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.
I suppose a further detail might paint the picture more fully. I resigned as a Baha’i, declared my apostasy to my family, posted an ex-Baha’i website, and made a number of critical comments on public discussion boards back in 1996/97. The first website was somewhat anonymous, though. As I said, I was a little concerned about excessive publicity.
I didn’t come out fully until my sister passed away. I never bothered her about what she really believed, but I had been as close to her has anyone. If I ventured a guess, it would be that she believed in getting along with people, but she would admit to being an outsider. She and I used to joke about being avoided because we weren’t part of the Baha’i family. When she died, the family posthumously declared her a Baha’i. As much as I was annoyed, I didn’t fight the family on this, but I sure didn’t want the same to happen to me. So when I die, you all have to back me up on this!! 🙂
It occurs to me I’ve written about this before:
It seems to me that you are throwing around words like apostacy and shunning rather loosely. Not everyone who leaves their religion is an apostate, at least not in the technical sense of the word. The term ‘apostate’ is usually reserved for those who leave their religions with so much resentment they feel compelled to attack it, usually over an extended period of time. One cannot logically be a ‘silent’ apostate, therefore. As for shunning, as I’m sure you realize this is a sanction applied only to Covenant breakers in the Baha’i Faith. It shouldn’t be used to describe the behavior of some Baha’is who apparently no longer feel comfortable around you, especially when as you admit this certainly doesn’t apply to all of them.
Thanks so much for sharing this. I am so sorry about what happened to your sister, and I REALLY respect the integrity it takes to “come out.” I also appreciate how difficult the process of post-Baha’i friend and family dynamics can be.
Thank you for sharing this. 🙂
Where do you get off telling someone else what words it’s acceptable for them to use to describe their own experience?
Your definition of “apostate” is very Momen-y but narrow, not at all what the term apostate means from an Islamic perspective. You should know that. And let’s be clear, the apostasy baggage the Baha’i Faith is carrying around(including the concept of Covenant Breaking) is a hand-me-down from Islam.
If someone chooses to call themselves an apostate, so be it. But the real reason it is a dubious label in ANY context (especially Momen’s and yours) is because it is imaginary nonsense. It is like a “unicorn.” It doesn’t exist. Except for in the minds of very deluded people. People are just people. They have different beliefs and opinions, that in a healthy person change and develop over time. “Apostate” is a projection that lives in the mind of the believer for anyone who doesn’t agree with them anymore. Anyone who has learned from their experience. It is a word to squash dissent, like “witch” or “heretic.” The reason why some ex-Baha’is (myself included) use it is to describe the “apostasy experience.” The bizarro-land of perception we encounter from people who traffic in such projections. And that absolutely includes “shunning.” You have just told Dan what words he can use to describe the treatment he receives from Baha’is. But guess what, he’s not a Baha’i anymore- he doesn’t have to listen to or obey you. He can choose any words he likes. And he IS using them correctly. Thank you for demonstrating the kind of thought police and attempted censorship of others we all know so well.
Thank you Amanda, and yes, thank you Susan.
Here’s Webster’s definition list.
Main Entry: apos·ta·sy
1 : renunciation of a religious faith
2 : abandonment of a previous loyalty : defection
Since I’m an American, I figure it will do for my purposes. I have never been a “leave taker,” taking that phrase at face value. I have never been recreational about belief.
Thanks one more time, Amanda. I appreciate your thoughtful remarks.
A note on “shunning”. Susan, please keep in mind that this blog entry was a personal reflection. I did not offer it to Bahais Online. My remarks were not intended to address your “true doctrine” of the Baha’i Faith on this matter of shunning, but rather the actual behavior of real live Baha’is. I can certainly tell that you are a real live Baha’i who does not shun someone simply because you disagree with their beliefs, but I know plenty of fearful Baha’is who are nothing like you. They are very afraid of exposing their souls to the ungodly, and I’ll bet you their fear is inspired by their reading of Baha’i scripture.
