Honestly, many reading this may not have any idea who Seals and Crofts are. But, back in the 1970s, they were a very popular and successful music duo. More importantly, for our purposes here, they were very high profile evangelists for the Baha’i faith using their stardom as a platform to try and bring people into their belief system.
As with most music groups which ultimately become famous, their journey to stardom wound through many years of relative anonymity and hard work in the trenches. Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts were two boys from Texas who met each other as they both bounced around in various bands trying to make it to the big time. At one point, in the late 1960s, they were together in a group called The Dawnbreakers. Though this particular band never did achieve any kind of real success, this proved to be a life changing time for them. It was during this period that both of them were introduced to the Baha’i religion and they both became followers.
Later on, when they formed their own group and became successful, they continued in their faith. In fact, they became quite active evangelists. Following many of their concerts, they would even stay on stage after it was over and talk about their faith to those who were interested, while local Baha’is passed out literature.
While the Baha’i faith is not a huge world religion, it is a significant enough group to warrant our taking the time to understand a bit about it. It is noteworthy that they have a very powerful connection with the United Nations, particularly in areas that their religion emphasizes. They have consultative status with UN agencies such as the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). To further emphasize its international political connections, the Bahá’í International Community has offices at the United Nations in both New York and Geneva, as well as regional offices in UN stations around the world.
The Baha’i faith is considered by some as the newest world religion. The primary purpose of this faith is to promote the unity of mankind and of all religions.
In some ways it is surprising that the Baha’i faith is an offshoot of the Shia sect of Islam, because it drops certain important tenets of Islam. That being said, it has a theological core that is definitely Islamic, particularly its understanding of the nature of God.
Baha’i originated in Iran in the eighteen hundreds. Based on certain Islamic teachings, Muslims had long been waiting for Allah to raise up a new prophet. In 1844 Mirza Ali Mohammed took upon himself the title “Bab” and claimed to be the one who would proclaim the coming of this prophet.
In the process, a large number of people began to follow him. These followers became known as Babists. In fact, the Bab attracted so many followers that the Persian (Iran) government and the Islamic clergy felt threatened and partnered together to kill him. They carried out this murder when he was thirty years of age. Then, in their attempt to completely wipe out the threat, they massacred more than twenty thousand of his followers.
Thirteen years later, in 1863, another Persian, named Baha’u’llah, emerged and claimed to be the prophet that Mirza Ali had proclaimed. At that point the former followers of the Bab became disciples of the new prophet and changed their name from Baba to Baha’i to honor him. With that, Baha’u’llah called upon the people of the world to unite in one common faith in order for the world to find abiding peace.
After claiming prophet status, Baha’u’llah was, himself, persecuted, then arrested. After forty years of imprisonment and exile, he died in 1892 at the age of seventy-five.
His son Abbas Effendi, also known as Abdul-Baha, succeeded him. In 1893, under Abdul-Baha’s leadership, the Baha’i religion was brought to the United States. Abdul proved to be a great interpreter of his father’s teachings, and under his leadership Baha’i became established as a legitimate movement. After Abdul’s death in 1921, his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, became the new leader.
Effendi died before he was able to appoint a successor. As a result, a new system of leadership was established to serve as the guardian of the faith. This became the Baha’i Universal House of Justice and consists of a nine-person board that applies the laws of Baha’u’llah.
The Baha’i religion used to be known in the West as Baha’ism until this term fell out of favor with the leadership. Today they prefer their religion to be called “The Baha’i Faith.”
The Baha’i World Center is the spiritual and administrative heart of the Baha’i community and is located in Haifa, Israel. Before his death, Baha’u’llah indicated that this should be the world headquarters for the faith.
There are, currently some 20,000 local Baha’i communities worldwide, and about 155 National Spiritual Assemblies. They claim over 5 million adherents throughout the world, in 205 countries.
Basic Beliefs and Practices
Baha’is are monotheistic and believe in one God who sends messengers, which they refer to as “manifestations of God.” Through these messengers, God restates his purpose and will in every age. The teachings of these manifestations are considered a revelation from God. Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad are believed to have been manifestations of God for their various eras. These manifestations gave humanity divine teachings to live by. The messiah for the current generation is considered to be Baha’u’llah. Baha’is proclaim that he is the one whom the followers of all religions should now turn to for spiritual guidance. It is asserted that through his teachings a high level of civilization will be established throughout the world. Baha’i teaches that through Baha’u’llah, a new, divine order has been ushered in.
