the power of introverts in the baha’i faith

Recently, I came across a new thread on Reddit’s Baha’i group on a very interesting topic: introversion, and how introverts can find their path of service in the Baha’i community. The post’s author, /u/_valleyone_, introduced his question in the following way:

“As an introvert, I have struggled to find my role in the Baha’i faith. I have struggled to find ways to serve. All of the expectations and opportunities presented to me are heavily geared toward extroverts, and it appears I am not alone. While the Baha’i faith rightly focuses on unity and consultation, these do not always have to be found in extroverted fashion. […] Let me get to my main question for all of you: How do you think introverted Baha’is can best serve the faith? Can we compile some ideas for other Baha’is? Can we come up with ways to introduce introvert-friendly functions?”

I can definitely understand where /u/_valleyone_ was coming from—active participation in the training institute process, for example, does tend to entail a lot of going out and meeting and talking to new people, making phone calls, scheduling, and so on. I’ve served as a teacher of Baha’i children’s classes for many years, and that definitely entails a lot of work with others: teaching the children, close follow-up with parents regarding their children’s progress, and more. So it’s not surprising that some people just find it challenging to take leading roles in supporting the institute process or the core activities of the Five-Year Plan.

So, as people do on Reddit, the folks on /r/bahai came through, responding with a plethora of great ideas on how introverted people can go about serving the Baha’i community. Do you know of other ways that introverted people can be of service to the Baha’i community, or to their greater community? Leave a comment here, or on the original post on Reddit.

  • Newsletter editor
  • Treasurer
  • Auditor
  • Website maintenance
  • Sending text reminders about activities
  • Helping to coordinate activities by email
  • Hosting activities organized by others
  • Cooking/food prep
  • Cleaning
  • Gardening/maintenance
  • Creating art
  • Teller for elections
  • Librarian/bookstore manager
  • Event photographer
  • Minutes keeper
  • Being the recording secretary of a spiritual assembly
  • Archivist
  • Statistical officer
  • Attendance taker
  • Materials and logistics
  • AV person
  • Keeping an eye out for people who seem like they feel uncomfortable or out of place
  • Praying for others
  • Attending and supporting devotional meetings
  • Keeping track of time and notifying the chairperson
  • Calendar maintenance
  • Printing materials for study
  • Writing essays/blogs about the Faith and your belief
  • Planning Holy Days
  • Seeking to connect with a very small number of people about your faith

baha’i dating: building a gateway to marriage

and in the darkness bind themlet’s talk about chastity, let’s talk about you and me, September 11, 2006

When I was in high school, I used to tell people that “Bahá’ís don’t date”. That was a gross oversimplification, of course. It’s not that Bahá’ís can’t do things with potential partners in order to get to know them better, it’s more like they don’t buy into the culture of dating that currently prevails in Western society. Yeah, Netflix and chill is out. But beyond that, I was probably having my own trouble figuring out how to get to know a potential life partner as a Bahá’í. How exactly do you learn how to relate to potential partners when most of your peers just want to talk about baseball? And just how are you supposed to get to know someone without playing that game?

A little while ago, there was a thread on Reddit’s Baha’i group in which a new Baha’i—for whom sex in romantic relationships had previously become an important part of life— asked: “How do Baha’is date without sex?” I thought I’d share a little about what was said in this thread. Several users made some great comments, so I’ve collected them here together.

From /u/t0lk: “Good sex is not the purpose of a marriage and therefore not the focus of the dating life for Baha’is. Marriage is about strengthening the family and therefore the core unit of society. It is also about providing stability in which children can be raised in safety and security. You can think of dating as the process of determining who would best allow you to do that. The more attached we become to someone through sex or intimacy the more difficult it can become to judge based on that criteria. Ideally a Baha’i enters a relationship once he or she has become acquainted with the character of the other person, has had a chance to serve together with that person and already has a strong friendship with them. As you can imagine, any intimacy detracts from this purpose and will make the process more difficult.”

From /u/papercranium: “It helps to keep in mind that the point of dating isn’t to be dating. It’s to further investigate whether someone could be a marriage partner. It’s not meant to be a long, ongoing process. It’s not something you can do with someone you find attractive at a bar somewhere. You obviously know this person from somewhere, or you wouldn’t be considering them as a potential spouse. So what did you do with them before? Go hiking? Play Scrabble? Teach children’s classes? Do more of that. My husband and I were friends since the age of 15. We started dating 11 years later. Within a year we were married. There just wasn’t a lot more getting-to-know-you that needed to happen at that point.”

