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!
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.
… 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 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.