One of America’s Best Kept Religious Secrets

Could the growing Bahá’í religion revolutionize our political sphere?

Unsurprisingly, Christianity is the largest religion in all 50 states. Surprisingly, Bahá’í is the second largest religion in my home state of South Carolina. This news inspired two local papers, the Charleston Post and Courier and the Charleston City Paper, to write articles about Bahá’ís. It also inspired me, an atheist, to attend a local Bahá’í meeting.

There are more Bahá’ís in South Carolina than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus combined; however, Bahá’ís do not outnumber atheists and agnostics. “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation) have grown to 15 percent nationally and 10 percent in South Carolina. And in a 2013 national survey of “nones,” atheists and agnostics were 50 percent of online respondents and 36 percent of those interviewed by telephone. Taking the lower percentage, more than 100,000 atheists and agnostics live in South Carolina compared with about 18,000 Bahá’ís.

The Bahá’í Faith likely became popular in South Carolina because of Louis Gregory, who was born in 1874, was raised in Charleston, and was one of the founders of the Bahá’í Faith in America. After this grandson of a slave became a Bahá’í in 1909, he travelled the country promoting racial equality. Gregory married a white Bahá’í woman in 1912, an act that was considered a crime at the time in parts of the country. The Louis G. Gregory Baha’i Museum is located in downtown Charleston.

Bahá’ís and atheists have not been very public about their views because they’ve been demonized within their surrounding cultures. The Bahá’í Faith began in Iran in 1844 when a young man now known as the “Bab” (meaning “gate” or “door” in Arabic) claimed to be the promised redeemer of Islam. The Bab also said that a second divine messenger would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in Islam. The Bab alienated Islamic clergy and was executed by a firing squad in 1850 at the age of 30. One of the Bab’s followers, Bahá’u’lláh, revealed in 1863 that he was the messenger foretold by the Bab. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith.

I recently attended a Bahá’í meeting in Charleston with 15 participants at the home of Dave and Bonnie Springer. I assumed they were local leaders, but they told me there are no Bahá’í leaders. Members periodically open their homes for Bahá’í meetings like the one I attended. We sat in a circle and the service began with Dave playing a plaintive melody on a recorder. Attendees then read aloud from a pamphlet called “Reflections on the Spirit of Unity.” Dave told us to think about how the writings might apply to ourselves, not about what others should do. He encouraged us to comment on this theme.

The reflections from Bahá’u’lláh described the unity of God, religion, and humanity. They focused on respect for and equality of all human beings. Diversity of race and culture were praised; racism, nationalism, social class, and gender-based hierarchy were seen as artificial impediments to unity. And, indeed, the participants at our service were white and black, male and female, young and old, rich and poor. I agreed with just about all the messages, except for the God parts.

After the reflections, we enjoyed a healthful potluck dinner, and although I’m not used to feeling comfortable in a room full of people I don’t know, this was an exception. Everyone seemed to like everyone else. Nobody but me even appeared to notice the diversity of race and color.

Over dinner I discussed Bahá’í theology with Dave, Bonnie, and others. I enjoy asking and being asked pointed questions about belief or nonbelief, though I sometimes back off when others react too emotionally. Even if I had tried, I don’t think I could have said anything to upset these Bahá’ís. My favorite religions are human centered without any gods, like Humanist Unitarians, Humanistic Judaism, and Ethical Culture. Since the Bahá’í Faith seems to be a human-centered religion with God, it might be my favorite theistic religion.

I often measure religions by whether they place more value on behavior or belief. I was told unequivocally that the Bahá’í faith is about deeds, not belief. That was quite a contrast to a church I had previously visited and wrote about. Bahá’ís believe (metaphorically) in heaven and hell, which represent “spiritual” states of nearness or distance from God, not physical places of reward and punishment. I asked Dave if he believed that people could move closer or farther from God after they die, and he thought so. Dave laughed when I said I’d believe in God if I met him or her after I died, since I’m evidence based. The Bahá’í God is one of love, not wrath.

I asked about the Bahá’í belief that God has revealed himself through a series of divine messengers, including Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Dave gave an evolutionary justification: God sends different messages as cultures evolve and are more capable of understanding and accepting them. This also fits with their belief in the importance of unity and the goal of achieving world peace when there is unity among world religions.

