Why Baha’i? It Comes Down to Five Questions

A little more than 10 years ago, I decided to become a Baha’i. It was a momentous event in my life, yet one I did not see coming. I was not friends with any Baha’is at the time, and had only met two in my life.

For having no personal tie to this religion, it was a decision that seemed to come suddenly, as if it were an inescapable fate. But when I search my past for early signs that I might have landed in this theological place, I wind up with a startling realization. More than anyone else, my decision to become a Baha’i might be attributable to … C.S. Lewis. Yes, I’m referring to the most celebrated Christian theologian of modern history.

I say this primarily for one reason, which is that when I was about 27, I read his masterwork of popular theology Mere Christianity, in which he asserted the following:

“Religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the sailing of the human fleet: if they are false, quite a different set.”

When I reread Lewis today, there is a great deal with which I disagree. (This is not the place to catalogue those divergences.) But the statement above I found to be not only self-evident but supremely valuable and underappreciated. Though I may not have realized it, I clenched this nugget of truth tightly as the sometimes stormy events of my life rolled by and my circumstances changed. Truth is not relative. Not everything is a matter of perspective or semantics or psychology.

Over time, the questions I had about God, spirituality, and religion gelled into five, each of which, if answered in what I believed to be the sensible way, compelled me on to the next question, and finally, inescapably, to my embrace of the Baha’i Faith.

It might seem odd that five questions could compel someone anywhere on or off the religious spectrum to such a specific association. It’s sort of like saying I could get from my office in downtown Austin, Texas, to Moxie’s Classic Grill at the Intercity Mall in Thunder Bay, Ontario, with only five turns. But as it happens, I could do just that. You see, it’s not the distance travelled, but making the right decisions at the right junctures that leads you to that classic grill. And if it still seems odd or unlikely, C.S. Lewis himself might have said it best:

“Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd… Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.  It is a religion you could not have guessed….”

Question 1: Is there a God?

In my analogy of getting from downtown Austin to Thunder Bay, Ontario, with five turns, the trick, of course, is that the vast majority of the drive is on a single road, Interstate 35. The most important turn I make, then, is getting going the right direction on I-35 once I get there. If I get there and somehow enter the highway going south instead of north, then virtually no number of turns will get me to Moxie’s Classic Grill. So it pays to take our time and really nail that first crucial decision; it’s the foundation for everything that comes after it.

First, we have to say upfront that there can be no proof of God nor disproof of God; God is both unprovable and nonfalsifiable, so if you’re looking for proof you can skip the rest of the essay. Of course, this is far from saying there is no evidence of God. Indeed, He has left His fingerprints on everything. The incomparable interdependent genius of nature is often presented as Exhibit A that there is some kind of intelligence at work in whatever force is continuously creating the universe — a force far, far beyond our own intelligence. This may be affirming for those who already believe, but skeptics may counter that this is not in and of itself proof of anything more than that nature’s laws can produce amazing results.

What cannot be so easily batted away, in my opinion, is how and why human beings are inspired by that nature, and by many other parts of life that would not seem to be necessary for our biological survival, as nature would dictate. Science can explain the optics of a fiery sunset, but it cannot explain why that sunset can also bring tears to the eyes of the viewer. The meaning with which we imbue our world is inexplicable in purely evolutionary terms. Group psychology, evolutionary psychology, and brain chemistry can explain many behaviors, but deep and spiritual love one for another? Sacrifice and even martyrdom to an ideal? Passion for art? I think not. These simply do not appear to be the province of the material world, and at the very least are not qualities found anywhere outside ourselves. To try to reduce all human experience to the cold calculations of natural law simply seems a stretch, let alone to assign the love and inspiration one feels in her own life to mere calculations — no matter how complex — seems to be a contortion designed merely to relieve oneself from considering the ramifications of a non-material plane.

Our old friend C.S. Lewis masterfully points out the contradiction in nihilism:

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

This deserves meditation.

I empathize with those who don’t believe in God, for many reasons, not least on grounds that the universe often appears to be coldly indifferent to us. Disease and starvation beset innocent children. Those who eat right and exercise keel over from a heart attack, while the greedy, not the meek, appear to inherit the earth. A deeper reading however shows that the vast majority of humanity’s wounds are self-inflicted and more often than not because we have stubbornly ignored the advice of God’s messengers. For those few wounds that are not, we can conclude that volatility in the universe must exist for free will to exist. This volatility can come at a harsh price. We can also conclude that, while there may be a life after death, in this life God seems to place a premium on collective progress, often at the expense of individual welfare.

