|Ex-Baha'i Christian Testimony|
Baha'i Faith "left me spiritually cold and hungry"
Here is the story of Brigid, a former Baha'i who has become a Christian. This was originally posted by the author to the ex-bahai Yahoo group, and has been reproduced here with one minor addition and the author's last name deleted by request.
Reflections on Leaving the Baha'i Faith
In September 1999 I discovered the Baha'i Faith via the Internet, declared in September 2000 and resigned in September 2001. I have continued to reflect on my experiences with the BF in the intervening year and offer the following as a reflection on why I initially joined the Faith and, more importantly, why I was unable to remain within it.
My own religious roots lie in Catholicism, whose traditional liturgy and ritual I loved for giving me a sense of the majesty and transcendence of God. It did, however, also foster a false image of God as a stern judge, always waiting for me to make a mistake and who did not hesitate to let me know that my best was never good enough. I rebelled against this in my teens and starting seeking alternative paths including humanism and Quakerism. I found both of these ultimately disappointing, being comprised largely of nice, comfortable, middle-class people who were very well meaning but ultimately ineffectual in addressing the not so nice and not so comfortable world around me.
In the early 1990s I attempted to return to my roots by attending the Tridentine (Latin) Mass but found that while the liturgy was a balm to my spirit I simply could not share the deeply conservative, even paranoid, worldview of the rest of the congregation. I left feeling that I was never fated to find a faith community where I could pursue both spiritual practice and social justice.
Discovering the Baha'i Faith
Finding the Baha'i faith, therefore, seemed initially to be the answer to all that I had been seeking for. I had typed in a request to an Internet search engine for prayers for healing, and one of the pages referred me to something called "The Long Healing Prayer".
Reading the prayer sparked my curiosity about its author with the unpronounceable name and I followed one link after another. I had discovered the Baha'i faith.
The following weeks were filled with a sense of excitement as a thrilling vision of a new society based on the principles of justice, equality and peace emerged from the Baha'i Writings. I simply devoured one text after another and finally plucked up the courage to contact the local Baha'i community. I found that I had already met the local secretary in another capacity some years previously and we became firm friends. She invited me to attend the regular devotional meeting at her home where I was warmly welcomed. Here I could say and hear the wonderful prayers that had first attracted me to the Faith.
Soon I began attending firesides, devotionals and talks and felt that I had indeed discovered a pearl of great price.
After a year of intensive study I began to feel that it was decision time. I was also aware that following my attendance at a Baha'i summer school, there was a tangible expectation that I would declare soon. My sponsor told me that although she had taken a number of years to take the final step I could only truly experience the faith from the inside and could always walk away if I found I had made the wrong decision.
Yet, now that it was crunch time I had a sense of doubt that simply would not go away. I think it was a sense that, as the old adage has it, "if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is".
Wouldn't it be better to try and answer all my niggling questions and doubts before taking the plunge? I told myself that perhaps these difficulties would disappear as I grew in the faith, and I was very aware that if I failed to declare soon, I would disappoint the Baha'is who had taken an interest in me.
Thus I persuaded myself to go ahead despite my misgivings. I had no sense of peace or elation. Indeed, I felt miserable on the evening of my declaration, but put it down to residual guilt for having "betrayed" Christianity. I tried to comfort myself with the assurances that I was now a "completed" Christian and had not turned my back on Jesus Christ, instead I had recognized His return.
Immediately after my declaration people congratulated me, but then I had a sense of being yesterday's news and it was on to finding the next convert. The three months after I declared were a lonely time for me and I felt I was in some sort of limbo, not knowing what my role was, what was expected of me, or simply of what I was supposed to do next. I had no sense of being a cherished new member of a living, loving community or of being taken by the hand and gently guided along. I received no practical guidance or emotional support at all, just a standard letter from the NSA telling me I had done a great thing and encouraging me to look to the LSA for spiritual support and guidance.
