good books to help you start learning about the bahá’í faith

People often come to visit /r/bahai (Reddit’s Bahá’í group) to ask questions. Every now and then, people drop by with the question: “Where do I start learning about the Bahá’í Faith?”. Here’s my answer to a recent thread, specifically asking for books to read to get a good overview of the Bahá’í Faith.

A good place to start if you’re looking for Baha’i books is the Baha’i Reference Library, which has a number of authoritative Baha’i texts. You can also find all of these for purchase at the Baha’i Bookstore online, and for free in e-book form.

The order you read them in kind of depends on your own background and what you’re interested in, but a good place to start is with Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words, which is like a distillation of the spiritual teachings that lie at the core of all of the world’s great religions.

If you have a strong mystical bent, you might want to follow that up with Bahá’u’lláh’s Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, or Gems of Divine Mysteries. Both of these are essentially letters to individuals who had asked about certain spiritual truths, such as the path taken by a soul on its spiritual journey.

If you’re really interested in Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the evolution of religion throughout history, and His interpretation of past religious prophecies, you should definitely read the Book of Certitude, aka the Kitáb-i-Íqán. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve started learning about the Bahá’í Faith through this book; it really delivers some penetrating spiritual insights.

There are also more general introductory books about the Bahá’í Faith that are available. Two commonly recommended books for those interested in reading about the Bahá’í Faith are A Short History of the Bahá’í Faith by Peter Smith, and A Short Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith by Moojan Momen. If you want a very quick foretaste of both books, you can check out this combined review. Smith has also published a newer book, An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith, which you might want to consider as well.

earth in the balance

Several people have pointed this out to me so far, so it’s probably worth a few words: Al Gore, ex-Vice-President of the United States of America turned environmentalist guru, gave a short mention of the Baha’i Faith—and the name of its Founder, Baha’u’llah—in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, pp. 261-262.

One of the newest of the great universalist religions, Baha’i, founded in 1863 in Persia by Mirza Husayn Ali (Baha’u’llah), warns us not only to properly regard the relationship between humankind and nature but also the one between civilization and the environment. Perhaps because its guiding visions were formed during the period of accelerating industrialism, Baha’i [sic] seems to dwell on the spiritual implications of the great transformation to which it bore fresh witness:

“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”

Several sources claimed that the book is a “new” book, but publishing information indicates it was published in 1992—of course, it may have been reprinted recently owing to the popularity of Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Can anyone confirm this?

By the way, the above quote is actually taken from a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, included in the compilation on the Conservation of Earth’s Resources. Thanks George, Laina and Marty for the tip, among others.

blogging, writing, artistic expression, etc

I’m not much of a writer. Some people will readily attest to that (sometimes without even being asked). I actually get a lot more out of visual art and music than writing. My dad’s the writer in the family. He started blogging recently, and even had several blogs on the go until he got tired of it. For the longest time he had piles and piles of books lining his bedroom walls: books by Joyce, Faulkner, Nash, Vonnegut, and probably, um, thousands of other people I’ve never even heard of. Apparently he cleaned out a whole lot of them. I got some of his extra copies. Books like The Return of the Native, Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, The Stone Angel. I’ve heard horror stories about that last one, from traumatized students who had to read it in twelfth-grade English class. Apparently it’s real depressing. I think in twelfth-grade English, I was reading The Glass Menagerie. Not to mention making home movies about it, complete with car stunts and death metal (and pinch harmonics – thanks Brandon). Ahhh, Tennessee Williams. As if I wasn’t insane enough already.

Anyway, all that to say that I’m not much of a writer (except for writing the odd piece of poetry). I read books, sure, but I have trouble finishing them. I get bored easily when books don’t move along fast enough. Some books are better for this than others.

what the hey christmas holiday

chaussant ses patins...hello there people. the winter school was so great. I came back last night. I wish I could have stayed there for a week! what a cool atmosphere. it was an interesting challenge personally, and it was so fun to be around all the kids. i was asked to help facilitate a group of 13-16 year olds. it was rough at times but we made out quite well and I think the youth enjoyed themselves. it was a very different atmosphere, because there were parents involved in the process, part of the groups. everything centred around the youth, and apparently everyone loved that aspect of it. the whole school was a rousing success.

now I’m back in Ottawa, staying at my parents’ place. my mom is working today, and my dad (who is retired now) is taking it easy with us at home. we had a nice conversation this morning about the history of his family. I learn more about family history every day, and it’s helping me get a better understanding of the family’s evolution. you just need to ask and you’ll receive.

today (once we finally get going) Catherine and I are going to go downtown, do a little shopping, and meet some friends for tea. around about tea time, too. charming. (in a british accent)

I was reading a really interesting book this morning, called “To dine with the blameless Ethiopians”. it’s about the story of an african-american Bahá’í girl who decides to go to southern Africa on a year of service, and her struggles with apartheid and her own cultural identity, and her service to the Faith throughout all these difficulties. very interesting and very inspiring. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough in my service. and it’s true that other people have done a lot more than I have on their year of service than I have on mine. but I accepted certain conditions of life and service when I decided to go to Quebec. Quebec isn’t exactly South Africa. People aren’t really banging down your door to hear about a new religion. not that there are fundamentally different needs — everyone needs the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh — but it needs to be brought in a certain way. I guess the most important thing I’ve done is just to stay in the community, establish the local Spiritual Assembly, and offer my support and aid to the local community. I’m still thinking about this issue of finding courage, of finding that faith that moves mountains. the doubts and fears are very real, but they’re very real delusions. overcoming these delusions — that I can’t teach the Faith, that I don’t have the capacity to spread the message of Bahá’u’lláh, that I can’t live a life that’s infused with the spirit of devotion and love for His Revelation — is my challenge, and one that I am facing one step at a time. slowly I find myself gaining in courage and certitude. slowly I find myself mentioning the Faith to more and more people. slowly the seeds I plant grow, and it’s my duty to continue to water them, feed them, give them light. one step at a time, one day at a time.

anyway, I’m going to get ready to go now. I’m glad to be able to share these things with you people. And I’m not even sure who reads this. maybe a bunch of complete strangers. if so, I hope you take something good from it 😉