And my own answer: “My wife and I met through service, as I was taking several months off to serve internationally and she was a member of the institutions at my post. We didn’t know each other as long as you guys did before we started considering a serious relationship, so from the get-go we tried to go into our relationship deliberately and with eyes fully open. Serving together was probably the best thing we could have done to get to know each other, as it allowed us to see how each of us dealt with a variety of challenges and difficult situations. We planned out other activities to allow us to get to know each other better, too. Some of these were one-on-one: hanging out in coffeeshops and having conversations, or long walks by the lake, for instance. Some of them were with friends and family, like sightseeing, trips, family dinners, and so on. And of course, we would attend Feasts and holy days together. We travelled a lot, and we were able to observe each other in a variety of different contexts. Eventually, we decided we were willing to take things to the next step, got consent, and voilà.”

eye-gazing in hoi anIt’s important to be clear: The Bahá’í Faith isn’t against sex. To quote the Universal House of Justice: “Bahá’ís do not believe that the sex impulse should be suppressed but that it should be regulated and controlled. Chastity in no way implies withdrawal from human relationships. It liberates people from the tyranny of the ubiquity of sex. A person who is in control of his sexual impulses is enabled to have profound and enduring friendships with many people, both men and women, without ever sullying that unique and priceless bond that should unite man and wife.” In other words, the law of chastity revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is basically a way for us to remain in control of our sexual impulses, which enables us to develop true, profound and lasting friendships and relationships with members of both sexes, freed from the constraints of an excessive focus on sexuality.

So, does chastity mean that Bahá’ís have to be like monks and completely abstain from sex? Well, only until they get married: The law of Bahá’í marriage was revealed to give sexual impulses their highest and most constructive expression. But then, one might ask, how can we expect young people to “regulate” and “control” their sexual feelings until they’re ready to get married—especially when more and more young people are choosing to postpone marriage, sometimes into their thirties? Simple: Create a culture of Bahá’í marriage.

In the article Creating a New Bahá’í Marriage Culture, Raelee Peirce, a Bahá’í who works as a Parent Coach in North Carolina, explores how parents can help give their children a positive view of marriage and relationships. A short excerpt follows to give you a taste of it:

We need to share with our preschoolers the idea of marriage and we need to discuss the concept of finding a husband or wife when our children are in grade school rather than entertaining the idea of boyfriends and girlfriends. We need to create a family culture that does not include our children or youth engaging in frivolous boy-girl relationships. For example, when a six-year-old talks about “liking” another of the opposite sex, one should not consider it cute and exclaim to others that Jamal has a little girlfriend. As a Bahá’í parent we need to say, “Jamal, it’s wonderful that you like Emma; it’s great to have lots of friends. One day when you are much older you will find a girl to be your wife and have a beautiful Bahá’í family!”…

When we consistently refer to boy-girl relationships as a marriage relationship through the young years and the expectation of our family standard is that boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t relevant, then it isn’t a part of our child’s context even when it is part of their world at school. Potential husbands and wives are the more acceptable concept. In this context, a young boy or girl is not likely to start seeking a marriage partner!

One interesting point I’ve gleaned from this article is that perhaps, as Bahá’ís get their children started thinking about marriage in this way, marriage will become a goal for an earlier stage in life. In other words, it’s okay for children to know that one of the main purposes of Bahá’í marriage is to give expression to their sexual impulses, and it’s okay for them to plan ahead for it with that in mind. Instead of waiting until their thirties to get married, they can plan to marry young—let’s say, between 18–25—so that they can enjoy their youth with their partner.

So, with all of this said, what does Bahá’í dating look like? Well, the main difference that sets it apart from any other kind of dating is its intention. It’s not just a game, and it’s not a way for young Bahá’ís to indulge their sexual impulses. It’s a gateway to the institution of marriage, which, for Bahá’ís, is an institution that provides for the kind of strength and stability in which those impulses can be most constructively expressed, and in which children can be raised in safety and security. Imagine being an architect, and wanting to build a strong and beautiful building that will be able to withstand any conditions, from the strongest storms to the weathering of the ages. And imagine that the job is too big for you to take on alone: You need a partner, another architect with whom you will work on this lifelong project. Bahá’í dating essentially means looking for this architect—someone with the skills, the virtues and the character to help you build a fortress for well-being.

The original post, let’s talk about chastity, let’s talk about you and me, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza.

avoiding contention: don’t get trolled

MoonlightingFrom time to time, as we exchange comments with people online on topics related to the Bahá’í Faith and its principles, we may find that we encounter opposition. Sometimes, people will simply disagree, and that’s fine, of course—everyone’s got an opinion, and as long as we show tact, wisdom, forbearance and love for each other, there’s a good chance we can uncover a greater truth from these kinds of exchanges.