I asked about gay marriage, and was told that sexual intercourse is only permitted between a husband and a wife, and that premarital, extramarital, and homosexual intercourse is forbidden. The good news is that Bahá’ís strive to treat everyone with respect and dignity. They do not treat gays as outcasts, nor do they expect people who are not Bahá’í to follow Bahá’í rules. In fact, Bahá’ís are required to abstain from partisan politics. They can’t endorse candidates or run for political office. Too bad, because I could envision voting for some Bahá’í candidates — especially in South Carolina.

(Thought experiment: How would our country change if Christians imposed for themselves a 10-year moratorium on running for public office?)

This was not my first encounter with Bahá’ís. While travelling in India in 1997, I visited the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, where I first learned that Bahá’í priorities are to work for world peace, and to eliminate racism and poverty. As I left and offered a small donation, I heard something I never expected to hear from any religious (or secular) organization: “I’m sorry. But we can’t accept money from you. We consider it an honor to contribute, and only members of the faith are afforded this privilege.”

No wonder Bahá’ís stay out of politics.

Image courtesy of Sean M. Scully.

Herb Silverman
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  • Laura JAckson

    Sounds like very lovely people. Any religion that judges a persons sexuality or anything else for that matter is a no go for me. I do love the thought of Christians having a 10 year moratorium on public office tho:)

    • Fanya Berger

      Dear Laura,
      I hope you wouldn’t mind a small comment. I am 20 years old and I grew up as a Baha’i in Belarus, Eastern Europe.
      In the Baha’i Faith your personal affairs as well as your relationship with God is absolutely between you and God. There is a set of laws, which for me, is like a gift that helps me going. One of them is the law of marriage, which is allowed only between a man and a woman and all the sexual intercourse is only allowed withing a marriage. However, as it was said in the article, we would never impose these laws on people who do not consider themselves Baha’is. Absolutely not. In fact, a Baha’i is a person who accepts Baha’u’llah as a Manifestation for today and His teachings as a cure for humanity’s current problems. Once one accept it, it is very easy to follow all the laws, because they come together with the principles with oneness of humanity, unity in diversity, equality of man and woman, and without the laws it simply would not cure the problems we face today.
      Just independent search for truth :)

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I view them the same way I view liberal Christians. I’ll work with them on issues we agree with, but I will still criticize them on issues we don’t. It’s too bad they refuse to get involved in politics, because they could make some interesting allies.

  • http://WWSHP.ORG William Dusenberry

    Herb:

    You failed to mention “Secular Humanist Pantheism” (SHP) in your summary of the humanistic characteristics of the Bahai i.

    SHP (as the name implies) offers the “golden rule” of Humanism; the secularism of Humanism; and a god, for those who realize that the universe is the sum of all of its component parts.

    Religionists believe in a supernatural god — SHP rejects anything supernatural.

    However, SHP knows that everything in the universe is connected with everything else in the universe — so subsequently, SHP classifies the universe, nature, and god, as being the same thing.

    When people ask me (after seeing my “Secular Humanist Pantheist” T Shirt) what is a SHP? — I tell them: “SHP is the only group able to actually prove the existence its god.”

    In the numerous times I have stated that SHP is the only group able to prove the existence of god — no one has had any follow-up challenges to this position.

    SHP offers a god — for those who might be fired from their jobs for being atheistic.

    Cop-out?

    Not for those who would face severe hardship — if they were to become unemployed.

  • William Garbett III

    Dear Mr. Silverman…WOW! Thank you so much for your very accurate, fair, and honest assessment of the Baha’i Faith. As a member of the Baha’i Faith for some 43 years, your article is one of the best, kind, fair and balanced one I have seen in many years, so again a big “thank you!” When you said that you agree with most of what the Baha’i Faith stands for except the “God” concept, I feel the same about your ideas as an atheistic/humanist. I agree with everything that you and the humanist movement believe, except I can’t let go of a burning desire/belief in a Supreme Creator. I have worked side by side for years on interfaith programs and forums with atheistic/humanists and have found each one of them delightful, open-minded, caring, and very involved in helping humanity achieve a higher and more noble level…I hope for you much happiness, health, and joy in this life, and if it’s there, in the next one as well…In Peace

    • Herb Silverman

      Since I see no evidence for the existence of any gods, I agree with the Bahai belief that God is “unknowable.” However, what makes you believe that he sent specific prophets to pass on messages? There is no evidence that some of the “prophets,’ like Abraham and Moses, even existed. If we are look for people who promoted peace and harmony, I like the words of humanists like Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan.

