Around the World in 80 Faiths is a BBC program that explores the nooks and crannies of the world for religions, spiritual traditions, exotic rituals and pilgrimage rites. Thanks to BahaisOnline.net for the tip.
The Baha’i Faith is #39 on the list. You can watch the short excerpt in the video below. The program is hosted by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar from the UK.
But as you might expect, Peter Owen Jones isn’t your typical vicar. He wears his hair dishevelled, sports cowboy boots, smokes, kicks back stiff drinks and has no qualms about getting mixed up with some exotic and downright strange rituals. The man is so open-minded, so curious and so ready to put himself in vulnerable situations that you can’t help but admire him.
Now, running around the world experiencing 80 different religions is a tall order and I don’t blame Jones for not being able to delve into the intricate details and histories of every one of them. But from watching the clip about the Baha’i Faith, it is obvious that he is making some very basic mistakes and misrepresenting what the Baha’i Faith is, exactly.
He says in the video:
Personally, I think one of the refreshing things about the Baha’i [sic] is that to become a Baha’i, you don’t even have to give up your existing religion.
This is, obviously, incorrect.
In the past, when the Faith was still very young, Baha’is were allowed to continue their affiliation with their previous religious institutions but gradually, we have come to recognize that as an independent religion, identifying as a Baha’i means that we leave behind previous affiliations. Shoghi Effendi was the Baha’i central figure that made this delineation. Currently there are only a few countries that are allowed exceptions to this, but for the rest of the world being a Baha’i means just that.
The Baha’i Faith comes across as one of the better or ‘best’ religions that are featured in the program. But if that is because it is characterized as a vague, all-inclusive, anything goes religion, it is misplaced. However, I do share Jones’ hope that the future is one where we are united in diversity.
I’m not sure where he got his information about the Baha’i Faith but Jones doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of things even beyond such elemental levels. For example, at the beginning he says that “the followers of the Baha’i Faith have built a garden at the shrine of their prophet, known as the Bab…” Without meaning to quibble over details, this is also incorrect. The prophet of the Baha’i Faith is Baha’u’llah. The prophet of the Babi Faith is the Bab. Perhaps Jones knows this and simply misspoke.
It is wonderful to see such a program – even if it has a few errors – because it shows that we are slowly moving towards a recognition that we are all one family. Even if we may seem to have different ways of approaching spirituality, our intentions flow from the same divine inspiration. This reminds me of another project which I mentioned a while back: A Year of Faith where a group of youth decided to practice a different religion for a month (for a year). That project delved into the Faith in much more depth and resulted in some interesting perspectives:
As a Baha’i, I greatly appreciate these efforts because it allows us to gain insight into what an ‘average person’ might go through when investigating the Faith.