But sometimes, the opposition we encounter can be a little more serious. I’m not talking about honest disagreements, but rather, people straight-up attacking the Bahá’í Faith and everything that Bahá’ís believe in. This can include attacks on Bahá’u’lláh, His Covenant, and the other Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith, such as the Báb, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi; the Universal House of Justice; the actions of individual Bahá’ís or particular Bahá’í institutions or communities; the relation between the Bahá’í Faith and other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; the Bahá’í stance on homosexuality and other highly politicized issues; and so on. Like I said, everyone has their own opinions, and that’s fine, as long as those opinions are well-founded. But when those opinions are based on misunderstandings, ignorance, or worse, when people start engaging in willful, reckless slander and calumny—misrepresenting what Bahá’ís believe and do, and accusing them of monstrosities that are patently false—that’s when there’s a problem.

As we know, Bahá’u’lláh calls upon us “to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God”. We may also have also read the advice of the Universal House of Justice about the approach we should take towards correcting the misconceptions brought forth by those who attack the Cause:

“In correcting misrepresentations of the Faith made by those who are hostile to it, our obligation is to set forth Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings cogently and courteously, but firmly, supporting them with rational proofs. Once this has been done, the challenge rests with our hearers, whatever their interests or motivations, to consider our responses in this same spirit of courtesy and objectivity. …

In the same piece of advice, the Universal House of Justice draws our attention to something we must absolutely avoid, which is contention:

“For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.

As a follow-up to an earlier post about what Baha’is do when people attack the Faith, I thought I’d share the following quote, from a piece of guidance from the World Centre on the topic of avoiding contention when addressing misconceptions about the Bahá’í Faith.

In emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships, Baha?’u’lla?h declares that “conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book.” He further exhorts all people to “utter that which is meet and seemly,” to “refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men,” and to recognize that the “religion of God is for love and unity” and not to be made the “cause of enmity or dissension.”

Clearly, any tendency toward argumentation or confrontation is to be eschewed by Baha?’i?s while opportunities to clarify or defend the Faith’s basic precepts and goals should be carried out “in a restrained and unprovocative language.” In some cases, it may be appropriate to directly address topics raised by critics, but in other situations, it may be more constructive to simply present the authoritative Baha?’i? perspective on a matter. Confusion or erroneous understandings surrounding Baha?’i? belief can best be dispelled through a reasoned focus on issues, and the principles underlying issues, without reference to the motivations or identity of individuals raising the criticisms. Regardless of the approach taken, “in our presentations and relationships we should always try to build bridges so that our beautiful Teachings can be understood and accepted, and the power which they have to establish unity amongst men will be exemplified.” In the end, though, if critics are not receptive to clarifications or explanations offered, it is preferable to respectfully leave them to themselves.

On a practical level, to argue directly or indirectly with those critical of the Faith can be counterproductive. Disputatious interactions can provide opponents with platforms to disseminate their views and agendas, and repel the wider audience observing such interactions. In addition, as the House of Justice notes, “Under most circumstances, it would seem worse than futile for a Baha?’i? to attempt to defend the institutions or members of the Faith from the kind of reckless slander that has become an all too common feature of the moral deterioration of contemporary society, and that tends to characterize much of the language of the Faith’s current critics.”

It is apparent that some opponents seek to draw Baha?’i?s into exchanges with the intent of demonstrating that Baha?’i?s are either nai?ve, dogmatic, or intolerant. In particular, adherence to the provisions of the Covenant of Baha?’u’lla?h is sometimes cast in these terms, while for believers such adherence expresses faith in a power “which quickeneth and promoteth the development of all created things on earth.” Baha?’u’lla?h affirms that it is indeed possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be tolerant: “…observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind.”

TrollfaceIf you’ve spent a decent of time on the Internet, then “trolls” and “trolling” are part of your vocabulary. I’ve seen my share of trolls online, and in the case of trolls who attack the Bahá’í Faith, picking them out is pretty easy. Most of the time their arguments don’t make much sense, and even people who don’t know much about Bahá’í can tell that what they’re saying isn’t legit.

In some cases, ignoring trolls is enough. But sometimes it is necessary to speak up; for instance, when they respond to people who have a genuine interest in the Bahá’í Faith. I mean, imagine asking a question about a really neat new message from God that seems to be the answer to the ills of mankind, and in response, getting nothing but a bunch of nonsense telling you how Bahá’ís are The Devil 666™ and in league with every evil group under the sun. That’s why it is necessary for us to speak up and say hey, if you want a legit answer, here it is, feel free to investigate further. Of course, haters are gonna hate and trolls are gonna troll, so it’s inevitable that we’ll get flak for speaking up. That’s why we need to know how to establish the truth without feeding the trolls nor engaging in contention. And in my opinion, the guidance above is a great way to describe this balancing act.