      • William Garbett III

        Dear Mr. Silverman, thank you for your imput here. What you say rings true in the sense of the ancient Prophets and if they were indeed historical figures. I would add to your post that it’s not just Abraham and Moses that may have not existed, but Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster and religious philosophers such as Confucious and others of the Far East as well. There is even much debate whether or not Jesus was an historical figure, after all there is very little in the histories of His time that mention Him. Josephius gives a very short one sentence account of a “Christ” figure, but that account is hotly debated today. Many scholars believe it was added in the Middle Ages. So, you rightly ask, “what makes you believe that he sent specific prophets to pass on messages? There is no evidence that some of them even existed”. The one reason and only reason I believe these Messengers were historical figures, (because I certainly cannot prove it), is because for the first time in religious history we have a Messenger of God who gave birth to a new revelation in our own modern times. Baha’u’llah was an historical figure who was photographed, and written about by scholars and reporters of His time. He was visted in His prison house in Akka, Israel by Edward Granville Browne, an historical scholar from Cambridge University, who left to posterity his account of that unique meeting. He, Baha’u’llah tell us that these Messengers were historical Beings and just because there is not much empirical evidence of their existence, because of the vast periods of time that has passed since they walked the earth, in no way negates their physical reality here on earth. One of the proofs of their existence are the civilizations, some of which still remain today that were built around the teachings of these Holy Beings. Now, have all these former religions and civilizations gone far a stray from the original guidance and teachings of these different founders of the world religions? Sure. Have they caused unspeakable horrors in the name of some of these religions over the past ages, absolutely! Again, bringing me to the Baha’i idea of “Progressive Revelation”, that religion is “renewed” in each age to bring humanity back to the original purpose of religion, which is to “bind together” to “unite”. Humanity has gone through the same stages of development that an individual human being goes through. The stages of infancy, childhood, adolesence, and adulthood or maturity. In the individual human being those stages of development are traumatic, dramatic, painful, and confusing, yet we all go through it. Humanity as the “body-politic” has been going through these stages for thousands of years leading up to this point in evolutionary history, the beginnings of the maturity of the human race which will culminate with the organic unification of all the peoples and kindreds of the earth into one Universal Commonwealth, one Universal system of measures and weights, (economy), one Universal religion that unites all the former religions into a new reality, a reality that has been promised in all of the older religions. They have all stated in various forms that “one day” in the distant future a promised Messiah would come and bring the teachings needed to establish world peace, world unity, and human equality on a global scale. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah is that Holy Personage. The reason I believe in Him is because I investigated His claim, read His writings, learned of His history, followed His imprisonments and banishments, read the historical accounts by non-Baha’is of how He lived His life, how He guided His followers, and read about the fulfillment of hundreds of ancient prophecies contained in all the world’s religions that His coming produced. One other proof, for me, is the community He has raised up. Today the Baha’i Faith is considered by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as the “second” most geographically spread religion on earth, Christianity being the first. When I see and meet Baha’is from the far flung corners of the earth, from Paupua New Guinea to Iceland, from Mongolia, to Santiago, Chile and we immediately connect on a deep intellectual and spiritual level, even if we don’t speak the same language, it gives me hope and concrete evidence that a global peace movement is sweeping the earth, a movement that is spreading not by the sword or gun or by powerful governments and leaders, but by regular folks of every background, at the grassroots level. Folks who have come to realize that today’s governments and political movements do not have the answers, that we must think globally now, people from all over the world who have taken the words of a religious prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, in the 19th century, and changed their lives for the betterment of humanity…Baha’u’llah said from His prison cell in the Holy Land, in 1868, in a letter addressed to the leaders of the world: “The earth is but one country and mankind it’s citizens”…This is the destiny of all of us, it’s coming, it’s inevitable, it is at the moment, and will continue to be, painful for us as we are coming into our “maturity”, but it is also glorious and exciting…In Peace….bahai.org

        • Thomas W. Yale

          Excellent clarification. Although Their historical existence may be debated, the civilizations that resulted from Them are self-evident, otherwise how could those civilizations have ever emerged? The Bab’s and Baha’u’llah’s indisputable existence is most noteworthy as well.

