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January, 2004 : Feature:

The Baha'i and Science Fiction

In the city of Haifa, on the north coast of Israel, one becomes used to a prominent feature of the city's skyline: a golden dome burning in the sunlight. The dome is roof to the temple of the Baha'i faith, a religion that I lived close to for many years without ever becoming aware of its nature. In fact, the Baha'i religion is a fascinating example of a movement which embodies within itself a large number of what might be called science fictional principles and, with its utopian bent, actively promotes a science fictional future. I am using the term science-fictional not to suggest that Baha'i ideals are unattainable but rather that they identify with the worldview of much pre-Cyberpunk science fiction. While SF has been known to directly or indirectly inspire religious movements, something which is covered in more detail in Tom Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, the Baha'i faith is interesting in that its development, and as I will show later its identity, has evolved in parallel to the world of science fiction. It seems unlikely that Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, the man who shaped the modern form of Baha'ism, read SF while "creating [sic] an image of Baha'ism as a dynamic new world religion" (MacEoin 626). It is easier to judge the effect Baha'ism has had on science fiction literature, however. The Baha'is in Science Fiction and Fantasy bibliography contains 31 mentions of Baha'ism in genre works. Of these, five do not even mention Baha'ism, but rather mention Jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, who was a disciple. One mentions Carole Lombard, another Baha'i, while the rest, with the exception of a handful of works by Baha'i science fiction writers (more on this below) constitute only a paragraph or so.

To understand the argument, consider this oft-quoted summary of principles, provided by Shoghi Effendi:

The Baha'i faith upholds the unity of God, recognizes the unity of His Prophets, and inculcates the principle of oneness and wholeness of the entire human race. It proclaims the necessity and inevitability of the unification of mankind... enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society" (Shoghi Effendi qtd. in Maceoin 630, my italics).

Science fiction, especially of the space opera variety, tends to portray a united Earth, extending a Fordist world-view into the future and into space itself: perhaps the best-known example is the Galactic Federation of Planets in the television series Star Trek. It could be argued that Baha'ism portrays the positive, utopian aspects of science fiction. The "unification of mankind", as Shoghi Effendi notes, requires science "as the foremost agency" for its pacification. It is easy to see in both SF from the Golden Age (1938-46) and the contemporary writing of Shoghi Effendi a focus on Fordism: the Modern era ushered by Henry Ford's methods of mass production was one of centralisation, of a relative prosperity for the masses (as often mentioned, Ford's employees were paid five dollars a day, an amount much higher than workers anywhere were previously paid)—a world of education for all and, significantly, a world with a universal language.

"It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights, opportunities, and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy, and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorce, emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, exalts any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of a auxiliary international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind" (ibid, my italics).

Shoghi Effendi was born in the city of Akko in Israel, grandson to the Bahá'u'lláh, the head of the Baha'i faith. His education was diverse: as Danesh note, it included "first attending a Jesuit school in Haifa, then boarding at another Catholic school in Beirut [...] Shoghi Effendi later attended the Syrian Protestant College (later known as the American University in Beirut) for his final years of high school and first years of university" (Danesh). The American influence was enhanced by a British one: "in the spring of 1920, Shoghi Effendi went up to Balliol College, Oxford, to pursue his post-graduate studies. Among the subjects which he studied were political science, social and industrial questions, logic, and English economic history since 1688" (ibid.). The influences of Western thought sit parallel to Shoghi's environment in the British protectorate of Palestine and later in the new-found state of Israel. Indeed, Baha'ism and Zionism share a common ground. Both movements contain a utopian element which is evident in the written works of the founders (Bahá'u'lláh and Theodore Herzl, respectively), both contain a socialist foundation, both "exalt [sic] any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship,"—as was evident to me when growing up on a kibbutz. Both also showed an interest in the creation of an international language, and in particular in Esperanto, the creation of Polish Jew Dr. Lazarus (Eliezer) Ludwig Zamenhof. A planned language derived from the Latin family of languages, Esperanto uses a phonetic script ensuring all words are pronounced as written. It includes only sixteen grammatical rules, and only ten thousand (as opposed to about two hundred thousand in English) roots. While Zionism had overall forsaken Esperanto in favour of the revival of Hebrew, Esperanto, Baha'i Dale Lehman notes, "has an interesting connection to the Bahá'í Faith," arguing that "as in so many other areas, we can see the development of languages such as Esperanto as a response to the spiritual forces unleashed by the new revelation. Ludwik Zamenhof, the Polish physician who created the language, first published his work in 1887, a mere 5 years before Bahá'u'lláh's ascension" (Lehman). As tenuous as that link sounds, it is of

... greater interest [...] that Dr. Zamenhof's daughter Lidia came into contact with the prominent Bahá'í teacher Martha Root. Lidia eventually embraced the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and traveled to America in 1937 at the invitation of U.S. National Spiritual Assembly and with the encouragement of Shoghi Effendi to promote and teach Esperanto in that country (ibid.).

Lidia Zamenhof later died in the Holocaust.

Bahá'u'lláh himself did not think Esperanto was sufficient, yet he "encouraged Bahá'ís to learn it and did not discount the possibility that in time Esperanto might mature into a true universal language" (ibid.). The links between Israel, the Baha'i and Esperanto still exist, and the International Congress for Esperanto took place in Israel in 2000.

