The Math of God’s Everlasting Kingdom

The first Bahá’í book that I truly enjoyed reading was Thief in the Night by William Sears, a Bahá’í “Hand of the Cause” whom I think my parents had known in their L.A. years (1957 to 1966). Continue reading

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

Hey, I’ve been giving the Authoritative Odor hell online for twenty years now! … Well, not so much lately.

In the process of moving my web sites to a new hosting provider, I encountered an old guestbook file that was active during my “FBI” years. In looking back, I was inspired to outline my mileposts as an Ex-Bahá’í: Continue reading

America’s Last Chance

The year was 1966. The times they were a-changin’. In the Bahá’í universe, the pieces were falling into place. The first Universal House of Justice had been elected, and the world seemed to be ready for new answers and new leaders. It was the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X had recently been assassinated. Black Americans were asserting their status and rights as full citizens. The time was right to introduce Black America to Bahá’u’lláh’s message of racial equality and unity.

I was just a year old. My family moved from south Los Angeles to Saint Helena Island, just off the coast of South Carolina. We lived in the town of Frogmore, the location of legendary Penn Center. Saint Helena Island, midway between Charleston and Savannah, had once been a sanctuary for free blacks (Union territory during the Civil War), and the location of a school for the same. It remains an active cultural heritage center to this day. In the 1960s, Penn Center was a conference center for some of the leaders of Black America. My parents even joined in a meeting attended by Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and—I daresay—even Joan Baez. Continue reading

My Life as a Fanatic

When I was a young man, I turned toward the Qiblah and prayed to Allah. I fasted for a month every year, and I refused all alcoholic beverages. I exchanged Arabic greetings with my fellow believers. Of course I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where I lived for a year and studied Arabic so that I could better understand the words of Allah. You might have found me carrying around a copy of the Holy Qur’án—just in case I might have some free reading time. And, yes: I was a virgin, though perhaps not entirely by choice.

If you had asked me back then whether I was a Muslim, I would have denied it, for I was a member of a Shi’ite splinter group that refuses to be identified as Muslims. It’s a long story—let’s just say that it’s hazardous to be called a heretic in Iran. But when I look back at my youth I say, “what a Muslim!” Continue reading

Annual Update

It’s been over thirteen months since I last posted to this blog. There’s a good reason for my absence: I haven’t had much to say about Bahá’í matters. Perhaps this is because not much is going on—I’m in no position to say. I will say that I only created this blog because I wanted to remove the entries on Bahá’í matters off of my principal blog (now named Kindling, but with the original motto).

I never had any intention of blogging on the Bahá’í Faith indefinitely. I just didn’t expect to have that much to say on the topic.

Recently, I did contribute an article on my conversion to Zoroastrianism to the Project Conversion site—back at Naw Ruz time (Naw Ruz was a Zoroastrian festival long before it became a Bahá’í holy day). This article wasn’t about the Bahá’í Faith, but it might be of interest to anyone who’s wondered what a “native-born Bahá’í” like me might do in terms of religion after having moved away from the Bahá’í Faith.

I Was A Teenage Antivaxxer

I didn’t get any vaccinations as a kid, so I acquired my immunity the old-fashioned way: I earned it.

Before ... and After

Before ... and After

I can specifically remember suffering through the measles, mumps, and chickenpox. But I got through it all fine. I can’t complain.

The only vaccination I received before age 30 was for smallpox, strangely enough, because it was required for travel into South Africa. Being members of the Bahá’í Faith, we had been strongly encouraged to travel abroad to spread our gospel, and we’d heard that Africans were receptive to the Word, so we each got vaccinated for God’s sake.

My parents are as staunchly anti-vaccination as they are anti-establishment (against what Bahá’ís call the Old World Order). My father is a retired chiropractor, but it would perhaps be more accurate to categorize him as a naturopath, as he has used a variety of extra-chiropractic modalities over his career, including applied kinesiology (“muscle testing”), magnet therapy, a wide variety of targeted nutritional supplements, and I think he may have dabbled in homeopathy and reflexology.

I recall one specific treatment that we underwent as a family — a balloon-up-the-nose technique that made my dad very sick (he thinks it may have revived his diphtheria). Surprisingly, this nutty nostrum appears to be a legitimate procedure, though in our case it was presented as something everyone needs, so I got a balloon too. The balloon really gets up there, and there is a small risk of brain injury. All I know for sure is I’m never doing it again — very disconcerting to feel one’s head expand from the inside.

