An Apostate's Narrative

Dr. Moojan Momen recently asserted that each apostate must construct a narrative, and that it ought to take the form of a "captivity narrative". Apparently, this means that the apostate must complain about being mistreated in some way, and tell a tale of escaping the heavy yoke of an oppressive religious orthodoxy or a cult. This may apply to many apostates, but I have another tale to tell.

I happen to believe that Dr. Momen does not appreciate the active role of the Baha'i Faith itself in apostasy. I think the Baha'i Faith is all about apostasy. I think that's what Baha'u'llah was after. Please allow me to explain.

Twenty years ago, I cautiously approached my parents with a dark secret: I didn’t consider myself a Baha’i anymore. Well, I didn’t quite have the courage or the cruelty to put it that harshly. I watered down the truth until I found myself saying “I’m just not so sure anymore.”

I would continue to struggle to revive my Baha’i identity, but I had already had my talk with God at his deathbed: a tearful “Where are you now? … I’m going to miss you.”

I was 22 years old, and I had been registered as a Baha’i for over seven years. Over those years, I had participated in “mass teaching” drives in South Carolina and South Dakota, even implemented my own door-to-door teaching drives, attended national youth conferences, chaired a district youth committee, worked at the Baha’i World Centre, studied classical Arabic, served on a Local Spiritual Assembly, and set out to become a theoretical physicist (with purely Baha’i intent). I won’t go into what I did before I “attained the age of maturity.” Let it suffice that my family had been very dedicated to the Baha’i cause, and I had a strong Baha'i identity without any lack of ambition.

An accident waiting to happen, you may say.

A year before, when walking my guard rounds throughout the Haifa and Bahji gardens, I thought a lot about the Baha’i faith and the impact its teachings and institutions seemed to have on the believers. I thought about its radical liberalism, its ecstatic mysticism, its contagious idolatry and stifling bureaucracy. I explored its wonderful mysteries. I was asking myself more and more dangerous questions. Ultimately, I found that my eyes, once open, would not close.

Often late at night, a strange sense of presence began to saturate my thoughts. I didn’t make any noise about it, but I would allow myself to indicate, half-jokingly, that I felt the trees were talking to me. Baha’is will recognize that there is a scriptural precedent for this, but the trees weren’t telling me anything in particular. It was more of a feeling. It was a very simple Revelation that would, before long, make all the difference.

What I found after returning to America was that sense of presence didn’t go away. It didn’t appear to be a new perception, really. More likely it had been with me all along, and I had just taken that long to acknowledge it consciously. Retrospectively, it reminded me of some profound moments I had experienced in the mountains before I had gone to Israel. Maybe it had just taken me that long to recognize that living was not just something observed or performed, but something experienced. I was no longer an object, a creation; I was suddenly alive, just like everybody and everything around me. In a sense, I was simply Being itself.

Just as I was watching my God die, and wondering how I could ever possibly "go home" again, I was beginning to feel a surprising camaraderie with Baha’u’llah. Again, let me explain.

The Baha’i faith has two faces. Each is the arch-enemy of the other, and both are working hand-in-hand to demolish God. One is a radical vision of human independence, compassion, and empowerment; the other is a tyrannical vision of blind subservience and fear. This is a merciless trap with a hair trigger. All it takes to set it off is to open ones eyes. One can hide or turn away from the tension and hold the trap open with rationalizations, or one can simply relax and let it do what it was designed to do: collapse.

It is a beautiful thing to see.

It is certainly not a painless demolition, but it is an effective one. I’m not sure that another religion exists that is quite so efficient at forcing the believer out of that religious slumber.

Sometimes a conflagration is necessary before a new world can be born. It may be a cliche, but it's true: sometimes one must die in order to live; as it is with the Phoenix, so it is with God.

I had to leave Baha'u'llah and the Baha'i Faith behind long ago. Baha'u'llah may not be happy about that, but he had a lot to do with it, and I'm grateful to him for that. In a very real sense, he's still part of me.

Dan Jensen
San Jose, California
December 2007