Baha’is regard every religion to be an expression of a single God, no matter what the different religions call him or the way they define him. To elucidate this thought, there are ten basic teachings of the Baha’i faith:
1. The oneness of mankind.
2. Independent investigation of truth.
3. The common foundation of all religions.
4. The essential harmony of science and religion.
5. Equality of men and women.
6. Elimination of prejudice of all kinds.
7. Universal compulsory education.
8. A spiritual solution to the economic problem.
9. A universal auxiliary language.
10. Universal peace upheld by a world government.
Today, one cannot be recognized as a Baha’i without becoming a formal member of the mainstream Baha’i religious organization. Anyone who wants to attend Baha’i worship meetings must officially pledge their obedience to the Baha’i administrative order by signing a declaration card. People who call themselves Baha’is but do not support the administrative order with absolute, unwavering agreement are treated with suspicion.
In the Baha’i faith there are no sacraments or rituals, and no professional clergy. Their view is that the human race has entered an age of maturity, so each individual is able to personally explore the revelation of God. Members are expected to pray daily, fast nineteen days per year; observe the holy days, make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetime to Haifa, Israel, and abstain from alcohol and drug use.
Baha’u’llah’s mission was to rekindle man’s love for God. But more than that, he was seen to be the Promised One of all religions whose coming was foretold in all the sacred scriptures throughout history. For instance, to the Baha’is, Christ’s promise of another Comforter refers to the coming of Baha’u’llah, not to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Baha’i are active in the United Nations and have very specific goals. They are particularly interested in issues related to minority rights, the status of women, crime prevention, the control of narcotic drugs and military disarmament. They are working toward unifying the world’s economy, having a universal system of education, a universal code of human rights, and a universal system of currency, weights and measures.
Baha’is teach that there is only one expression of God. This God is one (singular), and is absolutely indivisible. The nature of God is believed to be completely unknowable. In concert with the teachings about God in Islam, he is considered to be transcendent to the point of total inaccessibility. He is considered so transcendent that he could never incarnate into a human life. It is also taught that God is the creator of all things, but is not their cause. Rather, all that exists simply flows eternally out of him. God is the static, changeless One who is forever separated from any kind of interactive relationship with his created order.
The way God is known is by the giving of various divine manifestations which act as pure mirrors to reflect his attributes into the material world. These manifestations come in the form of powerful human teachers. Baha’is believe that there have been nine manifestations of God in the 500,000 year cycle of human history. These are: Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Mohammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah. Baha’u’llah is seen to be the supreme manifestation and is the one for the current cycle of human history. Though each manifestation is believed to perfectly reflect the same divine attributes, each succeeding manifestation is more perfect than the previous and, thus, has authority to displace previous teachings. Manifestations function as teachers, not as Saviors. So, for example, when Jesus appeared, he displaced the teachings of the Buddha . He was not, however, God incarnate. Rather, he was simply one of the “manifestations of God.” That is, Jesus Christ is God, but God is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is simply one of many manifestations sent by God to assist humanity in its spiritual evolution. When Mohammed appeared, he displaced the teachings of Christ. When the Baha’u’llah appeared, he displaced the teachings of Mohammed.
In Baha’i theology, humanity is a creation of God, and men and women of all races are equal in his sight. People of different races must have equal educational and economic opportunity, equal access to decent living conditions and equal responsibilities. Man is not inherently evil, but does have the capacity for doing evil deeds. Man makes his decision regarding whether or not he will follow God, and thus regarding his eternal destiny, while living life on earth as a human being.
Salvation, in the Baha’i religion, is thought of in terms of the deliverance of people from the captivity of their own lower nature. This captivity breeds private despair and threatens social destruction. Salvation means drawing nearer to God and progressing on the path to deep and satisfying happiness. It is obtained by believing in the manifestation of God in the age in which one lives, and by following his teachings. In our current time, this means following the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Humans are able to realize their true potential and make the effort to be united with God because he has sent his manifestations to show us the path to spiritual growth.
