Saturday, March 1, 2008

Starting an Unenrolled Baha'i Blog

An unenrolled Baha'i is a believer in Baha'u'llah who is not an official member of the Baha'i Faith, nor affiliated with any of the small Baha'i splinter groups. Sometimes you hear the term "independent Baha'i". There's also a good argument for "unaffiliated Baha'i", since it does not define adherents in terms of membership of the mainstream Baha'i Faith. "Unaffiliated" is a term that's also used in polls and studies to describe people who have a set of spiritual or religious beliefs, but are not formal members of any religious community.

But I started with the term "unenrolled" -- and I didn't invent it. It was around long before I started writing, used to describe people who hung around the Baha'i community, even confessing that they believed in Baha'u'llah, but for one reason or another, never signed on the dotted line. There are also numerous unenrolled Baha'is in places like Bolivia, where remote villages have heard of the Faith from Baha'i radio, but have never been reached by travel teachers to get signed up and organized. I'd love to know how the Faith is developing in such places, but I suppose anyplace too remote for the administration is also too remote for researchers as well.

The second way that people become unenrolled Baha'is is that enrolled Baha'is become disillusioned with conditions in the Baha'i community, or policies of the Baha'i administration, and they leave voluntarily to go it on their own. They have become visible with the rise of the Internet -- although I think they've always been there. I run into people who've been out of the Faith for a decade or more, and still have an attachment to Baha'u'llah. I myself was an enrolled Baha'i for thirteen years and have been an unenrolled one for nine.

The third category of unenrolled Baha'is are those that have been forcibly removed from the membership rolls against their will. The UHJ has essentially created this category as a matter of policy since 1997, by removing individuals they hold to be unqualified for membership. Since a person just doesn't stop believing in Baha'u'llah at the stroke of a pen, a cluster of Baha'is outside the mainstream Faith is the inevitable result -- although I'm not at all sure that the House anticipated that.

In the years since I left formal enrollment behind, I've sought way to create community among unenrolled Baha'is. It's no easy thing. The mainstream Baha'i community itself is rather thinly spread -- as one wag put it: " Baha'is are everywhere,. . . and nowhere." That is, you can find Baha'is in nearly every corner of the globe, but each corner has so few that they aren't very visible and have little impact on the wider society.

Unenrolled Baha'is are fewer in number, and even more widely spread. I have heard that, in some places, small informal groups gather under the radar of the administration, but most of us find company on the Internet.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: This blog is about any and all things Baha'i -- except the administration. I want to talk about being a Baha'i, without getting tangled up in Baha'i politics. I cover that adequately in my general blog . Here, I want to try something different. Let's see how it works.


SteveMarshallDunedin said...

Great start to the new blog, Karen!

An argument for "unaffiliated" was made by Umm Yasmin in her now-defunct blog, Dervish, but "unenrolled" does seem to have become the established term.

Alison and I are lucky to have what is essentially an unaffiliated community that meets once a month for mashriq.

Karen said...

Hi Steve!

Umm Yasmin definitely deserves the plug -- she's one of my favorites out there.

As far as your mashriq meetings, you haven't exactly made it a secret, yet the admin has never done anything about it. It seems they really don't care what unenrolleds do, so we need to lose our fear of CB-hood and go ahead and create our own worship communities, where it is feasible.

SteveMarshallDunedin said...

Speculation is risky, particularly on a public forum, but I think there are two factors at play here;

1. Dunedin is a special case. The Baha'i administration, at all levels, seems reluctant to rock the boat any further.

2. It would be hypocritical for the Baha'i administration, anywhere, to discourage individual initiative in setting up neighbourhood devotional meetings -- because that's one of the things Baha'is are encouraged to do under the new culture!

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

I am really enjoying hearing from you on this new space. I'm glad you had the energy to start it...and the 'energy' of this space feels open and exciting. Sort of like the time of year here in Saskatchewan....over three feet of snow, but the sun is getting ever warmer and our world is going to burst wide open. It may take two more months to happen, but that doesn't dampen the hope and excitement we feel when daytime warming turns snow into water droplets and exposes a tiny patch of gravel or grass.....excuse the delirious ramblings of a cabin fever victim! I really enjoy the site that shows where people are coming from when they enter your blog. For the size of Saskatchewan you have a fair amount of interest from us folks. So when you see Prince Albert, that's me saying 'hi'.

Love, Lois

Karen said...

Dear Lois,

Thanks for stopping by. I have noticed visits from Prince Albert on my weblogs -- so now I know that's you!

I had lots of energy last week and was blogging every day; now things at home have required my attention, so I don't know when I'll be able to update again. I'll just do the best I can.

Love, Karen