As I have devolved into a casual skeptic as an adult, I don’t subscribe to everything I was taught as a child, but it’s taken awhile, and I still nurture a healthy fear of hospitals — let’s be real: physicians are only human. I didn’t do so much as get my teeth looked at until age thirty.

I remain proud of my parents for what they have accomplished. My father isn’t just any naturopath: he has been blind since childhood. My mother has a blood sugar condition that once haunted her with severe (grand mal) seizures. In spite of these afflictions, this match made in heaven has enjoyed sustained success throughout their 50-year partnership. I may not agree with my parents at every turn, but I do admire their resourcefulness and perseverance. Theirs is a remarkable story, which I hope will survive them.

The antivaxxer stance is rather ironic in my father’s case, for reason of the primary cause of his blindness: diphtheria. This preventable disease reduced his eyesight to a featureless blur. He ultimately lost his eyes to glaucoma, brought on by a wrestling injury. In addition to his blindness, he suspects diphtheria to have caused the persistent sleep disorder and head pain that dog him. I recently had the temerity to respectfully suggest to him that he might have been sighted and healthier had he been given the new diphtheria vaccine as an infant. His response was that only improved hygiene has eradicated diphtheria and smallpox (though he also contends that it’s silly to wash one’s hands as a means of flu prevention).

I know: smallpox could not possibly have been eradicated by hygiene. Squalor is worse worldwide today than it has probably ever been. My modest response to my father was that we’re practically swimming in bugs, meaning that we can’t possibly hope to keep clean enough to keep them all off of us. At that point we agreed to disagree, which was a good outcome, I think.

Going Wayback

Covenant breakers out gardening

Covenant breakers out gardening?

Ever played with the Wayback Machine? It’s an archive of old web sites from years gone by, back as far as 1996, when I put up my first site. Recently I waxed curious about the early iterations of my old Bahá’í site, The Bahá’í Millenarian Movement. The site is still available, principally because Geocities ceased offering their webhosting service for free, and I didn’t bother to clean it up before they locked me out. Now I suppose I’m glad it turned out that way.

I had accumulated quite a collection of doubts over my years as a Bahá’í. By age 22, I had strong philosophical problems with the Faith, and by age 23, I felt that I had exhausted all alternative definitions of “Bahá’í”, but I didn’t feel any need to make a big noise about it. It wasn’t until age 31 that circumstances motivated me to voice my criticisms of the Bahá’í Faith. It seemed to be a matter of integrity, so I posted a few comments on the soc.religion.bahai USENET group. Soon after that, I noticed that there wasn’t really a web site that provided all the arguments that I had amassed, so I figured I ought to make it myself. I threw together a site entitled “Abhageddon”, then a little later came the Bahá’í Millenarian Movement site.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this time capsule is the guestbook, which has been frozen since the year 2000. It’s a mixed bag of encouragement and antagonism. Here are some excerpts from the former:

Hi, Your site is very informative, and one of the more objective sites dealing with the Baha’i Faith that I’ve come across. I encourage you to finish the articles on the site as quickly as possible as I’d really like to see what you have to say. All viewpoint must be heard!

—Maryam L., Ex-Bahá’í Muslim

… as I grew older, I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the truths I was learning through intuition and life experience with absolutist, seemingly inconsistent doctrines that discouraged genuine self-expression, individuality, and the independent investigation of truth; rather than promote ideas I didn’t fully agree with, and maintain an image that wasn’t really me, my only real choice was to leave. The root of the problem, as I see it, is that divine knowledge is not limited to nine enlightened Manifestations and their successors; it is inexorably intertwined into the very essence of cause and effect itself, its lessons readily and directly available to each of us through art, reflection, sensuality, and the every day business of living. To deny its evidence in these areas is to deny God Himself. Bahaism works better as a philosophy than as a religion or theocratic political system, as a world-embracing attitude rather than as an absolutist, infallible institution. Ironically, the very rigidity with which it seeks to sustain itself will ultimately be the cause of its downfall.

—a former Bahá’í

Thanks for taking a stand on the Orwellian doublespeak, censorship and rewritten history the Baha’i institutions have continually employed in order to gain new adherents and keep the faithful in line. Though most organized religions oppose any significant degree of original thought, at least they tend to be a little less “bait and switch” about it. They pretty much tell you to leave reason at the door and take the giant leap of faith. The Baha’is lure you in with a list of lofty premises, such as the independent investigation of truth and the equality of science and religion — and once you get in, you slowly start to realize that all the doctrines are in total opposition to those principles. Their aim isn’t really to create harmony among the world religions, it’s to replace the world religions, by virtue of an institution that essentially prohibits any variance of opinion. … Thanks for providing us with an alternative perspective!