But what, exactly, is Baha'ism? "The movement," Maceoin notes, "originated in the 1860s as a faction within Babism [...] a messianic sect of Shi'a Islam that began in Iraq and Iran in 1844" (618). Baha'ism owes its name to Baha' Allah (1817-92) or Bahá'u'lláh ,who "claimed to be a new prophet and expounded his religion as the latest in a long line of divine revelations" (ibid.). The Baha'i believe in a cyclical theory of history, in which there is a "linear process directed by the divine will and marked by the periodic appearances of major and minor prophets" (ibid.). It is very much a Great Man theory of history, as Esselmont argues in his 1923 book Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era: "it becomes evident," he says, "that the leading factor in human progress is the advent, from time to time, of men who pass beyond the accepted ideas of their day and become the discoverers and revealers of truths hitherto unknown among mankind" (11). For the Baha'i, Bahá'u'lláh is the last in a long line of such prophets. Esselmont notes that "every few centuries a great Divine Revealer—a Krishna, a Zoroaster, a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad—appears in the East" (12). The early history of Baha'ism took place in the Middle East, with Bahá'u'lláh being exiled to the Turkish province of Palestine, where he spent the last twenty years of his life. It was the appointment of Shoghi Effendi as "first Guardian of the Cause of God", however, that "proved singularly important for the later development of the movement" (MacEoin 626). Shoghi Effendi began by first organizing the movement, establishing "local and national administrative bodies throughout the Baha'i world [... and] began to create an image of Baha'ism as a dynamic new world religion" (ibid.). His second move was to establish missionary enterprises, to the effect that today, Baha'ism is "overwhelmingly a "Third World" religion" (Hampson qtd. in Maceoin 636). Expansion has been "most rapid in India, South Vietnam, South America, the Pacific and parts of sub-Saharan Africa [...] although Iranians, Americans and Europeans remain the most active in missionary and administrative work" (MacEoin 636-637). Indeed, Baha'ism's spread has been such that, despite having only around five million adherents, the movement is described as "the second most widely spread religion after Christianity" (MacEoin 637) by the Britannica Book of the Year for 1998.

I find the idea of a cyclical history of Great Men of particular interest when considering two seemingly unrelated ideas. The one, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series; the other, the Japanese cult of Aum Shinrikyo, or Aum Ultimate Truth as it calls itself in English. Asimov, an American Jew born in Russia, created in the Foundation series (1942-1950; continued in the 1980s in a series of books) a future history (mirroring to a large extent the rise and fall of the Roman empire) in which a Galactic Empire in decline must be saved by a secret Foundation using the imaginary science of Psychohistory—a way of foretelling the future that, for all it claims to rely on mass trends, is based on the actions of single Great Men, not the least of whom is Hari Seldon, the inventor of Psychohistory. As a work of fiction, the Foundation series won a well-deserved Hugo Award in 1965; it may seem unlikely to be the cause of a new religious movement.

In fact, there have been several strong links between SF literature and religious or quasi-religious movements: useful examples include Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and its seminal influence on Charles Manson 1; Andrew Macdonald/William Pierce's right-wing apocalypse novel The Tuner Diaries (1978) and its influence on Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh; and above all L. Ron Hubbard's creation of Dianetics (later the Church of Scientology) out of the pages of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction.

Yet it is Asimov's work which is the most interesting. David Kaplan and Andrew Marshall note:

The similarities [of Asimov's Foundation] to Aum and its guru's quest were quite remarkable [...] in an interview, Murai [one of Aum's inner circle] would state matter-of-factly that Aum was using the Foundation series as the blueprint for the cult's long-term plans. He gave the impression of 'a graduate student who had read too many science fiction novels,' remembered one reporter. But it was real enough to the cult. Shoko Asahara, the blind and bearded guru from Japan, had become Hari Seldon; and Aum Supreme Truth was the Foundation (qtd. in Disch 143).

A further Asimov incidence concerns the emergence of the global terrorist group Al-Qaeda. "My supervisor, an expert in the Middle East, told me about a rumour circulating about the name of Bin Laden's network," Dr. China Mieville, a young SF writer with a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics said in a letter to the newsletter Ansible. "The term "Al-Qaeda" seems to have no political precedent in Arabic, and has therefore been something of a conundrum to the experts, until someone pointed out that a very popular book in the Arab world, Arabs apparently being big readers of translated sf, is Asimov's Foundation, the title of which is translated as "Al-Qaeda." Unlikely as it sounds, this is the only theory anyone can come up with" (qtd. in Langford).

Although somewhate anecdotal, these statements highlight some of the links between science fiction literature and new religious movements. Baha'ism, in opposition to the examples given above, seems to take a positive and a non-millennialist approach to its world affairs. For a long time Baha'ism had also avoided any involvement in politics, reinforced by Shoghi Effendi's view that "believers should leave the outside world to collapse, while building a new Baha'i order to take its place" (Maceoin 633). In 1983, the Universal House of Justice "announced that social action was now to be incorporated into Baha'i community life and set up an Office of Social and Economic Development in Haifa to coordinate such activities" (ibid.). Maceoin argues that this shift in policy is a "direct response to the growth of religion in the Third World [and is] closely linked to the movement's broader missionary enterprise" (ibid.).

And yet, despite the lauded values of the movement, it is difficult to view its missionary efforts without some concern, just as the missionary efforts of the Catholic Church can be regarded as morally dubious, and as the Church of Scientology's tactics have come under fire. This is enhanced by a particular episode relating to one of the handful of science fiction and fantasy writers of the Baha'i faith. A list at adherents.com, Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors of Various Faiths, contains entries on six authors, one of whom was apparently "excommunicated", or expelled from the faith by the Baha'i Universal House of Justice. One problem may be that in the Baha'i faith the Fordist worldview is compounded with Fordist morality: hard work and family values, a moral code that is under considerable strain in the twenty first century. For example, as part of the debate author and former Baha'i Michael McKenny found himself involved in, the Universal House of Justice in 1995 declared: "the Baha'i Faith strongly condemns all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex." And, from the Baha'i Teachings on Homosexuality: "No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex," Shoghi Effendi had said, "to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Baha'u'llah, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature." McKenny may have found himself at odds with the Universal House of Justice, but if he did it was not because of his writing. In fact, out of the remaining list of authors only one, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (published in Analog), may be considered a professional writer to be using Baha'i themes. The other Baha'i, Joseph Sheppherd, Arthur M. Weinberg, Barbara Larkin and Stephen D. Dighton, may be considered peripheral. The reason, suggests the list, "that Baha'is have not been written about in popular fiction may be that writers are unfamiliar with them. Most science fiction and other genre writers are not personally acquainted with Baha'is." Although that is likely true, science fiction has for long tackled various religions, including Roger Zelazny's Hugo Award-winning novel Lord of Light (1967), which deals with Hinduism and Buddhism; Walter M. Miller Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) and Anthony Boucher's classic short story "The Quest for St Aquin" (1951) both of which deal with Christianity; the anthology Wandering Stars (1974), which deals with Judaism; and Islamic and Sufi mysticism in Frank Herbert's Dune (1965). Indeed, Brian Stableford notes in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that "many of the roots of proto science fiction are embedded in traditions of speculative fiction closely associated with the religious imagination, and contemporary sf recovered a strong interest in certain mystical and transcendental themes and images" (1000). Perhaps, as the list suggests, "popular writers have not felt threatened by Baha'is, and so they have not written cautionary tales about them. One of the most common sources of subject material in science fiction and fantasy is any contemporary or historical movement which seems dangerous or threatening." The Baha'is, with a policy of non-involvement, and with ideals that seem almost to have sprung of the American pulp magazines of 1940s, possibly do not offer enough narrative tension. The list further notes:

