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Rainn Wilson, the American actor, comedian, writer, and producer, is best known for his role on the NBC sitcom "The Office” — but he’s also well-known as an active member of the global Baha'i community.
In the cast of "The Office,” Rainn played the infamous role of Dwight Schrute, for which he earned three consecutive Emmy nominations.
As a Baha'i, he takes part in a worldwide religious community which started in the mid-nineteenth century in Persia. Rainn, and the millions of Baha'is around the world, believe in striving for and working towards global peace and unity. Baha’is accept that all the messengers of God — the founders of the world’s great Faiths – serve as the channels of divine inspiration to humanity, and they believe that the most recent of those prophets is Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith.
I wanted to talk to Rainn about how the teachings of the Baha’i Faith influence his film and television career — and why his faith and spirituality have played such a big part of his successful life in Hollywood.
Sophia: Can you tell me a little bit about your spiritual journey?
Rainn: Back in the late 60s and early 70s, many Americans became Baha'is because people were really culturally searching for new spiritual answers and inspiration. My parents became members of the Baha'i Faith, so I was born into a Baha'i family and I grew up learning the many wonderful Baha'i teachings, such as the importance of the elimination of racial prejudice, the equality of women and men, the harmony of science and religion, and many, many more teachings.
Then, for a while, when I was in college and making my way as a young actor, I really abandoned everything having to do with religion, faith, spirituality, and God, and I really didn't want anything to do with it for several years. I found myself being very, very unhappy — deeply unhappy and unsatisfied — so I started reading all the books from all of the divine messengers. I read all the Baha'i books, and I fell back in love with the Baha'i Faith.
Sophia: How does your faith influence the way you go about navigating your acting career?
Rainn: It influences it in a couple of ways. Number one: I have turned down many roles that I find kind of reprehensible and degrading, and that make the world a worse place by playing a character that is just trying to make addiction and materialism look fun and positive. I don't take roles like that.
… in accordance with the divine teachings the acquisition of sciences and the perfection of arts are considered acts of worship. If a man engageth with all his power in the acquisition of a science or in the perfection of an art, it is as if he has been worshipping God in churches and temples.
So the making of art, to a Baha'i, is the same as devotion to the Creator. As an actor, I believe, even playing a character like Dwight Schrute, that there is a spiritual component to the arts that is very mysterious and mystical in nature. I love, in my artwork, to think about those aspects that connect between art and faith and service to humanity. Because if I can make people laugh and entertain them in a positive way, that provides a real service to the world. If I create a character that's never been created before, there's something kind of really beautiful and spiritual in that act.
Sophia: What are the ways you think people of influence could participate in having a positive impact on the world?
Rainn: There are many ways, and I think it's really important that everyone gets involved in helping make the world a better place. If you have a large platform, you need to use your platform for good. That can be from philanthropy and charity to working in your community, it could be working with your family, but it's the responsibility of everyone to try and improve the world and leave it better than when we arrived. Humanity needs to turn a corner in that regard.
Sophia: I know that you have a son about my age, so what is your advice for youth in regards to social media and their platforms, and also about the way they live their day-to-day lives?
Rainn: I think social media can be a very toxic and dangerous environment. But I also think the more important issue is that we live in a world where we have these little pocket computers, and there’s just a world of endless distraction out there. There are positives to that, but there are many dangers to it, as well. Screens can be very addictive, and that endless distraction is readily available to everyone. So this can really degrade the quality of our lives.
Everything has to have a balance, but for instance, for me, I took social media off my phone because I found myself looking at it all the time. I was just scrolling through Instagram — and my life is so much better without it. I still post occasionally on Instagram, about what I'm doing or funny thoughts, or videos, or whatever, but I’m not constantly interacting with people on the platform itself.
Baha’u’llah counseled everyone to exercise moderation in their lives when he wrote:
In all matters moderation is desirable. If a thing is carried to excess, it will prove a source of evil.
Sophia: Thanks so much, Rainn, for sharing how you’ve been able to implement spirituality and the Baha’i teachings to help craft and sustain your role as an artist.