By Lynn Starr
I see your sadness about withdrawing from the Baha’i Faith. It seems like you gained something from wonderful friendships, prayers, teachings, songs, and that those still touch your heart in a positive way. And yet, something drove you to remove yourself from the rolls of the Baha’i Faith. I wonder if you became a Bahá’í because you found in it, ideals that were close to your heart?
It is not unusual for people to be drawn to the Faith because they see in it the fulfilment of the ideals which are dear to their hearts. (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, ‘Dialogue‘, ‘A Modest Proposal’ etc)
After listening to you talk, reading articles, and watching the videos on YouTube, all from disenfranchised Bahá’ís, I still do not fully understand what it was in the Faith that you no longer can affiliate with. It seems to have something to do with things about the Faith you felt separated from.
It might be good to ask yourself whether it is Baha’u’llah and the Central Figures you felt separated from or whether it was your local community, the Baha’is you knew, or some other reason.
To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal . . . (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57-58)
Before you leave, there are some things I hope you’ll draw comfort from. Focusing on deepening your understanding of the teachings could really help you see that your ideals are facets of the Purpose of God, which will help you endure all manner of suffering and frustration:
But, if a soul truly recognizes Bahá’u’lláh, and his understanding of the teachings deepens, he will gradually see how his own ideals are but facets in the all-embracing Purpose of God, and will be willing to endure all manner of suffering and frustration for the sake of the fulfilment of that divine Purpose. If, however, the believer allows his own ideals and purposes to retain their pre-eminence in his thinking, and he finds he cannot pursue them as he wishes, it may result in his leaving the Faith to pursue them in other ways. This is what would seem to have happened to the friends you speak of. (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, ‘Dialogue‘, ‘A Modest Proposal’ etc)
Interestingly, in recent years, I have felt that I could not go along with whatever the purpose is in the Baha’i community/area where I reside. So, I chose to stop attending local meetings or events, and get more understanding of who the Central Figures were, and to find positive and supportive experiences with Baha’is who were not in my community. I ended up going to Facebook and the internet to explore other Baha’i situations. Through these avenues I ended up finding there were Baha’is I could relate to where I did not feel separated from them. The following quote comforted me. Baha’u’llah himself withdrew from a toxic situation in His community where disunity prevailed.
Embarking on an action reminiscent of His solitary retirement to the mountains of Kurdistan when the unfaithful were shamefully destroying the Cause of God, Bahá’u’lláh, who at this time was residing in the house of Amru’llah, withdrew with His family to the nearby house of Rida Big which was rented by His order, and refused to associate with anybody. This was on 10 March 1866. The reason for this withdrawal, which fortunately was of short duration, was similar to that which had motivated Him to retire to Kurdistan a decade earlier: namely, to relieve the tension and alleviate the feelings of enmity which during the course of years had been engendered in the hearts of some by Mírzá Yahyá and were fanned into flame by his latest actions. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 120)
What I have discovered is that many clusters in my state (California, United States) are going through a very scary process of deterioration. I have been saying something about this for more years than I would like to admit! Our cluster structure has fallen apart and it is hard to get the friends to volunteer for necessary services. There are many possible reasons for what appears to be a process of deterioration in a Bahá’í community or geographical area.
Neglecting the education of new believers can lead to people leaving the Faith. It might be valuable to compare what happened in your Bahá’í situation to what the Universal House of Justice describes in the following quote:
It is not enough to bring people into the Faith, one must educate them and deepen their love for it and their knowledge of its teachings, after they declare themselves. As the Bahá’ís are few in number, especially the active teachers, and there is a great deal of work to be done, the education of these new believers is often sadly neglected, and then results are seen such as the resignations you have had recently. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 567)
Perhaps you turned to other work than the Cause because you weren’t given the help, stimulation, teaching, opportunity to serve, or comradeship that you needed.
If some of these isolated and inactive people gradually turn to other work than the Cause we should not always blame them—they probably needed more help, more stimulating more teaching and Bahá’í comradeship that they received. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)
Perhaps you were no longer able to draw upon spiritual strength or vitality from the community or Faith, or stayed away for some other reason, as described below:
Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
Were you dealing with a problem that seemed to be too much to handle? Could this mean that you did not pass a test that you were given?
Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
Or maybe you turned to an Assembly for assistance and didn’t find in them, the “loving parents” they were meant to be. It’s possible that both of you are struggling with issues on the frontier of your spiritual growth. It is also possible that if you continue to work with the Assembly or other Institutions to resolve this painful situation, both you and the Assembly could experience tremendous development. In the compilation, Issues Concerning Community Functioning, there are several approaches outlined for dealing with malfunctioning Assemblies or other institutions. Trying these approaches could lead to a surprisingly good outcome. I have encountered situations where I strongly disagreed with an Assembly decision, that I took it to another Institution, and we all worked together to resolve the matter. In the process, we all grew from the experience!
As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
Helping build the Kingdom of God on earth is definitely not easy. However, when you realize that something wonderful can happen when you participate in communicating honestly and lovingly with the Institutions and the friends, you might actually feel joy in your accomplishment.
Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
This is definitely not an easy process. It is hard to be patient when our concerns have something to do with a subject that is very close to our hearts, and when progress seems to be lagging or to have ceased. However, patience is a tool that can yield positive results. Patience does not mean ignoring a problem. It can mean knowing when to take action and when to give others the right amount of time to process new information.
Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
One thing that has worked for me at times like this is to look to the Writings for comfort, for ideas, for examples to follow, and for encouragement:
We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
Also, if you are sick in my area, you will not get helped out by a supportive community and that has been a very heart-breaking thing. I don’t think this is done out of cruelty or malevolence, but the results can feel cruel. It seems like many of the Friends haven’t yet learned how to either give or draw on each other’s strength and consolation in times of need:
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
In many cases, though, the cause is backbiting, which is not only divisive, but is the leading cause of all withdrawals from the Faith. I remember that as a young Baha’I, I had a dear friend who would say she was “analysing the situation” when she was really backbiting against someone. At the time, I did not know that this was backbiting. The community members ended up becoming angry with one another, and factions even formed among the Friends. I was so upset that I stayed away from community events for several months. I then had an opportunity to leave that area, which I did. Subsequently, I began to suspect that backbiting had occurred. Consequently, I spent a lot of time deepening on the subject. I looked to the Writings to find the definition of backbiting and to learn what sorts of behaviours could be construed as backbiting. I still cry to this day about some of the sad things that could have been prevented had I known better. The following quote gives an excellent description of what happens when backbiting occurs:
If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
The Baha’is, like many others in our society face difficulties just living and working in a crazy world and I think this overwhelms most of us. It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is. We might think we are doing the right thing, only to discover later that it was not in keeping with what Baha’is are supposed to do. According to Shoghi Effendi:
Generally speaking nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing, in relation to each other, to the administrative bodies or in their personal lives. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
When a community is not drawn together when everyone is going through difficult life challenges, it becomes hard to maintain one’s Faith. When people say and do hurtful things, or don’t act sympathetically when someone is hurting, it can be extremely upsetting. Perhaps we might not realize that the people involved have not reached a point of maturity to act differently. Such problems can interfere with teaching, harmonious relationships, and can cause the Friends to discourage one another:
One of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other; for their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)
In order to deal with such difficult and even heart-wrenching situations, a forgiving and loving attitude are needed. That does not mean that we should allow unfair or unkind situations to continue indefinitely. At a certain point, taking administrative action may be called for. However, this should be done with love, kindness, compassion and a desire for all the Friends to come away from the situation feeling like they are loved and have been treated fairly.
And yet we must put up with these things and try and combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)
Enduring the intolerance of others can be very painful. However, if we continue to strive for loving interchanges with others, such efforts are not wasted, for as Shoghi Effendi points out:
The energy we expend in enduring the intolerance of some individuals of our community is not lost. It is transformed into fortitude, steadfastness and magnanimity. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)
I have read things by Shoghi Effendi that remind me that the Baha’is are not perfect, and that they can be a test and trial, but that the Faith and its Manifestations of God, and their writings are the real thing, inspiring, move a person’s heart, and change their behavior for the better. Dealing with interpersonal difficulties in a community or other problems that may crop up can be very frustrating. A lot of patience is needed while a remedy for the problems is being sought. When we are patient and kind to one another, we have a better chance of resolving our difficulties. This creates the opportunity for everyone to learn and grow, which will contribute to the growth of the entire community. As Shoghi Effendi has stated:
The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show towards each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)
There are times when the actions of others really test our patience and understanding. By learning how to love the people that bother us the most, we can help mend broken hearts and relationships. In Baha’u’llah and the New Era (Bahá’í Publishing Trust), 1980, p. 82-83, ‘Abdu’l-Baha has spoken to how we can remedy such a situation by being loving:
- To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.
