And lastly, if you have a website, blog or whatever, that you would like me to link to, just let me know!
You are no doubt aware of the best source for information about my faith, which is http://www.bahai.org/. I also have a blog but no need to link to it unless you wish to; I only write in it from time to time. http://www.heathercardinbookwoman.blogspot.com/.
1) What religion do you practice?
I am a Baha'i.
2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I was raised by Baha'i parents, who themselves had become Baha'is from Christian backgrounds. Although I have not always practiced the laws, I have always believed. Baha'i children and youth are always given the option of choice; it's never expected that they will automatically choose to be Baha'is. I have never doubted that Baha'u'llah, our founder, is the most current revealer of the Creator's message for today, but I have not always been successful at practicing the very high standards of the faith.
3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
Yes, and no. There are no formal differences, but the degree of observance is chosen by the participant. Since it is such a 'voluntary' type of faith, how much time and energy a person gives is entirely at their discretion, but there are people who are very "active" and those less visible in the Baha'i community but who still practice. Although there are no specific defining differences, I think that it is part of observance to conform to Baha'i laws as best as possible.
4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I am currently actively observant, to the best of my ability. There are certain laws of practice. I think of them as the "visible" and "invisible" laws. I have always practiced the law of non-consumption of alcohol or other drugs, for example; it's a Baha'i law, but in this day and age it's also a really smart social choice. So I have never had alcohol or other drugs. This is a Baha'i law, but it also made a lot of sense to me: I don't know anyone who has not been touched, in some way, by alcohol and other drug abuses in their family or within their friendships, so following that particular Baha'i law was a no-brainer. There are other standards of behaviour which are much, much more difficult, ranging from chastity to daily Obligatory prayer to yearly Fasting to not backbiting to how one gets married or buried.
5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
The Baha'i belief is that each soul is on a journey towards the Creator. While we can't "know" God in a literal sense, we can be guided by the teachings of all of the great prophets, and in following that guidance (think of the universality of the Golden Rule, for example) we both develop our own spirit and contribute to the development of what is thought of as "an ever-advancing civilization." So the world beyond this one is a continuum of spirit, and one of our teachings, articulated by 'Abdu'l-Baha, who was the son of our founder and whom we consider to be a perfect Exemplar, is that it is "closer than [our] life-vein." In other words, that world is invisible to us but it is very close. We pray for those who have passed away, and are assured that they, too, pray for us; intimacy does not end with death, it simply changes form.
6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
This question made me laugh. I have no idea. For me to say who goes and who doesn't would imply that I am capable of making a judgment about someone else's spiritual development, and I just can't do that. Having said that, I believe in a merciful God, so I am hopeful that we all proceed after the physical world. I think if a person has been grievously behaved, their entrance to the next world might happen but they would probably not be as far along the spectrum of spiritual growth as someone whose entire life has been devoted to service of humanity, but only God can make those decisions. I emphasize, however, that this is only my own speculation; it's not a part of Baha'i Scripture per se.
7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
I think it's a combination of a number of factors; I am a logical person who is given to appreciation of a mystical element in life. The Baha'i teachings are both: they make a lot of sense and they also appeal to the part of my spirit that searches out mystery. Also, the Baha'i teachings are ecumenical; the oneness of mankind is very important to Baha'i theology. The elimination of all forms of prejudice is vitally important; Baha'is are involved in the life of society inasmuch as we choose areas of service, whether working towards race unity, or gender equity, or economic justice. Such social action is an important part of Baha'i practice.
8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
Holy Days, and "Feasts", are designated on the calendar throughout the year, and recognize things like Baha'u'llah's birthday, the birth of his forerunner, the Bab, and events such as Baha'u'llah's death, probably the "normal" things most religions recognize. Baha'i communities celebrate differently, and often according to their own cultural traditions, but I would think that something in common to all of these events is prayer. There is often music, also: the art of music is given a very high standing in Baha'i thought, and music is considered to be 'as wings' of the spirit. These events welcome all.
9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why.
I often have, and I often do. I am always delighted to be included in such events, and am happy to invite others to Baha'i gatherings if they want to come. Why? Because we are all one. I know we look different on the outside, but I just find that another form of beauty. I don't really see others as "other", in a spiritual sense. I don't think it's the name you give a faith that makes it important, but the essence of its teachings, and Baha'is view all faiths as being in unity with us.