Since the development of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Born Again movement in around the 1940s, over 50 science fiction novels have been written about dystopian near-future Americas governed by despotic Baptist or Evangelical regimes. Conversely, some Evangelical writers have written about dystopian near-future Americas ruined by intolerant liberal, atheistic, or New Age regimes. Even some relatively small groups have become fodder for popular fiction, as some writers have written fiction satirizing, warning against, or "exposing" groups such violence-prone racial separatists ("Christian Identity Movement", Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, black militants, and others have all been dealt with in science fiction novels). But Baha'is have apparently seemed so unobtrusive and non-threatening that no science fiction or fantasy writer has used their fiction to attack them, "expose" them or "warn" about them.

It is an interesting speculation, and not without merit; yet much science fiction has also been written with a positive view of religion. Perhaps, having used up the shared symbolism and goals of Baha'ism with SF at an earlier age, science fiction was no longer interested. Certainly, with the advent of Cyberpunk with a post-Modern distopian view of globalization, today's writing tends to portray a world very different to that imagined by Baha'is: fragmented rather than united, diversified rather than assimilated. Contemporary accounts of the future are a far cry from the fictions of the 1950s, of the fictions of Baha'ism itself. Yet I would tend to agree with the list's first explanation. After all, not much genre fiction has covered Cargo Cults either, and while Eastern religions, Native American religions, Vodoun and Catholicism (and to a lesser extent Judaism and Islam) have their own respectable bibliographies, other living religions such as Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Sikhism remain largely unexplored.

Another problem, correctly identified by the list, is that the overwhelming majority of SF writers are American, with a smaller number in the UK and Canada, an even smaller one in Australia. What SF is written in other countries does not often appear in translation, and it could be said publishers in America and the UK are to a large extent anglocentric. As the majority of Baha'is live outside of those areas—in effect outside to a large degree of the English speaking word—exposure to Baha'is by science fiction writers would be minimal.

While contacts between science fiction and Baha'ism have so far been minimal, the origins of these two seemingly-disparate groups are shared by Western influences of the Enlightenment project, of the urbanization and industrialization that were transforming society, of Modernism and the world of mass consumption heralded by Henry Ford. It remains to be seen whether the vision of Golden Age science fiction is yet to materialise: a united Earth, ruled by a just World Government, a relative Society of Plenty in which everyone has work and no one lives in poverty, a civilization made possible by science, and where everyone speaks a common tongue.

It also remains to be seen if this future is Baha'i.

Footnotes

  1. Although this is open to debate, as discussions on Patrick Nielsen-Hayden's web site from 2002 indicate.

Works Referenced

Baha'is in Science Fiction and Fantasy. 9 Oct. 2002. Adherents.com. 17 Apr. 03.

Danesh, Helen, John and Amelia. The Life of Shoghi Effendi. Studying the Writings of Shoghi Effendi. Ed. M. Bergsmo. Oxford: George Ronald, 1991. bahai-library.org. 17 Apr. 03.

Disch, Thomas M. The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of. New York: The Free Press, 1998.

Esslemont, J.E. Baha'u'llah and the New Era. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1923.

Langford, Dave. Ed. Ansible 172 (Nov. 2001). 17 Apr. 03.

Lehman, Dale E. Bahá'ís and Esperanto. planetbahai.org. 17 Apr. 03.

Maceoin, Denis. "Baha'ism". Living Religions. Ed. John R. Hinnells. London: Penguin, 1998. 618-643.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors of Various Faiths. 15 Feb. 03. Adherents.com. 17 Apr. 03.

Stableford, Brian. "Religion." The Ecyclopedia of Science Fiction. Ed. John Clute and Peter Nicholls. London: Orbit 1999. 1000-1003.

"The Baha'i teachings on homosexuality". The American Baha'i 152 (Nov. 1995). The Universal House of Justice. 17 Apr. 03.

Further Reading

Clute, John and Malcom J. Edwards. "Asimov, Isaac." The Ecyclopedia of Science Fiction. Ed. John Clute and Peter Nicholls. London: Orbit 1999. 55-60.


Copyright © 2004, Lavie Tidhar. All Rights Reserved.

About Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, lived in Israel and South Africa, travelled widely in Africa and Asia, and currently lives in London. He is the winner of the 2003 Clarke-Bradbury Prize (awarded by the European Space Agency), was the editor of Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography (PS Publishing 2004) and the anthology A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults (The British Fantasy Society, forthcoming 2006), and is the author of the recently-released novella An Occupation of Angels (Pendragon Press, Dec. 2005), a supernatural cold war thriller which Adam Roberts called a "powerfully phantasmagoric fantasy... Sharp, witty, violent and liable to haunt your dreams." His stories appear in Sci Fiction, Chizine, Postscripts, Nemonymous, Infinity Plus, Aeon, The Book of Dark Wisdom, Fortean Bureau and many others, and in translation in seven languages. His non-fiction appeared in Locus, Foundation, Interzone and IROSF.

Lavie's web site is at http://www.lavietidhar.co.uk

COMMENTS!

Feb 21, 00:00 by John Frost
... if you want to post it. These forums weren't available for issue number 1, but don't let that stop you.
Mar 21, 21:21 by Elizabeth Barrette
This was one of the stories that specifically enticed me into the magazine. I subscribed just so I could read a few in the first issue.
May 1, 10:33 by Steven Kolins
me too....
May 1, 19:51 by Steven Kolins
ooops, dupe, removed again.
May 1, 19:54 by Steven Kolins
Well that was... weird. I feel a repeated effort to stay off task whether by issue of focus or facination with tangents bordering with misunderstanding. For me it is symbolized by the title - The Baha'i and Science Fiction. "The Baha'i" is a strange term to a Baha'i. One might say "The Baha'i Faith and Science Fiction" or "The Baha'is and Science Fiction". However Mr. Tidhar uses the term Baha'ism far more often in his article - so why not "Baha'ism and Science Fiction". As far as his title sounds to me he could as well have said "Baha'i and The Science Fiction."