It’s all about getting attention. Trolls thrive on attention, and they try to get it by provoking conflict, drawing people into arguments. That’s exactly why, when seeking to correct misinformation that’s shared about the Faith online, it’s important to practice moderation, detachment, wisdom and restraint. “For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.”

Photos: Moonlighting by dawolf-, and Trollface by Paul VanDerWerf.

heaven, hell, and why all paths are good

Today, I thought I’d share something that I wrote as an answer to a question on the Bahá’í AMA that a few of us from Reddit’s Baha’i group hosted on /r/religion last year. The question was: “Why do [Bahá’ís] believe that there is no Heaven or Hell and believe that other religious groups are acceptable to follow?

“Heaven” and “hell”, for Bahá’ís, refer to states of nearness to and distance from God, respectively. So when you’re living your life in a way that is in line with divine teachings, you’re in heaven.

Let’s give a few specifics here about the nature of the soul. Bahá’u’lláh teaches that human beings have a material self (the body) and a spiritual self (the soul). The body acts as a sort of vehicle that allows us to develop our souls throughout our time in the material world, before progressing into purely spiritual worlds at the time of physical death. And although the exact state of the soul after we die is unknowable for us at this time, Bahá’u’lláh does state that our souls live on eternally and continue on their journey through the spiritual worlds. Notably, He states that we retain our consciousness after physical death, we are able to recognize the souls of those who we were close to, and so on.

If, throughout our life in this physical world, our souls have grown in their ability to show forth spiritual qualities such as selflessness, love, justice, generosity, kindness, truthfulness, trustworthiness, wisdom, and service, we will be close to God, and we will experience that as a “heaven” of joy, gratitude and gladness. If, on the other hand, we spent our lives showing selfishness, hatred, enmity, injustice, avarice, deceit, and so forth, we will find ourselves far from God, and we will experience that as a “hell” of regret and sorrow.

Hopefully that answers the first part of the question. As for the second part, here’s my take.

Golden ruleFirst off, Baha’is believe that there really is just one religion—the “changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”, which has been revealed progressively throughout history to different peoples and nations, as that same God manifested Himself to them. The differences between all of the world’s great religions, then, are simply a matter of differences in context: The religion of God was revealed to them in a way that was best suited for them in that place and at that time. Bahá’u’lláh does say that there will be further Manifestations of God in the future, so the Bahá’í Faith isn’t the end of the line. We refer to all of this as God’s Eternal Covenant—God never leaves us without guidance when we need it, and to be fair, looking at the state of the world around us, we certainly seem to be in need of guidance.

Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for today, who has brought the message of unity and oneness that applies to humanity’s needs in the present day. Whenever God sends a new Manifestation to teach humanity and renew His religion, it becomes the duty of all the people of the world to accept the new Manifestation and to follow His teachings, so it is important for everyone to investigate His claims and accept His teachings if the world is to progress.

As to whether people of different religions can achieve that state of “heaven” I described above, here’s my thought: If you live a good life ploughing rice fields as an Indian farmer and you die as a Hindu devotee without ever learning that God had renewed His message, could you be blamed for not accepting God’s religion? Not at all, because as far as you knew, yours was still God’s religion. But if God had renewed His message in the meantime, and somebody came by and told you about it, and you refused to accept it, then your soul would have to live through the rest of its eternal existence with that knowledge.

All of that said, of course, there is no way to get around the fact that people of different genders, races, nations, orientations, beliefs, and religions are part of the same human family. Furthermore, Bahá’ís are specifically exhorted to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship”, so no matter where your religion is on that continuum, you’re still a member of the human family and we’re gonna love you, respect you and value you. Nobody’s going to throw anyone into a lake of fire for our sake, but at the end of the day, there are some serious truths that Bahá’u’lláh presents that everyone should investigate, because they are well-suited for today’s world and can help humanity to progress.

Photo: Golden rule, by Phil Squires.

websites = life

The life of a web developer is basically just websites. Unless, you know, you like to go outside or something. But going outside’s beside the point of this post. This post is all about websites. Pretty little websites, all in a row. Big ones, small ones, wikis, social networks, coffee pot webcams, and more.

