Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm a Little Worried

Quite a few friends and acquaintances from my Bahá’í past still don’t know I’ve withdrawn from the Faith. I haven’t withheld anything from them; we are just out of touch. The ones who matter the most to me are in Indonesia. I went there as a high-school exchange student before I’d ever heard of the Faith and went back on a year off from college to do service with the Bahá’í community. Internet connectivity is low there, so maybe I can still evade discovery by hiding behind the access disparity.

I’m afraid they won’t love me anymore, or they’ll love me with baffled pity for my wayward soul. I imagine that if I went back I could jump right into supporting whatever Bahá’í projects they had going. But could I really, even Ruhi? And why do I imagine it anyway? What am I trying to prove, at least in my own head? That I’m not, as one friend protested on my behalf, “a fallen leaf”?

How did it happen? I joined the Bahá’í Faith in part because I felt drawn to its transcendent affirmation that humanity is one people, various and diverse but somehow still one. And I liked working in practical ways to dissolve the boundaries that unnecessarily divide people. But gradually a new division was scored into my own consciousness. Crudely put, it was the division between Bahá’ís—those who get it—and non-Bahá’ís—those you’re trying to recruit, or at least supposed to be trying to recruit. From this point of view, leaving the Faith is becoming the wrong kind of person, someone who doesn’t get it. Or worse, you’re entering a third, rarely mentioned category—those who’ve lost it.

Leaving the Faith was extremely hard, and this Bahá’í/non-Bahá’í division made it feel like I was stepping out of the small circle of light and grace. I don’t know if I would ever have done it or how long it would have taken if I hadn’t had to leave for my own spiritual/psychological survival. Perhaps the remnant of this division in my consciousness is the reason why I fear the possibility of it in those friends from my past.

Me with youth costumed for a holy-day performance. I am fourth from left in front.

I listened recently to a recording made for me as a going-away present by the youth and kids I worked with in Indonesia. Before listening, I wondered how it would feel now, as an outsider to the Faith, to hear all these Bahá’í songs sung by beloved people. I was surprised to find that one song in particular, one of the best, had gained new meaning by the passage of time and my withdrawal from the Faith. It’s called “Karena Bahá’u’lláh,” which means “Because of Bahá’u’lláh.” A loose translation of the part that moved me goes something like this:

Because of Bahá’u’lláh we came together.
Because of Bahá’u’lláh we are family.
Because of Bahá’u’lláh we are one.

The words have more of a ring to them in Indonesian. And the melody—lifted I think from a popular song—is very memorable. I enjoyed the song then, but mostly I loved the people. Listening to it now, the literal meaning of the words is potent for me. It is true that because of this particular 19th-century Persian man who has come to be known as Bahá’u’lláh, I met the particular people who sang this song and gave me a tape of it, and the other Bahá’ís connected to them. (You can hear the audio by clicking the Play button on the MP3 player widget at the end of this post.)

Since discovering the discussions and the resources on the Web related to the Faith, I’ve been absorbed in a critical reexamination of the Bahá’í Faith. It was sweet to have a little respite from that thinky occupation and just give thanks for the very real gift of connection to dear people that I would not have had except for the life of this man called Bahá’u’lláh.

I believe I was good for the people I worked with and for there, and I know they were good for me. It pains me now, though, to reflect that some of them, particularly those who were youth then and are now mostly married with children, might expect me to be disappointed with them, the choices they have made, how their lives have unfolded. There would be grounds in what they knew of me to hope for better, but I’m sorry to say there would also be grounds for such a fear. My time there was the apex of my devotion to the Faith. I gave everything… everything I had, and even what I didn’t, and my body has never been the same since. But I could wish that I had given, particularly to the youth, more room for their doubts and for the uncertainties in their individual lives. I could wish that I and the other adults caring for them had done less of demanding incessant activity from them and had been more ready to receive their ability to just be.

For in this world it is not good to be too eager for the achievement of any, even of the best of ends; and one who knows by experience that God is always present everywhere and always ready to make Himself known to those who love Him, will not quickly prefer the uncertain value of human activity to the tranquility and certitude of this infinite and all-important possession.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 274.

I don’t think I knew by experience then that God is always present everywhere and always ready to make himself known to those who love him, though I’m sure I would have given my verbal assent to the statement. I was still trying to earn God’s love. I hadn’t yet discovered that I could simply open my hands and receive.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Priscilla,

This is beautiful. The situation you describe yourself in, feeling and fearing as you do, is universal. And you describe it so well.