Mr. Tidhar says near the begining: "... Baha'i ideals...identify with the worldview of much pre-Cyberpunk science fiction.... the Baha'i faith is interesting in that its development, and as I will show later its identity, has evolved in parallel to the world of science fiction."

Herein the author notes parts of a view of the development of the world of science fiction - pre-Cyberpunk supposes at once pre-and at Cyberpunk as part of that history. His statement also destinguishes the Baha'i Faith from that Cyberpunk stage even as it notes somehow that the Baha'i Faith is in fact somehow developing in parallel to the forms of science fiction. That confused me even as I found some serious question of the validity of the goal which was snatched away even before it was really presented.

I don't know much about Mr. Rabbani's, certainly a leading figure to understand of the Baha'i Faith, reading habits but I do agree his efforts were probably not informed by themes of science fiction. Mr. Tidhar goes on to review much of Mr. Rabbani's life, limited by this short article and generally other aims anyway. But in struggling to present the identity of the Baha'i Faith a tale is told I, as a Baha'i, barely recognise. Mr. Tidhar emphasizes connections or parallel thought with developments of Judaism, Israel or some Jews, some formulation of a life and philosophy named as Fordian, and an extended section on why one former Baha'i may or may not have had "problems" with the Baha'i Faith. As a Baha'i I can say that such themes are certainly not how I or any Baha'i I have spoken with (we love to trade our "declaration stories") came to the Baha'i Faith or our continued life within it. Instead of emphasizing Israel one must be rather taken up first and foremost with the history of Iran - a word used but once and then in a quote in Mr. Tidhar's article. Rather than a philosophy named for Henry Ford (which Mr. Tidhar later notes as emphasizing assimilation rather than diversity), Baha'is are asked to pursue "unity in diversity" and to review history, the present, and the future as leading towards what every religion has promised it's adherents - that one day we would all be at peace with eachother. In sum it seems clear to me that Mr. Tidhar has continued to do what he mentions near the beginning: "a religion that I lived close to for many years without ever becoming aware of its nature."

However I looked forward to an analysis of the Baha'i Faith and science fiction. I was rewarded alittle with views of other religions and science fiction but largely left wanting again. Even the analysis of Baha'is science fiction and fantasy authors or mentions of the Baha'i Faith in any work was cut short and entirely spent doing something else. Truely the work of non-Baha'i Tom Ligon did a better job of understanding the Baha'i Faith in his fictional works "The Devil and the Deep Black Void" and "The Gardener" of which he speaks here though that is at least debatable.

Rather than hearing any review of the writings of Baha'i science fiction or fantasy authors (except to note that Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff may be of singular example of - with which I agree btw) or non-Baha'i authors mentioning the Baha'i Faith (of which I have given a better example above than anythinng Mr. Tidhar offered) we are treated to a variety of reasons the Baha'i Faith has not been mentioned much either way and this more or less flowing from the analysis of the adherents.com website's author(s) - whose website was not about reviewing those authors or their content for connections between the Baha'i Faith and science fiction anyway. There is some analysis I admit I find interesting in other interactions of science fiction and religion which the author specifically disconnects with the Baha'i Faith - "Baha'ism, in opposition to the examples given above, seems to take a positive and a non-millennialist approach to its world affairs." While I agree that the Baha'i Faith is a positive religion and therefore clearly disconnected from the doomsday and terrorist examples of interaction of religion and science fiction offered I cannot in good faith characterize the Baha'i Faith as non-millennialist. Again this at least speaks to the lack of understanding of Mr. Tidhar of the Baha'i Faith. It is not millenialist as one might expect from fundamentalist Christianity or Islam or Judaism but it is very caught up in the issues of, as Mr. Tidhar calls it, the cyclic history of Great Men which he unfortunately spends all his time speaking in terms of other religion and science fiction relationships rather than the title of his article "The Baha'i and Science Fiction". Baha'is refer to this idea as "Progressive Revelation" but by whatever name one calls it, it would have been a fruitful avenue to explore what Baha'is mean by millenialist.

Lastly, Mr. Tidhar embarks on a warning of the Baha'i Faith he has just noted most have not found threatening. "And yet, despite the lauded values of the movement, it is difficult to view its missionary efforts without some concern, just as the missionary efforts of the Catholic Church can be regarded as morally dubious.... This is enhanced by a particular episode relating to one of the handful of science fiction and fantasy writers of the Baha'i faith. " The missionary efforts of the Catholic Church I would suppose to refer to the colonialisation period and resulting problems of the Native Peoples of North and South America and Africa (though of the Far East to a lesser extent.) But then he doesn't speak at all about the missionary efforts of the Baha'is. The closest he comes is several paragraphs earlier when speaking of how the Baha'i Faith had grown much in third world countries to the point that the Baha'i Faith is now know "as 'the second most widely spread religion after Christianity' " (and uses a number for the population of the Baha'is a decade old - we are now probably twice the number he quotes.) At the very point where he appears to be raising an issue about how the Baha'i Faith is spread he says nothing of the kind. Instead he notes one teaching of the Baha'i Faith and calls it "Fordist morality". He may not like this teaching but what does it have to do with missionary work? A Baha'i hearing those words ussually winces because it is a poor word to describe how Baha'is pack up and move to other parts of the globe. Specifically, missionary work is often sponsored and as soon as the sponsorship is over those people often move back home. Baha'is "pioneer" - the go of their own accord, finance their own path, and lay down roots that often last their lifetimes. As such they often merge much with the local culture and remark often about the lack of materialism which is so thick "in the States" as they say. What does this have to do with homosexuality and Baha'i teachings on the subject?!

Truthfully I was hoping for review of science fiction and fantasy subjects of Prophets (or Great Men perhaps) and how they compare with those of Baha'i teachings, or how a variety of teachings of the Baha'i Faith may be compared with those in science fiction or fantasy. For example Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoffs series "The Meri" has a large influx of Baha'i teachings and wrestling with issues of the equality of women and men. Surely it would provide ample material to discuss the relationship of the Baha'i Faith and Fantasy literature. Or Tom Ligon's work I mentioned above - it would have provided substance about which to have a interesting discussion of what the Baha'i Faith does or does not teach about wrestling with terrorists.

