For centuries societies used the equinoxes and solstices to define seasons of the year. Even though most countries have adopted man-defined numerical calendars to record dates many cultures still use the astronomical equinoxes and solstices to mark the official beginning of their year. Among several faiths celebrating New Year’s Day today, the vernal equinox, is the Bahá’í faith.
The Bahá’í faith
originates from 1844. An Iranian Shi’ite Muslim called The Báb proclaimed that
Muhammed wasn’t the last Prophet from God, for which belief he was executed.
His followers were persecuted and one of them, calling himself Bahá u’lláh,
declared he was the next Prophet. His teachings became the basis of Bahá’í.
One of the central beliefs
of Bahá’í is the universality of the belief in one God in many religions,
making all of them essentially one belief. The idea of universality and an
acceptance of differences within that universality – unity in diversity – led
to Bahá’í being a very popular belief, and it is one of the most widespread.
The Bahá’í teaching on
homosexuality is heavily influenced on that of Islam and Christianity.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with being lgbt, as long as you try to change.
Their teaching on marriage restricts it to between man and woman.
Understandably, this means there are few openly lgbt Bahá’í worshippers, but
there are enough to form support groups online.
It has been possible for
prominent lgbt people to use their Bahá’í faith to influence cultural
movements. In particular the American writer and philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke
(1885-1954), often referred to as The Father of the Harlem Renaissance.
Christopher Buck and Gayle Morrison have called Alain Locke the outstanding
Bahá’í philosopher and intellectual to date. Alain was an American Episcopalian
by upbringing though both parents had links to the Quakers. He had a very
privileged upbringing for a black American in the late 19th century.
He entered Harvard in 1904, one of the few black undergraduates at the time. In
1907 he became the first American (and, until 1960, the only black) Rhodes
Scholar at Oxford University.
It was at Oxford that
Alain began to develop his thoughts on cultural pluralism, a term which has
been superseded by the multiculturalism. Although he experienced a lot of
racism at Oxford Alain joined the progressive Cosmopolitan Club which led to
his decision to become a “race leader” and advocate of racial inclusion in society,
and of the need to retain a difference. This philosophy has more than a hint of
Bahá’í’s “unity in diversity” about it. But it wasn’t until 1915 that Alain had
any known contact with Bahá’í.
By 1915 he was an
assistant professor of English and instructor in philosophy at Howard
University, Washington DC. Washington had become a centre of Bahá’í belief,
particularly within the black community. In the national Bahá’í Archives Alain
Locke’s registered his “acceptance of the Bahá’í faith”, effectively his
conversion, as 1918.
In the year he “converted”
Alain received his doctorate in philosophy from Harvard. His faith and
philosophy mingles to produce a new slant of Bahá’í’s view on unity in
diversity and his own thought on cultural pluralism. Together they produced an
idea that appealed to subculture which didn’t feel fully integrated into its
nation – black Americans. What Alain Locke believed was that black Americans
can use their ethnic and cultural heritage to help redefine what it meant to be
an American. What he didn’t support was violent protest by black rights
activists (a legacy of his parents’ Quaker links?) or self-segregation. He
believed that the acceptance of cultural pluralism by all parts of a community
was an essential part of democracy.
In 1921 Alain took part in
the Convention for Amity Between Coloured and White Races, an event organised
by a leading Bahá’í citizen in Washington with the full backing of the world
Bahá’í spiritual leader. Alain was a member of the national Amity committee
that was created by the conference for 5 years.
But how much of his Bahá’í
faith actually influenced the development of the Harlem Renaissance? It would
be a great disservice on those other pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance to
claim that Alain Locke was its only “Father”. Many in the black American world
of entertainment in the 1920s were also bringing their culture and heritage to
the attention of white America. They didn’t hide themselves but proudly
exhibited their community to others. By not doing so would have rid the world
of so many influential musicians, dancers, writers and entertainers.
In Alain Locke’s writing
he “created” a fresh self-examination for black Americans, particularly on the
east coast, and he coined the term “New Negro” which was to become synonymous
in later years as the Harlem Renaissance. He encouraged other writers to use
the concept of the “New Negro” to produce works that didn’t mimic white
American literature, thus giving rise to the careers of many successful black
writers such as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, amongst
others. The “New Negro” was a concept that grew out of Alain Locke’s Bahá’í
belief in “unity in diversity”. It became the backbone of the Harlem
Renaissance’s quest to explore, expand and display their post-slavery heritage
to their own community and to the rest of America.
Alain Locke’s philosophy
and faith can be of value to the lgbt community today. Unity in diversity is
all about acceptance of differences. We don’t have to be a Bahá’í worshipper to
believe in his ideas. As he himself wrote, “Think of reality as a central fact
and the white light broken up by the prism of human nature into a spectrum of
values.” What better metaphor could there be for any subculture in a modern multicultural