Is it rational to believe in something for which there is no proof? For some people, the answer is no, though I suspect if one scratched the surface he would find they apply this logic selectively. For me, it is entirely rational to proclaim belief in something for which there may be no conclusive proof but for which the cumulative evidence is not only sufficient but overwhelming. For me, God is squarely in this category.

Question 2. Is God “personal”?

If you believe that God exists, the next split on the decision tree seems to be whether you believe God is “personal” or a creative but blind force. Most religions agree that God is personal, for quite a logical reason:

If God exists, then by definition He must be vastly superior to anything in His creation. Since we are a part of that creation, and we know a thing or two about ourselves, we can assume that God must contain all the capacities of the human (plus infinitely more). Therefore, if one human capacity is the ability to love, then God must have that ability, and more. If one human capacity is to discern and value justice, then God must know and value justice. If another human capacity is compassion, then God must also contain that, and so forth. Carried to its logical conclusion, if one capacity of humans is to discipline their children out of love, then God too must have this capacity and to an even greater degree. Carefully applied, this line of logic gives motive and rich texture to humanity’s ongoing relationship with its Creator.

As a corollary, God could not contain negative traits of humans as those are clearly the absence of the good. Rage is the absence of patience. Boastfulness, the absence of humility, etc. Dark is not an extant thing but rather the absence of light.

This is not anthropomorphizing God… “Humans do X so God must do X because we’re obviously very close to gods.” Rather, it’s simple logic: any being contains the capacities of any lower being. Vegetables have the capacity of minerals, yet more. Animals have the capacities of vegetables, yet more. Humans have the capacities of animals, yet more. And so forth.

Another frequent corollary to this distinction of God as “personal” is that God can and does intervene in human affairs. This belief is the basis for prayers of supplication. For me, God by definition has two qualities: omnipotence and will. By definition, God does what He wants. That’s what it means to be God. And if He does what He wants, it stands to reason He would want to interact with His creation in all sorts of ways, just as a loving parent wants to interact with her child.

And just as a loving parent teaches her child to use its words and ask for what it wants as opposed to demanding, complaining, or merely suffering, it seems God has encouraged us similarly to use words and thoughts to ask for what we want and need — a crucial link in the developmental process be it for an individual or a sentient species.

Question 3. How would a “personal God” interact with us?

If you agree God exists and that God is “personal,” then it is a relatively short step to believe that God would desire, and therefore create, a means to that end — a way to establish a “personal” relationship. But the nature of God appears to be such that there can be no direct contact between Creator and creation. Perhaps it’s like the sun and the earth. The former is too powerful to directly contact the latter without destroying or subsuming it. For creation to exist, there seems to need to be a remove, in Baha’i parlance, a “tree beyond which there is no passing.”

If omnipotent, then God could prove His existence to us if He wanted to. The fact that He doesn’t points to His unwillingness to do so. The likely reason for this is that proof would obviate the need for faith, and a close reading of the scriptures of the world reveals the critical role of faith. There must be something about faith that is critical to the process of growth. To survive, let alone to grow, a child must have faith in the parent.

But if humans are as children to this spiritual parent, then it is natural that the parent hire a teacher to help them advance. We see education as a fundamental and universal right in the material world. And it stands to reason that if God is personal, then, motivated by love, He would desire our growth and therefore need to concoct a process to stimulate that growth.

And when we look at the sweep of civilization we see just such a process has played out. The rise of humanity has not been a smooth ascending line. Rather, advancement in civilization comes in sudden and erratic fits and starts. This is one of the great mysteries of our own history — how, in the space of about 6,000 years, within a species timeframe of perhaps 1 million years, civilizations all over the world blossomed seemingly spontaneously.

Certainly, their progress was not precisely uniformed, and heaven knows that civilization is still very much a work in progress. But viewed in the full scope of history, everything around us that we enjoy has sprung into being in the relative blink of an eye. Indeed, when you really put civilizations under a microscope, you see a remarkable thing: that the greatest ones sprang into being as the result of a single person. Hebrew civilization traces itself to Abraham, and, as a second, solidifying force, to Moses. Christendom traces itself to the appearance of a single figure, Jesus Christ. Islamic civilization, which most scholars agree ushered Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance and in turn the Enlightenment, traces back to the Prophet Muhammad. The vast and predominately peaceful and compassionate Buddhist civilization sprang into being because of a single person. And so it goes. Is this merely coincidence, or is something more profound at work here?