So, yeah, I spend a lot of my time on websites. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. Take, for instance, Wikipedia. You haven’t heard of that one, right? It’s a homework help free content farm online encyclopedia that has lots of cool stuff on it about small villages in England and bizarrely named dog breeds and stuff. I’ve been editing Wikipedia since about 2006, and, oddly enough, I feel like it’s actually helped me improve my writing skills. I’ve worked on a bunch of articles about Vietnam, and a few Bahá’í-related articles too.

Speaking of Bahá’í-related Wikipedia articles, Bahaikipedia is a thing too. It was created around the same time as I started writing on Wikipedia; I even blogged about it way back when I first started contributing there. It’s quietly but steadily grown over the years, to the point where there are now over 4,000 articles. Take a look through it when you get the chance, and if wikis are your thing (or even if they’re not), why not create an account and start contributing yourself?

Speaking of places where you should create an account and contribute, did you know that there’s a Baha’i Reddit group (aka “subreddit”)? It’s an interesting place to have conversations on all kinds of topics related to the Bahá’í Faith, and it’s pretty legit—well, at least legit enough to be featured on Bahá’í Blog, in an article marking its 9th anniversary. There are also related subreddits about Bahá’í history, photography, web/software projects, newsquotes, so there’s something for everyone. Over the past month there’ve been some pretty good threads on a variety of topics, including Light to the World, the new documentary on the life of Bahá’u’lláh; how one goes about becoming a Bahá’í; backbiting; the purpose of life; favourite recipes for 19-day Feasts; and more. Conversations can get challenging sometimes because it’s a forum that’s open to everyone, but the group is (ahem) pretty well moderated and, as a result, the cream tends to rise to the top.

Speaking of Reddit and having conversations, some Reddit users got together and created a Baha’i chat server on a platform ironically called “Discord”, which is popular with gamers and offers text, audio and video chat. It’s a fairly new server, but there are usually a few people online to chat with, for those who’d like the chance to talk to Bahá’ís and their friends in real time. They’ve created a new front page for the server with the amazing domain name bahai.fyi (don’t you just wish you had registered that one).

Speaking of amazing domain names… uh… well, I have one. Right? (That’s all for now, but don’t worry, there’ll be more talk about nerdy Internet stuff later on. For now, just go click on some links and have a great time.)

the baha’i stance on homosexuality

One of the hot-button topics that tends to pop up a lot on Reddit’s Baha’i group is that of homosexuality, and Baha’i reactions and beliefs about it. That makes sense, because Baha’i beliefs about homosexuality are nuanced, rather than being black-and-white like much of the discourse that goes on in society today. So when a user asked recently about the Baha’i stance on homosexuality, I went ahead and offered the following reply.

First of all, another user posted a link to the most recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality; you can take it as the official Bahá’í perspective.

In general, you’ll find that Bahá’í belief is based on its written texts, in which the Writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh have been authoritatively interpreted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. The Universal House of Justice has the power to legislate on things that aren’t covered by these Writings, but not to change the Writings themselves.

The important thing to remember is that we can say whatever we want on /r/bahai, but belief isn’t based on the judgements of individual Bahá’ís. When in doubt, we turn towards the Writings, and towards guidance of the Universal House of Justice, and we use that guidance to help us advance our understanding of the issue in question.

I would say that the Bahá’í view of homosexuality is nuanced and doesn’t lend itself well to being condensed into the short, pithy, categorical statements that we often expect to hear in public discourse these days. It doesn’t make the Bahá’í view any less valid, of course; it just means that it bears reflection.

For me, the principal takeaways from the May 2014 letter include: 1) certain facts, including the prohibition of homosexual acts and the definition of marriage as occurring between a man and a woman, are authoritative and are not subject to change, not even by the Universal House of Justice; 2) that Bahá’í laws apply to Bahá’ís, and that we cannot, and do not, seek to force others to conform to those laws; 3) that Bahá’ís must strive to show love, kindness and fellowship to every human being, no matter their beliefs or their physical, emotional, or mental particularities, and that shunning someone simply based on sexual orientation is unjust.

One more thing is that I wouldn’t say that the West should be “ignored”, as you put it. One of the great advances that the West has helped to bring to light in the world is the formal, secular definition of human rights, and the concept that you can’t just squash someone just because they’re different from you. My understanding is that this is a concept that’s reflected in Divine teachings, as well: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I also believe that there are no contradictions in Divine teachings; contradictions only arise when we fail to comprehend the purport of the Divine teachings, or how they relate to one another. As we strive to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, we’re going to need to rise above all of our differences and explore reality together in the light of these Divine teachings, to see what they mean for us—what a Divine civilization will look like in real, concrete terms.