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August 22, 2013

Question:  Is your religion really just an “accident of birth?

A Bahá’í may feel honoured by her spiritual ancestry because the Bahá’í Faith has survived relentless persecution in its homeland of  Iran (1844-) to implant itself globally, at great sacrifice, to become the youngest of the world’s independent religions. A Bahá’í may feel honoured by the believers who have gone before and desire to emulate them. But a Bahá’í cannot inherit faith. One joins the community by engaging in the independent investigation of its teachings and by conviction that they are true. No birth ritual exists that automatically inducts the newborn into the Bahá’í community. No ritual exists by which the adolescent or adult becomes a Bahá’í. Belief is a voluntary matter of conscience and does not occur by inheritance.

Beginning at age 15, which Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, has defined as the age of spiritual responsibility, the individual may voluntarily decide whether or not he or she wants to become a member of the community. The world head of the Bahá’í Faith, the Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, has explained:

“Fifteen is the age at which a child attains spiritual maturity, and thus it is at the age of fifteen that a Bahá’í child assumes the responsibility for obeying such laws as those of fasting and prayer, and for affirming of his own volition his faith in Bahá’u’lláh.”

This declaration of faith and spiritual obligation is different from service on the local or national elected assemblies of nine persons that govern the Bahá’í community. Eligibility to serve on these bodies requires the age of majority (21). Although in one sense, the religion of one’s parents may be considered “accidental”, i.e. not of one’s choosing, the conscious choice of making a declaration of faith in this religion is no accident.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen August 22, 2013
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