Of course Bahá’ís who shun non-Covenant breakers aren’t true Bahá’ís! Why, that would be tantamount to suggesting that there were authoritative writings that encouraged Bahá’ís to alienate and ignore people just for being critical of their beliefs! Insane!
The Universal House of Justice would never say such a thing! Especially not in a letter dated 7 April 1999 wherein they write:
No no! The Universal House of Justice would never write that! Imagine if it did… It would be laughable! They would be seen as ridiculous and rightly derided accordingly.
No, sir. They would never write that sort of thing. The Bahá’í Faith encourages free inquiry and open criticism. To suggest that Bahá’ís shunned you because of their religion is like saying that the Universal House of Justice would write, in a letter dated 16 June 1999, that:
It’s almost like suggesting that Shoghi Effendi himself would have written on his behalf, in a letter dated 1 December 1944, that:
No no, my friend. You must be mistaken. Bahá’ís of shunning friends merely for being critical of their religion? Why, it would make the whole religion positively absurd!
Thanks for the good laugh, Mavaddat. It is a pleasure to make your virtual acquaintance. You are quite right. Shoghi Effendi would never have said the following about wayward non-believers:
Letter of March 27, 1938, Dawn of a New Day
Momen’s use of the word is what is current in academic circles. The way apostacy is used in Islam has nothing to do with whether someone who looses their faith or leaves the Baha’i community without attacking it should be considered an apostate. There were plenty of people who left the Faith during the Guardian’s time and as far as I know only about three of them were considered apostates and in all three cases they broke the Covenant. As for our attitude towards those who leave the Faith, the Universal House of Justice made the following statement:
“Thus, there are exceptional cases in which a former believer’s spiritual attitude to the Faith may, to various degrees, create an estrangement between him and the Bahá’ís. In general, however, a person who has withdrawn from the Faith is regarded as being among the generality of humankind with whom the Bahá’ís are enjoined to associate “in joy and fragrance”.
As for Movvadat’s sarcastic comments about the extent to which we allow criticism, the House wrote me in Feb. of 1998:
“Discussion with those who sincerely raise problematic issues, whether they be Baha’is or not, and whether — if the latter — they disagree with Baha’i teachings, can be beneficial and enlightening. However, to continue dialogue with those who have shown a fixed antagonism to the Faith, and have demonstrated their imperviousness to any ideas other than their own, is usually fruitless and, for the Baha’is who take part, can be burdensome and even spiritually corrosive.”
Note the reference to ‘fixed antagonism’, not unbelief, not doubt, not criticism. I did not take this statement as an order to shun him. What I took it as was a discouragement to ‘get into it’ about the Faith with those whose aims were clearly destructive. It doesn’t mean Baha’is can’t carry on normal relationships with them when it comes to other matters.
But yeah, if you go around attacking what is most dear to people a lot of those people aren’t going to want to hang around you. If you want to call that shunning, so be it, but it has nothing to do with what constitutes shunning in the Baha’i Faith.
Interesting that your posting from Webster’s dictionary ignores the part where they explain that the word is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘revolt.’ The wikipedia article gives a much fuller discussion of apostacy.
The term ‘leave-taker’ is another sociological term and it certainly does not suggest one takes a cavalier attitude towards religion. The term is merely used to distinguish an ex-believer from those who have a fixed antagonism towards their former religion and carry on sustained attacks against it. Of course you know best which category you belong to, but a ‘secret apostacy’ strikes me as a contradiction in terms unless you were ‘secretly’ trying to do everything you could to undermine the Faith.
Here’s an article which makes the same distinction between leave-takers and apostates which Moojan makes:
Moojan’s article should be read in the context of studies such as this.
Do you object to the notion that there just might be ordinary ex-Baha’is who are not necessarily our enemies? Because that is all Moojan means by ‘leave-takers.’
I’m fine with using Greek roots to shed light on the origin of words, but I do not speak Greek. You ought to understand the difference.
What if I should privately revolt and attempt to undermine a religion in my own heart? What would you call that? A vacation?