—Doug McPherson

Several Bahá’ís criticized me for discussing unimportant topics, such as the once all-important Bahá’í promise of world peace by the end of the 20th Century (that has since been wiped from their minds).

There is some needless hairsplitting on non-essential points. For instance, who can really argue that world unity at the close of the 20th century and the beginning of the year 2000 is NOT rapidly becoming a reality?

Some Bahá’ís criticized me for questioning the originality of the rather unorthodox Bahá’í calendar, or even for discussing the calendar at all.

This site is nowhere near being objective or scholarly in its presentation and discussion of the Bahai Faith. Attempting to refute Baha’u’llah by referring to the Bahai calendar as being a modification of the Persian calendar?? haha Hardly convincing. Keep up your desperate efforts to refute the Bahai Faith, it’ll only make the Bahais stronger.

—Reza

… the fact that you are not presenting another religion as the correct one, like many sites that are critical of some aspects of Baha’i thought, seems to indicate that you wish your site to be seen as an objective, scholarly approach to some of the problems within the Baha’i Faith. This is a worthy goal. However, some parts of the site seem to concentrate on very minor, irrelevant points (like the fact that the Badi calendar is a modified Iranian calendar), in a manner similar to the incredibly biased, innaccurate accounts of Muslim and Christian polemicists. …

—Jeremiah S. Davis, Bahá’í

I like how that disingenuous little jab was slipped in after such an ostensibly tolerant opening. Somehow criticizing the details of belief is considered by this reader to be the exclusive domain of religious polemicists. Absurd, eh? Ironic that Mr. Davis later converted to Christianity.

Some entries just struck me as revealing. This one reveals the Islamic underbelly of the religion:

Dear Friends: Peace be unto you, It is a shame that I, an 18 year old niave and child (who can’t spell)knows more about true Islam that most who inquire to attack the Holy Faith of the Bayan. Submission is the key to Islam and indeed to all world religions…

—a Bahá’í

A number of Bahá’ís were upset about my anonymity at the time, though for the most part the subject matter had nothing to do with my personal experience. Evidently, it did not occur to them that I may have been concerned about the personal consequences of angering believers.

Who are you? Academic and journalistic ethics require an author to identify themselves and acknowledge bias. Your site includes no attribution, authorship or even bylines. …

—Michael A. Russell, Bahá’í

Once again the avowed enemies of the Baha’i Faith have conjured up half-truths and unwitting interpretations of Baha’i Writings and history to justify religious prejudice in the name of God; this time in a website that in the typical cowardly way does not devulge its author(s) name.

—Robert Stauffer, Bahá’í

Dear Anonymous, It is interesting that you have chosen to attack the Baha’i Faith anonymously. Certainly you are free to disagree with it and even to slander or misrepresent it. But it is the height of cowardice to do so without identifying who you are, don’t you think? If indeed you believe so strongly about the Baha’i Faith, one would think you would be willing to say so without having to hide your identity. Certainly such anonymity impinges on your credibility and your alleged scholarship.

—Paul Dodenhoff, Bahá’í scholar, three months before his resignation from the Bahá’í Faith.

My Little Closet

I kept silent about my apostasy for eight years. I had learned early on that my parents could not handle even discussing the possibility that I might lose my faith, so I took my infidelity underground.

I dropped a few hints with my family here and there toward the end of those years, but I stopped short of making any grand declaration of apostasy. I’ll admit I even attended Baha’i community meetings out of curiosity when I’d heard that a controversial Baha’i holy book would soon be published (after 123 years of obscurity), or that a Baha’i community leader was leaving his wife for my coworker’s ex-wife. I also attended the funeral of a young Baha’i I had worked with at the Baha’i World Center, whom I had generally avoided of late for his sake.

I paid a visit to another Baha’i friend at one point in those underground years. He and I had previously served on our Baha’i District Youth Committee and had attended the same college in the mid-eighties, before I split for Africa (and ended up at the Baha’i World Center). He had always struck me as an honest, open, and modest person; not preachy like so many of my former co-religionists. Though I did expect openness from him, I was taken off balance when he admitted that he had recently struggled through a crisis of faith. I could have responded, “Dude! My faith isn’t in crisis. It’s dead and dismembered!”, but I wasn’t ready to come out of my closet yet, and I didn’t want to shake his faith, so I didn’t say anything. Had I let him down as a friend? I wonder what he thought. Did he think I had shut out his passing confession? I’ll probably never know.