Even a discussion of how the Baha'i Faith has not had much mention might have been interesting if it had reviewed how other religions, some 160 years after their founding, were mentioend in the literature of their day. I believe for example there was a play in the 100's AD that portrayed Christians, albeit as fools or clowns if I recall correctly.

I fine, I hope Mr. Tidhar reads the literature of the Baha'i Faith itself rather than what others have to say of it primarily. I also hope readers here consider the source of something than rumors of it. Indeed large volumes of source material of the Baha'i Faith, our scripture, and large works on the history and teachings of the religion are available to casual searches on the internet. But if a link is needed, consider www.bahai.org.
May 2, 14:59 by John Frost
Thanks for your feedback on this topic!

Of course, any treatment of a particular religion is going to be incomplete, and others passionate about the subject may find the incompleteness distressing, or take issue with some particulars. I don't know a lot about Baha'i myself, but any article -- even any book -- attempting to analyze Christianity and Science Fiction could hardly please all Christians. If Baha'i is anywhere near as diverse as other religions, I expect the same holds true.

While Lavie may not have delivered the paper you hoped for, you are always welcome to write the paper you hope for yourself! In your rebuttal, I see three or four different possible pieces. You might think about taking your favorite theme and going deeper with it.
May 2, 15:22 by Steven Kolins
Of course, any treatment of a particular religion is going to be incomplete, and others passionate about the subject may find the incompleteness distressing, or take issue with some particulars.


I understand and agree - but the article seemed to me to fail to reach even that level. In reality it was about other religions relate to science fiction, and that the Baha'i Faith is different, and how the Baha'i Faith is pretty much ignored in scifi and how one Baha'i scifi author got in trouble with the authorities of the Baha'i Faith. The closest it comes to saying the Baha'i Faith is like scifi stuff is comparing it with Star Trek and then alittle bit about the Great Men idea.

While Lavie may not have delivered the paper you hoped for, you are always welcome to write the paper you hope for yourself! In your rebuttal, I see three or four different possible pieces. You might think about taking your favorite theme and going deeper with it.


I don't think I'll do a rebuttal as I see the article as pretty much a non-starter discussiing sci fi themes and the Baha'i Faith. But I might just right something though I'm not an author of any scifi story or book. Just a reader and watcher. If you want someone of that stature you might invite Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (a Baha'i) or Burl Barer(another Baha'i) and Tom Ligon (a non-Baha'i) to contribute. They might even attract some attention.
May 3, 08:45 by Lavie Tidhar
I won't reply at length, but I think the article is quite clear in a) examining the Baha'i faith/religion (or, as referred to in academic circles, simply Baha'ism) giving some of its tenets and history, and suggesting (please note - suggesting!) the link between such a mode of belief and science fiction of the optimist/Golden Age variety, while also offering b) a brief (note: brief!) "list" of working Baha'i SF writers and c) asking (note: asking!) why no Baha'i characters feature in SF - as opposed to, say, Christians, Mormons, Jews or Hindus, etc.

What is there to disagree with?
Admittedly, I hadn't the scope to go into depth - for example the fact the Baha'ism is an Islam-derived religion, or that its missionary activities could be seen as quite alarming (it has a very active missionary programme concentrating on the third, or "developing" world) but my aim was not to offer undue criticism nor to provide a detailed historical background, all of which are easily available in the local library - only to make what I consider to be a very interesting link between science fiction and the Baha'i religion.

And I am, of course, grateful for any comments - and welcome disagreement! :-)
May 3, 15:45 by Steven Kolins
I won't reply at length, but I think the article is quite clear in a) examining the Baha'i faith/religion (or, as referred to in academic circles, simply Baha'ism) giving some of its tenets and history, and suggesting (please note - suggesting!) the link between such a mode of belief and science fiction of the optimist/Golden Age variety, while also offering b) a brief (note: brief!) "list" of working Baha'i SF writers and c) asking (note: asking!) why no Baha'i characters feature in SF - as opposed to, say, Christians, Mormons, Jews or Hindus, etc.


If a person is looking in a scifi area to read an article mentioning a religion I would suppose that they would not expect a hearty investigation of it perse. I would suppose that they would be looking at how religion/a religion is portrayed, affected, affecting, etc. I know that's pretty much what I was looking for.

For example in Star Trek and religion or religious issues - first of all they are almost never refered to explicity and when they are mentioned directly I think they are pretty simplistic and even childish. Of course that's qutie a summary judgement but it could be delved into significantly. On the other hand when they wrestle with religious ideas without reference to religion (transcending the world as known, moral wrestling) it comes off pretty good. Babylon 5 contrasts in that it often has explicit references to religion and takes outright stances on some religious themes. Stargate SGC takes more of a Star Trek road I think in that when religious issues are mentioned they are always in a context of there being no such thing or false gods. Now that is easily worth several papers discussing one episode vs another etc.

With respect to this line of thinking, I think the problem is that we are on the hind end of millenia of proof of the ills of religion - the genocides, the false doctrines, the religious excuses for material gain, etc (and I am *not* speaking solely of Christianity, nor excluding the individual Baha'is or collective institutions from making bad choices.) We have much forgotten the reason religions arose in the first place. Now *that* is a theme somewhat taken up in scifi - _Stranger in a Strange Land_, _Dune_ and it's series, even Star Wars and it's Force, and though I haven't read it, Asimov's Foundation series apparently. I guess this is called the Great Men theory. Just as a pivot point right there I would note Bohnhoff's _The Meri_ series which makes the Great Men theory actually Great Women. Not that her series is completely based on the Baha'i Faith though there are many quotes and attitudes pretty much from the Faith (though there are occasional quotes from the Bible too I think.) And the fact that the series has almost no violence in comparison to most scifi - where in _The Matrix_ people who do die when killed in the simulation are killed in great, huge, numbers as if it were ok.

OK. Another take. Baha'i Faith and Sci Fi specifically. How about _The Matrix_? Someone had reviewed the second movie and had a clear quote of the Baha'i Faith recently. It's a legit quote though it's somewhat an accident of words speaking of a Matrix. But the issues of what is real and what is it like to go from one world to another are legit. There's another paper.

