The Baha'i Faith
The vision of Bahai Faith is a world where all races, creeds, and colors have blended into a single universal society. This society will be lead by a single planetary government that will ensure equality among all people, especially in the areas of economics, justice, education, and human rights. The Bahai are looking to the God of the universe to break down all the barriers standing in the way of this moral vision, while they themselves teach by precept and example how this society is to work.
As far as religion is concerned, the Bahai Faith is in its infancy. It began in 19th century Persia when, in the tradition of both the Jews and Muslims, Mirza Husain Ali (1817-1892) received a special revelation from God. This revelation claims to be the fulfillment and completion of all other world religions given in past times and to be the authoritative message of God for all people in this modern era. While it was born in the cultural milieu of Islam, Bahai teaching strongly emphasizes that it is not a breakaway sect of Islam or any other religion but rather something completely new and separate in its own right.
Historically, the Bahai Faith actually springs forth from another religion known as Babism. Babism is the teaching of Mirza Ali Muhammed (1820-50) who declared himself “Bab” (trans. the gate) successor to all the prophets. Islamic doctrine foretells of a future prophet and teacher. The Bab believed he was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Muhammed was quickly persecuted and eventually assassinated by Persian loyalists serving the Shah of Iran. It was shortly after this that his disciple Mirza Husain Ali declared he had received the message from God that he was Baha u’llah (trans. glory of God) and that he was sent as a manifestation of God to redeem the world and interpret the will of God for a new epoch. All of this gave birth to the Bahai Faith.
Basic Doctrines of the Bahai Faith
Key to understanding Bahai is their concept of history and how God reveals Himself to mankind. Bahai teaches that history is cyclical but moving towards a definite purpose. The current cycle that we are in today began 6000 years ago. As this cycle has progressed, God has continually communicated with man via a series of specially endowed humans known as the manifestations. Manifestations are not God in human form or mere human beings but rather people who exist at a level between God and humanity. They all possess a third nature (in addition to their spiritual and bodily natures), which enables them to accurately and faithfully receive and transmit the revelations of God.
Adam was the first manifestation (in addition to being the first man) and was followed by people such as Moses, Christ, Muhammed, Buddha, Krishna, and Zarathustra. Even though each of these is associated with vastly different religions, Bahai teaching reconciles them by reducing their authority and recasting the context of their message. Though their messages are in conflict with one another, we are to understand that they were written to the particular needs and comprehension of their respective civilizations. Their essential value for us today is that in some way each manifestation perfectly teaches us something about the one true and eternal God.
The Baha’u llah is the latest manifestation. His appearance in the 19th century was the fulfillment of God’s promise for a renewer and redeemer that had been foretold by all world religions. The salvation that is brought to man is nothing less than the Kingdom of God ushered in through Bahai teachings and societal change.
In the Bahai Faith there is no need for salvation from sin. All forces, drives and faculties in man are good and God given. Man is imperfect not because of original sin, but because he misuses his energies. This need only be corrected by learning from the writings of the Manifestations. Deliverance from the tendency to misuse and misdirect our God-given faculties is the only salvation that is really needed.
The writings of the Baha’u llah are considered the sacred scriptures of the Bahai Faith. These writings are not followed literally but according to their official interpretation. The official interpreters were the eldest son and grandson of Mirza Husain Ali. Within Bahai there are other spiritual writers however their documents are considered inspirational but not sacred.
The Bahai Faith holds that God is all knowing (omniscient) and all powerful (omnipotent). His transcendence is such that he is mostly incomprehensible to mankind. God can be glimpsed through creation but is mostly revealed by His many Manifestations. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and studying sacred writings help adherents to grow in their understanding of God.
To the Bahai, the meaning of life is to develop the spiritual nature of your humanity by cultivating your relationship with God. At death it is believed that the soul departs from the body and begins a pilgrimage to God through many levels of existence. There is no experience of heaven or hell as these are merely symbolic words to describe a soul’s movement towards or away from God by growth or stagnation in the afterlife.
Bahai in the Here and Now
The core belief of the Bahai Faith is that humanity is a single people with a common destiny. Bahai’s are looking to see God break down all traditional barriers such as class, creed, and nation and to give birth to a universal civilization. This process of unification will be accomplished through the process of Bahai mission, example, and teaching.
Accordingly, the major thrust of Bahai teaching is not as much theological and ideological. They believe the purpose of world religions prior to their emergence was to bring humans to a point of spiritual maturity where global unification is possible. Basic teachings of the Bahai faith today include: abandonment of all prejudice, full equality between men and women, recognition of the relativity and unity of all religious truth, elimination of extreme poverty and wealth, universal education, personal responsibility to search for truth, a global commonwealth of nations, harmonizing of religion with reason and pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Currently the Bahai Faith has over 5 million adherents and has spread to over 235 countries. They are involved in social justice and educational programs around the world and are actively involved in the United Nations.
Christian Belief and the Bahai Faith
In many ways there is no final conflict between the ethical teachings of Bahai Faith and Christianity. Issues such as racism, equality of men and women, and social and economic justice are similarly addressed in the revelation of the Old and New Testaments. The Beatific Vision of Christ and the Prophets is one where the nations will live in peace with one another and as brothers. Arrival at these desired ends comes through the return of Jesus Christ as King and Lord of the Earth for the Christian, where Bahai adherents hold that this vision will be realized by human enlightenment and cooperation.
The nexus of the conflict between the Bahai Faith and Christianity is at the point of authority and revelation. Specifically, Bahai Faith seeks to synthesize, relativize, and harmonize all religions into one by recasting their context and meaning. Using Islam as an example, Muhammed is not the final prophet from God as they believe, but rather is a ‘manifestation’, a demi-god of sorts who spoke to the unique situation of his people and day. But this is a far cry from the claims of Muhammed and Islam. They are a unique religion and make truth claims exclusive to all other religions.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ did the work of a prophet, priest, and a king, but that he was far from being a human with a ‘third nature’. We believe that he is God incarnated in human flesh. In this, we hold that the great unknowable, ineffable God, revealed all that humans can possibly know about him through Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is God in the flesh, all that he teaches and reveals has an authority that is total and final. Nothing more needs to be said in the future because what God wants to communicate with humanity has been now said. It is now either received or rejected. We cannot harmonize with any other religion because of who Jesus claimed to be and proved himself to be through his miracles and resurrection from the dead.
In the end, it doesn’t follow that Jesus Christ was just one of many teachers raised up to teach us about the one God. He claimed exclusivity of truth, and claimed to be God. His message is that all men are sinners who have fallen from a state of favor with God and that this favor can be restored through repentance and faith in Him. This message was verified by his bodily resurrection and glorification. Either this is the truth or Jesus Christ is a total fraud. If it is truth, then Christ supersedes all other claims of revelation from God. If it is falsehood, then Bahai Faith is deeply mistaken in who they believe are truly ‘manifestations.’
All information in this article about the Bahai Faith was derived from their official website located at www.bahai.org/ . Information concerning Christianity can be found at this host website. Sources concerning the person and message of Christ include the Gospel according to John, and St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Romans. Dialogue with the author of this article for or against is invited. You may contact him at Qball@trail.org