In my faith we believe this phenomenon is no coincidence, and we call each of the Founders of those world faiths “Manifestations of God.” If we’re trying to discover the way in which God tries to reach humanity, we don’t need to look farther than these Figures. Humans need teachers whom they can understand, who speak their language, and for the most part live among them. These teachers need to share enough of the people’s culture so that they can find an audience — use the common vocabulary, wear the clothing, tell the stories and reference the texts — but also challenge those cultures.

Indeed, they usually challenge them in ways that land them in jail or get them executed. Indeed, these few people down the ages are thought to constitute a special class of souls, and in their own individualized ways, they are each perfect reflections of God’s attributes. They are not God, and are not gods, but rather are humans employed by God to be His messengers, to teach His children. The side effect is that each time one appears, he renews civilization. Through them, God “dispenses” His next round of lessons for humanity. They appear to be sent strategically to certain populations at certain times to have the greatest impact and to teach human populations in an age-appropriate way.

I was speaking at a Unitarian Universalist church recently when, after my talk, an earnest gentleman approached me and, with furrowed brow, asked, “Now… I want to know … deep down in your heart of hearts, do you really believe that a man can be the mouthpiece of God?” I said, “I get the gist of your question, and I understand the hesitance. But I think nature gives us the model of what is happening here. To create a new human body, we don’t need all the cells of the body contributing equally. Indeed, it only takes one sperm cell out of millions to fertilize the egg and bring that new body into existence, to be that primal cause. I think that’s what’s happening with these Manifestations.” He nodded, furrowed his brow again, deeper in thought, shook my hand, and strolled away.

Another question within this larger question of how God would interact with us is, are we done learning? If you believe that the prophet or founder of your religion is the last that will ever appear to humanity, then you must also believe that we have done all the learning we can, that humanity is as advanced as it will ever be, and that civilization is in its final form. All I can say when I look around is, I certainly hope not!

Baha’is believe that God has led humans to increasingly advanced stages of civilization over the years through the appearance of these great teachers. It’s an idea known as “progressive revelation.” Many religions have an implicit belief in progressive revelation. For example, in Judaism, believers hold Abraham as the patriarch of the Jewish people, but later, revere Moses as the founder of the religion itself. And after Moses, there appears a whole series of prophets they believe brought the Word of God to the Israelites through different eras. Christians believe in the divine authority of all of those prophets, but then of course add John the Baptist and, in a class of His own, Jesus Christ. Muslims hold all of those figures in reverence and add Muhammad. What all of these world religions have in common, though, is that they believe their prophet or prophets were the last, this despite another shared tradition among them all that claims there will be another in the future who will unite humanity in a golden age or kingdom of heaven on earth.

To me, it just seems unlikely on its face that if God were a loving God, He would say, “Okay, that’s it! That’s all I’m saying! You people can figure out the rest on your own!” And even if you hold that position, it seems painfully obvious just by looking around that we haven’t figured it out on our own. To the contrary, it appears it’s high time God sent someone to give us the keys to success in this strange and new world we call the modern age.

Question 4. Who is the teacher for today?

If you believe that God exists, accept that God is personal, extrapolate that a personal God would want to teach us, and can see that human civilization is obviously far from having learned all it’s capable of, the next logical question is, who is the teacher for today?

There have been scads of people who have raised their hands and claim to be the spokespersons for God for today. David Koresh, Jim Jones, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and many others have claimed this. Indeed, in the mid 19th century, following the appearance of a Persian prophet known as The Bab, no fewer than 24 men claimed to be the fulfillment of The Bab’s prophecy.

With the luxury of more than a century and a half between then and now, it is fairly plain to see that only one of them was correct. His name, for which the Baha’i Faith takes its name, was Baha’u’llah.

I was on Baha’i pilgrimage in Haifa, Israel, and had just finished answering my Jewish American roommate’s questions about the Baha’i Faith, when he grinned and said, “It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim you’re a messenger from God.” I thought about his comment for a long time, and when I returned home, I sent him an e-mail, and said, “You may have been right about that, but as we say in Texas, it ain’t bragging if it’s true.”