As for understanding the words of the song you mention in a more literal way, I think I can guess what you mean. I think you're talking about the confusion of means with ends. What matters is that people love one another, that they're brought together, whether from across the ocean or across the street. Baha'u'llah's revelation is a means to achieving that end, and it's the end that matters.

That religion is only a means to an end is something that I think Abdu'l Baha implies at one point. There's the place where he writes that if religion becomes a cause of hatred it would be better that it didn't exist. This seems, to me anyway, to imply that religions and religious leaders are only any good in so far as they serve God's ultimate end, the unity of the human family.

Thank you for writing this: something this deeply felt is a very special gift. I hope others appreciate it.

Brendan

Priscilla Gilman said...

Brendan,

Thanks so much for your comment. When I was a Baha'i I tried very hard, probably rather too hard, to make a personal connection with Baha'u'llah. I never did make that connection and ultimately found I could have everything else I believed in in the Faith without being a Baha'i, but I could not sustain myself as a Baha'i without that connection. I guess listening to the song gave me a moment of personal connection because of my thankfulness for having known these people. For I certainly would not have known them if Baha'u'llah had not lived and founded the Baha'i Faith. "Because of Baha'u'llah we came together."

Peace,
Priscilla

John said...

As an 'ex-bahai' myself I really thought this was a great post from a person trying her best in life.

Despite being at one time heavily involved in the faith I'm thinking we are in a post-bahai era now.

However, it is difficult squaring the circle with those wonderful bahai's that we've met along the way the we think might not understand. Then again maybe it's worth trusting good people anyhow.

Thanks
John

Anonymous said...

hi!

you'ld better think about death and mesihia and live the bahai faith.

Umm Yasmin said...

Welcome to the weird world that is ex-Baha'i (or as John puts it "post-Baha'i').

I was born to Baha'i parents, and still mourn the loss of that wonderful, naive, sense of being chosen, being on the 'right' path, doing God's will, working for a new future for humanity etc.

I also miss the beauty of the prayers and the Writings and believing they were God's words.

In the years since my leaving I've sort of come to grips with it, and view the Writings as divinely inspired sort of like many of the Biblical texts and Shakespere, but not God-dictation.

It's hard though. Just thought I'd wave g'day.

Camiseta Personalizada said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve said...

I recently left the faith myself, and am having nagging thoughts of whether or not God still loves me. From what I have been reading of the Selections of the Writings of the Bab', it seems clear that I am either going to be punished in the hellfire, or am no longer in the Grace of God.

- Steve

Anonymous said...

Over the last decade I've seen nearly my entire family stop identifying themselves as Baha'is. At the moment, only my mother and myself remain in the Faith.

I have always had issues with the Baha'i community, as a child, youth, and adult, but I truly don't understand how someone can decide that Baha'u'llah's revelation was a lie.

Isn't that what one has to do to leave the Faith? Either Baha'u'llah is who He said He was, or He is just a man, right?

I sincerely hope I'm not coming off as some deluded Baha'i fundamentalist here, because I'm not that way anymore. Being scared about the Faith, being scared and lonely as a Baha'i is, I believe, part of what you sign up for when you join this Faith. But I truly don't understand leaving.

This is an honest plea from a concerned Baha'i family member - how does someone reconcile the warnings in the Writings about leaving this Faith, with deciding not to be a Baha'i anymore?

Again, this is nothing personally directed at you, Priscilla - I just need general insight. And I have no idea who to talk to about this.

Priscilla Gilman said...

Anonymous,

I really appreciate your comment and take no offense. I don't think I can answer quickly, though, and I think my answer will be limited by being mine. Your question may be the seed of a post. How do you think the various members of your family answer this question? Could you quote for me some of the warnings you speak of?

my best to you


Steve,

Despite my silence I have thought a lot of your comment, but any answer I think of seems almost a kind of violence to the feelings you are expressing. I will risk only this: I don't believe it is possible to be beyond God's grace, to be unloved by God. I hope you have or will discover other ways besides the writings you speak of to hear God's desire for you. I quote Merton in this post. It was from him that I learned to recieve the love of those that care for me as God's own love expressed through the uniqueness of those individuals. Quite a change in my own thinking.

God bless you,
Priscilla

Priscilla Gilman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priscilla Gilman said...

Amanda Respess has written a post in response to the above comment by Anonymous here.

