An Apology to the Baha'is of This World and the World Beyond
by Eric Stetson - November 12, 2008
Dear Baha'i Friends,
I declared my faith in the Baha'i religion on March 21, 1998; was an observant and active Baha'i for about four years; and resigned my membership in the Baha'i community on November 5, 2002, about six years ago. Before leaving the faith, I wrote and published on the internet a book calling for reform of the Baha'i Faith and claiming prophetic authority to do so, but soon decided I no longer believed in Baha'u'llah's claim of prophethood nor my own. I became a Christian and a strong critic of Baha'u'llah, the Baha'i faith and its organization. Because of the high visibility of my website, www.Bahai-Faith.com, many thousands of people were exposed to my critical views, which I couched as a Christian witness to the truth of Christ and the falsehood of Baha'u'llah and his religion. I apparently became well enough known among Baha'is that I was identified in an academic article by Baha'i author Moojan Momen as one of twelve noteworthy modern "apostates" of the Baha'i Faith.
Looking back, I believe some of my criticisms were more justified than others. Some were based on facts that are not in dispute, whereas other things I said were gratuitous and harsh judgments that were not in the spirit of Christ. Between the years 2002 and 2008, I have gradually progressed from the point of condemning Baha'u'llah to hell (a judgment that only rebounded back upon myself while I believed it) to a recognition that, whether or not he was inspired by God and regardless of any specific mistakes he may have made, he was surely a man who was trying to make a positive difference in the world and deserves much credit for that.
So let me join the Baha'is this year, this day, in saying "Happy birthday Baha'u'llah!" The world is a better place and many souls have been lifted up to greater heights because you were born and lived on this earth and shared your spiritual message with its people. I love you -- not in the way Baha'is do as a follower of the religion you founded, but as a fellow child of God who yearns to do good for my brothers and sisters in the human family and who appreciates the positive things you did in your life in the face of extraordinary trials.
I apologize for excessive and sometimes unfair criticisms I have voiced against Baha'u'llah, his successors, and the Baha'i community. I ask forgiveness from all of you -- those who are in this world as well as those in the world beyond. I especially ask those who have been martyred for their Baha'i faith to forgive me. I know that you sacrificed yourselves for something worth dying for: a vision of humanity united in inclusive love, common purpose, and peace among nations and religions under One God. Let me have as much courage and strength to live for these ideals as you had to die for them.
If I am considered by any Baha'is to be an "enemy of the Faith," an angry apostate, or other such negative appellations, I ask that you no longer regard me in this way. Instead, consider me a friend and colleague in the broad-based movement toward a universal spiritual vision for humanity's future and a global civilization based on mutual respect and reconciliation of all.
Though I disagree with Baha'u'llah and his successors on some important points and believe them all to have been fallible human beings like anyone else, I recognize that they received some valuable divine inspiration and that -- though it is almost certainly not God's plan for the Baha'i faith ever to become the largest religion in the world -- nevertheless the existence of the Baha'i faith has, on balance, been a positive thing in history. Above all, I believe Baha'u'llah will be remembered as a man who made a serious attempt to bring spiritual and societal progress to the Islamic world -- a civilization which was, and in some ways still is, desperately in need of advancement beyond the beliefs and practices of the Middle Ages. We should be grateful for his efforts in this regard, despite whatever details of his claims and his teachings one may disagree with. Furthermore, we should thank Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi for their sincere attempt to take the basic principles taught by Baha'u'llah and use this as the basis for creating a world-embracing faith tradition that, in their own time and considering their own cultural background, was very progressive -- and which in some ways remains so today.
I am writing this letter and sharing it publicly because this is a crucial time in world history, a time when it is vitally important for people to put aside their religious differences in order to work together for the sake of all who are living today and for those yet unborn. I do not wish for my disagreement with some aspects of Baha'i theology and organizational practices to be a barrier preventing me from uniting with Baha'is when it may be desirable for furthering our common goals which transcend the boundaries of religion. I do not wish for Baha'is to feel that I am someone they must regard as a source of negative energy to be avoided.
Now is not the time for making petty arguments or holding grudges. Now is a weighty time, a grave time, a time when the very future of humanity is at stake. It is a time when people, nations, and the earth itself are facing a unique confluence of challenges unprecedented in human history. Now is the time for serious people -- spiritual people who care about all that is good and who would be part of healing our planet -- to come together in reconciliation, forgive each other of our faults and mistakes, and look to a new vision beyond the limits of the past.
