Published Friday, July 13, 2001
Baha'i Faith lets its member pursue truth independently
LOCATION: Worship Service is held Sunday mornings at Veterans Memorial Building, 3591 Mt. Diablo Blvd. at First Street, Lafayette. Family Baha'i School is held Sunday afternoons at Peace Lutheran Church, 3201 Camino Tassajara, Danville.
TIMES: Sunday services: 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Baha'i school: 3 p.m. Sunday.
INFORMATION: Local: 756-2940. National: 1-800-22UNITE.
By John Lovejoy
ANTIOCH -- In the Baha'i faith, there is no single person who is pastor.
"Everybody in the faith is a minister," says Art Hatley, chairman of the spiritual assembly of Baha'i Faith of Antioch. "No member has any authority or clout or power over any other individual member.
"The institution itself, or the assembly, has the authority of power. All the power lies in administrative bodies."
Nor does the faith dictate what any member should think, Hatley says. The key phrase is "independent investigation of the truth."
"We (humans) have this power of mind or reason that separates us from other life forms," he says. "And we should all exercise it and have the right and privilege of investigating the truth for ourselves."
Baha'i members who are children have the right to make up their minds when they reach the age of 15 as to whether they want to formally declare their belief in the faith. If they decide they do, they sign a declaration card.
The Baha'i religion began in 1844 in Persia, today called Iran, by a man named Baha'u'llah, whose name means "the glory of God" in Persian.
And, as with nearly all new religions, Baha'i members were persecuted, imprisoned and killed. The persecution continues today in modern Iran.
Baha'u'llah spent 40 years in various prisons in Teheran, Iran; Adrianople, Turkey; Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey; and the prison of Akka near Mount Carmel, just outside Israel.
Baha'u'llah wrote 100 volumes of his teachings, much of it while imprisoned. There are three basic tenets of the Baha'i faith, Hatley explains:
Examples are Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The latest was Baha'u'llah.
This process is called "progressive revelation," and it happens about once every 1,000 years. "And then there's a big upsurge of civilization, arts and sciences and so forth as a result," Hatley says.
From these tenets come the principles of Baha'i, which include the elimination of prejudice, the equality of women and men, and basic education for all, Hatley says.
The Antioch congregation was founded in the 1920s. Unlike some other communities, Antioch does not have a Baha'i center. For large meetings, the congregation rents halls; for smaller meetings, members' homes are used.
The nearest large Baha'i centers are in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, and there's a Baha'i school in San Jose, Hatley says.
The local assembly has 15 adults, and six or seven children, Hatley says. There are 300 Baha'i members countywide, and about 6 million worldwide.
In Antioch, the spiritual assembly has nine members, who must each be at least 21 years old. The national assembly for America is in Willamette, Ill.
The world headquarters is called the Universal House of Justice and is in Haifa, Israel.
©Copyright 2001, Contra Costa Times