- To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.
- Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy.
At the same time, I put up with a lot of malfunctioning communities and people because I thought I had to or I would be a bad Baha’i; I think differently now. I don’t plan to lose any more years of my life being unhappy or afraid to say what is on my mind. Although I believe in being kind and careful in articulating my feelings, opinions and what I agree and disagree with, I do not think it is healthy for me to hold such information inside, and I refuse to do so from here on out.
I am planning to write some hard-hitting letters to all the Institutions about this, because many good people have left a Faith that I believe is a wonderful thing, because they could no longer be part of a community where they did not believe in “doing” what was being done or not being done in the spheres of Baha’i activity that they were involved in.
I am doing this because I believe it is the right thing to do, as per the quote from Shoghi Effendi in Issues Concerning Community Functioning 1.2.1 Individual Example:
Shoghi Effendi, in a letter dated 30 September 1949 written on his behalf to an individual believer, states that “the first and best way” to remedy the malfunctioning of a Bahá’í community is for the individual to “do what is right”.
I’m also doing this because Shoghi Effendi has told us:
And yet we must . . . try and combat them through . . . proper administrative action collectively. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)
Furthermore, the House of Justice has said we have the right to take doubts and concerns to the Counsellors:
When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
One Auxiliary Board Member I have shared with expressed concerns about a “congregational attitude” that exists with many Baha’is in North America. They kind of go along with the crowd and don’t think “out of the box.” This sort of attitude has been a real turn off to both my husband and me, as well as a few other people that I know.
Learning what “universal participation” means in a Faith that has no clergy is new for all of us. It involves learning to love, a hard skill to acquire when so many of us have grown up in a world riddled with violence and abuse:
The real secret of universal participation lies in the Master’s oft expressed wish that the friends should love each other, constantly encourage each other, work together, be as one soul in one body, and in so doing become a true, organic, healthy body animated and illumined by the spirit. (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 43)
Until now, I have not known how to talk about this in a manner which I think is not angry or pointing any fingers at anybody. And yet, people who are fine people, who have left the Faith for what apparently are very good reasons, pull at my heartstrings. After all, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, himself, said that it was better to have no religion than to have one where hypocrisy reigned, where service to others was not the main focus, or where unfair and unkind things were done to people often enough to be of concern.
Abdu’l-Bahá says: ‘If religion be the cause of disunity, then irreligion is surely to be preferred.’ (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 202)
I think that situations in many communities have reached this unhappy state of existence. However, the videos, Frontiers of Learning, people I have met at the Wilmette Institute, BNASSA, and books like Helping Joe Strong and the like, have shown me that there are good Bahá’í communities and clusters out there, where the Faith is influencing people in positive ways and where the friends are united and happy.
I hope you believe me when I say that I have respect and empathy for you and can’t begin imagine how hard it was to sort out what the right thing for you to do was. If you want to talk with me about anything I have said in this post, I would be more than happy to do so. Contact me through this website and I promise to respond!
With prayers and loving greetings,
Someone once asked me:
Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158)
What is the purpose in this? Kindness is a virtue that we want to be able to show, yet to be kind to my father and brother made them worse. They hid their abuse of me so well that everyone thought they were great people and were therefore kind to them and as a result I suffered more, and more.
I’m not sure we understand kindness the way we will in the future! For example, although this law is not in effect yet, Baha’u’llah tells us they will be punished:
Exile and imprisonment are decreed for the thief, and, on the third offence, place ye a mark upon his brow so that, thus identified, he may not be accepted in the cities of God and His countries. Beware lest, through compassion, ye neglect to carry out the statutes of the religion of God; do that which hath been bidden you by Him Who is compassionate and merciful. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 35)
I’m glad that you recognize that to “be kind to my father and brother made them worse.”
Remember how Baha’u’llah says in the Tablet of Ahmad that “the wisdom of every command shall be tested?” Sometimes the tests apply to us, and some we can learn from watching others. This knowledge will help you in the future.
There are ways you can be kind to them now without having contact; particularly through prayer. This will help in two ways – it will help both you and them. Have you seen this quote by the Báb?
It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)
Perhaps it’s a bit self-serving, but the Báb must have told us this to motivate us to pray for them!