There are myriad reasons that I believe Baha’u’llah’s claim to be God’s teacher for today. But here are the biggest:

  • The power of His words. It was common in the time of Baha’u’llah for people to expect miracles from those who professed divine authority. And while accounts of Baha’u’llah’s life are replete with miraculous happenings, Baha’u’llah Himself discounted the ability of these events to convince anyone not “in the room.” Instead, He said, the most convincing evidence of an authentic Messenger of God is the power of His words. This is for the reason that they are not really His words at all, but the words of God. This is something that cannot be explained or conveyed by a third party like myself. All I can do is point you to the words. If they touch your heart and mind the way they touch mine, then that is all I can do.
  • Layer upon the power of His words the testament of His life story. That story is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say for now that the history of the Faith, and in particular the history of this figure, reads like the story of a real religion. There is drama upon a sweeping historical stage here that is not like religious “fan fiction” that sometimes crops up in modern times seemingly as a sort of cheap imitation of historic religions of the past. Here, in this history, still so accessible to us though little realized by wider society, is the dawning of a new age, the sacrifice of tens of thousands, and stories that fill books and testify to the authenticity of this great new religion.
  • As part of that life story, we must look at and admit that the effect He had on those around Him was astonishing. We can only appreciate this at a remove, but reading accounts written by so many different people leaves little doubt that the force of Baha’u’llah’s personality was miraculous in its effect. Political oppressors, jailers, and even would-be assassins transformed into among His most devoted followers.
  • Baha’u’llah fulfilled the messianic prophecies of every world religion. This is a somewhat more esoteric area of study, one that takes effort and discernment, but for those of us who put stock in the writings and prophecies of the world’s great religions, it is an area of abundant confirmation.
  • Finally, He was the one who articulated the very idea of progressive revelation. If we’re looking for the successor to this great chain of teachers, who better than the one who pointed out that there was a chain at all?

Question 5. Where is the teacher’s classroom?

We’re almost to Moxie’s Classic Grill, but let’s not get lost inside the mall! For there is one last critical step, or turn, to make.

It’s well and good to admire the ideals for which Baha’u’llah stood and the way in which He lived His majestic life. But how do we know that the Baha’i Faith, as it exists today, is really what He had in mind? In other words, if Baha’u’llah is God’s teacher for today, then how do we know the Baha’i Faith is His classroom?

Perhaps Jesus said it best when He said, according to Matthew 7:15:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

By their fruits, you will know them. Today, we have a luxury, almost 170 years by which to judge the intentions and the efficacy of the Baha’i Faith. Not every soul who has entered this Faith has been committed to keeping it unified. But those who have tried to create splinter groups within the Baha’i Faith have come to utter nothingness.

Meanwhile, the institution that has remained faithful to the line of authority set in motion by Baha’u’llah — namely that after His passing, His followers should follow His son Abdu’l-Baha, and then His great-grandson Shoghi Effendi, and then the elected body called the Universal House of Justice — this institution has flourished in a breathtaking display of what happens when the work of women and men is aligned with the intention, protection, and confirmation of God.

In seventeen decades, the Baha’i Faith has become the second-most geographically widespread religion in the world, with a dazzling array of ethnicities and former members of every world religion bolstering its ranks day by day. In my mind’s eye, I see the timeless and monumental architecture and gardens of the Faith’s holy places — the Shrines of the Bab and Baha’u’llah in the Holy Land, and the magnificent Baha’i Houses of Worship now on nearly every continent — as the outward manifestation of the beauty, robustness, and permanence of this profound spiritual planetary germination.

* * *

To sum up, we can articulate this theological chain of inference this way:

  1. If the universe, then God.
  2. If us, then a personal God.
  3. If a personal God, then Messengers.
  4. If Messengers, then Baha’u’llah.
  5. If Baha’u’llah, then the Baha’i Faith.

Why am I a Baha’i? That is why.

58 comments on “Why Baha’i? It Comes Down to Five Questions

  1. Nabil Yazdani says:

    I enjoyed reading this, Avrel.

  2. Ginny S says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, well-written article.

  3. Flora Wong says:

    Thanks for sharing ,,well-written article…

  4. Phil Christensen says:

    What a beautifully reasoned and written article, Avrel – all the more meaningful for me because my own journey towards Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith also began with C.S. Lewis. Thank you!

  5. Well said and also well thought. Thank u for being an inspiration soul.I enjoyed reading your article. Hope that everyone will read this thoroughly as well..

  6. 太棒了! 非常感谢,Avrel. Will share with many friends, also your great books like “The Tree”. 🙂

  7. Hailu Nadew says:

    Thanks for the immensely written article of every ones interest !!!

  8. Solomon says:

    Well argued!

  9. Arthur Ingwe says:

    Truely inspiring and educative,if you could please email it to me aingwe@gmail.com,thanks in advance…Arrthur Ingwe

  10. Jaleh D says:

    What a moving essay. I grew up as a Baha’i, but there were times when I’d wonder if there was a God and sometimes to test myself, if I could imagine myself not as a Baha’i. But with my own set of logic questions, I still came to the conclusion that there must be a God, He gave us the free will to turn toward or away from Him, and He gave us Divine Teachers to help us become better people. And Baha’u’llah is the Teacher for our time.

