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.

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.

the role of sex and sexuality

So I was looking back at the very first Baha’i AMA we hosted a while back, with the help of a bunch of users from Reddit’s Baha’i group. One of the questions had to do with the Baha’i view of the role of sexuality and gender identity. It was answered quite well, but I decided to offer my own perspective on the role of sexuality in Bahá’í life.

The sex impulse is a natural bestowal, and Baha’u’llah says it should be regulated in its expression to just with our marriage partner. […]

Just a bit of digression on this: Sexuality, in and of itself, is a part of the human experience. The Bahá’í teachings emphasize the dual nature of human life: we have a higher, spiritual, divine nature, and a lower, material, animal nature. Both are necessary for us to progress in this physical world, but our spiritual self—our soul—is all that we bring with us into the spiritual worlds of God. The laws and precepts revealed by Bahá’u’lláh constitute the means for us to refine and prepare our spiritual self for its eternal journey, which has its beginnings in the womb of the mother, continues through this physical world and into the hereafter.

The Universal House of Justice explains: “Just as there are laws governing our physical lives, requiring that we must supply our bodies with certain foods, maintain them within a certain range of temperatures, and so forth, if we wish to avoid physical disabilities, so also there are laws governing our spiritual lives. These laws are revealed to mankind in each age by the Manifestation of God, and obedience to them is of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously.”

The law of chastity revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, then, 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. The law of marriage, which, as /u/finnerpeace noted, is defined as being between a man and a woman, was revealed to give those impulses their highest and most constructive expression.

From the Universal House of Justice again: “…the Bahá’í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse and holds that the institution of marriage has been established as the channel of its rightful expression. 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.”

All this being said, the application of these laws, as with many Bahá’í laws, is left to the discretion of the believers. Except in cases where people are somehow hurting or otherwise negatively affecting themselves or others, it’s not something that people get upset over. Everyone has his or her own path to follow and his or her own spiritual row to hoe. Confession of sins to others is forbidden for Bahá’ís, as is fault-finding—in fact, Bahá’u’lláh regards fault-finding and backbiting as the worst possible sin. Every Bahá’í, then, is directly responsible before God for his or her own actions, inactions, and overall spiritual growth.

One last quote from the Universal House of Justice: “It is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented toward service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”