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May 6, 2012

Question: What does your faith say about atheists?

 First, I should correct your assumption that I am a “religious leader.” Unlike the other world religions, the Bahá’í Faith has been organized by its Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), to function without clerics. In this religion, no individuals exist who are specially trained to serve the religion exclusively, who lead services, perform rituals or preside at events, etc. (Very few rituals actually exist in the Bahá’í Faith).

The Bahá’í Faith is consequently not a congregational religion in which one individual — usually a man stands in front of the believers and guides, directs or inspires while the congregation listens passively and goes home. While individual initiative is a must, in terms of policy and decision-making, leadership lies in the hands of democratically elected 9 member local and national councils, named “spiritual assemblies.” At the world level, the community is governed by an elected body of nine members, the Universal House of Justice.

A second appointed branch of the Bahá’í Faith also exists to complement the elected assemblies. This branch consists of individuals who inspire, educate and encourage the community. They are not considered to be religious leaders, but rather, they are appreciated and respected as hardworking, inspiring and respected volunteer servants. Under the guidance of these institutions, the whole community of believers exercises collective leadership by executing “core activities”: children’s and junior youth classes, adult study circles and devotional gatherings.

But to answer your question: Bahá’u’lláh regarded “the unique distinction and capacity” of the human being as having the ability to know and to love God. This capacity, he said, “must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation”(Gleanings, p. 64). Atheists or agnostics are not excluded from this process. My personal belief is that atheists cannot entirely fulfil their knowing and loving capacities without recognizing the Divine Source of all love and knowledge. Hopefully, atheists have also chosen a committed path of knowing and loving. Since I have no direct access to the spiritual state of soul of any atheist, I will not venture to hazard a judgment. 
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 6, 2012
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