I spoke above about Bohnhoff's work. One could try to find significant themes in her novels that seem to come from the Baha'i Faith - probably one could interview her about her work and collect anecdotes - she's mentioned one or two over at authorsden.com. That could be several papers. An interesting twist is her next book - _The Spirit Gate_. A pagan religion is presented in the spotlight with Christianity and Islam in the wings. Very different in some ways and one could make arguments what was or was not influenced by the Baha'i Faith. Raise the stakes and look at her most recent book - _Magic Time_ I think it's called. That could be worth a series of articles. Then there's her dozens (I think) of short stories - there's at least one about time traveling Baha'is. How is that story different or not from other time traveling stories.

Ditto for Tom Ligon couple of stories with explicit characterizations of a whole Baha'i culture. Lot's of interesting details. I gather from an old website of his that he's already had some discussion with folks about the portayal.

All this and more within the proper sphere of scifi topics and religion and the Baha'i Faith in particular.

OK, yes something of an introduction of the Baha'i Faith's tenents is indeed needed in these areas as most people know nothing of it and, alas, several of the few that do know something are totally off base in many parts if they have one thing right. But one could fairly easily find several places on the internet, Baha'i sponsored and not, that introduce people to the Faith and let them do that work and just get to the point.


What is there to disagree with?
Admittedly, I hadn't the scope to go into depth - for example the fact the Baha'ism is an Islam-derived religion, or that its missionary activities could be seen as quite alarming (it has a very active missionary programme concentrating on the third, or "developing" world) but my aim was not to offer undue criticism nor to provide a detailed historical background, all of which are easily available in the local library - only to make what I consider to be a very interesting link between science fiction and the Baha'i religion.


Now that is exactly what I mean. Discussing the Baha'i Faith's heritage in Islam - what's the point? What does that have to do with scifi? I'm not saying it's not a worthy topic but why would one go to a scifi website to see a discussion on whether or not or how the Baha'i Faith is or isn't properly associated with Islam? I mean if we want to get into that - sure we could go into it. But it doesn't seem on topic, don't you think?

Missionary practices? Scifi? Maybe if there were missionary practices in scifi to talk about one could discuss how they are or are not like Mormon or Catholic or Baha'i practices I suppose. One of the things I hoped for a great deal in _The Matrix_ trilogy is how they would propogate the freedom of large numbers of people. But they completely dodged the topic. Now that would be a comparable issue to missionary practices between scifi and religion!

And I am, of course, grateful for any comments - and welcome disagreement! :-)


Well here's a compliment then: I've read a fair number of works by non-Baha'is about the Baha'i Faith. Yours avoided most of the pitfals many of them suffered from. But as a fans of scifi/fa and a Baha'i I think there is tons more stuff worth attention and not just of the Baha'i Faith but of religion in general and all the religions and beyond (religion among aliens isn scifi?)
May 4, 16:31 by Thomas Reeves
I enjoyed the article and the commentary here nicely puts things in focus. I live in a town of under a thousand people, with no Jewish or Muslim or Hindu citizens, yet one of the librarians is Bahai'i. It's nice to get more of a sense of what that is.

This might be an irrelevant aside, but if Baha'i ideals dovetail into SF I'm not sure it's as unusual as it seems. Several religious movements that started in the 19th century I think had ideals that dovetailed into those of the science fiction community. It was an era where religion had to deal with issues like evolution and where new forms of travel brought more people into contact then ever. Also it might be because SF began with 19th c. thinkers and philosophers of various stripes. If any of you do articles on religion in SF again I might look more for the faiths I mean.

Also I agree with you smkolins on TV SF and religion. Although I didn't just love Babylon 5, it did a much better job dealing with religions. Trek generally falls into making human religions evil/false, and even does that with some alien religions. American Indian traditional beliefs generally were seen as positive, but the depiction was highly inaccurate and shallow. The message of Trek seemed to be sensible enlightened people would drop any variant of religion. That it was at best a quaint relic, like a zeppelin or butter churn.

As for Baha'i depictions in SF, I hate to say I haven't read enough to judge the depiction one way or the other. To my surprise it sounds like Analog gets some of those authors, and I haven't subscribe to that magazine in years.
May 6, 09:38 by Steven Kolins
This might be an irrelevant aside, but if Baha'i ideals dovetail into SF I'm not sure it's as unusual as it seems. Several religious movements that started in the 19th century I think had ideals that dovetailed into those of the science fiction community. It was an era where religion had to deal with issues like evolution and where new forms of travel brought more people into contact then ever. Also it might be because SF began with 19th c. thinkers and philosophers of various stripes. If any of you do articles on religion in SF again I might look more for the faiths I mean.


In general I agree. One thing to refine the analysis would be where did these 19th C. religious developments happen vs where 19th C. SciFi/Fa happened. For example until the 1870's the Baha'i Faith was pretty much limited to Iran/Ottoman Empire (with just a finger of presence in India and Egypt so to speak.) I would suppose 19th C. SciFi/Fa happened in Europe and of that mostly Britain (though I suppose that could easily be cultural blind splots show up.) Britain certainly had colonial channels to some of these places but I doubt there was a lot of literary contact. I do recall a general - Oliphant? - who toured the middle east area and left a book to tell of it I think. Otherwise the connections would be business and government. One highly speculative book is Kahlil Gibrain's "The Prophet". It is certain he knew of Baha'is and specifically the Head of the Faith in his lifetime (this side of the 1900's) and many feel he wrote it keeping Abdu'l-Baha in mind though. Not SciFi but a literary connection between the Middle East and British influences along religious lines.

Also I agree with you smkolins on TV SF and religion. Although I didn't just love Babylon 5, it did a much better job dealing with religions. Trek generally falls into making human religions evil/false, and even does that with some alien religions. American Indian traditional beliefs generally were seen as positive, but the depiction was highly inaccurate and shallow.


I had forgetten that part - quite right!

The message of Trek seemed to be sensible enlightened people would drop any variant of religion. That it was at best a quaint relic, like a zeppelin or butter churn.


Thus my discomfort relating the Baha'i Faith to the vision of Star Trek as made in the article. Far from envisioning a future without religion Baha'is endevour to bridge differences among religions and theologies thereof. For example the word Prophet turns out to mean very different things in the Old Testament and the New Testament and in the Latter Day Saints books - not to mention Hindu (and sort of Buddhist and Zoroastrian) avatars.

As for Baha'i depictions in SF, I hate to say I haven't read enough to judge the depiction one way or the other. To my surprise it sounds like Analog gets some of those authors, and I haven't subscribe to that magazine in years.