It wasn’t until I got married that I came out. The Baha’i faith of my parents insisted on interfering in my marriage, so I finally had to draw the line, and I couldn’t be subtle, ambiguous, or even modest about it if I was to be understood. My parents would not believe that I wasn’t a believer, and their Baha’i leadership had not accepted my withdrawal without an explanation, so I gave them an explanation, and I published my explanation. It was finally perfectly clear that they need no longer concern themselves with whom I married, or any other decisions I made.

I was a little worried that my published criticisms of the Baha’i religion might make the wrong people angry; say, people with predispositions to violence. There have thusfar been no death threats, but some of the Baha’is whom I once respected most have not spoken a word to me since I came clean. A couple of my Baha’i family members have got nasty on occasion, but as a general rule, most of the Baha’is that I have encountered have treated me with civility. Maybe some of them do because they think I’m still a believer, but certainly not all of them.

I can’t say that I don’t sometimes miss being a part of the “Baha’i family”. I can’t say that I enjoy being shunned by old friends. It has not been a small price to pay, but what I have gained in integrity has been well worth it. I have no doubt of that.

Jesus laughed.

The SF Bay Area is a good place for those who enjoy trading their wages for palatable art and entertainment, but those who really desire the cutting edge—we head to Fresno.

Jesus or Bust
Barry Smith (photo by Mark Fox)

Now I understand that the book Science Made Stupid defines half-life as “Saturday night in Fresno”, and yes, there was something in there about Fresno and the event horizon of a black hole, but hey, times have changed!

I had run into Barry Smith on the aether a couple years ago, and just last Thursday I was cleaning out one of my email boxes when I stumbled on the remnants of our brief correspondence. I wandered onto the web and browsed through his tour schedule: coming to Fresno—tomorrow!

Coincidence? You be the judge.

I had six hours to drive to Fresno and back and catch Barry Smith’s show Jesus in Montana in between. I’d be locked out if I got there a minute late, so I left San Jose hoping that the 2 1/2 hour drive would not be extended to 3 hours by some unforeseen calamity (as it often is).

I turns out I arrived with time to spare, so I ran down Olive Avenue, wolfed down half a California burger, ran back to the Starline and dropped the price of admission out of my wallet onto the table. I had finally made it. I stumbled into the dark club, felt around for a chair, and basked in the glow of anticipation.

It was certainly therapeutic to sit in the dark laughing in unison with total strangers about a Baha’i doomsday cult, but what was perhaps just as exhilarating was re-living the grand chase for prophecy and universal annihilation that Barry Smith so hilariously describes in his expertly timed PowerPoint presentation.

This is not just any PowerPoint doomsayer. Move over Al Gore.

Barry Smith sees prophecy in the most mundane source material. He even finds Jesus in a street address from his childhood. Ludicrous, eh? Maybe so, but it’s not as uncommon as you may think, and you might want to try it some time. It can bring on quite a buzz.

I have been there. As a young Baha’i, I studied Biblical prophecy, American Indian prophecy, Hindu prophecy, Zoroastrian prophecy, Tibetan prophecy, Nostradamus, blah blah, but I never quite grasped the “Paul is dead” scandal; not, at least, until now.

Perhaps Barry Smith is having fun at the expense of others, but as much as anything, he is poking fun at himself. Perhaps that is the most therapeutic aspect of the whole show.

This must be made available on DVD someday. Come on Barry: if Al could do it, so can you.

A few notes for Baha’is …

I should warn you that “Jesus in Montana” has been rated “R” by—er, Barry?—for foul language, and references to drugs, Armageddon, fornication, religion, and one particular sex offender; but it isn’t all that hard on the Baha’i Faith.

Barry Smith goes so far as to say that, as part of the Baha’i doctrine of progressive revelation, prophecy is the way that God tells us how to recognize the Manifestations. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it put that way before, but that seems to be the way a lot of Baha’is look at it. One might call it the “Thief in the Night” wing of the Baha’i Faith.