There is also another reason for this letter, a personal reason. About six months ago, I had a visionary dream which moved me powerfully. Just as I shared my dreams that led me to question and speak out against some practices of the Baha'i Faith several years ago, I feel a responsibility to share this dream as well -- regardless of how anyone, either adherents or opponents of the Baha'i Faith, may think of it or interpret it.
In the dream, I was walking (floating actually, in my astral body as is common in dreams and visions) through a vast garden approaching a shrine containing Baha'u'llah's tomb. There were many pathways in this garden, coming from all directions toward the shrine at the center. When I reached the shrine, I entered and found myself in a large auditorium filled with crimson-colored seats which were arranged in a semicircle around the focal point, a raised platform on which was Baha'u'llah's sarcophagus with a tentlike canopy over it. All of the seats were empty. The sarcophagus containing Baha'u'llah's body was draped with a cloth on which was embroidered a large cross.
I became aware of many souls ascending the platform, one after another, and putting papers in a slot in the sarcophagus. On these papers were their prayers which were addressed to Baha'u'llah. I suddenly felt moved to offer to Baha'u'llah a prayer of my own. I approached the sarcophagus and placed in the slot a paper on which I had written, in the ink of the spirit, the simple but powerful words, "Forgive me." Overcome with emotion as my prayer entered Baha'u'llah's resting place, I expressed my sorrow for hurting him and his people and pleaded for forgiveness. I embraced and clung to the sarcophagus for a period of time, felt my sadness and guilt turn to a deep inner peace, then let go and turned to exit the shrine.
Walking back through the garden, I find that I am accompanied by the person who first introduced me to the Baha'i faith in this earthly lifetime. We talk with each other in a pleasant and amicable tone. I explain to him that I cannot be a member of the Baha'i Faith, but that like many people, I am "half Baha'i." I express my belief that Baha'u'llah was a prophet, but not as great as he claimed to be. I also share my faith in the teaching of Jesus Christ that all human beings are the sons and daughters of God, who is our spiritual Parent (see Matthew 6:9); that in fact we are all manifestations of God or in a sense "gods" (see John 10:30-36). As the dream ends, I perceive that the Baha'i walking beside me is friendly and somewhat receptive to what I'm telling him.
To conclude this letter, I will reiterate that I apologize to the Baha'is for criticizing their religion excessively and that I seek their forgiveness for doing so. Anything negative I may say from now on about the Baha'i Faith will be said in a respectful way and with the clear understanding that there is much that is good about this faith which must also be recognized and applauded.
Like all religions and religious organizations, the Baha'i Faith has its flaws, to be sure. I am not going to pretend otherwise for the sake of a superficial feel-good relationship that lacks the bracing honesty borne out of true respect and care. I have also spoken and written extensively about the problems with Christianity, in an attempt to bring a more universalist and progressive spirit to the church and body of Christ -- so I am well aware that every religion, even my own, is imperfect and can benefit from some criticism which ought to spark needed reflection and change. However, I often failed to acknowledge along with my criticisms of the Baha'i Faith that it has been and continues to be a beneficial influence in the lives of many people and that this is to be celebrated, as the positive effects of a flawed Christianity and other religions are likewise to be praised. The flaws of the Baha'i Faith, though real, need not be unduly emphasized.
I do ask the Baha'is to consider fairly and with an open mind the concerns of people who leave the Baha'i Faith or hold dissenting opinions within it. You should not caricature them as being angry and hateful people, when in most cases this is not true. The majority of people who leave the faith and speak up about why they did so, or who believe in Baha'u'llah but openly disagree with some policies of Baha'i religious institutions, are good people who simply are acting according to the promptings of their conscience. They may be mistaken or they may be correct, but in all but a small minority of cases they are primarily motivated not by base and vile emotions but by a sincere desire to uphold what they believe to be truth and justice.
I call upon Baha'is to focus on promoting the highest, most universal principles of your faith and to work with anyone from any religion to advance those principles, rather than excessively focusing on the person of Baha'u'llah or the Baha'i administrative order. The world doesn't need yet another religion offering salvation through rigid doctrinal belief in one man or one church. What the world needs today is people from all faiths and denominations to put aside their narrow and exclusive mindset and recognize that we all are God's children and we all have important ideas to contribute to the discussion, in order that together we may solve or mitigate the severe problems humanity is facing and that the human race may be uplifted to its full divine potential. I ask you to join me in this transcendent understanding and this great calling.
May God bless and inspire you all.
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Bahai-Faith.com -- Beyond the Baha'i Faith: An Ex-Baha'i Perspective
Bahai-Faith.com founded November 2002. This page last updated November 12, 2008.