The Human Truth Foundation

The Bahá'í Faith

By Vexen Crabtree 2016

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#atheism #bahá'í_faith #iran #islam #israel #monotheism #polytheism #samoa

Bahá'í Faith
Links: Pages on Bahá'í Faith, Other Religions
God(s)Atheist / Monotheist / Polytheist / Other
AdherentBaha'i
AdherentsBahá'ís
TextsWritings of Baha'u'llah and Abdul Baha
AfterlifeYes
Founding
HeritageShi'a Islam
Area of OriginIran
FounderBahá'u'lláh in 1863CE1
Numbers in the UK (Census results)
20014 64520115 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 delegates7,8. 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.


1. Numbers of Bahá'ís Around the World, by Country

Worldmapper (2005)2
1Nauru9.6%
2Tonga6.7%
3Kiribati5.2%
4Tuvalu5.0%
5Vanuatu2.8%
6Belize2.5%
7Sao Tome & Principe2.4%
8Samoa2.3%
9UAE2.3%
10Bolivia2.2%
11Zambia2.0%
12Mauritius1.9%
13Guyana1.7%
14Dominica1.7%
15Micronesia1.6%
16Marshall Islands1.6%
17Niue1.5%
18Suriname1.5%
19St Vincent & Grenadines1.5%
20Panama1.3%
21Barbados1.2%
22Trinidad & Tobago1.2%
23Kenya1.0%
24Antigua & Barbuda1.0%
25San Marino0.9%
26Lesotho0.9%
27Papua New Guinea0.9%
28Gambia0.9%
29Fiji0.9%
30Botswana0.8%
31Chad0.8%
32Cook Islands0.8%
33Palau0.7%
34Solomon Islands0.7%
35S. Africa0.7%
36Congo, (Brazzaville)0.6%
37Greenland0.6%
38Iran0.6%
39Venezuela0.6%
40Equatorial Guinea0.5%
q=191.

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)11

The conversion did not have a resounding effect - by 005, only 2.33% of the country called themselves Bahá'í12.

2. Good Stuff

#bahá'í_faith

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)13. 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)14

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)15

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)16

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)16

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)16

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)17

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.

3. Shortcomings in the Bahá'í Faith

3.1. Another Religion Claiming that its Prophet is the Latest from God

#buddhism #christianity #god_communication #judaism #monotheism #paganism #polytheism #religion

Most religions teach that ultimate reality is revealed to humanity in a series of steps. Despite this, most religions also claim to be embody final truth. This contradiction is most pronounced in the classical monotheistic religions: Jews believe their religion to be the result of a new eternal covenant between God and man, replacing the polytheistic paganism of their era. But Christians believe that Moses and Abraham were only given partial truth and that Jesus was then given the next set of revelations, washing away the Old Testament and establishing a new final word - in Matthew 5:18 it says very clearly that the word cannot ever change. Then comes the Qur'an, superseding the New Testament with another even newer final word from God. The eternal and perfect text of the Qur'an is held in heaven and Muhammad is another final "seal of the prophets" (Qur'an 33:40, 5:19, et al.). Yet he has been followed by Bab and Baha'u'llah of the Bahá'í Faith who too claim to be the latest messengers of God1. The sequence of messiahs continues and what is revealed by one, is annulled by another. It isn't just monotheistic religions that are at it; the teachings of the Buddha are divided into "Sudden" and "Gradual" teachings, and people must learn the more superficial doctrines before moving up to the more profound ones18.

Despite its appearance in formal doctrine and holy texts, the idea of sequential revelation doesn't make sense. (1) There is no reason for God to deceive entire cultures with claims that the latest revelation is the last - we cope with changes in knowledge without all going crazy. (2) The illusion of finality causes religious conflicts to be prone to violence and aggression, because 'belief' is raised to a matter of life and death. A benevolent God would simply tell everyone the truth, or, make it clear that it doesn't matter what we believe. The middle-ground of gradual-instruction is very destructive. (4) Many of the specific things revealed by religion differ from revelation to revelation in a haphazard manner; there is no sense in which religion is gradually getting closer to final theological truth. What this all tells us has more to do with human nature than divine truth: in reality, the only clear evidence from the proliferation of different religions is that if there is a god, it doesn't mind who believes what.

"The Gradual Instruction of Humankind by a Series of Prophets from God" by Vexen Crabtree (2017)

3.2. The Line of Guardians Broke After Only One Iteration

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.

3.3. The Failed Experience Theodicy

#bahá'í_faith #humanism #theism

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.

"The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?: 9. Conclusion" by Vexen Crabtree (2011)

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).