In hindsight, it was perhaps inevitable that my initial sense of excitement and discovery could not last. Yet, I did not expect to be so thoroughly disillusioned quite so quickly. The first real jolt came when I attended the weekly Baha'i school a week after I declared and found that the emphasis appeared to be not on the independent investigation of truth but rather on sitting passively in rows being lectured to. It brought back unpleasant memories of religious education classes at school where to question things equated to being labelled a potential troublemaker or heretic. I worked as an adult education teacher and felt that how the school operated broke every rule in the book. Frankly, I expected better from Baha'is; the faith for the modern age ran a disturbingly old-fashioned Sunday school. I was desperately keen to study the Writings in depth but there was no outlet to do this. The school seemed to be keener on indoctrination than on the search for truth.
The second factor in my disillusionment was a growing dissatisfaction with the quality of community life. The community seemed to lack a sense of vitality or enthusiasm, and, for that matter, any meaningful sense of community at all. It was a curious paradox that the community appeared to be characterized by inertia despite the fact that the active members were impossibly busy! I often wondered why people did not draw back from the round of meetings and activities to ask themselves exactly what all this "busyness" actually achieved. I also noticed that many Baha'is lived their whole lives within the context of these activities and did not seem to engage with the wider world, unless it was to prosleytize them for the faith. For a religion with an international focus the Baha'i world often seemed extremely narrow and inward looking.
The third, and most important, aspect of my disillusionment lay in the disappointing quality of Baha'i spiritual life. The lack of ritual was obviously a challenge for someone with my background and I felt its absence keenly. I had heard Baha'is speak disparagingly about "empty ritual" without ever seeking to explore the meaning and function of ritual in the religious experience of human beings.
As an enquirer I had often wondered what it would be like to attend a Baha'i Feast and imagined that it would be a special, spiritually nourishing experience. I could not have been more wrong. So far from being spiritual dynamite a feast was a damp squib. There was nothing special at all about it, people stumbled their way through hastily arranged devotionals, and then it was time for business and a quick snack. My first feast was a letdown from which I never really recovered and I attended only a few more before giving up completely.
I found that there was very little spiritual encouragement in general within the local community. I attended talks about the gardens at Haifa, the covenant and the importance of giving to the funds, but nothing about the spiritual life. Materialism seemed to be at the centre of my new religion and it left me spiritually cold and hungry.
Leaving the Faith -- Stage One
Six months after I joined I told my sponsor that I wished to leave. She was upset but accepted a lot of my criticisms. Word reached the LSA and the Chairman rang up and lectured me about backbiting instead of approaching the Assembly. I was taken aback as it had honestly never occurred to me to bare my soul before 9 people, some of whom I did not even know. I informed him that I had simply discussed my difficulties with my sponsor and another friend, both of whom had encouraged me to remain. How was this backbiting?
A Persian Baha'i then invited me to his home and he and his wife also listened to my views. They had recently moved into my community and were aware of some of the difficulties with the quality of feasts and other issues that I raised. After further discussion with my sponsor I said that I would give myself another six months before finally making a decision.
Perhaps it was not a coincidence but things started to happen after that. I was appointed to a committee, invited to talk at the next summer school and generally encouraged to get more involved. Yet, it was already too late.
Leaving the Faith -- The Turning Point
During this six-month period I did a lot of prayer and meditation and really searched myself. It was during meditation that a question arose which proved the key to it all. I had an icon of Christ in my room which I'd brought back from a vacation in Greece many years ago. During my meditation I heard a voice within me asking, "Who do men say that I am?" I dismissed this as a passing distraction and centred myself again, but my gaze was drawn to the icon. As I grew quiet again the voice, this time louder and more insistent, addressed me by my first name and said, "Who do YOU say that I am?" Immediately I answered aloud "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God". Then I just sank to my knees and said "We praise you O Christ, and we adore you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world". This is a prayer that Catholic people traditionally say when performing the stations of the cross; I hadn't said it for years and yet it just burst forth from me.
I have never been a "signs and wonders" person, but I feel this was a direct intervention from God and it was the catalyst for my deliverance from the Baha'i faith and my return to Christianity. My commitment to the Baha'i faith ended at that very moment and I set myself to working out how I was going to tell the Baha'is that I would be going through with my resignation after all.
