Monday, March 31, 2008

The Inactive-Unenrolled Connection

It always drives me a bit nuts when someone says "99.9% of Baha'is believe X" or, even worse, "Six million Baha'is believe Y". These phrases used to come up a lot in debate, and my response is that one cannot make definitive statements like that when half (or more) of enrolled Baha'is are inactive in the Baha'i community. If you don't even have a current address, then you really don't know anything about what they think or believe -- and studies necessarily tend to overlook these folks. They are invisible and forgotten.

But one place where inactive Baha'is do become visible is in cyberspace; there are a lot of inactive Baha'is in the liberal online community. My statistics are incomplete, I'm afraid, since I don't insist that listmembers disclose their status, but my best estimate is that between 25-30% of the Unenrolled Baha'i email group subscribers are enrolled, but inactive, Baha'is. After all, inactive Baha'is have a lot in common with unenrolleds who have resigned from the Faith -- namely a belief in Baha'u'llah combined with disappointment with current conditions in the administrative community.

Now, I realize that this seems a bit on the negative side, on a blog where I said I was going to try to stay positive. But the outcome *is* positive. Inactive folks who haven't had anything to do with the Baha'i community for years, sometimes decades, find a place with us. We have no assemblies, no boring business meetings, none of the stresses that drove people away to begin with. Nobody's checking cards at the door. We offer support and understanding; sometimes, even deepening and mashriq. (I keep working and hoping for more of the latter.)

Now, obviously, there are some things missing. It isn't easy, creating community for unenrolled Baha'is -- and I definitely don't want to create a falsely rose-colored picture. But then it isn't easy getting an enrolled community off the ground, either -- I know, I've been there. It's strange, for all the put-downs about how insignificant the numbers of unenrolled Baha'is, I really feel like my community is bigger out here. I definitely have more Baha'i friends than I had when I was enrolled. For someone like me, who was isolated in a tiny, struggling real-life administrative community, the Internet community gave me wings.


kaweah said...

I think that you might have something of real value here, Karen. The Baha'i Faith seems to have been made to be virtualized in some respects. There is often little alternative for Baha'is in their flesh-and-blood communities. Much of my experience of Baha'i community life was isolation, and I mean as an active, enrolled Baha'i. I imagine there are many enrolled and even active Baha'is who occasionally tire of 100% authorized channels. -Dan

Karen said...

Thank you, Dan. For all the cheerleading and talk about "victories", what is hidden is that Baha'i community life is often not very good. Even Ruhi hasn't improved things locally. I spent five years as an "isolated believer" for no other reason than city limit lines. The whole set-up is ridiculous, and makes it far harder for Baha'i communities to function than is necessary.

All those years--just to have people tell me that because I live in a rural area I don't have the right to judge Baha'i community life. It was always really, really great -- somewhere else.

My feeling is that lots more people drift (or run) away from the Faith because of a poor community life than any of the issues so prevalent on the Internet. I didn't leave for that reason, but it sure made me feel like I had nothing to lose by leaving.

Love, Karen