As a young teenager, I had a huge collection of comic books about superheroes with extraordinary powers (particularly Superman and Spiderman), and I naturally fantasized about somehow developing a superpower of my own. I mostly wanted super strength, super speed, and the ability to fly, but I wouldn’t have turned down the ability to read minds or predict the future.
So when my wife and I served as instructors for a group of Baha’i teenagers, in trying to appeal to the minds of 13 to 15-year-olds, I thought about my own teenaged obsessions. I decided to present them with the Baha’i perspective on evil spirits, angels, paranormal powers, and extra-terrestrial beings, intrigued to find out what the Baha’i teachings have to say about these topics.
Baha’is believe in the agreement of science and religion. Abdu’l-Baha said:
If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 239.
While some aspects of the paranormal will be confirmed by science in the future, others–according to the Baha’i Writings–are mere superstitions.
The Baha’i writings speak passionately of an afterlife in which souls continue to progress and develop spiritually, but what do they say about evil spirits? It turns out that the Writings have a clear perspective on this topic. They state, for example, that God has not created any intrinsically evil spirits. In fact, for Baha’is the concepts of evil and Satan actually refer to humanity’s “lower nature” or “the insistent self.” Those who have given in to total selfishness can certainly harm us in this life, but the Baha’i teachings say they have no power over anyone once they have passed into the spiritual world. In other words, the idea of intrinsically evil spirits harming us from beyond is a superstition.
On the other hand, Baha’is do believe in angels, although not in the usual sense. For Baha’is, angels symbolize selfless people who have devoted themselves to service in this life, and who continue to exert a positive influence from the next world. The angels among us are those beautiful people who, through their spirituality, selflessness, and acts of kindness, make life better for others:
Angels are blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 81.
Ultimately, the Writings of Baha’u’llah attach no importance to occult experiences. Instead of focusing on auras, mystic voices, or evil spirits, the Baha’i writings encourage us to use scripture as our guide in spiritual and practical matters. Similarly, Baha’is attach little importance to astrology or horoscopes, which may have an appearance of accuracy but generally cannot predict the future.
What about psychic powers and experiences such as premonitions and communication with the dead? Interestingly, the Baha’i Writings do acknowledge the existence of psychic powers and experiences, but state that these should not be used or cultivated, even if the intention is to help others. The language about this is quite strong, even suggesting that attempting to develop these faculties can weaken a person’s spiritual capacities. Cultivating or using these powers is also problematic because they are not understood, they are potentially dangerous, and we have no way of knowing whether or not they provide true information. While some people do occasionally experience premonitions (such as dreams) that come true, the writings state that these premonitions are a gift from God.
On the subject of telepathy, however, the writings state decisively that it’s impossible to read the thoughts of those we love, let alone other people. In short, this power doesn’t exist.
Finally, the Baha’i writings do affirm the existence of life on other planets. Specifically, Abdu’l-Baha refers to beings on other worlds that are capable of knowing God, and Baha’u’llah states that the number of beings in the universe can’t be calculated. These creatures may or may not be similar to us, although the Baha’i writings do refer to beings that have different “states of consciousness” than ours. There’s no information, though, about whether or not any of these beings have visited Earth or even have that ability. (If they did, the Baha’i response would no doubt be to try to establish commonality and unity with them.)
I suspect the teenaged members of our youth group may have felt a bit disappointed about the Baha’i perspective on paranormal topics, since they probably hoped to hear about heroic super powers they might develop. I was glad, though, that the Baha’i writings don’t give these topics much importance. As a Baha’i, I’d rather take part in a movement focused on inter-religious understanding and unity, the elimination of poverty and all forms of prejudice, the establishment of world peace and the equality of women and men.
For me, those truly super-heroic goals give us all something real to work toward.