It's hard to find used copies but there is also possible to get back issues of Interzone if you go to their web site: http://www.sfsite.com/interzone/

But if you ask for Baha'i references you'll certainly get puzzle looks/email most of the time. At this point I would say ask for anything by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (though not everything she writes has recognizable Baha'i-related content a lot is) and Tom Ligon (mostly not Baha'i-related but two short stories especially) and not scifi but Burl Barer (mystery writer, often tucks some little bit in) is also out there.
May 7, 04:19 by Lavie Tidhar
I'm grateful for the debate, you know. It's very rewarding.

I mention the source of the Baha'i faith in Islam exactly because it doesn't originate in the Enlightenment ideals or Western 19th c. philosophies. So that link with SF is missing (although the argument on where SF itself originates is still going on). It is in fact a counter-argument to my connection-making, which is one reason it wasn't mentioned. :-)

I don't have much to add - I'm happy the article is generating debate, and if it encourages at least one writer to make use of some Baha'i ideas or characters I'd be even happier.

About the Matrix: I'm not planning to write anything about this point (unless John asks me!) but it belongs to another very interesting religious movement: Rastafarians. The symbolism, names, hand gestures are all Rastafarian, and I suspect one could write an interesting paper on that...

About Star Trek etc. I can't comment. But let me recommend "Dark Heavens", a novel by UK writer Roger Levy, which is one of the darkest, but most interesting, treatments of religion in SF in recent years. It is not available in the US, alas.
May 7, 10:01 by Steven Kolins
Since this (of the two) threads has taken off I'll cross post one small item from the other tract:

Readers may be interested in the Baha'i Seti@home team's website which has a review of the scriptures of some faiths and their view of life in the universe - here. A more wide ranging review of topics in the geneal area of the the same area can be found here.
May 7, 11:00 by Steven Kolins
I mention the source of the Baha'i faith in Islam exactly because it doesn't originate in the Enlightenment ideals or Western 19th c. philosophies. So that link with SF is missing (although the argument on where SF itself originates is still going on). It is in fact a counter-argument to my connection-making, which is one reason it wasn't mentioned. :-)


Well let's talk about Islam and the Baha'i Faith then....

The Baha'i Faith did indeed arise in the context of Islam - specifically Shi' Islam common in Iran and also has connections with the Shayki (sp varies) movement which started out as a reformist movement. Many prominant Babis (considered a direct predecessor of the Baha'i Faith by Baha'is and many historians but care should be noted that it is in several senses and independent religion) were active members of the Shayki movement until the Bab declared his station.

All that being said there is always the question of context vs content in terms of origin. Many people assume context determines content but that obfiscates (love to use that word!) the reason for the seperate category. Judaism arose from a context but isn't the same as or well defined by that context. In the same way Christianity arose in the context of Judaism. Islam arose partly in the context of both and partly arab tribalism with remnants of various religions possibly including whatever religion Abraham himself lived by. But in no case can any of these religions be well defined by those contexts. That is the fundamental component of what is called in Scifi circles the Great Men idea.

While we're at it I will give alittle primer on name prefixes and special surnames. Siyyid (again spelling for all these varies and I'm giving the main definition as I know it - not the alternatives and specialisties) means one who can trace their family line back to Muhammad (ussually through his daughter Fatimah who married Ali and bore two sons.) Mirza is an honorific - one who is or has done something noteworthy. "Is" in the sense of being related to a court official or other highly respected person - or - "done" in the sense of getting a educational degree in some form. Haji is for one who has accomplished the Moslem pilgramige to Mecca. So Baha'u'llah was known as Mirza Husayn Ali i Nuri (the last bit is "of (the province of) Nur".) The Bab would have been known as Haji Siyyid Ali Muhammad i Shirazi. If one were an official member of the Shayki movement then one would add Shayki in from of the rest. So a name could well be Haji Siyyid Shayk Ali just to make a name up....

O - and Shi' vs Sunni Islam - ah there is a tale. Here's an angle you wont here often. It is fairly common in scholar circles to note Jesus was probably born 5BC-ish. 666 years later would be 661AD. That's the year the basis of Shi vs Sunni Islam was set irrevocably when the two sides went into open civil war. In any case several years earlier Muhammad had taken a small group on a last trip. On the way back he is reported by some to have stopped everyone, climbed a sand dune and announced a certain oath for Ali - part of which is along the lines of "who obeys him, obeys me, who obeys me, obeys him" and I believe this is also where the title "Commander of the Faithful" comes from. In any case for some reason on return to Mecca this pronouncement was not recorded and Muhammad then fell ill and died. On his deathbed Muhammad was denied a last chance to write something down. No one knows what it would have been. With Muhammad's passing Ali, as family, was dealing with mourning and family matters. However the restless followers demanded to know who would lead the community. Abu-Bakr, one of the most prominant followers of Muhammad and one who had destingusihed himself on many occasions sought to keep the community at peace and was nominated Caliph as a result. The next two Caliphs were done by various schemes but always Ali was passed up. The family of the prime opponents of Muhammad were now Moslems and their position left the patriach of the family in the position to be Caliph. Ali was named the forth Caliph but the eldest son of the third Caliph claimed the position, dispute erupted and was settled I think twice. However blood had been shed albiet through open channels and through respected leaders. There is, however, a commandment in Islam to not fight among Moslems. A faction felt so fanatical about it that they beleived the leaders of the sides had broken faith with Muhammad and were in a sense no longer Moslems. To stop either side from becoming Caliph they attempted to assasinate both men. Ali died - the challenger did not.

Sunni evolved from the position of the challenger to Ali while Shi' evolved from the people who beleived Ali was the rightful Caliph.

