point in His natural lifetime to be His messenger. Rather, the Manifestation is a special Being, having a unique relationship to God and sent by Him from the spiritual world as an instrument of divine revelation. Even though the individual soul of the Manifestation had a phenomenal beginning, it nevertheless existed in the spiritual world prior to physical birth in this life. The immortal souls of ordinary men, on the other hand, have no such preexistence, but come into existence at the moment of human conception. Of the preexistence of the souls of the Manifestations, Shoghi Effendi said: ‘The Prophets, unlike us, are pre-existent. The soul of Christ existed in the spiritual world before His birth in this world.We cannot imagine what that world is like, so words are inadequate to picture His state of being.’” (“Baha’i Topics: Who Are the Prophets?”

At http://info.bahai.org/article-1-4-0-3.html). From this passage, we further see that the Baha’is teach that the manifestations pre-existed their life on earth. So we wonder; did this spirit leave Muhammad, dwell in “the spiritual world,” then enter into Baha’u’llah (who was born two years before the Bab), and then at the Bab’s birth split into two ‘persons’? The Baha’i view of the manifestations is simply incoherent.

Jesus Christ

As has already been alluded to, Bahaism rejects the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is Almighty God. Instead Bahaism teaches that Jesus was a manifestation of God. These manifestations (Moses, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah) are not Almighty God, but rather are human beings in whom the Holy Spirit dwells in, in a unique way. Further, Bahaism teaches that Baha’u’llah is the return of Jesus Christ.

“Christ once more is knocking at the doors of our hearts . . . Baha’is believe the new name of Christ is Baha’u’llah . . . He fulfills Christ’s own promise to return . . . He is the return of the one spiritual Christ—that pre-existent Word or Logos who is the same ‘the same yesterday, and today, and forever . . . Baha’is are in reality Christians of the second coming” (Secret of the Second Coming: Christ’s Glorious Return, Knoxville, TN.: Stonehaven Press, 1998, hereafter:‘Secret’)

The Bible clearly refuted this notion. The book of Acts leaves us this record:

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).

The prophet Zechariah gives more detail on Christ’s return: “Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:3-4). Jesus ascended to heaven in the same physical body in which he walked the earth, and it is that resurrected body he now has in heaven, and is the one he will return in. The real Jesus will have the marks of the nail prints in his hands and feet.

Jesus himself said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus did not say, “I will return in the form of another,” or “I will send another in my name.” He said, “I will come back.” He warned that others would falsely claim to be him, but that we should not be tricked by them:

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:23-27).

In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus went on to outline the events of his coming which include the judgment of the nations and the setting up of his kingdom over the earth (Matthew 25:31-46). Why should I believe the blasphemous claim that Baha’u’llah is Christ? The real Jesus had a miraculous birth, healed the sick, walked on the water, and raised the dead. Baha’u’llah did none of these. Above all, Jesus predicted his own resurrection. Baha’u’llah is dead and buried; Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ever lives!

Christ’s Resurrection

Not only does Bahaism reject the deity of Christ, but it also denies his bodily resurrection from the dead. Esslemont relates: “An important part of the Bab’s teaching is His explanation of the terms Resurrection . . . By the resurrection is meant, He said, the appearance of a new manifestation of the Sun of Truth. The raising of the dead means the spiritual awakening of those who are asleep in the graves of ignorance” (Esslemont, 34).

A recent tract addresses the resurrection of Christ: “Do Baha’is believe Christ rose from the dead? Yes, most definitely. Baha’i texts describe Jesus as ‘risen from the dead’ (SWA 162); as the ‘risen Christ’ (MA 255) whose disciples ‘saw Christ living, helping and protecting them’ (SAQ 1067) after His physical form ‘was crucified and vanished’ (TAB 193). Resurrection is thus ‘the consciousness that came to His disciples, grieving over His death, of His living reality; it was not a physical thing but a spiritual realization . . . This figurative language means that the Risen Christ, though not physical, is both more real and infinitely more powerful than any material entity . . . Many Bible verses show, however, that Christ relinquished His earthly body after the days of His flesh; (Heb. 5:7), and that-though able at will to resume one-He now customarily manifests Himself in other ways” (Christianity).

The foregoing makes clear the Baha’i rejection of the true and biblical resurrection of Christ. It also shows some dishonesty, in that they begin by claiming to affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but then proceed to redefine the meaning of resurrection to a cultic understanding.

At this point it must be emphasized that this denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. Baha’is may claim that they support the essential teachings of the Christian faith, but its denial of the resurrection of Christ displays the hollowness of that claim.

It would be like a doctor saying to a patient, “I will not touch any essential part of your body, I am only going to remove your brain and heart!” Indeed, the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christianity. The apostle Paul put it this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Holy Spirit

For Christians, the Holy Spirit is Almighty God, the third person of the Trinity. But Bahaism defines the Holy Spirit as: “The Entity that acts as an intermediary between God and his manifestations. This link is similar to the rays of the sun by which energy is transmitted to the planets” (Baha’u’llah, 78).

So, for Bahaism, the Holy Spirit is some kind of “entity” between God and mankind that the manifestations of God possess rather than God himself. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is a separate person from the Word (Jesus). Baha’i writings seem to equate the two and deny their distinct personalities. For instance, Abdul Baha stated: “When Christ appeared, twenty centuries ago, although the Jews were eagerly awaiting his coming . . . yet when the Sun of Truth dawned, they denied Him . . . and eventually crucified that divine Spirit, the Word of God” (Esslemont, J. E. Baha’u’llah and the New Era.Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Books, 1923, Revised edition 1970, 1976, 1978 edition, p. 19). So Bahaism rejects the Biblical truth that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each distinct person within the Godhead, and replaces it with vague and confusing ideas.

Part II follows in next edition.

Steve Lagoon is Pastor of Faith Community Church of Independence, Minnesota. He is the director of Christian Apologetics Ministries. You can visit the Christian Apologetics Ministries’ website at: http://www.caministries.org.

Bibliography

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This article appeared in “The Discerner” (Download in PDF Format)