By Vexen Crabtree 2016
|Links: Pages on Bahá'í Faith, Other Religions|
|Texts||Writings of Baha'u'llah and Abdul Baha|
|Area of Origin||Iran|
|Founder||Bahá'u'lláh in 1863CE1|
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)|
|2001||4 645||2011||5 021|
|Bahá'ís Worldwide (Pew & WM)|
|World: 0.116%. Nauru (9.61%), Tonga (6.68%), Kiribati (5.2%), Tuvalu (4.95%), Vanuatu (2.85%), Belize (2.49%), Sao Tome & Principe (2.38%), Samoa (2.33%), United Arab Emirates (2.26%), Bolivia (2.24%) 2|
The Bahá'í Faith holds that a series of prophets have come from God and founded religions, and that Bahá'í is the latest3. Bahá'í is counted as one of the great world religions4,5. Bahá'í texts prefer to name the faith as "The Bahá'í Faith" but for brevity it is often referred to just as "Bahá'í". It began in 1844 when Mirza Husayn Ali declared he was a 'Bab' - a gateway of communication between God and humanity. He prophesized that a new prophet would arrive. After the Bab's death one of his followers rose to the occasion: Baha'u'llah. Bahá'í arose in Iran and is a liberal offshoot of Islam and uses Shi'a Islamic theological terminology.
Bahai is globalist, modern and progressive in its outlook, emphasizing the togetherness of all people. Despite this, a series of schisms and legal battles have ensued as the main denomination has attempted (mostly successfully) to suppress other Bahai groups. Most Bahá'í doctrine suggests greater equality for women6 but the ruling body of its largest two denominations (the Universal House of Justice, based in Haifa, Israel and the Orthodox Bahai Faith) is strictly limited to male delegates78. It is heavily persecuted in Iran, especially since the Iranian revolution during which many Bahá'ís were executed9. Despite being only a small world religion, Barrett & Johnson have calculated that one million Bahá'í's have been killed because of their religion10.
|Social & Moral|
(Lower is better)
|7||Sao Tome & Principe||2.38%||102|
|19||St Vincent & Grenadines||1.49%||26|
Bahai literature proudly proclaims the moment a monarch converted to the religion, in 1968:
“And exactly one hundred years after Bahá'u'lláh's proclamation to the kings of the north, the first reigning monarch embraced the Bahá'í Faith - in 1968, after many months of investigating the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II of the Pacific nation of Western Samoa, became a Bahá'i.”
"The Bahá'í Faith" by Joseph Sheppherd (1992)12
As Bahá'í was formed, it adopted "what is perceived to be the best in other, already existing religions" (according to sociologist of religion, Michael York)14. This approach naturally leads to a more liberal stance on many issues, which has genuinely steered Bahai in a positive direction in some areas, for example, with their institutional support for the United Nation's efforts. 'The central message [of] the unity of all people'3 is a rare element of non-sectarianism in the world of religion.
“Bahá'í teachings are based on the principles of economic justice, equal rights for women and men, education for all people, and the breaking down of traditional barriers of race, class and creed.”
"Religions of the World" by Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997)3
“Bahai's believe we must strive for the equality of gender and races, and work to reduce the disparate extremes between rich and poor. Only when we have eliminated the prejudice and avarice we hold within us, will the Lesser Peace evolve into the Most Great Peace.”
"The Bahá'í Faith" by Joseph Sheppherd (1992)15
“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty bereath Me witness: To act like the beast of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:CIX
In Sheppherd (1992)16
“Bahá'í's are exhorted to associate with the followers of all religions with fellowship... to study such arts and sciences as will benefit mankind; to distinguish themselves through good deeds; to be truthful, trustworthy. [...] People should strive to eliminate all forms of prejudice. Equality should be extended to everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, culture, age, heritage, language, occupation, social status, or their group's numerical strength.”