    I find it fascinating that C.S. Lewis was of such inspiration to you. I’ve only ever read his Narnia books. It was high school before I finally made the connection that there was a religious tone to them. (It was a total lighbulb moment. No one had ever told me. I’d just enjoyed the stories as stories.) Since I’ve always been a Baha’i, it didn’t lead me to the Faith, but once I’d noticed the religious aspect, I realized that the stories resonated so strongly for me because they fit with what I believed as a Baha’i.

  11. Linda says:

    Excellent! I wish I could memorize this for a Fireside.

  12. Joyce W. T. says:

    A great piece. What helped me become a Baha’i was the progressive revelation, it just made since. God would not leave us alone for such a long time without instructions. Thank you.

  13. Ata says:

    Just fantastic. It very closely resembles my own logic. I’ve repeated these ideas to myself and others many times, but you write and understand them so well! Thank you for your wonderful efforts!

  14. Mara says:

    What about our “deep and spiritual love one for another? Sacrifice and even martyrdom to an ideal? Passion for art? I think not.”

    Actually, evolutionary psychology can explain all those things reasonably well. The trick is to think of the advantages to genes, not to the individual martyr. Passion for art on the part of humans is no odder than passion for music on the part of birds–no need to bring magic into it.

    To me, belief in God is on the order of belief in ghosts, except for being much more vague, but okay. So there’s this semi-omnipotent (ha!) supernatural entity who interacts with humans in a human-like way, but for whatever reason can’t talk to us directly, but sends prophets. Only some of the world’s great religions even have a human founder. Moses and Abraham are mythical figures–there’s no reason to suppose they even existed–and anyway, Judaism is bigger than this. The same goes for Hinduism and the Chinese folk religion (which I realize is not on the Baha’is list). Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are symbols as much as historical figures, and Baha’u’llah (forgive me) is just not on their level, significance-wise. Let’s be generous and group him with Joseph Smith.

    The thing is, any God subtle enough to communicate with us through an obscure 19th-century sect–and make us guess which sect–is also subtle enough to have picked some other sect. (Are you quite sure it’s not the Oomoto-ists?)

    • connie says:

      Mara, I appreciate what you have written and it begs the question of why mankind has developed the instinct to worship. In every culture and corner of the globe, throughout history, humanity has found very similar ways to worship. I am not aware of any culture on the planet that has not developed a form of personal and communal worship. It is ubiquitous to the human race. It seems an absolutely vital part of our development and, in places it has been allowed to die, the civilization also goes into decline. Once taught, worship is as natural to humans as singing is to birds, Just like the songs of different species are different, so is the outward form worship takes in different peoples at different times in history, Worship, in the human species, has been as vital as the sex drive or the drive to eat and sleep. I would argue that, for many of us, taking away our natural instinct to worship would result in our death through spiritual starvation. Why would anyone want to take such an important part of life away from so many? The fact that a few have used the instinct to worship in a twisted way in order to hold power does not mean the instinct itself is destructive any more than sexual violence against women and children is a reason to extinquish our natural sexual instincts. Mankind has been evolving since the beginnning of time. We need to refine our natural instincts, not destroy them. We need to teach our children how to use them, not to gain power over others, but in the way God (or nature) intended them to be used – in a manner that is facilitates our survival.To me, feeling disdain or superiority toward any natural instinct is a denial of, and disconnection with, our essential humanity. As CS Lewis put it: “We do not have a soul; we are souls having a material experience.”

  15. Well argued. Absolutely logical. And yes, one can see the fruits of the revelation after 170 years, which are not leading followers to oppress anyone!!!

  16. Ian Kluge says:

    An excellent article, clearly organized and cogently explained. I’d like to correspond with you.

  17. Steven Varner says:

    I appreciate logical and progressive reasoning, so I enjoyed reading your essay.
    I would contend, however, that the concept of the Manifestation is much more complex that presented in your brief essay. You said, “They are not God, and are not gods, but rather are humans employed by God to be His Messengers, to teach His children.” Baha’u’llah states that Manifestations have a dual nature. Yes, physically they are human, and have all the physical limitations of humans, such as death. However, they are also divine. They are the primal (in the sense of station, not time) emanation or creation of God. They are The Word of God, The Will of God, the Command of God. It was by that Will, Word, and Command that the entire universe was created. For all intents and purposes, as far as creation is concerned, they *are* God, for it is through them that the knowledge and light of God reaches us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

    • Avrel Seale says:

      Steven, thank you for sharing that. The relationship of the Manifestation of God to God is perhaps complex beyond our ability to completely grasp it. If find Abdu’l-Baha’s explanation, in which He likens God to the sun and Manifestations to perfect mirrors, to be the most useful. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

  18. Barbara McAtee says:

    I have saved a copy of this excellent essay. I would take issue in one respect. According to Shoghi Effendi “God Passes By,” a theological tenet of the Baha’i Faith is that truth is relative. I think that is important in many ways. One is that we are not fundamentalist or literal in approach to holy scripture.