Ian said...

This is very interesting, and all the comments are great. I left the faith several years ago. I had been a VERY active believer, and I even went on a year of service to propagate the faith in Chad. For my, my loss of faith was gradual and the outcome of my studies in science and philosophy. I do not think the belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, personal god, such as that described by Baha'u'llah, is likely to exist. In fact, I think it is so unlikely that I have no fear of the consequences for leaving that Baha'u'llah spoke of. Do I think he was a liar? Possibly. Or perhaps he was simply deluded. He would not be the first! Ramachandran, the psychologist, has done work on the temporal lobe and spiritual feelings. There are people who feel that they are communing with god and receiving revelation... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIiIsDIkDtg
Anyway, Dawkins' God Delusion and Sam Harris' The End of Faith are good places to start to understand the secular worldview.
Cheers

Emily said...

The original post is several years old, but I just discovered this blog. I am also a former Baha'i who remembers my initial discovery of the Baha'i Faith more than 15 years ago as a teenager. I remember with much gratitude even though I left the Faith after about 5 or 6 years. The Baha'i Faith was instrumental in making me the person that I am today. I built my relationship with God, discovered the power of Faith, the necessity of community, I had the chance to travel, to think, to make friends who understood me and loved me, to pray, to grow and to learn about history, religion in general, politics, family life, beauty...everything. And yet, I saw too many contradictions that might not have mattered if they weren't handled by simply glossing over them or ignoring them. Eventually I left once I had a wider perspective on living. It was a tremendous loss that took me a couple of years to get over, but it was necessary. Despite the irritating comments from Auxiliary board members and shocked friends, I gained a lot from the loss and still consider those 5 years of my life as one of the best periods of time for me.
I lost a lot of friends, which was heart breaking, and proved to me that I made the right decision. You mentioned the divide between 'those who got it, Baha'is, and everyone else who they were trying to convince. I remember people telling me that they didn't think Baha'is were sincere, that they didn't really care, that they were simply trying to win them over and then move on. There's a very deep in-group/out-group mentality that makes me extremely cautious when I talk to a Baha'i these days, which isn't often. I'm embarrassed when I remember some of the things I said as a youth teaching the Faith and am sorry for the hurt that I caused when people picked up on the fact that I was simply befriending them in order to teach them about the Faith. I paid attention to the criticism and cleaned up my heart a bit, but was always uncomfortable when I saw others continue in their insincerity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I found this while trying to make sense of my own circumstances. I don't know if I can call myself an "ex-Bahai" as I understand being a "ex" would require me to inform the Assembly I no longer believe in Baha'u'llah. I can't do that in all earnestness. Neither can I live an earnestly Bahai life anymore. I too was highly active - served on Assembly etc... I divorced without permission or a "proper" year of patience and I remarried without a Bahai ceremony - largely because I couldn't bear to say the same words to a new man and because I wasn't "living the life". In fact, I don't tell anyone I was/am Bahai because in fact I DO love Baha'u'llah and the Faith and want to protect it from my scriptural waywardness. I couldn't handle the pressure to be an example of the Faith all the time, I couldn't handle the loneliness being a rare Bahai without community or support in some places, the pain of "knowing the truth" and having no one else who cares. I was raised to oppose organized religion and it was a massive jump for me to become a Bahai to begin with. However, unlike many "Ex-Bahai's" I have had nothing but love from the Bahai friends I've known. In the true spirit of the Faith I've been given love and even kind consideration from the National when I wrote and told them I'd already divorced my husband. If my lifestyle was known to the greater Bahai community I would surely have my rights removed so I removed them on my own. I don't vote or attend Feasts - although where I live there is only one other Bahai but you get my point. And I don't teach the Faith anymore because I am no example of a Bahai - although I am much loved for my character and kindness in my community I drink alcohol, I lived with my current husband before marrying him and was pregnant at the wedding - and I am totally OK with those things. These are not intended to be confessions... just illustrations of a life lived more honestly. I am owning my choices, at least in my mind I am. I can't say I left the Faith because I still love it - when I feel fearful in life I cling to my prayers and I hold my Bahai books... even if I can hardly read them anymore. The feeling of what I can only describe as "catholic guilt" are overwhelming - knowing that living a Bahai Holy Life isn't something I feel I can honestly live up to and strive for anymore. I understand the feeling of wondering if God loves me but I find myself answering my doubts with Bahai Scriptures "If thou loves me not, my love can in no wise reach thee". SO.. since I love God SO much.. His love IS reaching me. So what am I so worried about? That my path is not the straight and narrow path prescribed in the Writings. No where close. But the Faith gives me private comfort and love in the privacy of my home and in my heart. Not the rules and regulations or the Chaste and Holy life I feel so seriously unprepared to live - but my heart is full of Love for God, for Baha'u'llah... and that's the best I can do and live honestly. For now.