Here’s a prayer you can say for your father:
O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)
Being kind to our perpetrators doesn’t mean we have to spend time with them. Again these quotes from the House to me and a friend of mine, helped me make those decisions:
Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 9 September, 1992)
The House of Justice has noted with sympathetic understanding the despair to which you have been driven by the recurrent incidences of cruelty and neglect you have been made to endure . . . Under the circumstances you have so amply described, you should feel free to separate yourself from them to the extent possible. Their behavior towards you grossly violates the norms of parental relationship with a child, and this fact can be taken into consideration if and when you decide to get married. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 7 August 2001)
To summarize – we can use the following criteria in deciding how much contact to have:
- their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past
- the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings
- the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them
And we can look at having their right of parenthood removed when we want to get married.
With regards to the comment:
They hid their abuse of me so well that everyone thought they were great people and were therefore kind to them and as a result I suffered more, and more.
I understand how painful this was for you, and I’m sorry you had to go through it!
The insights which have helped me are knowing that my abusers have to meet their Maker and be called to account for what they did.
Know verily, that while the radiant dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness, the satanic secrets and deeds done in the gloom of night shall be laid bare and manifest before the peoples of the world. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 67)
I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with My seal of glory. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 64)
So I can trust that God sees what they’ve done and can leave justice in God’s hands!
I’ve often found this quote interesting:
In the same way they consider that the spiritual punishment, that is to say the torture and punishment of existence, is to be subjected to the world of nature, to be veiled from God, to be brutal and ignorant, to fall into carnal lusts, to be absorbed in animal frailties; to be characterized with dark qualities, such as falsehood, tyranny, cruelty, attachment to the affairs of the world, and being immersed in satanic ideas; for them, these are the greatest punishments and tortures. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 324)
Try to look at your father and brother and see how many of these apply to their lives.
- subjected to the world of nature
- veiled from God
- brutal and ignorant
- fallen into carnal lusts
- absorbed in animal frailties
- characterized with dark qualities such as
- attachment to the affairs of the world
- immersed in satanic ideas
If so, these are among their spiritual punishments.
I love this quote by Bahá’u’lláh. It seems to offer us a step-by-step process we can use to stay close to Him. I think if we can remember to take all of these steps every day, we can be prevented from engaging in negative interactions with others:
Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. Feed it with the oil of Divine guidance, and protect it within the shelter of your constancy. Guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 325)
The steps are:
- let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts.
- feed it with the oil of Divine guidance
- protect it within the shelter of your constancy
- guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light.
How has this helped your understanding of this topic? Post your comments here:
Bahá’u’lláh asks why we’ve never wondered what the cause of the world’s misery and distress might be:
Though the world is encompassed with misery and distress, yet no man hath paused to reflect what the cause or source of that may be. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 217)
The answer is sin, or falling short of God’s standards.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that there is a clear link between sin and disease:
It is certainly the case that sins are a potent cause of physical ailments. If humankind were free from the defilements of sin and waywardness, and lived according to a natural, inborn equilibrium, without following wherever their passions led, it is undeniable that diseases would no longer take the ascendant, nor diversify with such intensity. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 152)
What does the Bahá’í Faith teach about sin?
We are all sinners:
We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
God doesn’t want us to follow our idle fancies and vain imaginings:
Fear ye God and follow not your idle fancies and corrupt imaginings, but rather follow Him Who is come unto you invested with undeniable knowledge and unshakeable certitude. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 61)
We can’t hide our sins from God:
O Heedless Ones! Think not the secrets of hearts are hidden, nay, know ye of a certainty that in clear characters they are engraved and are openly manifest in the holy Presence. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 59)
Verily I say, whatsoever ye have concealed within your hearts is to Us open and manifest as the day; but that it is hidden is of Our grace and favor, and not of your deserving. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 60)
Death is better than sin:
Certainly for an intelligent man death is better than sin . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 265)
What qualities are defined as sin?