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality)
For Baha’is, there is only one God who is a completely unknowable essence and is manifested through the creation of the world and various prophets.
2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
Nature is understood to be an agent for displaying God’s qualities. Every created thing reflects an attribute of God. Nature is seen to be a source of spiritual education and the refinement of humanity. All that exists was not specifically created by God, but rather flows eternally out of him.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
Human nature is spiritual and each person possesses an invisible, rational, and everlasting soul. The soul gives life to the body and distinguishes human beings from the lower animals. It is outwardly expressed through the qualities of an individual’s character. This soul is understood to be essentially good, but has been dulled by ignorance which separates man from God.
Soul perfection is achieved by right training and by prayer and repentance. Once the soul is brought into existence it develops in a way that allows the individual to move closer or further away from God. Should the individual drift from God, the soul will be deprived of eternal life. If the soul lives a pure life, it will attain everlasting existence. Free will exists only in the material world. It is only in this earthly life that the soul is empowered to determine its future.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
At death the soul is separated from the body and begins a spiritual journey through many planes of existence. Progress on this journey is expressed as heaven. If the soul fails to develop, one remains distant from God. This detachment from God is understood as hell. Thus, heaven and hell are not literal places, but are different steps along the spiritual journey.
The spiritual world is understood to be a timeless and placeless extension of our own universe – though not some physically remote place. But beyond this, the exact nature of the afterlife remains a mystery. The soul does not die, but continues eternally. When the human body dies, the soul is freed both from ties with the physical body and the physical world, and it begins its journey through the spiritual world.
The body will not be needed in the next stage of development, so it is discarded. There will be a resurrection and a time of divine judgment. There is an abode of the righteous, but there is no concept of eternal flames or hell. Those who do not attain paradise right away will have the opportunity to progress spiritually until they are finally worthy of God’s acceptance.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
As far as the specific ability to have knowledge, God has gifted man with the ability to reason.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality).
Right and wrong are considered to be what is taught as divinely revealed truth. This revealed truth has been given in a progressive way throughout the existence of mankind. As such, religious truth is relative to the era in which it was given. Each revelation is an advancement from the previous one. All of the great religions of the world are considered to have had a divine origin, and their basic principles are believed to be in full harmony with one another. Their purposes are also unified and their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
For our present day, all of the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha are considered to be infallible scriptural texts. Additionally, all of the writings of Shoghi Effendi are considered authoritative, and his interpretations of previous scriptures are seen to be infallible. Finally, all of the decisions of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly are also considered to be infallible in all its decisions. These teachings are the basis for human morality.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
Baha’i teaches a cyclical approach to understanding time. In their view, creation cycles through various periods. During these cycles, a number of lesser manifestations (prophets or teachers) appear before the coming of a universal manifestation (major teacher). The universal manifestations are seen to be the pinnacles of creation. Following a universal manifestation, lesser manifestations once again appear and the cycle restarts. Baha’is believe that we are currently in a five hundred thousand year universal cycle which began with the manifestation of Adam.
The main teachings and beliefs of Baha’i are contained in the more than one hundred writings of Baha’u’llah, the Bab and Abdul Baha. In addition, all of the writings of Shoghi Effendi and the pronouncements of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly are considered authoritative and infallible.
Evidence for the Authority
Since Baha’i is a hybrid belief system, it is necessarily full of internal contradictions. It claims that all religions are from God, yet each of the religions it claims came from God exclude one another. For this to be true, God would have had to continually change the actual structure of reality every time a new “manifestation” came along. It is absurd on its face. The only evidence for the validity of the Baha’i authorities are the assertions of the founders and the followers of the religion. There is no objective basis for the claim that the founders writings are infallible, or even actual, representations of reality.
As with so many other false belief systems, we have a case, here, in which some people, for whatever reason, wanted their own religion and simply made it up. It is hard to believe that people would actually do this and even more incredulous that many people would follow it. Yet, here we are with a Baha’i religion which has over five million followers worldwide. As Christians, it is imperative that we begin to take seriously our mandate to be effective in our witness for Christ. We do have a leg to stand on in asserting our faith as the actual Truth about the structure of reality. It is now up to us to grasp this Truth confidently and share it with those who live in darkness.