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May 9th, 2013
03:20 PM ET

Rainn Wilson has faith in life after 'The Office'

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - Dwight K. Schrute was many things: paper salesman, beet farmer, lovable dork. Though he came from Amish stock, Schrute showed more interest in martial arts than Bibles and buggies.

But the man who played Schrute for nine years calls religion central to his life, and as Rainn Wilson transitions to life after “The Office,” his Baha’i faith is taking center stage.

Wilson is on the forefront of a campaign called “Five Years Too Many” that calls for the release of seven Baha’i volunteer leaders who have been imprisoned in Iran for the past five years.

“People need to know that this has happened and that this is happening and they don't,” Wilson said. “There are Baha'is rotting in jail on a 20-year sentence on trumped up charges simply because they have a certain set of faith beliefs that run against the theocracy in Iran."

The move from actor to advocate for a world religion is a big shift for Wilson. After a failed movie career and a lot of soul searching he is at peace with his television success and knows that his career might have peaked with “The Office,” which ends next Thursday after nine years on the air.

“It is probable that this was the high point in my career and the most awesome thing I'll ever be involved in,” Wilson told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview. “I just feel tremendous gratitude.”

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These days, Wilson barely resembles his onscreen character. He sports a beard with a surprising amount of gray hair sprinkled throughout. His hair was mussed and he didn’t a wear brown suit and a yellow shirt. His were glasses more LA hipster than Scranton nerd. He’s ambivalent about life after “The Office.”

“It's bittersweet. I love the people there so much. At the same time, it was time for it to go away.”

From famous to influential

Despite being the most famous Baha’i in America, Wilson had been a reluctant spokesman for the faith. In a meeting with religion reporters in 2010, Wilson said it’s somewhat “sad” that a “big dorky” guy has become the faith’s most recognizable face, at least in the United States.

Still, Wilson has nothing but praise for the “beautiful faith I grew up in.”

Baha’is believe there is one God who has sent down numerous messengers, including Jesus, the Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Mohammad and Baha’u’llah, whom they believe is the most recent divine messenger.

The teachings of Baha’u’llah, who was born in Iran in 1817 but was exiled from his homeland, form the foundation of the Baha’i faith. He died in 1892.

Globally there are 5 million Baha’is in more than 200 countries, including 170,000 in the United States, according to the faith’s leaders.

Like other world religions, the Baha’i faith grew during the social tumult and soul searching of the 1960s.

But if the best way for a religion to grow is a healthy combination of converts and babies, Baha’is are doubly disadvantaged. Members of the faith are forbidden from proselytizing and babies born to Baha'i parents are not automatically considered adherents.

While Bahai’s don’t aggressively seek converts, they are desperately trying to drum up support for their persecuted fellow believers in Iran.

#5YearsTooMany

Baha’i leaders say the seven were taken into custody in May 2008. In August 2010 they were sentenced to 20 years each in prison for espionage, propaganda against the Islamic republic and the establishment of an illegal administration.

The U.S. State Department and human rights groups have condemned Iran’s treatment of Baha'is.

"In addition to killings, executions, and arrests, Baha’is suffered frequent government harassment and persecution, and their property rights generally were disregarded," the State Department wrote in a 2012 report.

One of the imprisoned leaders is Fariba Kamalabadi. Her brother, Iraj Kamalabadi, told CNN, “It has been very difficult for them to spend five years of their prime time in prison, even a minute of it was unnecessary and too many.”

Hollywood’s most famous atheist

Wilson is a person of faith, but he has Hollywood’s most famous atheist to thank for his rise to stardom.

The “The Office” was created by British comedian Ricky Gervais and first aired on the BBC. Gervais, an avowed atheist, regularly and caustically skewers religions of all kinds.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

“I respect his beliefs,” Wilson said, while acknowledging that Gervais might not respect his. “I thank him for creating ‘The Office’ though. Because I wouldn't have a job without that and he's a brilliant mind.”

As “The Office” comes to an end, Wilson said he plans to travel with his wife and young son. He knows that he may never again get a role as good as Dwight Schrute. But he’s at peace with that, in part because of his Baha’i faith.

“My faith grounds me and centers me and gives me focus, and I'm very grateful for that.”

CNN's Jake Tapper and Moni Basu contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baha'i • Belief • Iran • Religious violence

soundoff (396 Responses)
  1. Chance

    Dries, Christ already returned. Baha'u'llah is the second coming of Christ. Unfortunately, since he came with clouds (symbolic for people's inability to "see" that He returned) many missed out.

    Preparing for Christ's New Name

    July 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Chance

      And this is one of the BEST books about how Christ said He would return as a thief in the night. A thief comes and goes silently...not so that everyone can see Him. Also, keep in mind how John the Baptist was the return of Elijah for understanding the true meaning/nature of return. http://www.amazon.com/Thief-Night-Case-Missing-Millennium/dp/085398008X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373406902&sr=1-1&keywords=thief+in+the+night

      July 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  2. Prisoner of the Most Great Prison

    Shatter the Idols of the human mind, soul and heart.

    This Day is such that the Holy Spirit Itself is envious of the Outpouring of Thy Most Exalted Pen

    June 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  3. Prisoner of the Most Great Prison

    O Light of Lights, Manifest Thyself in this Most Great Prison, O Thou Incomparable Prisoner

    Through Thee the Universe was formed, and unto Thee do we all return

    June 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  4. James Dillon

    God being a spirit, what does it matter what one's affiliation is? Compassion for others and the ensuing self-enrichment are more important than frameworks that often prove to be counterproductive.