Sin is anything that the Concourse on High might find averse:
Say: It behoveth every one that holdeth fast to the hem of Our Robe to be untainted by anything from which the Concourse on high may be averse. Thus hath it been decreed by thy Lord, the All-Glorious, in this His perspicuous Tablet. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 307)
Or might take us away from His love:
Say: Set ye aside My love, and commit what grieveth Mine heart? What is it that hindereth you from comprehending what hath been revealed unto you by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 307)
Certainly it is hard to think of a sin that does not require some kind of a lie to go with it. (Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, p. 94)
The Bahá’í Teaching is that all the sins are on one side of the scales, and lying on the other, and that lying outweighs them all. (Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, p. 94)
Anger, sensuality, jealousy, avarice, cruelty, pride
The animal is the source of imperfections, such as anger, sensuality, jealousy, avarice, cruelty, pride: all these defects are found in animals but do not constitute sins. But in man they are sins. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 119)
Ignorance, cruelty, ungodliness, insincerity, unfaithfulness, unworthy thoughts:
Man’s ignorance, his cruelty, his ungodliness, his selfishness, his insincerity and . . . One act of unfaithfulness — even a glance betraying the insincerity of the individual or an unworthy thought emanating from his mind . . . (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 227)
Betrayal of trust, neglect, being remiss in the performance of duties, oppression, extortion, selfishness
But if . . . any one betray the least of trusts or neglect and be remiss in the performance of duties which are intrusted to him, or by oppression takes one penny of extortion from the subjects, or seeks after his own personal, selfish aims and ends in the attainment of his own interests . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 403-404)
Dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
Idle talk and advancing yourself over others:
Verily I say unto thee: Of all men the most negligent is he that disputeth idly and seeketh to advance himself over his brother. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 5)
Antagonism, hatred, selfish struggle for existence, jealousy, revenge, ferocity, cunning, hypocrisy, greed, injustice and tyranny
All the imperfections found in the animal are found in man. In him there is antagonism, hatred and selfish struggle for existence; in his nature lurk jealousy, revenge, ferocity, cunning, hypocrisy, greed, injustice and tyranny. So to speak, the reality of man is clad in the outer garment of the animal, the habiliments of the world of nature, the world of darkness, imperfections and unlimited baseness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 110)
Dishonesty, laxity and negligence, unlawfully exacting money, securing private gains or seeking personal benefits
Should anyone, God forbid, manifest one iota of dishonesty, or show laxity and negligence in carrying out his duties, or unlawfully exact money from the people, be it even a singe penny, or secure private gains for himself, or seek personal benefits . . . (‘Abdul-Bahá, Nearness to God, p. ‘Izzat 15)
Material ideas and worldly thoughts, anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion
Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
Attachment to the world, avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire:
What is the dust which obscures the mirror? It is attachment to the world, avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire; this is the dust which prevents reflection of the rays of the Sun of Reality in the mirror. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244-245)
Anger, jealousy, dispute, covetousness, avarice, ignorance, prejudice, hatred, pride and tyranny:
It is, therefore, certain that sins such as anger, jealousy, dispute, covetousness, avarice, ignorance, prejudice, hatred, pride and tyranny exist in the physical world. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 119)
Repudiate the revealed Truth
It is certainly a much greater responsibility to reject the Manifestation in this day than it was in the past Dispensations, inasmuch as man, and indeed humanity as a whole, have been endowed with a greater measure of spiritual receptivity than ever before, and consequently it would be a much graver sin to repudiate the revealed Truth now than it would have been the case in by-gone ages and centuries. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 480)
Materialism, greed, corruption, conflict, malaise
The institutions of the old world order are crumbling and in disarray. Materialism, greed, corruption and conflict are infecting the social order with a grave malaise from which it is helpless to extricate itself. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 563)
The closer we get to God, even good deeds done by others are considered as sins:
The good deeds of the righteous are the sins of the Near Ones. This is established. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 125)
What does any of this have to do with fear?
Although fear is not mentioned specifically here, (except as idle fancies and vain imaginings), disobedience and anything that takes us away from God’s love easily includes fear.
There are many synonyms for each fear reaction:
Fight: Anger, conflict, dispute, hatred, tyranny, haughtiness, passion, suspicion, antagonism, revenge, ferocity, cunning, hypocrisy, injustice, tyranny, idle talk, advancing yourself over others, dissension and strife, contention, betrayal of trust, oppression, extortion, cruelty and insincerity
Flight (anything that takes us away from our fear): Materialism, greed, corruption, jealousy, covetousness, avarice, prejudice, pride, attachment to the world, envy, love of luxury and comfort, self-desire, material ideas and worldly thoughts, dishonesty, unlawfully exacting money, securing private gains or seeking personal benefits, selfish struggle for existence, unfaithfulness, selfishness and sensuality
Freeze: malaise, ignorance, laxity and negligence, estrangement, apathy, neglect, being remiss in the performance of duties, ungodliness and unworthy thoughts
How do we know that fear is a sin?