The situation was infinitely exacerbated when Ali's second son, Husayn, having promised not to seek the Caliphate was never the less disturbed by the deeds of the Caliph in his time and began a march, with family who insisted on coming, to Mecca to address the Caliph of the wrongs he had committed. In modern times this would be called a civil rights march. An army of 7000 was sent to stop the 70 or so who marched. When they met in the desert there were several days of stand-off. Finally the general of the army switched sides. Another general arrived and Husayn and all of his family save the a child who was left behind as he was very ill were cut to ribons. I beleive Karbilla, Iraq was built in the vicinity of Husayn's passing. It is said he died with one of his babies in his arms. For the next couple hundred years each male descendent of Ali was eventually killed or died under mysterious circumstances until the last living male descendent was chased into a cave never to be seen from again. Theologically this is the basis of modent authority in Shi Islam. After this child disappeared leaders of the community praying at the cave would claim to have been given guidance from and thus speak for this lost Imam (the lead male descendents were called Imam in a "is" sense rather than an "does" sense Imam is a religious leader, superior to a Mulla.) The title of this one who speaks for the Hidden Imam is Ayatollah (I think I've got this straight.) There is a prophecy of the Mihdi - One who Arises - the prophetic Return of the Hidden Imam who will be part of the Last Days - Jesus is expected too form a Moslem pov. You may note the Shi young leader who is causing trouble in Najaf and may have been responsible for the killing of a leading Imam returning from exile while he was visiting the Shrine of Ali (doing real damage to the Shrine) - his "army" is called the Army of the Mihdi.
May 7, 12:15 by Camden
For example until the 1870's the Baha'i Faith was pretty much limited to Iran/Ottoman Empire (with just a finger of presence in India and Egypt so to speak.) I would suppose 19th C. SciFi/Fa happened in Europe and of that mostly Britain (though I suppose that could easily be cultural blind splots show up.) Britain certainly had colonial channels to some of these places but I doubt there was a lot of literary contact. I do recall a general - Oliphant? - who toured the middle east area and left a book to tell of it I think. Otherwise the connections would be business and government. One highly speculative book is Kahlil Gibrain's "The Prophet". It is certain he knew of Baha'is and specifically the Head of the Faith in his lifetime (this side of the 1900's) and many feel he wrote it keeping Abdu'l-Baha in mind though. Not SciFi but a literary connection between the Middle East and British influences along religious lines.
_________
Yeah, but the dealing with new sciences and cultures(which may have spawned SF) was occuring in Persia before the 1870s. The British efforts to dominate the Persian economy and the challenge the Islamic world faced in dealing with Western science were issues when Baha'i arose.

I don't know if Lavie was saying this exactly, but the article seemed to indicate Baha'i did for that cultural context what SF did for the West. It gave a vision for a future having to embrace science and accept living with diverse religious traditions. That it paralleled SF, in the events it was dealing with, but wasn't necessarily influenced by it at all. (I admit the influence, or even parallelism, with Henry Ford I find more than a little implausible which was probably the source of some confusion I had)

Now whether Baha'i really does parallel SF I'm not sure. Even older SF is not about different peoples building a great future together or even fusing into a great culture together. It's about one culture "winning" and then colonizing the Galaxy. Race doesn't matter so much in old SF, but it's often assumed that regardless of race or color we will all be equal under a Northern European Protestant influenced atheistic society.
May 9, 11:52 by Steven Kolins
Yeah, but the dealing with new sciences and cultures(which may have spawned SF) was occuring in Persia before the 1870s....


True indeed.

Frankly I wonder if it (the modern developmental context of world cutlure) is related to the Great Men idea. As I understand the theory of the Great Men the idea is certain men (ussually) create a paradigm which transcends their lifetimes and becomes a cultural norm for centuries or millenia. The Baha'i Faith's understanding of a Prophet is of a similar scope but adds many details. But one of those details is that the times around the time of the Prophet, or in more common Baha'i terms a Manifestation, are special and humanity makes a kind of unussual progress right then though it also goes through a period of experimentation which also wastes a lot of energies so the overall progress may be very minor until things settle down.

If you look at the lifetimes of the Founders of the Religions that have some kind of historical context one can readily admit it took their religion several hundred years to gain notoriety or majority influence in the ways of the Day. I don't think its hard to see that various reforms and movements are also more known in that time period. In Jesus' time it was the people who lived in the caves near the Dead Sea for example. In Buddha's time the Hindu Upanishads were being written as a reform movement inside Hinduism.

In the book Dune this is described as a developing context of humanity struggling into the future of which Muad'dib was the vehicle. Turn is around and suppose Something is acting rather than reacting and you have a more religious view of events.
May 9, 11:58 by Steven Kolins
btw the edit to my response to Mr. Tidhar's article was to fix the link - turns out I misunderstood the syntax and it's been broken all this time. Apologies.
May 11, 15:40 by Steven Kolins
I wonder if scifi and religion ever carefully considered the works of Madeleine L'Engle....
May 15, 22:04 by smkolins
Ramona Brown Pilgrim Notes - Extracts from her book, Memories of 'Abdu'l- Bahá, Recollections of the Early Days of the Bahá'ís of California
(Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1980). http://bahai-library.com/pilgrims/brown.extracts.html

"After the International State is established and wars cease, the money now being expended for destruction and war will be used for education and science, and a method will be discovered for interplanetary communication, even interplanetary conferences. The time will come when people can cross the entire nation in one hour and eventually beyond the continent into interplanetary travel."
May 19, 18:23 by kaath9@sbcglobal.net
Hi there, I know this is an ancient thread, but since my name came up in it, I thought I ought to check in.

As a Baha'i and a writer, I find the Faith offers a wide array of themes for exploration. My stories deal with such things as social problems, dealing with alien beings (that is, asking what is human, really?), the rise and fall of religion, itself (which THE MERI trilogy is a study in, while attempting to tell an interesting story), etc.

I have an entire collection of my Baha'i themed fiction (all published in mainstream genre magazines) entitled "I Loved Thy Creation" and had to pick and choose what to have in it.

I think the mention of the Faith in the same breath as Star Trek is appropriate, since Mr. Spock's Vulcan ideology of Unity in Diversity was drawn from a couple of Baha'i writers on Mr. Roddenberry's staff. I've read at least one SF story by a non-Baha'i author that simply posited that people in the future would be Baha'is. A Baha'i friend of mine who knew Shoghi Effendi Rabbani remarked that they'd discussed life on other planets one night at dinner in the pilgrim house in Haifa. Baha'u'llah did say, after all, that every planet hath its creatures. Someone expressed the idea that after the world was unified, then it seemed interplanetary unity would be next. "We may teach them the Faith!" the believer said. To which Shoghi Effendi replied, "Perhaps they will teach us the Faith."

A foundational teaching of the Baha'i Faith is that we are part of an ever-advancing civilization the ultimate goal of which is to bring our material and spiritual lives into alignment as individuals so that we may rise to great heights as a species.

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