    • Cynthia McDaniel says:

      Where does it say this? I haven’t found it yet.

      • Jim Murray says:

        The World Order of Baha’u’llah, page 58: “Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final.”

    • Avrel Seale says:

      Barbara, thanks for raising this important point. I cannot locate this in “God Passes By,” but on page 58 of “World Order of Baha’u’llah,” Shoghi Effendi writes, “It’s (the Baha’i Faith’s) teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final.” Not that he does not say that “truth” is relative, but “religious truth.” When we say something like “Baha’is believe truth is relative,” without the qualifier “religious,” people might wrongly assume we believe in MORAL relativism, which conjures a whole slew of odious notions — a sort of slippery, soft-focus morality in which nothing is truly right or wrong if it’s not right FOR ME, or wrong FOR ME. The context and his use of the term “religious truth” makes it clear he was conveying the idea of progressive revelation, in which, while God or Truth is absolute, but our ability to grasp that truth is limited in varying degrees, and therefore “relative.” Thank you again for your comment.

  19. I really enjoyed your concise, systematic and logical presentation of your reasons for being a Baha’i. The logical simplicity of the Faith is what originally attracted me to the Faith, however, one of the roots of this acceptance goes back to my sitting in church as a teenager reciting the Apostles’s Creed and reflecting on the great luck that had befallen me to be born into a Christian family.
    Without any effort on my part initially, I had a tremendous leg up for as long as I followed the laws of the Church I was taught I was virtually guaranteed a ticket to Heaven.
    On the other hand the vast majority of people in other parts of the world who didn’t have the luck to be born Christian had absolutely no chance of accessing the Pearly Gates unless they had the good fortune to hear of Jesus and gave up their own religion to join Christianity.
    Even at that age it didn’t seem fair to me and not what I thought a God of Justice would support.

  20. I posted this to my Face Book Wall

  21. George Busse says:

    Nicely put. I think this a most logical essay on why Baha’is have become Baha’is. I will point others to your words to help them sort through the same questions you pose. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  22. A beautiful and cogent article, thank you! The way you have organized your discovery process into these five questions is brilliant and I very much enjoyed reading it.

    The only difficulty I have with it is that you appear to lump Joseph Smith in with David Koresh, Jim Jones and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. However much I’d like to, I cannot share this wonderful article with my many Mormon friends for that reason. I know quite well that Joseph Smith is not considered to be a Prophet in the Baha’i Faith, but neither was he a psychopathic cult leader responsible for the death of innocent men, women and children as is the case with David Koresh and Jim Jones. An argument could perhaps be made for a comparison with the Rev. Moon, but that falls apart in several places, too. I know you were only making a point about the profusion of “false prophets” but this is really an unfortunately juxtaposition.

    Nevertheless, I very much appreciate your thoughtful article!

  23. Martin Chemnitz says:

    Thank you!
    I grew up in Christianity and became a baha’i as an adult. My father a bishop, my mother the daughter of a minister. I’m the only baha’i in my family. In 12 years I struggled and concluded a lot like you write. This is on a very intellectual level. Before that, I think my soul, my being, recognized the Blessed Beauty, the power of the Word, and could only but accept Baha’u’llah.
    God bless.

  24. Sharief Slamdien says:

    Thank you Mr Seale for this refreshing piece

  25. Mehran Kiai says:

    It takes a great measure of depth and spiritual insight to articulate your conviciton and faith in such a cogent and elequent manner. Well done! Enjoyed reading your work.

  26. Very well reasoned. In addition I would suggest that once investigation verifies that indeed Baha’u’llah really lived and achieved all that He did that this provides solid and (to me) indisputable evidence that God does exist and is shaping man’s destiny.

  27. Sam says:

    Avrel, you have a gift to share your Gift. I’m touched to see you’re using it!