The reason why your model does not apply to the internal belief states of an individual is that your model is a sociological model. It does not address what the subject believes, but rather how the subject interacts, which are two phenomena that may be utterly at odds. I’ll grant that the Baha’i Faith as it exists today is more of a social organization than a faith, so sociology is applicable. But let’s make it clear that we’re speaking in sociological terms, with respect to social groups, rather than ideologies.
All that said, I think “defector”, for all its negative associations, may be more socially accurate for many cases where people simply find that they can no longer believe, like a soldier who defects because he can fight no more.
Susan (did I spell your name correctly?),
First of all, I’d like to draw your attention to the cloistered attitude of dogmatism in the position you are endorsing. The conversational attitude you espouse holds that any dialogue is only “fruitful” insofar as others potentially adopt your beliefs. But this attitude presupposes that you could not (even in theory) be wrong. This is because ending any conversation with a person who tenaciously holds an opinion that is opposed to yours precludes the possibility that, in fact, it is you who is holding a wrong opinion. If you allowed for the possibility that you were wrong, then you would not judge the fruitfulness of a conversation by the contemptible and recreant standard given to you by the UHJ. Have you no faith in your ability to discern the truth? Do you relaly value the preservation of your dogmas above the truth? Above the possibility of discovering an error in your doctrines?
The fact is that the quotations Dan and I provided really do provide a narrative in which Bahá’ís can feel self-righteously justified in shunning those who merely express criticism of their religion. This is not mitigated by their half-hearted expression of the value in dialogue.
Consider: If a king says that the Earth is flat is in one decree and then turns around and says that it is round in the next decree, do you think that the wrongness of the first decree is mitigated by the correctness of the second?
I would think not.
So, likewise, the fact that the UHJ also admits that such discussions “can be beneficial and enlightening” does not mitigate the prior fact that shunning is always an option for the Bahá’í. You have not even tried to deny that this narrative is alive in the Bahá’í Faith. You can’t. It’s right there in the ink of glory:
That is your inclusive religion for you.
I have to apologize for not realizing you had posted this response to me in June. I checked back for a couple of days after my original comment, but then lost track of it. Sorry for the inadvertent miss.
“Momen’s use of the word is what is current in academic circles. The way apostacy is used in Islam has nothing to do with whether someone who looses their faith or leaves the Baha’i community without attacking it should be considered an apostate.”
There are a few problems with that, Susan. One is in saying that the way Momen uses the word is “what is current in academic circles.” Clearly, that is just too broad a description to be meaningful. It is also inaccurate. I understand the very specific way Momen is using the term, and the sociological usage to which he is referring. But surely you understand that that particular “academic” usage is only applicable within a specific subset of one field. There are other “academic circles” that find that usage intensely problematic, including those of cultural anthropology, international law, history, and Islamic studies. To name a few. This is an important point. The majority of Baha’is who are exposed to your and Momen’s use of the term do not have any kind of familiarity with what “academic circles” might actually mean, and are not in a position to recognize that your justification of this particular sociological usage as “what is current in academic circles” is a misrepresentation and obfuscating overgeneralization. They are also not in a position to see that it is the hijacking of a particular academic concept, removed from the context of a more complete academic critique of that concept, for the purposes of apologetics. Scholarship is, in theory, about the pursuit of knowledge or “truth” for its’ own sake, and involves the necessary obligation of letting the facts paint whatever picture they may, even if it overturns what you personally hold to be true. Apologetics, on the other hand, is about the arrangement of “facts” to justify your pre-existing beliefs. The two practices are at cross-purposes. Much of the Baha’i community perceives “academic” as one, big unified thing without any regard to the diversity of views and disciplines that comprise academia. When a Bahá’í scholar pronounces their thinking or terminology as “academic” it is often given a reverence by the community that is born out of ignorance, and which it does not deserve. Use of “academic” terminology to advance a particular agenda (in this case discrediting dissenters and justifying the obviously bankrupt Bahá’í practice of institutionalized stigmatization and shunning) versus using it in the pursuit of truth, is the *performance* of scholarship. Not actual scholarship. At least, that is how it is viewed in academic circles. 😉
Unless you are suggesting that Bahá’u’lláh based his apostasy antics on the sociological work of Max Scheler, rather than the Islamic milieu of his particular time and place, whether or not “someone who looses their faith or leaves the Baha’i community without attacking it should be considered an apostate” certainly DOES have something to do with “the way apostacy is used in Islam,” rather than the “nothing” you suggest.