Leaving the Faith -- Stage Two
In some ways stage two was easier than what went before in the sense that I had regained the inner peace that had eluded me since joining the faith, but harder in that I was now officially involved and had commitments which I felt bound to honour. The real struggle was carrying on with the knowledge that I no longer believed in the faith and yet knowing that my resignation would disappoint and hurt people that I cared about.
In the end, however, it was made easier for me by the community's decision to hold a series of deepenings for new believers. I dutifully attended session one but it was clear to me that I could not delay my resignation any longer. The deepening consisted of a long list of rules and regulations, of laws and of do's and don'ts that must be obeyed by the new Baha'i. I realized that I had come full circle and was back to the impossible task of trying to please a legalistic, judgmental God. Wasn't this what I was trying to get away from?
During the coffee break I went to the kitchen to help the host and told her that I was unhappy in the faith and wanted to return to Christianity. She told me that it was difficult for some people to stop hankering after empty ritual and not having priests telling them what to do. She regretted that her husband was not there as he could have convinced me from the Bible that the Baha'i faith was true.
I left knowing that I would not be back for session two and the next day began writing a letter to the assembly. In it I told them that a year previously I had signed a declaration card which I could not in conscience sign today as I did not believe Baha'u'llah was the return of Christ or His equal. They accepted my resignation with regret but assured me that all the friendships I had made in the community would remain. It was over.
Life After the Faith
After my resignation I was overwhelmed by a sense of relief and freedom. Yet, there were other, more negative, emotions present too. I felt a good deal of anger, both at the faith which had been such a fraud and disappointment, and at myself for being taken in by it. I have spent the year since my resignation trying to deal with the issues that my involvement with the Baha'i Faith raised for me.
Writing about my experience has proved therapeutic and I am glad I have been able to put the whole thing behind me. I still remain in contact with my former sponsor and with another friend who has recently left the faith himself. I have met some other Baha'is since and found that some have remained friendly towards me whereas others give me a cooler reception. I rejoice, however, that I have been able to move on.
In September 2001 I resigned from the Baha'i Faith. In September 2002 I was received as a catechumen (someone taking instruction) in the Orthodox Church and at Pascha (Easter) 2003, was received into the full membership of the Church.
Here is an email from Brigid in which she explains her decision to convert to the Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity:
Subject: On choosing Orthodoxy when I left the Baha'i faith
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2003 23:58:12 +0100 (BST)
From: Brigid [Last Name Deleted]
To: Eric Stetson, webmaster, Bahai-Faith.com
Glory be to Jesus Christ our true saviour!
God bless you for all you are doing with the new yahoo group and your own wonderful web site....
You asked me why I chose Orthodoxy when I left the Baha'i faith, and the answer is in one way very simple -- I think it is the only church which has preserved the faith once handed down to the apostles, unchanged and unchanging. I also found that it offered me richness and beauty in sacramental worship, and if you read my ex-Baha'i story you will see why that is important to me. The mystical strain in eastern Christianity is very attractive as well to me as is the chance to escape the judgmental legalism of my Roman Catholic background. Orthodoxy does not accept the RC doctrines of purgatory, for example, and I find the veneration of the saints and the Theotokos (The Blessed Virgin Mary) somewhat healthier in Orthodoxy. I found when I started to study Orthodoxy I was being confronted with a wholly different understanding of who exactly Jesus Christ is and why He came into the world. I rediscovered the importance and centrality of the Trinity, of prayer, fasting and repentance. Orthodox thinking about salvation is different from the emphases in western thinking too....
Eric, I rejoice every day that I got out of the Baha'i faith and it is my prayer that others will too. To see Our Lord's uniqueness reduced to playing a subordinate role as a forerunner to Muhammed and Baha'u'llah is intolerable to me. Christianity and the Baha'i faith are irreconcilable theologically, yet articulating this truth boldly but with compassion is the difficult bit for me!
God bless you
Former Baha'is and Ex-Baha'i Christians: Selected Testimonials
Bahai-Faith.com -- The Baha'i Faith: An Ex-Baha'i Christian View
Bahai-Faith.com founded November 2002. This page last updated May 18, 2005.