i am no longer a Baha’i. i defy religious labels

Soundtrack in my head: The Plimsouls, “A Million Miles Away”
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It’s clear to me that I am no longer a follower of the Bahá’í Faith. Nor do I subscribe to any other religious labels either.

I’m not sure if I was ever fully comfortable calling myself a Bahá’í in the first place. In some ways I think I moved too quickly in declaring myself a Baha’i back in 2007.  I did so partially because I felt the need to connect with another established  spiritual path after leaving the Mahikari spiritual organization.

I’d been involved with Mahikari for the previous eleven years. Bu I had become very disenchanted with the frequency of the contradictions, hypocrisies, and incidences of lying, manipulation and coercion that I was witnessing there. Near the peak of my frustrations, I picked up a copy of a Bahá’í book that had been in my personal collection for some time. I began reading the Bahá’í books alongside my daily Mahikari readings and found that the Bahá’í writings made a lot more sense to me than Mahikari. But in some ways, I think I might have more running away from Mahikari than running towards the Bahá’í Faith. And now I’m at the point where I find a lot in the Bahá’í organization and even the Bahá’í writings that I simply don’t agree with. I will always respect the Bahá’ís and consider them my friends (as opposed to Mahikari, which I consider  to be a harmful cult) but I do not consider myself to *be* a Bahá’í–either by my definition or the religion’s definition.

I understand the desire to throw oneself so completely into a practice as to make it part of one’s identity and that was part of my motivation. But now I think that identifying with a religion so much as to say “I am” something–whether it be a Christian,  Buddhist, Bahá’í or Muslim creates two problems: 1) the risk of engaging in identity politics that could lead to identifying non-followers as the “other” and perhaps lead to conflict–even if that’s not the initial intention, and 2) religious identities– even as broad and inclusive as that of “Unitarian”–often keep people from seeing the truth in paths different from one’s own.

Then again, I’ve changed spiritual paths and religious labels a lot in this lifetime. I make zero apologies for that. I was baptized Catholic mainly to keep the peace in a religiously divided extended family, but grew up in a liberal mainline Protestant church that I still have a lot of fond memories of.  Nevertheless,  I explored a number of religions in college. In the early 90s I was drawn to Paganism due to the desire to be involved with earth-based spirituality. But I grew frustrated with the Pagan community I’d been involved with as it seemed too amoral and fractured to make any real difference. In 1996 I was drawn to Mahikari because its told a great story that seemed to explain today’s uncertain times quite well and aI had a great desire to get involves in a spiritual path I perceived to be addressing these uncertain times.

These continual changes are not due to indecisiveness. I think having a healthy grounding in multiple religions can give perspectives that someone in the same religion their entire life might not have.  Furthermore, I suspect that I have been guided into and out of these multiple paths by God/the Universe (which I imagine to be one and the same) for the purpose of my spiritual growth.

I’ve sometimes joked that I’m coming out of my “Bob Dylan born-again” phase. I was never a born-again Christian,  but for various reasons, from 1996 until the present I embraced religious paths that were more conservative in their nature (even if considered heretical by conservative American Christians). I was following what I felt drawn and guided to at the time.  I feel that I might not fully understand the reasons for this “conservative phase” of my life until some time in the future–maybe even in a future life.

Part of this religious strictness was based on my desire for a well-defined way forward in these uncertain times in which life on Earth is itself threatened. It also well could be that I needed to learn firsthand what it is like to be in a religion that is more conservative and more restrictive in its nature. One of the reasons for that might be to enable me to help others recover from religions that make them feel like sinners for deviating from religious doctrine.

I find myself moving away from religious labels and doctrine altogether at this point. My religious beliefs have essentially been Unitarian for my entire adult life, but influenced or altered by whatever other path I was involved with the time.

While my beliefs may most resemble that of the Unitarians, the spiritual community and practice that I’m most drawn to at this point is the Quakers–that is, their “unprogrammed” services. While the vast majority of Quakers identify as Christian, a small minority consider themselves to be “non-Christian Quakers.”  In any case, the focus of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) is more on communing directly with God, and “unprogrammed Quakers” do this through sitting in Quaker meetings in silence unless and until someone feels “moved by the Spirit to speak.”

To my surprise, I found that happening to me at only the second Quaker meeting I ever attended.  Someone spoke a few minutes before I did, and immediately after a sentence popped into my mind.  I sort of meditated on the sentence for awhile and kept running it through my head. Then it occurred to me that the nature of the way it just popped into my mind already fully formed might mean that the idea originated outside of me–i.e. from God. So I stood up and spoke.

I said, “Silence is an open door, rather than a closed door with words written upon it.” Right now, that statement is the most accurate reflection of my feelings about religion and my religious practice at this time.

2 thoughts on “i am no longer a Baha’i. i defy religious labels

  1. You may have inherited an inclination toward spiritual seeking from your mother and a distaste for organized religion from me. As you will recall, your mother left the Catholic church because of your grandmother’s ultra-Catholic passion for traditional religious practices such as burning heretics at the stake.

    I left my parents’ Congregational church in my senior year of high school. Our church was embroiled in a controversy over a denominational merger in which opposing factions argued in stronger language than Martin Luther used in his 95 Theses. That gave me an excuse to join a Unitarian church that appealed to my subversive nature.

    The Unitarian church continues to be closest to my beliefs, but I found many of the Unitarians to be a little orthodox in their radicalism. When I came home from Vietnam to find my fellow Unitarians holding bake sales to support the Viet Cong, I felt less than welcome. Also, their music sucked.

    Your mother and I did not want to raise our kids to be Catholics or Unitarians, so we settled on a Presbyterian church with nice people and open-minded ministers. We were both comfortable there, but our priority was to give you and your sister some basic Judeo-Christian literacy, and a basic religious framework to either build upon or break away from.

    Once you grew up, we ran out of reasons to go to church. Your mother continued her spiritual search and settled on Unity. I consider Unity DISorganized religion, but it filled an important need for her. I am grateful for the comfort Unity gave her at the end of her life.

    Tomorrow I plan to attend a Sunday morning chamber concert series that used to be called the Church of Beethoven. They play music, recite poetry and have a moment of silence. Then I’ll go to my neighbor’s Knights of Columbus party, where I will explain politely that I’m not Catholic.

    I applaud your spiritual search, and I know your mother would approve.

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