3.4. Moral, Organisational and Systemic Problems

#bahá'í_faith #evil_god #iran #israel #UK

4. Denominations, Schisms and Splits

#bahá'í_faith #israel #USA

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:

  1. Shoghí Effendí Rabbáná, First Guardian 1921-1957. As it was doctrine that future Guardians had to be male descendents of Bahá'u'lláh, and after Shoghi no such people remained, the line of Guardians was abandoned after just one iteration, which was not exactly good planning on God's behalf.
  2. The Hands of the Cause were the 27 spiritual leaders of the religion, and they unanimously declared that there was no clear Guardian successor.
  3. The Universal House of Justice became the ruling body from 1963 onwards (by unanimous decision of the 9 church leaders).

"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:

  1. Shoghí Effendí Rabbáná, First Guardian 1921-1957.
  2. Charles Mason Remey, Second Guardian 1963-1974.
  3. Joel Bray Marangella, Third Guardian 1974-2013.
  4. Nosrat´u´llah Bahremand, Fourth Guardian 2013-present.

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.

Current edition: 2016 Nov 09
Last Modified: 2017 Jul 11
http://www.humanreligions.info/bahai.html
Parent page: A List of All Religions and Belief Systems

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References: (What's this?)

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The Koran. Penguin Classics edition. Originally published 1956. Current version published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Quotes taken from 1999 edition.

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.

BBC Radio
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.

Crabtree, Vexen
(1999) "Emotions Are Biological: How Biochemistry and Neurology Account for Feelings" (1999). Accessed 2017 Aug 02.

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.

Momen, Moojan
(1999) The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach. Paperback book. Published by Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK. Book Review.

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.

Nukariya, Kaiten. Professor of Kei-O-Gi-Jiku University and of So-To-Shu Buddhist College, Tokyo.
(1913) Zen - The Religion of the Samurai. E-book. Subtitled: "A study of Zen philosophy and discipline in China and Japan". Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by John B. Hare and proofread by Carrie R. Lorenz.

Sheppherd, Joseph
(1992) The Bahá'í Faith. Paperback book. 1993 reprint. Published by Element Books Ltd, Shaftesbury, Dorset.

Worldmapper
(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.

York, Michael
(1995b) New Age and Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p157-165).

Footnotes

  1. Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997) p10,150-153.^^
  2. Worldmapper (2008) .^^
  3. Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997) chapter "Introduction" p10,150-153.^^
  4. "Religions of the World" by Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997) counts Bahá'í amongst 10 world religions, devoting a chapter to each.^
  5. Murray et al. (2009) p.v lists Bahai amongst current 12 world religions.^
  6. Momen (1999) p16,499.^
  7. An attempt to justify this position can be found at bahai-library.com/uhj_women_uhj (dated 1988 May 31, accessed 2015 Dec 28. Repeated discussions can be found in many other Bahai texts too.^^
  8. The Orthodox Bahai Faith position was reaffirmed by their current (Fouth) Guardian, Nosrat´u´llah Bahremand, on orthodoxbahai.com/the-guardians/#tab-id-4.^
  9. BBC Radio, Belief (2013 Apr 05) interview with Omid Djalili, British Bahá'í whose family was originally from Iran. His family has been Bahá'í for 5 generations. Accessed on bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0107239 on 2012 Jan 03.^^
  10. Grim (2011) digital location 119,202.^
  11. Sheppherd (1992) p47.^
  12. Worldmapper (2008).^
  13. York (1995b) p163.^
  14. Sheppherd (1992) p46.^
  15. Sheppherd (1992) p75.^
  16. Sheppherd (1992) p70-71.^
  17. Sheppherd (1992) p71.^
  18. Nukariya (1913) chapter 3 "The Universe is the Scripture of Zen: Scripture is no More than Waste Paper" footnote 388.^
  19. Momen (1999) chapter 9 "Suffering, Sacrifice and Salvation" p223.^
  20. Sheppherd (1992) p57,59-60.^
  21. See dalehusband.com/2011...my-resignation-from-the-bahai-faith, accessed 2015 Dec 28.^
  22. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah LXXXII in Sheppherd (1992) p58.^
  23. "Emotions Are Biological: How Biochemistry and Neurology Account for Feelings" by Vexen Crabtree (1999)^
  24. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance's page on Bahai internal divisions (last updated 2009 Feb 13) accessed 2016 Nov 08.^
  25. www.truebahai.com contains several years' worth of articles. Accessed 2016 Nov 08.^
  26. Stephen Rhodes, http://www.truebahai.com/2016/05/means-something.html .^

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