Anonymous said...

This is incredibly recognizable for me. I was a Baha'i from 16 to just a few months ago, I'm 22 now. I have stumbled upon arguments from atheists refuting claims for the existance of God and when I dared to be honest, I had to confess the reason in their arguments. In the process, I felt God slip away.

I wasn't 100% devout in my belief, you don't just get from that to losing your faith altogether. But the feeling was certainly hard to find even then. I hardly ever prayed, and when I did it felt unnatural. But intellectually I certainly believed there was a God and that I was falling spectacularly short of His standards. It made me feel somewhat guilty.

And yet, save for some theological things that bugged me, I was devoted to the goals and principles of the Faith. I just took whatever I had trouble with along with it. I realize now that it was an unreasonable attitude, where I took certain aspects and accepted them not because they rang true, but because Baha'u'llah and His successors had said so.

And when I went to examine the Bible and the Quran and found some passages that simply could not be explained away as historical accounts of the views of a people, or as metaphor, or anything it hammered the nails in the coffin of my Faith.

Even seeing this now I don't feel bitter towards the Faith. I still support many of its goals. I just live now as an agnostic trying to apply these goals. But I do miss the poetry and the community of the Faith.

Worse yet, other than my parents I haven't told ANYONE. Not the Baha'i community and not my Ruhi group either. I keep coming up with excuses why I can't come to Ruhi, which I loved doing and would like to keep doing if it weren't for the shame of being an apostate basically. I don't know how they will react. I don't want to hurt them with this news, which they will probably regret. I want to stay friends and stay in touch, but I feel unworthy now.

And certainly there have been nights where it dawned on me that I have no eternal soul, and that when I die, I die. That's tough when you've spent years believing in the glorious and eternal future of mankind.

Still I can't ignore my concious and my reason, and I can not pretend to believe just as a crutch to deal with these things. I feel that it would be intentional self-deception. Wholly inauthentic, and I cannot do that. I have too much respect for the Faith to do that.

I will respect the sharp minds of atheists all day long, and agree with them that abuses in the name of religion must stop. But I don't feel ready to call myself an atheist. I feel more comfortable with agnostic.

Yes, I know the dictionary definition of 'atheist', and that it applies. And yes I probably am an atheist without balls. But have patience with me, I'm still coming to terms with this change, which I know is for the best but still sucks.

Having a huge chunk of your world view crumbling is no easy thing.

If anyone wants to talk with me about leaving the Faith and announcing that to the community, please post a comment here and we can exchange E-mail adresses. I really need help coming to terms with all this, preferably from an ex-Baha'i.

Sometimes I wish the Faith WAS a bloodletting cult, so I could stop feeling so torn. But the reality is that the Baha'i's are admirable and loving people, from whom I don't want to seperate completely.

Anonymous said...

odI am glad I never read the warnings if you leave the faith. Never have been too keen about the"if clause" in any situation,but especially suspect when I read or hear it in the context of a religions doctrine.Personally don't believe any entity capable of creating all the universes and even this messed up beautiful planet would give a damn if you swore some allegiance to his name or banner. Furthermore it is preposterous to think that such an entity/being would also care what mere mortals were doing in bed with each other regardless of their marital status relationship or sexuality. For an allegedly progressive faith it sounds a lot like the same old same old to most thinking people. Thank God or whatever you chose to believe is the force behind your creation and tell someone else today what a good job that God or that entity did in creating them just as they are. Let go of the fear and find your own truth. sounds like the people here have already started that journey.

Cooper said...

