"Truly I say, this is the day when humankind can see the face and hear the voice of the Promised One. The call of God has been raised, and the light of His face has been lifted toward humanity. ... Great indeed is this day! The allusions made to it in all the sacred scriptures as the Day of God attest to its greatness. The soul of every prophet of God, of every divine messenger, has thirsted for this wondrous day. All the diverse kindreds of the earth have likewise yearned to attain it. ... God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth, and that the seal, 'the Kingdom is God's,' may be stamped upon the brow of all its peoples." — Bahaullah
What is this thing called the Bahai faith?
Bahai. It's a strange word. What is it, Arabic?
Some have confused it with the B'nai Brith. Others, particularly Islamic authorities in Iran, have considered Bahais to be enemy agents of Israel. What in the world is the Bahai faith?
The Bahai faith is an independent world religion. It is a world religion because its scope is international. It has members in every nation. There are exquisite Houses of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, near Chicago, as well as in Germany, Uganda, Panama, and India. There are sacred sites on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel, and the nearby historic city of Akka. Bahaullah, the founder of the faith, proclaimed that "the earth is one country and mankind its citizens."
The Bahai faith is an independent religion. It is not Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Hindu, yet it contains aspects of each. It sees itself as a new spiritual dispensation, a current installment in the unfolding message of God. It represents a lineage that includes Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Abraham, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, and other unknown messengers. The most current messenger, Bahais believe, is Bahaullah.
The name "Bahaullah" means the splendor or glory of God. Bahaullah was born in 1817 in Iran, exiled because of his reform-minded religious beliefs, and announced his divine mission in Iraq in 1863. The reading that I shared was his call to ministry. He said that it was the "day of God" foretold in "all the sacred scriptures." It was not just the vision of one religion, but its fulfillment is integral to all faiths.
We hear about the "second coming of Christ" from enthusiastic Christian preachers and evangelists. They speak of "the rapture" and of Jesus "appearing in the skies." They proclaim that Jesus will establish an eternal Kingdom of God, where death, mourning, and crying will be "done away." It will be a "new heaven and a new earth." This, Bahais believe, is metaphorical language for a new spiritual dispensation.
In the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and a rise of unrighteousness, I incarnate on this earth and protect the good and destroy the evil."
There is the Buddhist tradition of the "bodhisattva" which tells of persons who, instead of entering into nirvana or eternal bliss, choose to remain on earth and serve humankind.
The idea of the "second coming," however we understand it, is a testimony of hope. It is the core of the Bahai vision. It is, as President Barack Obama says, a declaration of the "audacity of hope." The world faces grave challenges – famine, economic upheaval, war, and nuclear threats. Can we truly believe in, or rely on, hope?
The Bahai faith has a plan that it believes will lead to world transformation. This plan includes the following principles:
The unity of religions – it asserts that all religions are part of an unfolding, progressive spiritual plan. In particular, Bahais believe, religion must be the cause of unity. Too often, religion has caused division. Bahaullah says, No more! If religion does not bring unity, it is not true religion. It is mere self-centered fancy! If we want to change the world, we cannot ignore or eradicate the spiritual, no matter where it is found.
Spiritual principles are the genuine bases for transformation. You cannot – cannot, no way, no how – change the world through politics or social policy alone! We have seen political entities come and go. We have seen treaties broken. People have felt let down by their governments. There will not be peace in the world until we have a reason for peace. The Apostle Paul spoke of the "renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2). There can be no peace in the world until there is peace inside of us. As the song says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
Genuine faith nurtures and enriches the spirit. Such faith is not an option... not if we want peace in the world.
The Bahai faith says that world transformation, that hope, begins with the spirit.
Another Bahai principle is the oneness of humankind. We live in a global world. At the beginning of the past century, many people were not even aware of other peoples and cultures. Yet America is a nation of immigrants. We have drawn traditions from the Irish, Swedes, Italians, Chinese – from all nations! Thanks to advances in travel, we can see the world. We are a world community.
Because of this, we need to learn to live with one another. Bahaullah says that we must end all prejudice – religious, cultural, any kind of prejudice. The Bahai faith has been a leader in inter-racial, inter-cultural understanding.
Unity must not only include religions and nations, but Bahaullah said that there should be unity – equality – between men and women, and unity between science and religion.
In these two principles, the Bahai faith seems most contemporary. If you want unity – or peace – in the world, it has to start in the family. A wife does not exist for the benefit of her husband. They are equals. Thus, women are entitled to a career and to equal pay. These ideals are supported by the Bahai faith.
Religion has often been bludgeoned at the hands of science. Many scientists have determined that religion is irrelevant and outdated. Evolution, many believe, invalidates creationism. And religions, in turn, have attacked science. Remember the Scopes "Monkey Trial"? A teacher was reprimanded by religious leaders for teaching evolution.
You might look at the relationship between religion and science this way: science shows you how, religion tells you why. Science shows how an infant develops over nine months, i.e. the different stages of physical growth and development, but it does not tell why it happens that way, or the ultimate cause of what made it happen.
So, religion and science do not have to be enemies. They can complement one another.
Other Bahai principles include universal education, a universal peace tribunal and global democratic institutions, tempering the excesses of a wealth and poverty, and the establishment of an international auxiliary language (perhaps Esperanto or something like it).
One Bahai principle – which should be of particular interest to Unitarian Univeralists – is the independent investigation of truth. Bahais (especially Unitarian Bahais) say that it is okay to ask questions. Don't believe anything blindly. Check things out.
Now, you've got to love a religion like that!
Unitarian Bahais, like UUs, believe in – and insist upon – the freedom of conscience. We stand against all fanaticism or intolerance. Even in studying Bahaullah's writings, UBs exercise critical inquiry. Whatever you believe is a choice.
The message of the Bahai faith, with its emphasis on the unity of religion – albeit the necessity of the spirit in the "audacity" of hope – the oneness of humankind, the equality of men and women, and its plan for universal peace, is especially pertinent to the modern world.
However, there have been conflicts in the Bahai faith. Most of them are related to historical issues relating to its leadership. It has not only brought division, but confusion and heartache among believers. For me, personally, these conflicts have nearly shattered my confidence in the faith. I have wondered: where is the faith – the genuine, innate message – in all of this? What is the Bahai faith truly, essentially about?
In my opinion, these divisions have nothing to do with the faith itself. Certainly, no one would assert that to be Christian, you have to exercise episcopal rather than congregational government. (Though some Methodists may disagree!) Not to get into details, but mainstream, conservative Bahais contend that if you don't follow the "Adminstrative Order" of the Haifa-based Baha'i Faith organization, you are a heretic. You are to be shunned as a "Covenant-breaker." Unitarian and other progressive Bahais believe that you can be a Bahai without having to join any particular organization or obey ecclesiastical authorities. Does God have a preference? I think not! How Bahais govern themselves is not worth jeopardizing the faith and its most important teachings.
Many Bahais, who ask "too many" questions, have been expelled from the mainstream Baha'i community. Others have resigned their membership and many have joined UU churches, seeking a more liberal path.
The Unitarian Bahais have sought to create a Bahai voice in the UU community, to foster a Bahai-UU dialogue within it. For that reason, the UBs exist, to participate in UUA congregations and share with them what we have learned in the Bahai faith.
UBs believe that the Bahai faith represents a beautiful, proud tradition, relevant to the modern world. In the midst of internal conflicts, and frustration over them, we have tried to recapture the kernal of the faith itself.
For us, the Bahai faith is a faith worth living.