      • William Garbett III

        PS: I think Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan ROCKED! They were what I call “lesser lights” of wisdom and guidance. Men of great insight and vision and of course brilliance of mind…Peace

  • anamericanundernogods

    I have lived with Baha’is and also have Baha’I friends. They
    are all nice and kind people. They have polygamy in their holly book but say
    they do not practice it. Their holly book treats women as second to men. They
    do not denounce Quran and its warmongering versus. In fact they are very
    conservative in provoking any controversies, perhaps until when they are strong
    enough that can enforce or impose their ideologies. Exactly like Mohammad who
    was very peaceful when weak but then started Jihad when strong.

    • Thomas W. Yale

      No, we don’t practice polygamy or put women in second-class status (see my comment below). True, we don’t denounce the Qu’ran at all, but we’re not infected by a warmongering virus (at least I think that’s what you mean).

      Jihad is one of many Islamic concepts that have been very much distorted throughout history, just as much as I imagine Christian concepts has been distorted in the Muslim world (why else would Christians be persecuted in Islamic countries?). This distortion occurs even among Muslims themselves.

      The word jihad translates from Arabic as “struggle”, more specifically “striving in the way of God”, and it is a sacred duty among Muslims. In early Islamic history, Islam itself was attacked as a heresy. Muhammad’s own Hijra, His flight from Mecca to Medina with family and followers, was an effort to avoid persecution and fighting after an assassination threat against Him. En route, when faced with the inevitability of fighting, the principle of jihad still held as a struggle to survive and to protect others, and fighting was done only in defense.

      In any event, I don’t think you have to worry now matter how widespread the Faith becomes in the world. We frown on making the Faith any kind of state-mandated religion anywhere in the world. We are forbidden in our Faith to proselytize, and one of the basic beliefs in Islam as well as the Baha’i Faith is that “there can be no compulsion in religion.” (Sûrah al-Baqarah: 256, yet another principle that’s been distorted over time).

  • Louis Venters

    And one more thought: While it is indeed true that Louis Gregory was among the founders of the Baha’i community in SC (and, for that matter in the US as a whole), most of the growth that you mention in your piece came about after his death, in rural areas of the state the 1970s and 1980s. This phenomenon was basically a convergence two factors: ongoing, deliberate efforts by the Baha’is to attract more African Americans to the faith, and the demise of the Jim Crow order which made it possible for rural black people to respond in larger numbers than before.

  • Louis Venters

    Dr. Silverman, thank you for this good and thoughtful piece. As a Baha’i myself, my answer to the subtitle of the article would be an emphatic, “YES!” But I’m truly impressed that you arrived at the same conclusion just by virtue of the Baha’is’ abstention from partisanship and refusal to accept monetary contributions from non-members. You might be interested to know something about the faith’s system of governance. Although presently deployed only on a small scale and subject to continued evolutionary development, it is quite revolutionary in theory and in practice. I’ve particularly enjoyed some work on this subject by Arash Abizadeh at McGill. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it sometime.

  • Louis Venters

    And one more thought: While it is indeed true that Louis Gregory was among the founders of the Baha’i community in SC (and, for that matter in the US as a whole), most of the growth that you mention in your piece came about after his death, in rural areas of the state the 1970s and 1980s. This phenomenon was basically a convergence two factors: ongoing, deliberate efforts by the Baha’is to attract more African Americans to the faith, and the demise of the Jim Crow order which made it possible for rural black people to respond in larger numbers than before.

  • Ed Buckner

    It sounds as if the members of Bahá’í are more Christian than the Baptists–or at least have more in common with the legendary figure of Jesus as suggested by the Sermon on the Mount. I could never imagine joining any church or worshipping any god(s), but the Bahá’í’s are certainly more appealing than some. Thanks, Herb.

  • RichardSRussell

    Needless to say, nice, kind, gentle, tolerant, inoffensive people like this get extra persecuted in fundamentalist Islamic nations, because they’re not viewed merely as infidels but as something even worse: heretics, traitors to the One True Faith.

    • Thomas W. Yale

      Odd. You say it’s needless to say but you say so anyway. In any event, with it being said, I would be interested to learn just how we are heretics. Infidel is a term used in certain religions, especially Christianity and Islam, for one who has no religious beliefs, or who doubts or rejects the central tenets of the particular religion. We are neither of these. A heretic is a proponent of any provocative belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs. In that respect we are at variance with certain Islamic beliefs of man’s making, yet not at all with those of His Holiness Muhammad’s original teachings.