"The Bahá'í Faith" by Joseph Sheppherd (1992)17
“Observe equity in your judgement, ye men of understanding heart! He that is unjust in his judgement is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man's station. He Who is the Eternal Truth knoweth well what the hearts of men conceal.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:C
In Sheppherd (1992)17
“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:CXVII
In Sheppherd (1992)17
The text sounds great and at worst it can be accused of going too far into the fluffy territory of "love everyone", which in practice has proven to be a disaster for social justice. Nonetheless, this is a better ethical start than statements found in most other traditional religions.
Drugs and alcohol
“Bahai's are admonished to abstain from alcohol and drugs, aside from their prescriptive use in remedies by a physician. These substances impede the process of clear thinking and, what is more, their abuse is at the root of many diseases of the body and mind.”
"The Bahá'í Faith" by Joseph Sheppherd (1992)18
This is another common-sense and progressive stance, and it is a shame that no other traditional religion is so clearly positive in its doctrine on drugs and alcohol whilst at the same time permitting sensible interventions for medical reasons.
Many religions teach that their prophet bring the true, final, message of God, and that previous religions were only a stepping-stone towards ultimate truth. Each major religion stamps the seal of finality on to the sequence of prophets. Judaism had God come and side with the Hebrews with an eternal covenant. But then in Christianity, Jesus was proclaimed the only begotten son of God itself (with correct belief in Jesus now being more important than the superseded Jewish covenant). In Matthew 5:18 the Bible says that the word cannot ever change (hover over the verse to read it in full, it is very direct and clear). Then comes the Qur'an with its own strict and powerful statements that now only Muhammad is the prophet of God and that it is the text of the Qur'an, after all, that is held in heaven in eternal stasis. So Muhammad, in Qur'an 33:40 is yet another final "seal of the prophets". Yet he has been followed by Bab and Baha'u'llah of the Bahá'í Faith from Iran, persecuted and oppressed in Muslim lands, who too claim to be the latest messengers of God1. Bahá'í, like some parts of the Qur'an, claims that there is a gradual sequence of prophets and that its own prophets are but the latest, and that they fulfil the prophecies of many religions, such as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ according to Christian doctrine. Hence, the sequence of messiahs continues and what is revealed by one, is annulled by another.
How is it possible for an outsider to ever be convinced by any the religions, claiming that their claims to truth are the final one, when so many have claimed the same thing, and so many religions contain so many divisions, all with different interpretations of the teachings of those many prophets? Enough is enough! It is about time we recognized that the very concept of a God communicating through selected human prophets is ridiculous, in terms of its efficiency, accuracy and believability. Any belief system that states that God use prophets to communicate eternal truth is proving itself to be yet another nonsensical human-invented religion.”
Original Bahai doctrine (in the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá) states that a Living Guardian is essential for the Bahai community, and is to be drawn from the male descendents of Bahá'u'lláh. The first Guardian was Shoghi Effendi. This much is accepted by all Bahai's. But after Shoghi's death, yet another round of leadership fights ensued, resulting in splits and factions. Because previous infighting had seen all Shoghi and Bahá'u'lláh's relatives expelled there was no clear successor. Leadership morphed (eventually) into the Universal House of Justice in what is now the main Bahai denomination, and the line of Guardians was discontinued. There are good arguments for the founding of this ruling body, however, it makes a mockery of the concept of Guardians. If God, being all-knowing and wise, knew that this would happen after the very first Guardian then why did it even inspire the concept of Guardians to be written into doctrine? It throws doubt on acceptance of the idea that Bahai's founders had a line of communication from God.
Bahá'í is hot on good social ethics; but it is unclear why it is necessary to be a Bahá'í in order to adopt such Humanist mores. Why not just be a Humanist? Why the need for the religious framework of Bahá'í? Well the main answer is that Bahá'ís believe in God, and therefore, attempt to frame their moral teachings in terms of their belief in God. But if they value goodness so greatly, how is it they reconcile the fact that their god created evil and suffering in the world? Theodicies are the attempts at solving this problem, and the lack of a sensible theodicy has plagued theism for thousands of years of philosophical debate.