We know because He asked us not to have fear:
The Pen of the Most High addresseth Me, saying: Fear not. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 90)
Let the fear of no one dismay Thee, and be Thou not of them that waver. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 196)
Fear not the tempestuous gales, O Mariner! He Who causeth the dawn to appear is, verily, with Thee in this darkness that hath struck terror into the hearts of all men. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 36)
If we do something God asks us not to do, it’s a sin.
What causes sin?
Sin causes pathogenic factors which cause diseases to become compounded, multiplied and transmitted to others:
We see clearly, therefore, how powerful are sin and contumacy as pathogenic factors. And once engendered these diseases become compounded, multiply, and are transmitted to others. Such are the spiritual, inner causes of sickness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 153)
Sin comes from the demands of nature:
All sin comes from the demands of nature, and these demands, which arise from the physical qualities, are not sins with respect to the animals, while for man they are sin. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 119)
When we overcome one, we’ll fall into another:
The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
Love of self:
No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
What’s the Purpose of Sin?
Again it seems that we need contrasts:
O my Lord, verily, the sins are bubbling foam and Thy mercy is a full ocean. Trespasses are bitter trees and Thy pardon is a fire whose flame is intense. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 407)
What happens when we sin?
The body is in torment:
If the soul falls into sin, the body is in torment! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 65)
Sins cause physical ailments:
It is certainly the case that sins are a potent cause of physical ailments. If humankind were free from the defilements of sin and waywardness, and lived according to a natural, inborn equilibrium, without following wherever their passions led, it is undeniable that diseases would no longer take the ascendant, nor diversify with such intensity. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 152)
Sins inflict painful wounds on our souls – it’s a painful torture:
All his sins and shortcomings are tools of torture inflicting painful wounds upon the souls of the Chosen Ones of God [and] . . . is painful torture to them. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 227)
Sins cause disease, calamity, natural disasters including floods, hurricanes and earthquakes:
According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands. Even disasters due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are attributed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indirectly to this cause. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)
What happens to the sinner?
His sufferings are remedial and educative, reminding us that we’ve strayed from the right path:
The suffering that follows error is not vindictive, however, but educative and remedial. It is God’s Voice proclaiming to man that he has strayed from the right path. If the suffering is terrible, it is only because the danger of wrongdoing is more terrible, for “the wages of sin is death.” (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)
He is deprived of God’s outpourings and blessings:
. . . he shall undoubtedly remain deprived of the outpourings of His Highness the Almighty! Beware! Beware! lest ye fall short in that which ye are commanded in this Tablet! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 403-404)
. . . such a person will surely be deprived of the blessings of the Almighty. Beware, beware, lest ye fall short of what hath been set forth in this letter. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Nearness to God, p. ‘Izzat 15)
He’s prevented from ascending to the realms of holiness, and imprisoned in self and ego:
. . . prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
He becomes dissatisfied about not finding a job he likes; or a place in the world that fits him:
You should never be too depressed about your dissatisfaction concerning not finding a job you like, a place in the world that fits you. If you analyse it this general sense of misfit is one of the curses of your generation, one of the products of the world’s disequilibrium and chaos. It is not confined to your life, it is pretty general. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 454)
What do the Bahá’í Writings say about “Generational Sin” or “Sins of the Father”?
Many Christians believe that because of Adam’s “original sin”, all of his descendants were, without reason, guilty sinners, which is far from the justice of God:
But the mass of the Christians believe that, as Adam ate of the forbidden tree, He sinned in that He disobeyed, and that the disastrous consequences of this disobedience have been transmitted as a heritage and have remained among His descendants. Hence Adam became the cause of the death of humanity. This explanation is unreasonable and evidently wrong, for it means that all men, even the Prophets and the Messengers of God, without committing any sin or fault, but simply because they are the posterity of Adam, have become without reason guilty sinners, and until the day of the sacrifice of Christ were held captive in hell in painful torment. This is far from the justice of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 120)
If the father of a thousand generations committed a sin, is it just to demand that the present generation should suffer the consequences thereof?
Could we conceive of the Divinity, Who is Justice itself, inflicting punishment upon the posterity of Adam for Adam’s own sin and disobedience? Even if we should see a governor, an earthly ruler punishing a son for the wrongdoing of his father, we would look upon that ruler as an unjust man. Granted the father committed a wrong, what was the wrong committed by the son? There is no connection between the two. Adam’s sin was not the sin of His posterity, especially as Adam is a thousand generations back of the man today. If the father of a thousand generations committed a sin, is it just to demand that the present generation should suffer the consequences thereof? (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 449-450)
These interpretations and statements are due to a misunderstanding of the meanings of the Bible.