  28. Dr. Michael Power says:

    Dear Avrel, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughtful and clearly articulated article. The logic is accessible and the arguments set forth convincing. As a youth, I encountered the Faith and was immediately torn; my family ties with the Church were strong and expectations high yet my attraction to the Faith was irresistible. Recognizing Baha’u’llah as a Messenger of God required a leap of faith which seemed to me, at the time, to be beyond my capacity but which, over 40 years later, now seems to have been the pivotal moment of my lfe.

  29. Dear Arvel. Thanks for sharing your perspective and I appreciate your point of view. Please allow me to share my ignorance on the issue of “personal God”, in the interest of non religious readers, who may get the idea that Baha’u’llah’s conception was a typical extension of what was there before. The idea of personal God is limited to the dominant Biblical perspective and its continuation to Islam through Quran, hence Islamic world aspires to the same frame of mind. Baha’u’llah’s writings although uses the prevailing discourse as a medium, He does not limit the idea of God to a personal and external entity “within” the universe. He systematically, in His writings, eliminates any idea of God which is a reflection of limited human conception, imagination or comprehension. Baha’i writings are the only religious body of knowledge that clearly eliminate any medium between God and human heart and nurture direct contact to the extend that even words and language is considered to be a veil. Direct contact is encouraged and shown as a pathway in number of Baha’u’llah’s mystic writings which may appear as diversion from the clergy’s and theological mind sets who seek everything in “human terms” also in black and white. For example in the Arabic Hidden words on behalf of God it is stated: “Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting”. Hidden words
    Baha’u’llah’s writings are also unique in the way they have taken into account science as a unfailing standard to balance spiritual development and vis versa. The references are countless on this topic. So my point is that the world has a long way to go to discover full scope of what He has offered and it is too early to commit Baha’u’llah’s ideas to a back and white and limited theological standards of the past ages. Baha’u’llah urges us to seek “NEW” knowledge and move on from the old standards. Baha’u’llah calls every human heart and mind to seek and investigate the Truth, and He never paints the outcome of the journey of search in black and white. This is so liberating, inspiring, educational and new age energy which can move hearts with a new hope and “NEW” path way to find meaning in this life and world of confusion and “injustice”. It is understandable that some will arrive at the point where they wish to be contributing members of the “Baha’i community”, which has the capacity to sustain the spirit of Baha’u’lla’s writings for at least next 840 years. However this is not the limit of what Baha’u’llah has offered to humanity. Regardless if people become members of the Baha’i community or not, in His writings, if viewed and discussed without past and out of date labels and discourses, He has revolutionised the relationship of science and religion, economy and individual, humanity and God, free will or pre ordained destiny, hell and heaven, evolution and creation and reward and punishment. He has included in his discourse; Buddha, Zen, Shiva, Rumi, Fariduddin Attar, Hafis, Zoroaster, Guru Nanak, and in His words, what ever has been revealed in the past. These bodies of knowledge “collectively” remain to be a positive force in guiding human spirit and they go fare beyond the Biblical perspective of truth and reality. And finally among all of these schools of thought, only Biblical perspective and its continuation to Islam have personalised the Unknowable, timeless, placeless, omnipotent and omnipresent owner of the Universe. I am aware of Baha’u”llah’s biblical and Islamic discourse which by implication uses the term and qualifies the idea of personal God within its context, however, given direct connection of His work to the mystics and Buddha and many others within sufi tradition, one is left with the idea that biblical concept of personal God is “a perspective” of God within Biblical discourse which has carried through to the Baha’i discourse.

    With the love and spirit of freedom that is give to me by Baha’u’llah, I share my ignorance and with the humility that I have learned from AbdulBaha, I apologise. With best wishes, Farvardin Daliri

    • Avrel Seale says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Farvardin. I appreciate it. I hope my essay does not imply that “personal God” is any sort of a limiting description; to the contrary it is meant only to illustrate that God must have “personal” qualities — love, mercy, compassion, etc. — if He created anything that also manifests those qualities. Again, many thanks for your robust commentary! Alla-u-abha.

