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What's Different about the Bahá'í Faith?

It's a reasonable question that I am often asked. In the past forty some years since I first encountered it, many of the basic social teachings of the Bahá'í Faith have become commonly known in the United States where I live. Some are even accepted as obvious, if not fully achieved yet. Racial unity, sexual equality, universal education, environmental protection, taxation reform, etc., are even now being espoused by numerous religious, social and political organizations.

That was not true 160 years ago when the Faith began, although progress is being made. There are some laws and teachings entirely unique to this latest chapter in religion, just as has been the case--Bahá'ís believe--with each new Revelation over time.

* Oral traditions have no place in the sacred texts. Personal interpretations, remembrances, insights and applications have been a source of schism in every previous Dispensation. Hundreds of letters and books written by the Central Figures of the Faith form the source of Bahá'í theology, so for Bahá'ís, if it isn't in the Texts, it may be interesting, but it isn't binding.

* There is no authorized interpretation of the Word of God except as explicitly recorded in the Will and Testament of Bahá'u'lláh, Who named His Son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas. Again, a prevention of schism.

* The culture (and often careers) of theological 'experts' whose entire business is interpretation and argumentation is not permitted. Personal study of the Texts is important, and disagreement is allowable, because everyone can find differing insights based upon the immensity of truth and the different levels of personal understanding. However, deciding to choose up sides and fight about it makes all parties wrong!

* Slavery is expressly prohibited.

* Working for a living is obligatory. Begging and mendicancy (religious begging) are forbidden. Work done in the spirit of service is accounted as worship.

* Education of both sexes is compulsory. It may be difficult to achieve at the present time, however. In the interim, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that if a man can afford to educate only some of his children, then it is the girls who must benefit. This is important because mothers are the first teachers of the next generation. Funding of teachers is even built into the laws governing distribution of one's estate.

* Cursing and violent denunciation are prohibited. Unity and harmony are goals of the Faith, so the commands prohibiting cursing, reviling, swearing, gossip, backbiting and blasphemy are important laws.

* No one may carry weapons except in time of necessity.

* Unique to the Bahá'í Faith is divine guidance from its Prophet-Founder for the creation of administrative institutions, and there is no provision for clergy.

There are other differences, too many to list in this short article, such as the ordinances for burial and dispensation of personal wealth, as well as taxation, sanitation and cleanliness, abolition of warfare and battles, prohibition of alcohol and abuse of drugs--all explicit in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.

I will talk about each of these in more depth in the coming year.

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