Interview with Rainn Wilson on Why He Left Baha’i Faith – and Then Came Back
Actor Rainn Wilson, most well-known from his character Dwight Schrute on The Office, has become an unofficial leader for the Baha’i Faith in America.
While Baha’i Faith doesn’t have any official leaders, Rainn Wilson has certainly been an important leader spreading information on the religion in the United States over the past decade or so. In this interview with U.S. Baha’i News, Wilson talks about being raised as a Baha’i, leaving the faith, and then coming back to it. He discusses how the religion fits into his life today and what it’s like to be a Baha’i in Hollywood.
Q: Rainn, what was it like to grow up in the Baha’i Faith?
A: When you grow up with a spiritual foundation that asks you to be conscious of the fact that all races are created equal, that men and women are equal and that all religions worship the same (God), it helps you see the world as one family and not get lost in the traps of political, social, and economic belief systems that can lead you astray. I always think of myself as a world citizen. It’s a powerful thing.
Q: You stepped away from the Baha’i Faith in your 20s and returned to it 10 years later. What happened in that decade?
A: I was in New York City, going to acting school, and I was going through a rebellious phase. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. I was disenchanted with things that were organized. It was a spiritual journey I was on. And this is reflected in and supported by one of the central tenets of the Baha’i Faith, which obliges every spiritual seeker to undertake an individual investigation of truth.
I started at ground zero. I decided I didn’t know if there was even a God. I read religious books of the world. I asked myself, “If there is a God, how do we know what He wants us to do and what He wants for us? Do we read books? Do we buy crystals? Do we follow certain gurus? Do we sit under a tree? Because surely this omniscient creator has some kind of plan in store for mankind.”
Q: And that line of thinking led you back to the Baha’i Faith?
A: Yes, it brought me back to the Baha’i way of viewing things. I came to realize I did believe in God. I couldn’t conceive of a universe without someone overseeing it in a compassionate way. It just made the most sense to me that God gradually is unfolding a plan for humankind. That there is progressive revelation — the Baha’i belief that God sends Messengers for each day and age. I re-read books about the Baha’i Faith. And I came back to believing that Baha’u’llah was the Promised One and Messenger for this day and age. My quest took me from age 21 to 31. I’m 41 now.
Q: Your wife (author Holiday Reinhorn) recently became a Baha’i. How did that come about?
A: She wasn’t a Baha’i when we got married in a Baha’i ceremony almost 12 years ago. I never pressured her to join the faith. But she started attending Ruhi (a curriculum based on the Baha’i Writings) classes in the L.A. area and became interested. And the birth of our son, Walter, now 2 1/2, was such a miracle that she found herself saying prayers and spiritually connecting to the faith. She became a Baha’i in 2004. We pray with Walter every night before he goes to bed.
Q: What is it like being a Baha’i in Hollywood?
“Most people in Hollywood haven’t heard of the Baha’i Faith, so they ask questions.” A: There’s a predisposition to link corruption and Hollywood. … Shoghi Effendi (Guardian of the Baha’i Faith) wrote about this. The problem is that everything you hear in the news is about the superficiality, immorality, and degradation of Hollywood. But that is just not the case. Only a certain percent of the population is like that. It’s probably the same percentage as for doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, any profession. Some of the most morally conscious, kindest, most compassionate people are in the entertainment industry, people who want to affect the world and make it a better place through telling human, heartfelt stories.
Most people in Hollywood haven’t heard of the Baha’i Faith, so they ask questions. I’ve had the opportunity to mention it in several articles and TV interviews, such as on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
For years Holly and I hosted a belief night — a devotional gathering where we invited people of different religious beliefs to our home. We asked them to bring something to share about their spiritual path. Belief in God was not required. We had atheists, Christian Scientists, Buddhist monks. …
Recently I’ve been asked to speak a lot more about the Baha’i Faith. And I’ll be working as a spokesperson with the Mona Foundation, a Baha’i-inspired not-for-profit organization that tries to provide quality education to all children, raise the status of women and girls, and build community.
Q: How does the Baha’i Faith figure in your life now?
“My feeling about the faith is that it provides a practical guideline for living one’s life.” A: My feeling about the faith is that it provides a practical guideline for living one’s life. So much about religion has to do with rigid, sacrosanct preciousness. I don’t live my life that way, and I don’t feel that’s what Baha’u’llah teaches. He wants us to live rich, full, loving lives in service to God’s will and the human family.
I like being a Baha’i who has an out-there sense of humor. God gives us talents and faculties, and making people laugh is one of mine. I don’t have to be digging latrines in Honduras to serve humanity. ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah talk a lot about using the arts to uplift people. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha was with the early believers, nine times out of 10 he would make a joke.
Q: Speaking of delicate sensibility: Have you had to turn down roles because they conflicted with what’s taught in the Baha’i Faith?
A: I’ve turned down many roles because they’re morally repugnant. I have chosen to play spiritually lost characters, but only because I feel doing so served the greater good. In “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” my character was so preposterous and ludicrous in his sexism that it was clear the message was not about degrading women. In fact, the women characters are the most together, courageous and strong people in the movie.
” God gives us talents and faculties, and making people laugh is one of mine.”
Q: What is your favorite aspect of the Baha’i Faith?
A: I love how democratic the faith is, that it has no clergy, no people telling us how to interpret the word of God. In this day and age we see how corrupt clergy can lead mankind down so many bad roads.
My favorite quote from the Baha’i Faith is from ‘Abdu’l-Baha: “If religion be the cause of disunity, then irreligion is surely to be preferred.” For the disenfranchised to know that ‘Abdu’l-Baha is a proponent of having no religion if there’s disunity. … And for those who say they don’t like “organized religion,” don’t worry: The Baha’i Faith is one of the most disorganized religions on the planet – NOT!
Rainn Wilson is also behind the creative agency SoulPancake, whose philosophy is “We create stuff that matters. That opens your heart. That makes you think.”