I understand that Baha’is of the dominant Haifan group are strongly advised to avoid any discussion of the sect that Barry Smith has so much fun with, but it seems to me there is little to fear. Smith pokes fun particularly at the minute size of the BUPC, and estimates, quite charitably, the total number of Baha’is at seven million. He does poke a little fun at progressive revelation, but in a good-natured way. Moses, for instance, taught us not to eat paste, and Jesus taught us how to write in cursive.

Disclosure

Yes, it is true that, like the cult leader that Barry Smith celebrates, I too am a Jensen, and yes my father is a Baha’i Chiropractor, and it’s true that he has been expecting Armageddon since he first read the Scriptures and the pilgrim notes; but that is where the similarities end. Well, my mother was born in Montana. Oh, and there was that guy named Barry who lived in our basement. Hmmm … maybe I didn’t actually grow up in California …

Bring out your dead.

You might say the sky was crying during the morning commute. Paul McCartney was crying out “The Long and Winding Road” on the car radio. Some memories from years back replayed in my head, and before I knew it, dammit, I was crying too…

My daughter’s teacher recently covered Helen Keller, and my daughter developed a keen interest in Helen Keller and braille. This inspired me to order a braille stylus, slate, and paper from Lighthouse for the Blind in the City.

Braille slate and stylus

So there we were with the equipment and supplies. And there she was with her blind grandfather (my father) up there in Washington. The rest was, as they say, academic.

She didn’t know what to write. Was his birthday coming up? No. We looked at the calendar. It was Presidents’ Week. Happy Washington’s Birthday? No. I knew of one date that would be on Grandpa’s calendar that she had never heard of. I hesitated, then I told her, “why don’t you write Happy Ayyam-i-Ha.” This was a reference to an upcoming event on the Baha’i calendar, and I explained it to her.

I punched out some braille for Grandpa as well. I chose a passage that he had recited many times when I was young. No doubt you have heard it as well:

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Yep. You guessed it. That there’s Shakespeare!

Brief candle…

I may be the rebel of the brood, but I am not the black sheep. That honor goes to my oldest sister. She left home on a mission for the Baha’i Faith when I was a young boy. Shortly thereafter, she married another young Baha’i, but other than having a wonderful baby daughter, it came to naught. They divorced, and she never had another legitimate marriage. She did marry twice more, but neither was a Baha’i marriage. Mom and Dad disapproved of my interest in going to visit her, but they held out a hope that she and her husband might someday have a Baha’i ceremony.

I didn’t see much of Duska until I graduated from college, a couple years after I privately left the Baha’i Faith. She lived and worked near Yosemite, and I was soon doing the same. I took a bus up to visit her, and after that backpacked from Wawona to the Valley, and got a ride to my new workplace.

Over the years, Duska and I developed a new kinship, and she bonded with my wife and children as well. Duska and I would sometimes sit and laugh about how our parents would avoid us. They would drive within a couple miles or so of my house when visiting a doctor or the Bosch Baha’i school, and they had been avoiding Duska for years. Duska and I would, in contrast, go well out of our way to visit our parents, in spite of our differences, and in spite of the treatment we might get during the visit. There would be constant reminders that religion came first, and we often found ourselves upstaged by what was termed “our Baha’i family”. We laughed it off. We really did.

The Baha’i religion almost never came up, but when it did, you can bet that we laughed.

Duska got some free time a few years back, and decided to fly up to Washington to see the folks and family. She stayed the night with us, and made up a game that she played with our baby boy. It was simple: she would look through the window of a Fisher Price house and say “Hi!”, and he would giggle a “Hi” back.

I was a little distracted at the time—I don’t know what about, but I managed to take her to the airport.

She spent the next night at our parents’ house, and suffered from a massive brain hemorrage in the morning. I was able to speak to her again, but the doctor said she could not have heard me.

Mom made certain that Duska had a Baha’i memorial and burial. Mom said she had once asked Duska if she considered herself a Baha’i, and that Duska had responded in the affirmative. I didn’t want to fight about it, but I was horrified. I understood: Duska was still her daughter. Could I blame Mom if she was in denial?

Still, anger was heaped upon grief: what about the Duska that lived and died? What about her? Was anybody going to remember her?

Our neighbor told me, “Dan, the dead don’t care.”

I don’t suppose they do. But regardless, I still miss you, sister. Yeah, sometimes I see you. At the filling station. I was parked in line behind that tan Ford Escort you used to drive, and I could only watch. You got out, filled up, and then you drove away.

I can see lots of things, but that doesn’t change a thing.