      • Your welcome Arvel. I am with you along those lines and thank you for you kind response. I am more interested in the way certain Baha’i discourse lend to undesirable interpretations from the non religious and non Christian perspective. One of the major issues agains the idea of God is its limited and very personalise and idolised imagery created within Biblical and Islamic traditions which is no more than bigger version of Santa. It is not your essay that I am pointing to, rather a general tendency of human beings to recast new information into old moulds. You end up with old drama. So my poor attempt was directed to that general attitude of arriving at imagined truth which is borrowed from old traditions, based on insufficient information. Baha’u’lla’s writings addressed to the mystics and also leaders of the world are markedly different from familiar theological frame of reference of Christianity and Islam. Such writings are both futuristic and liberating from the past. The idea of “personal God”, sits at odd with the non intervention of personal God in human affairs. Non intervention is what we observe and life events of Baha’u’llah has demonstrated His absolute surrender to the most evil forces of the world. “Non intervention” also is compatible with scientific perspective. However, non intervention, renders invalid the idea of Personal God who would intervene due to personal request (prayers) and desires. It is not right to say that prayers are not answered, however, the texts of most Baha’i prayers call for absolute detachment and renunciation of the world of existence. A Baha’i state of mind for prayer is actually NO mind at all. No desire, no judgement, no fear, no expectation. It is more like reunion with the beloved rather than seeking a worldly outcome. The best Baha’i prayers and Baha’u’llah’s advise is for seeking what you need, rather than what you want. And according Vedic, Zen, Suffi, and Buddhist traditions, what you need, will always be give by life forces, the trouble comes when we insist in what we want. That is when, people go wrong and give up the idea of personal God, because they do not get what they wanted from their imagined God. This conversation, potentially is inclusive of all knowledge perspective, including quantum physics, mysticism, and philosophy. And that is why both Christian and Islamic perspective become limited for future expansion of knowledge of reality, existence, spirituality and “why we exist”. Once again, your article is great and I am only trying to add a different perspective in the interest of non Christian readers who are equally interested in spirituality.

        Regards with best wishes Farvardin Daliri

      • Sam says:

        This riveting discussion appeared in my inbox and I’m enjoying the profound views and insights shared by both Avrel and Farvardin.

        I would like to suggest that the Unknowable Essence, as described by Bahá’u’lláh, seems neither traditionally “Judaeo-Christian” (what Farvardin terms “personal”) nor is it traditionally “mysticist” (what Farvardin likens to the apophatic theology familiar from Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Sufi mysticism – in fact Christian Gnosticism should also be included). I’ve written a little more about my own humble understanding of Bahá’u’lláh’s departure from all “theological” traditions on my own blog post (http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/songofnightingale/2012/12/o-god-what-art-thou.html)

        But in brief, Bahá’u’lláh is clear that God is neither directly approachable/experiencable as the Sufis suggest, nor definable by language and names as the Judeo-Christian views often (not always) implies. Hence Bahá’u’lláh radically changed the seventh valley of Attar which (for Attar) implied a loss of individuality at the final stage. Bahá’u’lláh implied loss of self as in egotism and our “own” will.

        In “Summons of the Lord of Hosts” (p. 109, par. 211) Bahá’u’lláh Himself describes His own references to finding ‘the Friend within ourselves’ as an allegory of a more subtle spiritual insight:

        “Wherefore must no stranger be allowed in the city of the heart, that the incomparable Friend may enter His abode. By this is meant the effulgence of His names and attributes, and not His exalted Essence, inasmuch as that peerless King hath ever been, and shall eternally remain, sanctified above ascent and descent.” Neither can He be “contained” within ourselves, nor are we a seamless universal soul (Atman, Luminous Mind, etc.) lying beneath the illusion of “separateness”. We are genuinely individuals at a very deep spiritual level.

        Kind regards,


  30. June says:

    Reblogged this on Blogs by Bahais and commented:
    Avrel shares his story of what led him to find out about the Baha’i Faith.

  31. BookOfPain says:

    Wonderfully articulated, deeply thought through, dearly felt. Well done!

  32. Paul Clifton says:

    THANK YOU Avrel!! So many wonderful insights…

    The highest station we can reach is to understand that God is the “Ultimate Honeybadger”.

  33. Tay says:

    Thank you , it is a very interesting read. Just a quick correction- emperor Haileselasie of Ethiopia never claimed that, as you know there are people who think he is a prophet but he clearly said that he was not. He was a Christian. He also met Ruhhiyeh Khanum in her visits to Ethiopia.

  34. czangel says:

    Thanks so much. In part of this ongoing journey on becoming a Baha’i, there was a point where I absolutely rejected that there is a God. However, I still believed in the message of Baha’u’llah. It was a dark period of a couple of months where I held this idea. I wired the House requesting prayers. Perhaps that helped. Now, it’s been 40 years since my official declaration. It’s complicated.

  35. aaron says:

    Saw this linked to on Reddit today. (and see that you wrote it a while ago) What a wonderfully written essay. Thank you.

  36. Linus says:

    Enjoyed this sharing a lot, thank you for putting your thoughts into beautifully put language:)

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