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I Can’t Be a Baha’i—I Don’t Know All the Details

David Langness | Oct 10, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Oct 10, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

The recent BahaiTeachings.org series I wrote—Making the Drugs and Alcohol Decision—reminded me of a friend who once told me: “I can’t be a Baha’i—I’m not perfect!”

He had studied the Baha’i Faith for a few years, had read several Baha’i books, and loved hanging out with the Baha’i community. My friend—we’ll call him Ralph, although that’s not his real name—had clearly fallen in love with Baha’u’llah, with the Baha’i teachings, and with the sense of unity and harmony he felt so strongly in Baha’i gatherings. He read Baha’i books every day, said Baha’i prayers, and even enthusiastically told his family and friends about his new spiritual discovery.

But something, I could tell, was holding Ralph back. He truly wanted to be a Baha’i, and told several people that he already believed in the Baha’i principles. Spiritually, his heart had obviously made his decision for him. But he didn’t, or couldn’t, bring himself to actually declare his belief in the Baha’i Faith.

Just so you know, becoming a Baha’i doesn’t involve any ritual, rite or ceremony. Baha’is have no baptism, no initiation, and certainly no sacrament of admission. You become a Baha’i internally, making a soulful, heartfelt decision on your own—and then you simply sign a declaration card that says you believe in Baha’u’llah and want to enroll in the Baha’i community. That declaration card just adds your name to the list of the Baha’is in your area, making you a part of the local Baha’i community, and the Baha’i community around the world. It’s all entirely voluntary, and since the Baha’i Faith has no clergy and forbids proselytizing, it’s entirely up to you.

Ralph understood all this. In fact, he had carried around his own Baha’i declaration card for many months. He showed it to me once, taking it out all creased, crumpled and worn from its place in his wallet. He had filled in his name and address so long ago that the ink had already faded a little. But he hadn’t actually signed it yet. I laughed when he showed it to me. “Ralph,” I said as I laughed, “you seem a little conflicted.”

That’s when he blurted out “I can’t be a Baha’i—I’m not perfect!” He said it without irony and with a considerable amount of emotion. I could tell he meant it, because I could see tears in his eyes.

I stopped laughing, and asked him “What makes you think you need to be perfect to be a Baha’i?”

He explained in a halting way. “The Baha’is I’ve met are so wonderful,” he said. “They seem so spiritually evolved, so loving. I wish I were like that. I want to be like that. But I still drink, have a joint once in a while, I still have some bad habits. My past—I mean, I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. I’m a long way from being a good Baha’i. I don’t want to sign my declaration card until then, until I’m a better person.”

Saying all this seemed to take a lot out of Ralph. Obviously, this unresolved dissonance had clearly built up inside of him for a long time. Like many people, Ralph encountered the beautiful Baha’i teachings and principles and believed in their truth, but didn’t feel worthy of them.

So I tried to explain. First, I asked Ralph if his heart had been touched by the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s message. He said “Yes!” without any hesitation.

“Then the seed of the Baha’i message has already started to grow in your soul,” I said. “Now you’ll want to water it with the outpourings of the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of a long journey, and your soul holds the ticket. No one who decides to go on that journey of spiritual growth and development is ever perfect. In fact, if you were already perfect, why would you take it?”

“Hmmm,” Ralph said, carefully considering what I was telling him. He still seemed a little unconvinced, so I gave him these quotes from the Baha’i teachings:

No obstacle should be placed before any soul which might prevent it from finding the truth. Baha’u’llah revealed His directions, teachings and laws, so that souls might know God, and not that any utterance might become an obstacle in their way. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, p. 43.

He is a true Baha’i who strives by day and by night to progress along the path of human endeavor, whose cherished desire is so to live and act as to enrich and illumine the world; whose source of inspiration is the essence of Divine Perfection, whose aim in life is to conduct himself so as to be the cause of infinite progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Revelation, p. 285.

Wherefore, look not on the degree of your capacity, ask not if you are worthy of the task: rest ye your hopes on the help and loving-kindness, the favours and bestowals of Baha’u’llah — may my soul be offered up for His friends! Urge on the steed of high endeavour over the field of sacrifice, and carry away from this wide arena the prize of divine grace. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 23.

These passages had a profound effect on my friend Ralph. Over the next few days he seemed increasingly free of the hesitation and worry that plagued him before, and he signed that creased and crumpled Baha’i declaration card a week later.

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Comments

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  • Oct 13, 2015
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    We as Baha'is know that the only perfect Bahá'í was Abdu’l Baha and that is why we follow His example. Oddly I have experienced responses with both extremes in this view.
    I had someone tell me that religion was for “weak people”, those who have crises in their life and need a crutch to lean on. They said they were strong and did not need such superstition. The fact that it is true that many do not accept truth until they experience some hardship or heartache in their life seemed to back up this idea. The ploughed furrow.
    I met ...another intellectual , confident, successful person and told them about the need for everyone to use their talents in the service of humankind and gave the Bahá'í Faith as an example, he said he could not be a Baha’I as he “was not strong enough”. “Like Bahá'í’s”
    The truth is the Faith is not only for we sinners it is for all. After all it is not a requirement that someone is first expected to fall from grace or be told they are spiritually wanting before they can have salvation (they can of course independently come to some realization as to the health of their own soul). What is strength if it is not used for service to others. The covenant is compared to an ark and the revelation is compared to a Doctors Prescription for the ills of the world. The Faith is like a rescue ship, it needs patients , doctors, nurses, crew, cooks in fact everyone. There is not another one coming along ……well not in our lifetime.
    Sometimes we need nursing some times we are crew but inevitably we are all in the same boat.
    Read more...
  • Oct 12, 2015
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    Exact situation occurred with a dear friend in our community also, until, like you have done here, it was made clear all Baha'is, like everyone else. are always learning and improving. There is no perfection of ALL virtues in this world, but we can work on those we need help with and reinforce those we've achieved. I particularly like your statement, "No obstacle should be placed before any soul which might prevent it from finding the truth." And our administrative bodies are slowly learning this as well, even though mistakes have been made in the past.
  • Oct 11, 2015
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    AMEN nd Thank you... support nclusion or s all. uf IIa
  • Oct 11, 2015
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    Happened to me, too. Three Baha'is worked at a Hotel. I was a musician who played in the bar. We stayed at the hotel and came down for breakfast every morning. One of the waitresses was soooooooo close to declaring but just could not sign her card. We tried to be so loving, so perfect, so wise. One night, the boss, very drunk i might add, came right up on stage in the middle of a set and fired me on the spot. I seethed over the embarrassment all night, didn't sleep. Next morning, when I went to the ...restaurant, I exploded. Slapped the counter, kicked the table, hollered at the top of my lungs. Swore out every swear word I know, scared the hell out of everybody in the restaurant, backbiting about that GD stinkin drunk, etc. Later I calmed down and my Baha'i friends and I bemoaned all the work we had done to teach the waitress the Faith, probably all for naught. She declared that very day. When asked why, she said, I thought you had to be perfect before you became a Baha'i. Now I know that's not true and its really a process.
    Read more...
    • Oct 12, 2015
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      be yourself. if God wants them in the faith theyll be there. love all the same
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