      • Thomas W. Yale

        I don’t understand. As a Baha’i, how can I not be aware of the persecution of my fellow Baha’is? I know it occurs in Egypt, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, Romania, and most prominently in Iran.

        You say that the Sunni and Shiite view of the Baha’is is an example of how religious believers in the same religion do not consider themselves heretics. That would imply that Sunnis, Shiites and Baha’is are part of the same religion. Yet while we embrace Islam, we are not Muslims. While it has emerged from Islam, the Baha’i Faith is no more part of Islam than Christianity is a part of Judaism. It is an independent religion.

  • Saeideh

    Dear anamericanundernogods, I’m a Bahai and would like to, for the sake of clarification, state the Bahai views on the subjects you raised :

    Bahai views are clear and emphatic on monogamy and you will not find any Bahai man having two wives.

    Below is a quotation from the Bahai writings on this subject:

    “Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated. Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives, under all conditions. However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife.”

    In regards to women being “treated second to men ” as you put it, is in stark contrast to the core of Bahai teachings ” Oneness of humanity” in general. There are innumerable writings by Bahaullah and Abdul-Baha on the subject of gender equality here are some examples:

    And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings — one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.1

    Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.2

    As for not denouncing Islam, Why should we denounce Islam when we believe that it is a religion from God. There are no “warmongering versus” in Quran. Islam is a peaceful religion like any other religion sent by God.

    Abdul-Baha, regarding Muhammad says, “The military expeditions of Muḥammad, on the contrary, were always defensive actions: a proof of this is that during thirteen years, in Mecca, He and His followers endured the most violent persecutions. At this period they were the target for the arrows of hatred: some of His companions were killed and their property confiscated; others fled to foreign lands. Muḥammad Himself, after the most extreme persecutions by the Qurayshites, who finally resolved to kill Him, fled to Medina in the middle of the night. Yet even then His enemies did not cease their persecutions, but pursued Him to Medina, and His disciples even to Abyssinia.

    These Arab tribes were in the lowest depths of savagery and barbarism.Moreover, the means by which these Arab tribes lived consisted in pillage and robbery, so that they were perpetually engaged in fighting and war, killing one another, plundering and devastating each other’s property,and capturing women and children, whom they would sell to strangers. How often it happened that the daughters and sons of a prince, who spent their day in comfort and luxury, found themselves, when night fell, reduced to shame, poverty and captivity. Yesterday they were princes, today they are captives; yesterday they were great ladies, today they are slaves.Muḥammad received the Divine Revelation among these tribes, and after enduring thirteen years of persecution from them, He fled. 2 But this people did not cease to oppress; they united to exterminate Him and all His followers. It was under such circumstances that Muḥammad was forced to take up arms. This is the truth: we are not bigoted and do not wish to defend Him, but we are just, and we say what is just. Look at it with justice. ”
    In Surah ii, 257 Muhammad teaches that no compulsion is there in religion.
    Jihad was only to mean submission to the will of God, but as centuries passed it lost its meaning. Just as the bloodiest wars, waged by the crusaders, in the history of religion, does not imply that the religion of Christ was not a peaceful one, so is the case with the wars that Muslims waged and the peaceful nature of Muhammad’s religion.
    This is exactly why Bahis believe, for the sake of an ever advancing civilization, after the passage of about 1000 years, God renews His religion by sending another messenger. It is because after a religion has fulfilled its mission in educating humanity, it looses its effect and people begin to become lost and corrupt. As with any other religion this is also applicable to the Bahai religion. Therefore when you say Bahis shay away from controversies, it is because we have no conflict with any religion and consider them all as one religion, religion of God. This should not erroneously be perceived as a weakness. From the inception of the Bahai religion, its adherents have been persecuted, tortured, and killed and this continues even to this current times, because they courageously stand by their beliefs and will not recant their faith even if it means loosing their lives. Why because we believe that the Bab and Bahullah, the Twin manifestations of the Bahai Faith are the Promised Ones of all ages and all religions. What is more controversial than that?

    • William Garbett III

      Thank you dear Saeideh for this added clarification, excellent…In Peace

  • anamericanundernogods

    Islam is the religion of discrimination, bigotry, and warmongering.

    The following are only tiny examples of Quran.

