Fruit of the Grapevine
I ran into non-Baha'i the other day who happened to mention a convivial evening where a Baha'i friend was present -- it sounded like a great deal of fun, where the wine and talk both flowed quite freely. I smiled, but inwardly I was shocked, and then rather ashamed of myself for being shocked. It's not like I'm puritanical; hell, my brother and I were drinking wine and beer when we were quite young kids. Dad used to like to recount how my brother would come home from a hard day at Kindergarten to get himself a Little Oly -- a story which I'm sure is a bit exagerated, but there's a grain of truth behind it.
But I gave it up when I became a Baha'i, because Baha'i law says not to drink -- only bending the rules when I have a pain that can't be taken care of by aspirin, and once or twice for curiosity's sake. (I'd never tasted saki, or Australian beer.) The days when I would drink with friends are many years gone.
It is, of course, none of my freakin' business, and I would never, ever say a word about it to the person, and it's no big deal, really, anyway -- so why did my stomach give a little jerk when I heard this? What is it with Baha'is and alcohol? I've been hearing, ever since I got on the Internet, that Baha'is imbibe pretty freely when they think they aren't going to run into other Baha'is -- that real abstention is just about as uncommon as Baha'is really fasting for 19 days. (No, I don't, but I try, and feel guilty about it.) I've also known Baha'is to cave in to family pressure to drink -- to refuse a drink can come across as pretty unfriendly in some situations.
It's an identity thing. If my husband came home and told me he'd been out drinking and talking with friends, I'd be happy about it, figuring it's good for him to go hanging with the guys and unwind -- he ought to do that kind of thing more often, being an uptight sort of guy generally. But for a Baha'i to do it -- it bothers me; sort of like "Hey, I thought we were in this thing together and you broke the rules." That's it, I guess. A good deal of my Baha'i identity is in Baha'i practice. I don't give a damn what anybody's theology is; when I first became involved in the Baha'i Wars, I kept hearing stories about how prominent liberal Baha'is are "practically atheists" or complaints about feminine theology and the like. Those stories were supposed to turn me off these people, I suppose, but I really didn't care. And I was actually surprised how many Baha'is who think the most important aspect of belief is obedience to the administration; as I've said elsewhere, when I was enrolled, I saw the UHJ as benign, yet distant. I never felt like the main thing the Baha'i Faith had to offer the world was a divinely-guided leadership, unlike those other poor schmucks who only think they are divinely-guided. But we all have biases somewhere along the line, I suppose, and to me the line between Baha'i and not Baha'i is the spiritual disciplines outlined in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. Not that one keeps them perfectly, because no one does, but that one keeps making the effort. Of course, I'm being unfair: What may be a relatively easy bit of self-denial for me may be more difficult for somebody else. Maybe there's even a tiny bit of jealousy there -- I happen to like wine, and talk, and haven't put them together for a good many years.