The warm friendly firesides went on for over a year and I genuinely felt nurtured by them. There was lots of cake too!! Once I declared, I started to attend feasts which in contrast felt cold and formal. I was more of a hippy, liberal socialist, laid back and not really at home in a very formal religion with prayer books, scriptures and a seemingly authoritarian culture. I had fallen in love with its teachings (not so much the founder, who had a strange sounding name and didn’t really move me in the way Jesus would have) . But I really did believe that this was the Love and Peace that the hippies had been singing about a decade before. Fortunately, there were others of a similar nature, without whom I may not have stayed so long.
Over the years I brought up two children in the faith and we did all the children classes, summer schools, conferences etc. Some of which they enjoyed. As they got older they started to rebel. I carried on regardless and was on LSAs and then a teaching committee. I did the Ruhi thing and supported lots of devotionals and study circles. I prayed a lot and couldn’t quite understand why none of the enquirers were declaring. Two years before finally leaving the faith, the inner conflict started. I found I just could not remember to say my obligatory prayers. It was such a battle. The emphasis on teaching and Ruhi was becoming really time consuming and just draining. I remember doing Book 8 on the Covenant with lovely Baha’i friends but being bored to death with the content. I kept thinking that this amount of my time was being eaten away with stuff that didn’t spiritually stimulate me, excite me, or even challenge me. I wasn't really contributing anything to the world and my own calling which was art, had no time to develop. There was just a huge pressure to get through books and develop core activities..
I went on Pilgrimage thinking that that would really get me back on track. It was beautiful and the shrines and gardens were so lovely. But something niggled about the presentations from the teaching center. As well as an overheard conversation, from volunteers at Bahji visitor center about not saying anything negative in front of the pilgrims who must be looked after at all times. It kind of felt a bit like a theatre facade where all the performers were in place to create the beautiful illusion. When I got home things didn’t get better. They were worse. My obligatory prayers were becoming few and far between and the guilt and conflict was growing. I started to really take a much more universalist view of the faith which seemed a little out of step with Ruhi and the teaching projects. I had never been happy about the ruling on no women on UHJ and the ban on homosexual marriage, just seemed cruel. I questioned the idea of ‘infallibility’ as it seemed to me no human being or institution could ever be infallible. Then I started looking things up online and found an article by Eric Stetson on why he left the faith. I was so relieved to find someone identifying all the areas that also felt wrong to me. From there I read a lot more and started to see that there was a completely different narrative about the History of the Baha’i Faith to the one I had been taught.
I stopped going to feasts. I never enjoyed them anyway. I took more of an interest in politics as at least there was now a popular politician motivating people to work for social justice. He seemed to be what I had always though a good Baha’i should be. A person of compassion and integrity, who treated people from all the different faiths and cultures equally, not corrupted like the majority of politicians. So I joined up and let my LSA know, so they could remove my voting rights. No such luck, they just put my letter to the bottom of the pile for months. In the end, I managed to make my decision. I was no longer a Baha’i and I wrote to NSA to ask to have my name removed. When the confirmation finally came through, my whole being was just flooded with gratitude and love. It was such a powerful experience. I knew that I was still loved. That God was still going to be in my life and that everything was fine.
Now I was free to attend different meditation groups without an ‘agenda’. I met people from different faiths mostly Christians, Unitarians, Buddhists and Sufis. Meeting new people and seeing spirituality in new and different forms, was so confirming. God really is everywhere and in all things. Oneness, isn’t confined to any one religion. It is in all religions and it is beyond religion. So much to learn from each other and from other spiritual traditions. The idea that people from other world faiths or spiritual paths don’t have access to the same spirit as the Bahia’s or that the older world religions are dead, is complete untruth. The principal of diversity has to mean that there are many spiritual pathways because people have different needs. All religions are corrupted by human beings including the Baha’i Faith. Plenty of examples crop up on this page. But the spirit is there for all who seek it, regardless of whether we have a religion or not. Its our birthright. Not something to be sold, packaged and marketed as the latest edition! One year since I officially left the faith I am now so happy to have escaped that narrow, constricting box, which had become a prison for my soul.