I was born into Baha'i and left in my mid 20's. You will come to terms with it. There are more people leaving than joining. Most people leave once they get passed that "new dimension" feeling and start reading the strange and false romises. The only people I know who have stayed in the Baha'i faith are old people who were born into it and don't know any other way, and some strange people who would not fit anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in Bahai family,I thought that by being a bahai every thing is going to be great and there wont be any issue left to doubt.But to simply put it I was oversimplifying it.We Humans are self-centred and self interested beings and that speaks volume. No matter how Great the Revelation is people are still come to the terms of violating it and still to find excuses for our own misdeeds. It does not matter if we are ordinary Bahai or Being a part of Decision making Body! we all seek God Forgiveness for any things; from shortcoming to downright immoral acts which by the
way deteriorates the community fabric. And here is the thing,You cannot ask why? Because according to Bahai law/concept if you are a sinner you cannot question the behaviour of any one (which by the way it can be true but there is a price to pay for dearly. And in case you wonder what is the price?
(I am being Sarcastic here, I am blind but I can see) Just look around I am sue you will see. When all of us are racing to have more fun (alcohol,drug,sex) at the expense of our community
well being,things get out of hands/control very quick, and when the equilibrium of a complex system is off by a bit there wont be a functioning system left, even though it was working just fine for a long time, that means the crash
is eminent.

I close with this; for some of those who are/were in charge of community affairs (LSA) and Abandoned the human Virtue,while they were in charge
O YE THAT ARE FOOLISH, YET HAVE A NAME TO BE WISE!
Wherefore do ye wear the guise of shepherds,when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon my flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition.


Sincerely
Teed

Anonymous said...

I have just left the Faith. I was astonished that confession of sins is forbidden, but everyone can, or better MUST tell the LSA the sin of others!!! (This is really the model of the Jehova's Witnesses...). Bahá'u'lláh self-claimed to come from God, but:
1. He was never able to perform a miracle
2. He made many mistakes in foreseeing the future, including the guide of the Bahá'í community
3. After claiming to be the Manifestation of God foretold by the Báb only few years after Báb's death, he smartly "revealed" that the next Manifestation would appear after a millennium (1000 years)
4. However the Gospel states that God became flesh and dwells among us, Bahá'u'lláh's verses invalidates both Incarnation and the possibility for mankind to encounter God (but Jesus is recognized as a Manifestation himself...)
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Diego, Italy

Jhu262 said...

It really is a bunch of crap.

Anonymous said...

Hey,
being a baha'i has always been very difficult for me - I was born into a family with very active baha'i-parents, and have always felt that the expectations on me have always been very heavy. And although I have tried, and still try, to find answers to all my questions about god, religion and the nature of being human, the answers have never come from baha'i-faith, but rather from the wonderful people I have as friends and family. If anything, they are the reason I'm still trying to relate the baha'i-faith to my life.

I know that my parents always loved me and my siblings, and tried to raise us as baha'i's - it's the best thing they have found in their life and want to share that with us. I have nothing but love for them and what they have taught me about god and the prophets - to them it is the greatest truth.

However, living in a small country with few baha'i's have made me feel both lonely, and also I have always felt great responsibility on me. "Oh, the oldest daughter of the auxilary board member, she will go in her mother's footsteps!" That is not me, and it scares me when people say such things. God has never felt very close to me - maybe I sound unfair saying this, but I have always found God and the afterlife and similar concepts to be like beautiful stories for children so that they can feel safe when they go to sleep. Even so, I believe that anything that motivates people to try to improve themselves and the world around them is a good thing. All my friends who are baha'i's are the most wonderful friends I have, and I understand that being devoted to something can be a great driving-force to actually make a change. I respect the activities done by the baha'i's and have seen how for instance junior youth groups can make the world a better place. Even so, improving myself in order to be closer to God in the afterlife has never been a good motivation for me - is it not enough to tyr to improve yourself and the world for the simple joy of seeing other people smile, and knowing that future generations might have it better than we have it today? I need meaning in my life, and people are the meaning I have found.

My path will not be the same as my mother's, but why do all paths that lead to improvement have to be the same? Relativity should apply in life as well as in the universe.

In all honesty, I don't really know why I felt so compelled to write here. I just wanted to get it out of me, I think.

I'm still working on my way, but there's still time to figure it out (I'm 18).

Thanks,
L

Anonymous said...

Hi, i became a bahai a year ago, however the more j study the more questions arise. I love God and love Jesus. I am so turned off... and started feeling lime. I was disconnecti.g or slowly slipping away from God. It seems that persians cultures is part of the bahai faith... i keep hearing about equality of women as equal, how do you have multiple wifes and treat them as equal? There are 9 MEN in the house of justice..i am confused! Although i have truly met some awesome sweet spirited people from all culture and race, i believe that they do love humanity and God, i just dont know if i can move on with this belief .