    Sourah AlNassah, Verse 34:

    Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has given one
    more strength than the other and because they support them; the good women are
    therefore obedient, guarding what Allah would have them guard in the absence of
    husband; as to those women on whose part you (the man) fear disloyalty and ill
    conduct, admonish them (first), refuse to share their beds (next), and last
    BEAT THEM; but if they return to obedience, do not seek a way against them;
    surely Allah is high great.

    Sourah AlToubah # 9 Verse 29:

    سوره 9: التوبة آیه ی 29

    قَاتِلُواْ الَّذِينَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ
    بِاللّهِ وَلاَ بِالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَلاَ يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللّهُ
    وَرَسُولُهُ وَلاَ يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَابَ
    حَتَّى يُعْطُواْ الْجِزْيَةَ عَن يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ

    Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor
    hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his messenger, nor
    acknowledge the religion of truth, from among the people of the book, until
    they pay the Jizyeh (price of punishment) with willing submission and feel
    themselves subdued.

    Sourah AlToubah # 9 Verse 5:

    سوره 9: التوبة آیه 5

    فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ
    فَاقْتُلُواْ الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ
    وَاقْعُدُواْ لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ فَإِن تَابُواْ وَأَقَامُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتَوُاْ
    الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّواْ سَبِيلَهُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay
    the Pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in
    wait for them in every stratagem (of war); But if they repent, and establish
    regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way to them; For
    Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    Sourah AlToubah # 9 Verse 123:

    سوره 9: التوبة آیه ی 123

    يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ
    قَاتِلُواْ الَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُم مِّنَ الْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُواْ فِيكُمْ
    غِلْظَةً وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

    Tye who believes! Fight the unbelievers who gird (surround)
    you about, and let them find firmness in you, and know that Allah is with those
    who fear him.

    • Dennis

      Some muslims use these texts to justify violence, and of course they are wrong because Mohammed referred only to specific groups that threatened and betrayed the young muslim community at the time. Matter of self defence. Read the rest of the sura’s and historical context and this is clear as day.

  • anamericanundernogods

    Your Baha’i God is a male god who orders “Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives” otherwise this so called good god could have said “Taking a second husband is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two husbands”.

    • Fanya Berger

      It is wonderful that you study the most holy book! This is a true independent search for truth and I think it is wonderful.

      Being a Baha’i for all my life I can say that there is absolutely no polygamy in today’s world. Baha’u’llah had revealed a set of laws. Having more than one wife was appropriate in Iran back in the day, having only was was not. It seems odd to me as a westerner too, but it was the reality back then. However, Bahá’u’lláh wished that the Bahá’ís follow the example of `Abdu’l-Bahá, his son and a perfect exemplar for all of the Baha’is, and gradually move away from polygamy. The marriage of `Abdu’l-Bahá to one woman and his choice to remain monogamous, from advice of his father and his own wish, legitimized the practice of monogamy to a people whom hitherto had regarded polygamy as a righteous way of life.

      Hope with was a helpful to have a better glimpse on this aspect in the Baha’i teachings.

    • Thomas W. Yale

      In the Baha’i Writings, the capitalized masculine third pronoun is used because there is no genderless third person pronoun, at least in the many languages in which the Writings are translated. Even with this literary tradition, Baha’is believe that God cannot be exclusively male or female, but encompass the qualities of both masculinity and femininity. If God is the cause of all creation, he could not have endowed men and women the attributes of their respective genders if He Himself encompassed the quality of one gender but not the other.

      In quote you provided from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah was speaking with respect to the Muslim tradition of the plurality of wives, naturally since the Baha’i Faith emerged from an Islamic nation. The rest of the passage provides the necessary context: “However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife.”

  • Former Bahai

    Their writings state that homosexuality is a disease. How unfortunate and polarizing. It’s easy to talk about the good things but homosexuality and lgbtq rights are a very prominent topic right now and their view isn’t unifying or inclusive in the least bit. To say they treat gays equally but they cant have sex is absolutely ludicrous. If it was truly equal and they weren’t treated differently, they would have the same rights as heterosexuals. Very misleading.