There are other questions and evidences to be considered. Abraham was a Manifestation of God and a descendant of Adam; likewise, Ishmael, Isaac, Jeremiah and the whole line of prophets including David, Solomon and Aaron were among His posterity. Were all these holy men condemned to a realm of punishment because of a deed committed by the first father, because of a mistake said to have been made by their mutual and remotest ancestor Adam? The explanation is made that when Christ came and sacrificed Himself, all the line of holy Prophets who preceded Him became free from sin and punishment. Even a child could not justly make such an assertion. These interpretations and statements are due to a misunderstanding of the meanings of the Bible. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 449-450)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains how the sins of parents carry forward 3 or 4 generations:
If a man does a great injustice to another in his life, then, after his death, his son will be despised for having had such a father and in some cases the injury might be so serious that the effect would reach to the grandson, etc., or a man may, by wrong living, fall into consumption and give that disease to his children unto the third or fourth generation. “Both physically and mentally the sins of the fathers may be visited upon the children.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Daily Lessons Received at ‘Akká 1979 ed., pp. 45-46)
Children can inherit the weaknesses and ineffectiveness of their parents:
The variety of inherited qualities comes from strength and weakness of constitution; that is to say, when the two parents are weak, the children will be weak; if they are strong, the children will be robust. In the same way, purity of blood has a great effect; for the pure germ is like the superior stock which exists in plants and animals. For example, you see that children born from a weak and feeble father and mother will naturally have a feeble constitution and weak nerves; they will be afflicted, and will have neither patience, nor endurance, nor resolution, nor perseverance, and will be hasty; for the children inherit the weakness and debility of their parents. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 318)
How do we overcome our sins?
Sins can be forgiven when we repent:
Should anyone be afflicted by a sin, it behoveth him to repent thereof and return unto his Lord. He, verily, granteth forgiveness unto whomsoever He willeth, and none may question that which it pleaseth Him to ordain. He is, in truth, the Ever-Forgiving. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 37)
Through obedience and turning to God:
Just as calamity is due to disobedience, so deliverance from calamity can be obtained only be obedience. There is no chance or uncertainty about the matter. Turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessing. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)
Apply Bahá’u’lláh’s remedy:
With every passing day it becomes more and more evident that no time must be lost in applying the remedy prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh, and it is to this task that Bahá’ís everywhere must bend their energies and commit their resources. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 563)
By gaining victory over ourselves as quickly as possible:
But when we find ourselves falling short we must add to this response the high resolve to “gain victory over (our) own selves” as speedily as possible, as a mercy to ourselves and to our fellow men, so that others may be attracted to the Faith without hindrance. (Compilations, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 120)
By weeding out our faults, habits, and tendencies which we’ve inherited and to cultivate qualities and characteristics needed to participate in the work of the Faith
How great, therefore, how staggering the responsibility that must weigh upon the present generation of the American believers, at this early stage in their spiritual and administrative evolution, to weed out, by every means in their power, those faults, habits, and tendencies which they have inherited from their own nation, and to cultivate, patiently and prayerfully, those distinctive qualities and characteristics that are so indispensable to their effective participation in the great redemptive work of their Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 20-21)
By fleeing them and knitting together the hearts of men:
Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
Through the power of the Holy Spirit:
The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
For more in this series, please read:
What is Fear?
What are we Afraid Of?
Reactions to Fear
Fight, Flight or Freeze
Doubt and Fear
What is the Purpose of Fear?
What about the Fear of God?
What Makes us Susceptible to Fear?
Understanding the Link Between Fear and Sin
Overcoming Fear – Introduction
Overcoming Fear By Turning to God
Overcoming Fear with Prayer
Overcoming Fear By Reading the Writings
Overcoming Fear By Focusing on the Virtues
Overcoming Fear Through Love
Overcoming Fear with Faith
Overcoming Fear with Patience
Overcoming Fear through Courage
Overcoming Fear through Teaching and Service
Overcoming Fear By Changing your Thoughts
Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness
Overcoming Fear through Using Role Models
Overcoming Fear through Tests and Difficulties
What Can Others Do, To Help Those Who Are Afraid?
Prayers to Eliminate Fear
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