Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ten Years of Being An Unenrolled Baha'i

This Naw-Ruz marked the tenth anniversary of my resignation from the Baha'i Faith, and although I've not been saying much online, I thought I shouldn't let such a significant anniversary pass without comment. As many people know, I left in a blaze of anger after discovering how the American NSA cracked down on the Baha'i magazine *dialogue* back in the mid-80s, but this was a last straw after many years of frustration in trying to make a Baha'i community work. I could maintain a sacrificial attitide as long as I believed the problems were essentially local, but when I found they ran top to bottom -- well, what more is there to sacrifice for?

But I could not abandon Baha'u'llah. To this day, I recite His Writings, meditate on His name, perform His prayers, and count myself His follower.

My experience, though, over the last decade has been a mixed bag -- as life usually is. I became very active on email forums, wrote articles, etc. partly as a much-needed emotional release, and partly as a means of making sense of what had happened to the Faith.

Postive things about my leaving, and being in Baha'i cyberspace:
- I was free to work out my issues in a way that I never could have done had I stayed. I'm really not that courageous, nor was I technically savvy enough, when I first came into cyberspace, to maintain anonymity. If I was still enrolled, I'd have been terrified of that phone call from the ABM with every email post. I simply couldn't have done it. I can be eloquent and passionate in writing, but I turn into a big stammering puddle of nerves in direct confrontation.
- I learned so much! I got to associate with Baha'is more intelligent, knowledgeable, and creative than I ever knew existed. A whole new world opened up for me.
-The online translations of the Writings. It was the Writings of Baha'u'llah that made me a Baha'i, and it was just wonderful to find these once-hidden treasures.
- I'm a lot less frustrated now that I don't have to do all that administrative stuff, which so dominates Baha'i community life. I neither know nor care what year Plan it is.
- I made some wonderful friends out there.
- I felt freer to experiment with other religious ideas and practices -- something I had abandoned when I became a Baha'i.
- I'm more firmly grounded in reality, with a more realistic sense of the Baha'i Faith's place in the world.
- I like myself better, without that oppressive sense of constant failure -- I don't teach enough, I don't give enough to the Fund. I'm more concerned with the development of my own spiritual qualities e.g. whether or not I am behaving in a compassionate way. My sense of spirituality is broader, and not limited to the Baha'i mold.
- I enjoyed expressing my own creativity; I like research, and writing, and never would have had the opportunity elsewhere.

Negative things:
- I came out into cyberspace, hurting and very naive. I got too swept into online politics, which at times warped my judgement. I tried very hard to be honest and fair, but I sometimes got carried away and did things I now regret.
- I wish I'd never known how ugly Baha'is can get at even the mildest criticisms of their sacred cows.
- I sometimes miss the people in my local community. For several years, I kept in contact, even going to Holy Day celebrations and other non-administrative events. But about five years after I left, one of the newer locals discovered my identity, named me a covenant-breaker and while my old friends don't shun me if I run into them around town, I'm not invited to any Baha'i events anymore. Baha'is, for the most part, are good people; it's the whole system that's really the problem.
- Although I made some great friends online, there are some people out there that I wish I'd never met.

Anyway, life goes on. I have less to say than I once did, but I'm still walking the Path like I always did -- and, God willing, always will.


Marty said...

I'm an inactive Baha'i not an unenrolled Baha'i. It's not a problem I have with the community but rather a personal issue. I hope to eventually become active again (I tried once but it didn't work.) In the mean time I do all the private devotions and contribute to the fund. I think the faith is poised for a large leap forward. I hope you can resolve your issues and become active again. Unity is the heart of the faith and its difficult to be united and separated at the same time.

Philip Marley said...

Blessings to you, Karen. A true comfort reading your writings. You're a fine Baha'i to know here. Peace.

The three of us. said...

I'm sorry that you had such an issue with your community. It happens. Unfortunately what you felt was not the Baha'i Faith, it was what individual people have done with it. You sound like you still love Baha'u'llah, which in truth makes you a Baha'i. I hope someday something leads you back, a community can be what people make of it. I don't always participate in everything I should, or give everything I should, I leave that to God to judge, no one else. Allah'u'abha.

Daniel Orey said...

Thanks friend for your wonderful post. Your quest, journey, and experience is shared by many...

Daniel Orey said...

Thanks friend for your wonderful post. Your quest, journey, and experience is shared by many...

Karen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Daniel.

Sam said...

I'm a 16 year old unenrolled Baha'i. I found the Faith about 5 or 6 months ago, and I've done a lot of my own research and reading. I believe in Baha'u'llah and his teachings, but how things seem to be today in the UHJ and community trouble me.

Being unenrolled leaves me much other spiritual freedoms of mixing and matching different ideas, but I still label myself as a Baha'i for my belief in Baha'u'llah.

Just thought I'd comment, because it's good to know there are other unenrolled Bahai's out there.

Karen said...

It's good to know that you're out there, too, Sam.

severus said...


I have been unenrolled since 1996. For several years, I wondered away from Bahai and even attended a Christian church for a time (Episcopalian). Then went into a period of serious doubt and serious skepticism about god and religion in general. But of late, I find an unexplained attraction to reading the Bahai writings again. I pulled out my copy of Baha'u'llah's writings, my prayer book and the Aqdas. Most of the others that I once had in book form and were donated to another Bahai community, are now online. However, I do find it sad what the Administrative Order has done to the faith. All in all, what you yourself have said about loving Baha'u'llah is what is important at this point. Thank you for sharing and many blessings to you.