    June 24, 2013 at 6:06 am |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      God doesn't exist. Baha has appeared to destroy and consolidate all religions

      June 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  5. Donna

    We are all messengers of the Lord and we are all becoming forgetful by not including the Lord everyday in our lives life would be so easy by letting the Lord take hold and then making the right choices by listening to his guidance

    June 23, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • mickinmd

      "...letting the Lord take hold and then making the right choices by listening to his guidance..."

      A lot of people who did not let "the Lord take hold" made pretty good choices: a particularly good example is Mohandas Gandhi who was not a Christian and yet was persecuted by British officials, many of whom were certain they had let the Lord take hold annd who opposed the near-naked heathen.

      June 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      Baha sent the greatest of messengers, a 17 year old boy name Badi, to deliver the Tablet of God to the King of Iran.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      or, you could think for yourself

      June 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Dries

    On the list of celebrity atheists and Christians , I have noted how many of the atheists were British and of the Christians
    how many were American. forsure you get atheists under all nations and christians under all nations, but on the lists it is clearly seen

    June 23, 2013 at 4:54 am |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      Baha has arrived to unite the Atheist with the Christian. Baha brought a system that is beyond the mind of atheism and beyond the faith of Christianity

      June 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  7. Betty Degelbeck

    Gray hair — one of the classic signs of aging that can lead to a midlife crisis — may some day be a thing of the past, much to the chagrin of hair-dye manufacturers and Corvette salesmen. A team of European researchers claims to have found not only the root cause of gray hair, but also a treatment for the condition. Additionally, their treatment may help people with vitiligo, a condition that causes the loss of pigment in patches of skin, they say.:-,;

    Our very own online site http://www.healthmedicinejournal.comeh

    June 21, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  8. JimmyAlex777

    "The Office" sucked! I hope it goes away entirely! What a drag it is! It's as stupid as stupid gets!

    June 16, 2013 at 12:24 am |
  9. Science

    The Light...is...Science Wins God Loses | Facebook................from the little blue box.........think outside the box.

    https://www.facebook.com/ScienceWinsGodLoses

    "Creationists make it sound like a ‘theory’ is something you ... are all over it. ... that says I must submit to him or suffer agonizing punishment for all time?

    8,000,000 results Any time

    June 8, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Dries

      Good day friend – it is impossible that GOD , that has screated the world, looses , science is just a way how He has created
      things

      June 23, 2013 at 4:34 am |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      Science has open the mind. Baha has shatters the idols of the mind and heart.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      There is no God that created the universe

      June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  10. LIGHT

    The world now is ruling by the antichrist but no one wants to believe.

    Especially US is completely under the antichrist control because he is ruling the world thru it.

    CNN is one of his official channels which through he can control the brains and concepts of people.

    He planned for the 9/11 attacks and they said Muslims did it, and as usual people believe whatever they are saying.

    See now how he can play with your brains and eyes using numbers,letters and words to know what is going on and what CNN is:

    Take a look on the CNN logo and read it upside and down you will get............. MD.......it means (M)onth and (D)ay.

    Read it from left to right you will get.............. 911.

    Read it from right to left and be ready for the shoke as you will get...............WTC......... read the T upside down.

    Please tell those who are sleeping to awake before it is too late.

    June 8, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • raforrester

      While we're reading meaning into every little letter, notice that your name is English for Lucifer.

      June 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • liz

      Paul is dead........... LOL

      June 16, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      The Most Luminous Light, Glory, and Splendor has appeared

      June 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  11. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu

    Sabbath is for the good of man .Jesus christ is the Lord even of the Sabbath. the book of mark 2vs 27-28.come lets worship the Lord of sabbath tomorrow at christ foundation sabbath mission 10 omotayo banwo street ogudu ori=oke ojota lagos Nigeria . God Bless you as You come. Jesus Christ is Lord. Shalom.

    June 7, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Science

      Hey Rev Dr Felix Nwosu.................no fairy in the sky needed.

      Destiny & DNA......................World Science Festival

      http://new.livestream.com/accounts/4044190/events/2110223

      June 8, 2013 at 4:39 am |
    • Science

      Agree the bible is BS and no horn-y red beast the truth.

      Biblical Marriage Not Defined Simply As One Man, One Woman: Iowa Religious Scholars' Op-Ed

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/biblical-marriage-iowa-scholars-op-ed_n_3397304.html?

      utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/24/has-the-oklahoma-atheist-been-saved/#comments

      June 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Zeus-Odin-Ahuramazda

      Baha the Father of Jesus, Thor, Hercules, and Mithra has appeared.

      June 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  12. LIGHT

    The antichrist is playing with words,letters and numbers in a very high profissional way .

    I will send a small surprise for you all.

    Take a look on the CNN logo and concentrate very well,you can read it as.................. 911!!!

    June 6, 2013 at 2:05 am |
    • Dries

      Hi light , I wish your heart is full of light today, you and me have the peace of mind that nothing can stop the second coming
      of Christ!

      June 23, 2013 at 4:56 am |
    • Most Great Prison

      O Light of Lights, Manifest Thyself in this Most Great Prison

      June 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.