To the present day, all theodicies have failed to explain why a good god would create evil, meaning that the existence of evil is simply incompatible with the existence of a good god. After thousands of years of life-consuming passion, weary theologians have not formulated a new answer to the problem of evil for a long time. The violence of the natural world, disease, the major catastrophes and chaotic destruction seen across the universe and the unsuitability of the vastness of reality for life all indicate that god is not concerned with life, and might actually even be evil. Failure to answer the problem of evil sheds continual doubt on the very foundations of theistic religions.”
Bahá'í answers to the problem of evil center on the experience theodicy19, the idea that there are things we must learn during life, and that this is the reason that suffering and pain exist. Bahá'í sacred literature endorses the experience theodicy in at least two places:
“The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:XXIX
“The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:LXXXI
So, the point of life is so that we can learn - through life - that there is a God. But this makes little sense - if this was such an "excellent aim", then why didn't God create all humans with an intrinsic knowledge of God? Or even better, simply create everyone in heaven, already within the presence of God? Why create people in an abstract, divorced world, and then declare that the aim is that they learn that they're in an inferior place, and that there is a great creator looking after them? To state that the "purpose of God in creating man [is] to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence" simply doesn't make sense. It is a scheme that can only ever enable arbitrary failures.
In defence of this, Shephard argues that as we didn't understand the purpose of our limbs while in the womb, we likewise don't understand the purpose of our development during life - it just looks like suffering, to us. He writes that "Humans are essentially spiritual beings [... whose] inner being [...] continues to progress regardless of the condition of the physical vehicle which contains it"20. In other words, the experiences of life are somehow useful to us in the long-run, spiritually. But this roundabout way of improving people doesn't make sense - especially if it is the case that people who die in the womb manage to get to heaven, or if there are angels in Heaven who have known God all along. Do poor innocent babies who die before experiencing the right things in life end up impoverished forever? The only way out of this is to admit that actually there are no life experiences which are so important that people can't get to heaven without them. In other words, the experience theodicy is either completely immoral, or, completely wrong.
A full suite of arguments against the experience theodicy can be found here: "The Experience of Evil Theodicy" by Vexen Crabtree (2003).
Bahá'í is ruled by the Universal House of Justice, based in Haifa, Israel. It is strictly limited to male-only delegates as a matter of irreversible doctrine, although all other (non-International) leadership positions are open to women7. See: "Religion Versus Womankind" by Vexen Crabtree (2007).
Ex-Bahais complain that there are far too many minute rules, that the fasting regime and calendar is difficult to work out, that marriage rules are often impractical (being based on birth parents), that despite tolerant-sounding doctrine in reality there is much anti-homosexuality prejudice, and that Bahai's political aims towards world peace are simply unrealistic and misguided in their execution.21
Polygamy is forbidden in Bahá'í doctrine, but its founder Bahá'u'lláh had three wives simultaneously. Is he a trustworthy messenger of God's true will? Did he not believe his own revelations? Apparently not.
Bahai texts are voluminous, repetitive and very long-winded. Artificially archaic language has been used clumsily by the 19-century authors of its sacred texts, placing them in the same category as the Mormon's daft Book of Mormon.
Bahai holy texts say that "the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel"22. But the range of emotions and the neurological basis for our very personalities and decisions is now well-understood by science23. It was Baha'u'llah who didn't understand neurology.
The Bahá'í God is evil. God "wipes out" those who oppose the "Thrones of Reality", and states that this itself is evidence of the truth. These are surely the antics of an evil being: "disagree with me and you die! Question me, and I murder you all!". In this respect, the Bahá'í God has the same moral shortcomings as the classical monotheistic god. From Bahai scripture:
“Who is the man amongst you who can challenge the exalted Thrones of Reality in every Dispensation, while all existence is wholly dependent upon Them? Indeed, God hath wiped out all those who have opposed Them from the beginning that hath no beginning until the present day and hath conclusively demonstrated the Truth through the power of Truth. Verily, He is the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the All-Powerful.”
Bahá'í has splintered over a dozen times; some of the smaller splits have folded and no longer exist. In the USA, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai's has instigated a number of lawsuits against some other Bahai organisations.24. It all started when Shoghi Effendi died in 1957 without clearly denoting a successor. During his reign he had expelled all of his own male family members, so no relatives remained as possible leaders of either Shoghi or of Bahá'u'lláh.
