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Baha’is and Baptism

When my son was born, I was a new Bahá’í (of 2 years), and my husband was Anglican.  I had a vague idea that Bahá’ís didn’t baptize their children, but believed that unity in the family was a higher principle, so my son was baptized in the Anglican church and raised as a Bahá’í.

It would have been helpful to know this guidance at that time:

Children of such a union may be baptized if the Christian parent so wishes; from the Bahá’í point of view the baptism has no effect. It must be emphasized, however, that the Bahá’í parent, while perfectly free to attend the baptismal ceremony, should not undertake any commitment or vow contrary to Bahá’í law and should not surrender her parental right to impart the Bahá’í teachings to her child.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 139)

I promised to raise my child in the Anglican church, believing that to raise a Baha’i child was also to raise a Christian, Moslem, Jewish child.  Now I wonder if this is the same kind of dissimulation Baha’is in Iran are rejecting when they are asked if they are Moslem and they say no?  On the surface, they could answer yes, because Baha’is believe in all Faiths, but they don’t.  I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about this back then, so I was on my own.  Fortunately I did not have to surrender any parental right to impart the Baha’i teachings to my son, otherwise I never would have gone through with it.

I wondered how many other families might be in the same situations, so I turned to the Writings to see what they had to teach us.  Let’s have a look!

In the past, baptism was used to awaken people:

Reflect, also, that baptism in the days of John the Baptist was used to awaken and admonish the people to repent from all sin, and to watch for the appearance of the Kingdom of Christ. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94-95)

Children don’t derive any spiritual benefit from baptism.  In fact, many of them become agitated and ill.

But at present in Asia, the Catholics and the Orthodox Church plunge newly born children into water mixed with olive oil, and many of them become ill from the shock; at the time of baptism they struggle and become agitated. In other places, the clergy sprinkle the water of baptism on the forehead. But neither from the first form nor from the second do the children derive any spiritual benefit.   (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)

In this dispensation we don’t need a symbol of repentance and seeking forgiveness from sins:

No, this baptism with water was a symbol of repentance, and of seeking forgiveness of sins.  But in the cycle of Bahá’u’lláh there is no longer need of this symbol; for its reality, which is to be baptized with the spirit and love of God, is understood and established.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)

Baptism doesn’t cause spiritual awakening or conversion – it’s only a custom we follow:

Other peoples are amazed and wonder why the infant is plunged into the water, since this is neither the cause of the spiritual awakening of the child, nor of its faith or conversion, but it is only a custom which is followed.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)

Religious laws are changed in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times:

Question. — Is the ablution of baptism useful and necessary, or is it useless and unnecessary? In the first case, if it is useful, why was it abrogated? And in the second case, if it is useless, why did John practice it?

Answer. — The change in conditions, alterations and transformations are necessities of the essence of beings, and essential necessities cannot be separated from the reality of things. So it is absolutely impossible to separate heat from fire, humidity from water, or light from the sun, for they are essential necessities. As the change and alteration of conditions are necessities for beings, so laws also are changed and altered in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 93-94)

Material water doesn’t purify the heart:

For material water does not purify the heart of man; no, it cleanses his body.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)

Real baptism is through the divine teachings and the exhortations of Baha’u’llah:

The performance of baptismal celebration would cleanse the body, but the spirit hath no share; but the divine teachings and the exhortations of the Beauty of Bahá will baptize the soul. This is the real baptism. I hope that thou wilt receive this baptism. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 390)

It’s the heavenly water and spirit which makes the human heart good and pure:

But the heavenly water and spirit, which are knowledge and life, make the human heart good and pure; the heart which receives a portion of the bounty of the Spirit becomes sanctified, good and pure — that is to say, the reality of man becomes purified and sanctified from the impurities of the world of nature. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)

Real baptism removes evil qualities such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc.:

These natural impurities are evil qualities: anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc.  Man cannot free himself from the rage of the carnal passions except by the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why He says baptism with the spirit, with water and with fire is necessary, and that it is essential — that is to say, the spirit of divine bounty, the water of knowledge and life, and the fire of the love of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)

When we’re baptized this way, we will become filled with eternal bounty:

Man must be baptized with this spirit, this water and this fire so as to become filled with the eternal bounty. Otherwise, what is the use of baptizing with material water? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)

Baha’is don’t act as godparents either:

Your Assembly understands that a conscientious Bahá’í couple must not have their children baptized, nor should Bahá’ís ordinarily participate as godparents in a baptismal ceremony for this also may seem to imply their affiliation with the church.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 143)

For parents who are looking for a spiritual baptism ceremony to welcome the newly arrived babe, they can consider a naming ceremony:

Thou hast asked regarding the naming of children: When thou wishest to name a babe, prepare a meeting therefor; chant the verses and communes, and supplicate and implore the Threshold of Oneness and beg the attainment of guidance for the babe and wish confirmated firmness and constancy; then give the name and enjoy beverage and sweetmeat. This is spiritual baptism.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 149-150)

This would not be an official public ceremony, and would not involve any ritual:

We have no ‘baptismal service’ in the Cause, such as the Christians have. There could be no objection, however, for the friends to come together on such happy occasions, provided they do not hold an official public ceremony, and provided also they strictly avoid any uniformity and rigidity in all such practices.  We feel that this activity should be left to the discretion of the parents.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 138)

How has this helped you understand the topic better?  What’s been your experience?  Post your comments below.

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