Being unaffiliated

Uphill pilgrimage


Closed doors at the Bahai Shrine of the Bab in Haifa.

Unenrolled Bahais face a long road to Haifa

Alemash Affaw shared a story one Sunday with some newcomers to the New York Bahai Center, on 11th Street just south of Union Square.

Two pilgrims took a trip to Haifa. As they approached the Shrine of the Bab, the second most sacred place in the Bahai faith, the first pilgrim did a somersault and walked on his hands towards the holy tomb. The other pilgrim was scandalized. "Here at this blessed spot, to be on his hands like a clown!"

But just before the second pilgrim could scold him, the first returned and spoke with a beaming face. "'This place is so sacred, I didn't want to profane the ground with my feet,' he said solemnly, 'and I could only approach it with my head as low to the ground as I could make it.'"

The story shows the importance for pilgrimage among the Bahai, and illustrates a wide tolerance for different forms of worship and ritual. The idea is central to a faith that promises to unite the world's religions and races under the banner of unity.

But not everyone finds that broad-minded tolerance on the road to Haifa. There are serious roadblocks for those who practice as Bahai, but who, for reasons of doctrine or personal disagreement, are not enrolled with the Haifa administration. Although pilgrimage is required for those who have the means financially, only members who are enrolled in the Haifa headquarters gain substantial access to the holiest sites in the faith.

For a religion that stresses unity, this can turn into a very painful form of exclusion.

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Read Karen Bacquet's back-story: Unenrolled Baha'is and Pilgrimage

Imaginary Broadcast

Just in case somebody asks.....

I love podcasts - like YouTube, they are the latest incarnations of communication from the "common man" - not subject, yet, to the filtering and media censorship that comes with corporate sponsorship and legislative administration that has taken control of radio and TV.

I recently was asked by a host of one of my favorite "podshows" to participate in an interview about Buddhism and Christianity.

As I thought about what I was going to say, I began to realize how difficult it was going to be to encapsulate my views on religion without coming off as confused, compromising, or arrogant. Or, perhaps I'm more concerned about hiding my confusion and arrogance!!

So as I thought about trying to strip my philosophy down to a series of sound bites, without losing the substance and heart of what I've realized over so many years of researching and practicing almost every kind of religion. I do not consider myself an expert - but I do think that I have invested a large part of my life in deep consideration of the particulars of so many religions that I can honestly express an informed opinion - just in case someone asks!!!

So - here's what I came up with - this is my philosophy (part of it at least) - hot off the presses - as of June 2008.

Truth is not property - it is reality

{josquote}I want to adopt the mindset of the founder - truly following the intent of Jesus, Buddha etc. and identify less with "membership" in a religion.{/josquote}

I am a Non-Denominational human. A 21st Century human that has investigated all known religions. At first, my investigation was motivated by the desire to experience the permanent awareness of oneness, or unity of consciousness, that I glimpsed as a teenager. It was an absolutely beautiful glimpse of the integrated nature of all things - a momentary glimpse - but so beautiful that I have sought to attain that awareness my whole life. After a time though, I began to embrace the religions that I investigated. Baha'i - Hindu - Evangelical Christian - Buddhist - Eastern Orthodox Christian - and now, moving beyond all beliefs where I am finding a sense of true reality that I see as underlying all religious paths.

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The Limits of Universalism

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In "The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis" by Coleman Barks, a story is recounted of a child in the Sufi community asking Bawa Muhaiyadden what religion she was. He responded:

You are a Christian because you believe in Jesus, and you are a Jew because you believe in all the prophets, including Moses. You are a Muslim because you believe in Muhammad as a prophet, and you are a Sufi because you believe in the universal teaching of God's love. You are really none of those, but you are all of those, because you believe in God. And once you believe in God, there is no religion. Once you divide yourself off with religions, you are separated from your fellow man.

{josquote} And, with the online community, there are many of us who are "going it alone", together. That sense of a community of solitaries is what I've been trying, with some success, to build out here.{/josquote}

Now, this has some resonance with me, and I would imagine with many Baha'is. After all, it is the teaching of the unity of religions that drew a lot of us into investigating the Faith in the first place. It felt very odd, once I became a Baha'i, to identify with a particular community, with its own particular expectations and culture. Like the new kid on the block, I did my best to fit in to all of that -- and the more "Baha'i" I became, invariably, I lost a good deal of that universalist outlook that had drawn me into the Faith in the first place. I have recovered some of it since leaving -- though, not all. I still have a distinct Baha'i identity; I still believe in Baha'u'llah.

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My Little Closet

I kept silent about my apostasy for eight years. I had learned early on that my parents could not handle even discussing the possibility that I might lose my faith, so I took my infidelity underground.

{josquote}I was a little worried that my published criticisms of the Baha’i religion might make the wrong people angry...{/josquote}

I dropped a few hints with my family here and there toward the end of those years, but I stopped short of making any grand declaration of apostasy. I’ll admit I even attended Baha’i community meetings out of curiosity when I’d heard that a controversial Baha’i holy book would soon be published (after 123 years of obscurity), or that a Baha’i community leader was leaving his wife for my coworker’s ex-wife. I also attended the funeral of a young Baha’i I had worked with at the Baha’i World Center, whom I had generally avoided of late for his sake.

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On Forgiveness at Ridvan

I was initially going to blog over on Unenrolled Baha'i about Alison's lovely Ridvan message of hope, reconcilation, and forgiveness. But the more I wrote, the more it seemed like I was thinking in more personal, spiritual terms -- so here I am.

{josquote}Right now, avoiding direct confrontation is the best I can manage.{/josquote}

I've thought about forgiveness a lot -- after all, every one of the Manifestations command it. It is always a dilemma for me, how to forgive without just getting kicked in the teeth again. Of course, the catch is that you have to take the risk, and if necessary, take the blows. Then, forgive that, too. You have to be made of tough stuff to forgive the Biblical "seventy times seven" times; it takes incredible strength and courage to make yourself that vulnerable. It's one of those paradoxes that characterize spiritual truth: forgiveness -- thought of as softness or even weakness, takes a lot of steely character.

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