The Bahai Faith or Bahai World Faith based in Haifa, Israel. The largest and the original Bahai church. It is accused by most of the other denominations of choosing the wrong successor to Shoghi Effendi (i.e., ignoring his will and picking their own successor, Rúhíyyih Khánum, his wife), of being overbearing, cultish, oppressive and too centralized. It uses excommunication as a weapon against dissent. As such, schisms are frequent.25. According to this denomination, the leaders of the faith started with this succession:
"The Orthodox Bahá'í Faith" (orthodoxbahai.com), (or Mother Bahá'í Council).24 Their main argument is that Shoghi Effendi (the First Guardian) appointed Mason Remey as the Second Guardian. However one Orthodox Bahai26 admits that "the majority of the Bahá'í world turned against Mason Remey" and selected a different leader. It was once defended in a courth of law by Jeffrey Goldberg (who runs truebahai.com) when the Bahai World Faith pressed charges against several denominations. That website is crammed full of articles by various authors writing negative statements about the Bahai World Faith; it feels like the point of everything written there is to attack them. The Guardians so far, according to this denomination, are:
The Orthodox Bahá'í Faith Under the Regency, who followed Rex King and his family successors.24
Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant were also founded as a result of accepting Mason Remey as the correct "guardian" to succeed Shoghi Effendi. "They have organized a series of International Bahá'í Councils (IBC). They claim a membership approaching 144,000. Their Bahá'í Center is located in Missoula, MT. This group has apparently splintered into five groups, following a series of excommunications and shunnings".24
The Charles Mason Remey Society, who follow Donald Harvey and Francis Spataro24.
The Friends Newsletter Bahai group, mentioned by the OCRT24.
There are countless divisions that no longer exist. The New History Society of New York, USA, which once had a few thousand members. Faith of God (also known as The House of Mankind and The Universal Palace of Order followed Jamshid Ma'ani24. The group called National Spiritual Assembly Under the Hereditary Guardianship was founded by the USA branch of Bahai in 1962, but, after it tried to grab power from the main body it was dissolved in 1964.
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
Belief. BBC Radio series hosted by Joan Bakewell.
Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer
(1997) Religions of the World. Hardback book. Subtitled: "The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, & Festivals". Published by Lionheart Books. By Elizabeth Breuilly, Joanne O'Brien & Martin Palmer. Published for Transedition Limited and Fernleigh Books.
(1999) "Emotions Are Biological: How Biochemistry and Neurology Account for Feelings" (1999). Accessed 2017 Mar 10.
Grim & Finke. Dr Grim is senior researcher in religion and world affairs at the Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C, USA. Finke is Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the Pennsylvania State University.
(2011) The Price of Freedom Denied. E-book. Subtitled: "Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century". Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Cambridge University Press, UK.
Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
(1995) Pagan Pathways. Paperback book. 2000 edition. Originally published 1995. Current version published by Thorsons.
Murray et al.
(2009) Hammond Atlas of World Religions. Hardback book. Published by Hammond World Atlas Corporation, Langenscheidt Publishing Group, New York, USA. Contributing authors: Stuart A.P. Murray; Robert Huber; Elizabeth Mechem; Sarah Novak; Devid West Reynolds, PhD; Tricia Wright; Thomas Cussans.
Pew Forum. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
(2012) The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Major Religious Groups as of 2010. Published 2012 Dec 18, accessed online 2013 May 01.
(1992) The Bahá'í Faith. Paperback book. 1993 reprint. Published by Element Books Ltd, Shaftesbury, Dorset.
(2008) Worldmapper Datasets 551-582: Religion. Worldmapper Datasets 551-582: Religion (2008 Mar 26) on worldmapper.org/.../religion_data.xls, accessed 2013 Nov 11. Authored by John Protchard, published by SASI, University of Shieffield. Data is for year 2005, with some datasets being edited from original sources to remove the effects of double-counting, and, adjusting for population changes between 2002 and 2005.
(1995b) New Age and Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p157-165).