11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
One of the central principles of the Baha'i Faith is the equality of women with men. So I think it is possible that as time goes on, "traditional" practices which have not supported such equality will have to evolve and change to accommodate this great principle. However, it is also very difficult to separate such traditions from cultural practice, and I think great sensitivity is needed to not make sweeping judgments about such ways of life. Patience and understanding are needed; I think justice is going to change shape all over the world, in time. It has to, doesn't it? We can't continue indefinitely to have a world which creates and perpetuates oppression in any form.
12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Yes. We don't actually have a priesthood or its equivalent; Baha'u'llah abolished such designated roles. We don't have that kind of power structure. The Universal House of Justice is an elected institution for which men are eligible; there are all kinds of theories about why this is, but I don't think any of them make particular sense, and I have certainly had some ambivalence about it. However, these people are not "powerful" in the traditional sense; they are more 'servants' of the Baha'i world. In all other ways, women hold office. How do I feel about it? I think it's very interesting to see what happens in a faith that is not based on power, but still has authority; it is the faith that has the guidance, though, not the individual. I feel like such service is more of a test than a blessing, and I think that women's inclusion in such service is so much part and parcel of the faith that it doesn't make sense to do anything else. I understand why women have not been included in some of the faiths in the past, from a historical and cultural perspective, but the Baha'i teachings are intended for now and the future, and I think it's a virtual miracle that Baha'u'llah, who came from 19th Century Persia (now Iran), stated unequivocally that women have been, are, and always will be spiritual equals to men, and that the only thing missing has been universal suffrage and education. This is the era for women to shine!
13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
It's pretty constant, now. It hasn't always been, but at this stage of my life, my faith is pretty important to me. It affects me every day, and I give it a lot of thought when decision-making. Yes, it does affect my views on social issues.
I assume that it is likely that my children will marry "outside" my religion, if they marry at all, (although since Baha'is are pretty embracing of faiths generally, that may be a strange way of saying it). I have three grown children; one has chosen to be a Baha'i, one doesn't pay much attention to religion, and one is an atheist. As I said, it's a critical principle of our faith that our children have the right to choose. There is no coercion about being a Baha'i. Both of my daughters are in committed relationships, and neither of the young men in question is a Baha'i. I am doubtful that my son would choose a Baha'i to marry, since he is an avowed atheist, but those kinds of things are impossible to predict.
No. The concept of "hell" is not really a part of Baha'i theology, except as metaphor. I think hellishness is viewed more as a state of being, and people can be in hell here on earth, and often are. I have already described my understanding of the Baha'i view of life after death. Hell, such as it is, might be a sense of remoteness from the joy that would come from proximity to the Divine. But that's just a way of speaking; in Baha'i teaching there is no hellfire or damnation.
I'm not sure I understand this question. There are Baha'is who are prominent; people like Rainn Wilson, who is an American actor, or Omid Djalili, who is a British-Iranian actor and comedian, or Eva LaRue, an American actress. When I was a teenager, Seals & Crofts, the musicians, were prominent Baha'is, and for the current generation, I believe the musician Andy Grammer is on the way up the musical charts. There are surely other prominent Baha'is who have spoken about the effect of the faith in their lives.When they speak for our faith, they always publicly acknowledge that theirs is their opinion, not a formal Baha'i doctrine. I have said the same thing, here, several times. There are designated spokespersons for the Baha'i Faith in places like the U.N., where we have non-governmental status, or in written texts from the Universal House of Justice, and the like. But Baha'is are free to speak about our faith, any time, and anywhere, when people ask us, as you have asked me today. Why not? As to my agreement, I don't see whether it's relevant or not. We're all on a spiritual journey. These "prominent" people have declared to the world, as I do from my point of view as a writer, the influence of faith on their lives. What's to disagree with? We all follow the teachings in our way, and hopefully bring a little light with us. It's a blessing to be able to speak of the faith.
18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
Minor persecution, yes. Hate crime, no. However, I think it's important to say that the hearts and minds of all Baha'is around the world are now very much with the persecuted Baha'is of Iran, many of whom have been targeted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. I believe that a film is in the making about one such young woman, Mona Mahmunizad, who was killed for her faith in Iran in the '80s.
19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Often. I work at it, primarily through prayer.
21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
Not really. I believe that this world is a crucible for spiritual development and entrance into the next...so there's not much point in coming through this one more than once. However, I am intrigued by the idea of the influence of spiritual memory, a kind of collective Jungian unconscious, if you will, impacting generationally. But I don't think that's what you mean by reincarnation. I do not believe that I will come back here, if I've been bad, as a worm, for example; I am stating it simplistically, but I am not trying to trivialize. I just believe that souls progress, not regress, and that the body here is simply a vehicle for the stage on the planet when we are preparing for the next phase of our eternal existence.