In any case, by your definition, any person who leaves the Faith can only be associated with “with joy and fragrance” if they agree to never mention WHY they left the Faith. I know you make a semantic distinction between “criticism” and “fixed antagonism,” claiming to be okay with criticism and not okay with “antagonism.” But I wonder how you define the difference? Is a “fixed” position just one that you cannot change through apologetics?
It is honestly appalling to hear any academic describe exposure to ideas contrary to their own as “spiritually corrosive,” or to attribute the aims of those who disagree with them as “clearly destructive.” Destructive of what, Susan?
On behalf of your family and the particular Baha’i community you were in, I really apologize for the actions projected to you and your sister, before and after you chose not to be Baha’i. As one who came to the Faith through absolute independent investigation, I must admit that I did feel judged and even silenced by some who weren’t sure of whether or not I was Baha’i or if I would become Baha’i like them. I have found the Writings are my only back up. It doesn’t matter what everyone says or does, I will not follow unless it’s backed up by the Writings. The Baha’i Faith is an individual and not congregational religion. Although, we are rather congregational. There is no Baha’i tradition or way of doing and being Baha’i. As you know, we do try to be all these things.
I came from a Faith where we blindly followed and believed and felt stifled. I have encountered Baha’i families that are like you described yours was. I now know that this in essence is not Baha’i, regardless of whether or not they are perceived to be “good Baha’is”. The truth is, no one knows what a Baha’i truly is, we are all striving to be one. You choosing to leave the community/apostasy, as you call it, is to me perhaps the greatest act of a true Baha’i. IMO, You knew it didn’t feel right, you had no recourse, and you stepped aside. In my understanding this is what spiritually grownups do. I do not mean to throw you back into the community, like they did with your sister, I mean in your heart, which does not require and outward proof. Baha’u’llah did so for two years. He was so disappointed by how the community was behaving that he took off to where no one knew him and lived his life.
This didn’t make him less of who He was. I see you the same way. You wish for peace and unity in your home and aren’t willing to live a facade. I say, more power to you. I can’t imagine that you do not adhere to the true purpose of the coming of Baha’u’llah, (striving the oneness of humanity, even if you do not have a card that says you are a member of the community. I actually applaud you for not living a life that felt hypocritical. I hope you directed your criticism to the LSA directly. These are lesson that the community should learn. Not to mention that it was well within your right as a Baha’i to do so.
I wish you all and your family great peace and prosperity!!!
You wrote to Dan:
“It seems to me that you are throwing around words like apostacy and shunning rather loosely. Not everyone who leaves their religion is an apostate, at least not in the technical sense of the word. The term ‘apostate’ is usually reserved for those who leave their religions with so much resentment they feel compelled to attack it, usually over an extended period of time.”
Susan, you are throwing words around loosely.
“In a technical sense, as used sometimes by sociologists without the pejorative connotations of the word, the term [apostasy] refers to renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, one’s former religion.”
In the context of our discussions, the Bromley definition is pertinent:
“Apostate role: defined as one that occurs in a highly polarized situation in which an organization member undertakes a total change of loyalties by allying with one or more elements of an oppositional coalition without the consent or control of the organization. The narrative is one which documents the quintessentially evil essence of the apostate’s former organization chronicled through the apostate’s personal experience of capture and ultimate escape/rescue.”
For Bromley, the key requirement isn’t resentment (or even ressentiment) it seems to be having a “contested exit” and forming an “oppositional coalition”.
You succeed only in muddying the waters.