    • William Garbett III

      Thank you for you imput “Former Baha’i”. You are correct in saying that “LGBT rights are a very prominent topic right now”. This is a topic that ALL religions are coming to terms with and trying to understand. It is true that the Baha’i teachings on marriage state that it, marriage, must be between a man and a women only, but even for heterosexuals, chastity before marriage is expected. All are treated equal in the Faith and are expected to “strive” to live up to the teachings. Are we all perfect angelic beings?, of course not, do we fail to live up to all the ordinances given to us, yes we do. Our journey on this planet is in the striving to reach for our perfection, whether we are straight, gay or lesbian, or A-sexual…The difference also in the Baha’i Faith is that no one judges because we are all struggling to figure out our own destiny and spiritual journey. The Universal House of Justice, the head of the Baha’i Faith, stated recently that to have any prejudice or discrimination against any person of the LGBT community, is forbidden and that folks who are LGBT must be treated with love, respect, compassion, and understanding. Also, for the LGBT community outside the Baha’i Faith, they are not and never will be subject to the laws of Baha’u’llah, and will always be treated fairly. We are even free as individuals to support any human rights cause that fights against discrimination, which includes standing up for our gay and lesbian fellow human beings. At this moment in history, the stand the Baha’i Faith takes regarding the LGBT community might not seem “enough” to the “outside” members of that community, but for this moment in time, it’s very progressive compared to how the older established world religions view this topic….In Peace

    • Erika Czerniejewski

      Shogi Effendi is the one who states homosexuality is a spiritual disease in the strongest of terms…Baha’u’llah doesn’t in any translated texts i can think of. Shogi Effendi is human, and his words are that of a human. He was the guardian, a translator, but not a source of law. I’ve struggled with this fact, myself, then realized it was the words of a man, not holy inspiration.

      Interestingly, if you search Ocean on homosexuality a very interesting discussion comes up wherein there is a strong stance taken against sex with young boys which, at the time in Persia, was very common. The words used in the holy texts talk of sodomy with young boys, slave boys, and such. Though its still states sodomy to be wrong, the words used are not easily translated in English. Maybe this, pedophilia, is the spiritual disease that Shogi Effendi was taking a stand against?

      Anyway, as humanity changes so is religion to adapt. hopefully the Universal House of Justice can give some clarification on the subject in a way that is more modern and accepting of the science behind homosexuality, yet still moral for everyone.

      • lukasalihein .

        As a Baha’i, my personal understanding of the appropriate “stance” to take towards my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is the following from the writings of Baha’u’llah:

        “Be…an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression…”

        It is obvious that in today’s world homosexual people are stigmatized and oppressed in truly tragic ways. I can’t possibly understand how anyone who calls themselves Christian, Muslim, Baha’i or whatever could justify treating people with hatred/cruelty/judgement etc.

        Further, it is none of my business who anyone else is having sex with, and I certainly don’t expect people who aren’t Baha’is to follow Baha’i law. Nor is it in any way acceptable for me to judge another human being. My job is to love everyone to the best of my ability and to stand up for justice, compassion and freedom of belief.

    • http://www.oreydc.com/ OuroPreto2011

      Baha’i with all its great ideas, is homophobic at the core. Unfortunately the Admisnstrative Order is working over time to remove the rights and exclude GLBT people from this religion. It is a true shame, as it has much to offer humanity, but unfortunately the humanity the Baha’is invision is not one were GLBT people are welcome at all.

  • egads9

    Mr. Silverman, thank you for the well-written piece on the Baha’i Faith. I just happened across it now through a Facebook share, so my comment is a little late. One comment that needs clarification is the one about the absence of “Baha’i leaders”. This is not technically true. What is true is that there isn’t any Baha’i clergy, such as priests or rabbis. There is, however, a highly organized leadership structure on the local, national, and international levels, who see to the needs of their communities or territories. These organizations are called Spiritual Assemblies, and are each made up of nine democratically elected members. On the local level, Local Spiritual Assemblies are formed in any city or town where there are at least nine adult Baha’is (21 or over), and these local assemblies send representatives to the annual national conventions in their country, where the National Spiritual Assemblies are elected for 1-year terms. And the supreme leadership body of the Baha’i Faith is the Universal House of Justice, whose seat is in Haifa, Israel – they are elected for 5-year terms. In all cases, elections are performed through secret ballot, without any campaigning or electioneering of any kind, and seats on these assemblies are seen to be positions of service, rather than positions of power. There is no individual glory or recognition sought or given for being a member of an assembly. It is for this reason that the Springers, although they may actually be members of the LSA of Charleston, did not refer to themselves as “leaders”.