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I’ve been a Baha’i since discovering this gentle, loving Faith when I was a teenager. Since then, I’ve occasionally heard or read some serious misconceptions about my religion.
In the first installment of this two-part series, I wrote about three of those false claims: “the Baha’i Faith is a sect of Islam; the Baha’is have clergy, and you can be born into the Faith.” All are untrue, some are ridiculous, and most are just sadly misinformed.
But I’ve heard, during my lifetime of being a Baha’i, three even more outright false claims and fabrications: “the Baha’i Faith is a cult; Baha’is don’t believe in Christ; and Baha’is want your money.” These are not only untrue, they’re downright slanderous—because they’re the exact opposite of the actual reality. Let’s explore them:
False claim #4: “The Baha’i Faith is a cult”
When my sister and I were young Baha’is in our teens, we lived in Los Angeles, one of the larger Baha’i communities in the United States. My aunt used to hold introductory meetings to the Faith, called firesides, in her home. In those days, we listened to fascinating discourses from actors, artists, musicians, and theologians visiting from around the globe. Each Sunday night a wellspring of humanity showed up at her doorstep, all curious to investigate for themselves this intriguing new Faith.
We used to be astonished when we heard some of the outrageous misconceptions. One man we spoke with questioned, “I heard about the Baha’i Faith from a neighbor. Isn’t it a Persian love cult?” We both laughed in surprise!
In actuality, we told him, the Baha’i Faith is an independent global religion established in 1863, with followers in every part of the world. Though it incorporates the deep spiritual teachings from religions of the past, such as those of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Jewish Faith, the Baha’i Faith is a new revelation of religious teachings:
… Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha’i Faith, proclaimed in clear and unmistakable language, to the kings and rulers of the world, to its religious leaders, and to mankind in general that the long-promised age of world peace and brotherhood had at last dawned and that He Himself was the Bearer of the new message and power from God which would transform the prevailing system of antagonism and enmity between men and create the spirit and form of the destined world order. – The Universal House of Justice, in the introduction to The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. viii.
Cults typically have charismatic leaders—Baha’is have democratically-elected leadership without individual control or authority. Cults normally exist inside one cultural milieu—Baha’is come from every country and culture in the world. Cults are closed societies—the Baha’i Faith is open to all. Cults have secret practices and rituals—the Baha’i Faith has none. Cults use deceptive techniques of persuasion and control—the Baha’i principles call for the independent investigation of truth by everyone. The Baha’i Faith, then, is the exact opposite of a cult.
False claim #5: “Baha’is do not believe in the exalted station of Christ”
You cannot call yourself a Baha’i unless you believe in the station of Christ as a prophet and messenger from God. Baha’is unequivocally accept Christ’s teachings and believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ:
Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent Spirit.
We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified … We bear witness that through the power of the Word of God every leper was cleansed, every sickness was healed, every human infirmity was banished. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 85-86.
False claim #6: “Like all religions, Baha’is gratefully accept donations”
On the contrary, Baha’is have never, nor will they ever accept outside donations to their Faith. Sorry, but unless you’re a Baha’i, the Baha’i Faith will refuse any donations, and urge you to give them to charitable institutions. Giving to the Baha’i Fund is a bounty reserved only for Baha’is. Although Baha’i institutions, temples and houses of worship are intended to be beneficial and unifying to all of humankind, Baha’is also exclude politicization or special interests of any kind. As a Baha’i, this is another of the principals of the Faith that fills me with pride.
My hope is that now, in your independent search for wisdom and verities, you discover all the wonderful truths regarding the Baha’i Faith—the most important of which is the unification of the hearts on our planet:
If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29-30