May 9th, 2013
03:20 PM ET

Rainn Wilson has faith in life after 'The Office'

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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(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.


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.

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“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. kevo.bx

    Want perfection? Hebrews 6:1-3 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. *Jeremiah 13:18 Say unto the king and to the queen, Humble yourselves, sit down: for your principalites shall come down, even the crown of your glory.

    May 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • sdh

      Why are you posting this stuff? Do you realize your posts make no sense and are embarrassing. They have nothing to do with the article at all or the Baha'i Faith which recognizes and traces its origins to the Bible.

      May 18, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • sdh

      As someone raised a devout Christian and considered going into the ministry, I find your posts counterproductive and embarrasing. Furthermore, the Baha'i Faith has whole texts and scripture relating its origins to the New and Old Testament and discussing the spiritual meaning (not the overly literal and non-sensical interpretations so common to the exstremists) of certain portions of the Bible in a manner that helps restore faith in Christ and in Judaism as religions. Baha'u'llah is a descentant of the Prophet Abraham and traces his lineage to the ancient kings of Iran and the old religion of Iran mentioned with praise in the Bible.

      May 18, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  2. kevo.bx

    God is he, one odd: and Satan is called him even; *John 10:35-36 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? *Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: *Psalm 82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. *Genesis 14:22 And Abram said to the King of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, *Psalm 76:2 In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. *Luke 9:33 and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias; not knowing what he said.

    May 18, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      More pointless drivel.

      May 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  3. achepotle

    how disappointing.

    May 18, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  4. albie

    I just lost all respect for this guy

    May 17, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  5. kevo.bx

    The world was warned, see the hatred in the faces of Esau the red blooded nation. Why are the wicked so angred, the truth sets you free. Facts can be updated, and honesty must be proven. (*Jeremiah 32:44*) God does everything perfectly, with no mistakes allowed. Mankind strives for perfection, and when the mistakes do happen, the world is shut up. *Psalm 106:41 And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.

    May 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  6. kevo.bx

    Love truth, hate opinions (1st Kings 18:21) *1st Chronicles 14:11-12.

    May 17, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  7. kevo.bx

    Love truth, hate opinions (1st Kings 18:21) *1st Chronicles 14:11-12

    May 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  8. kevo.bx

    Grace and truth, exposes the entire world, how can mankind hide himself in the pride of life? (Psalm 59:12). *Psalm 59:13 Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. Selah. *Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. *Genesis 27:41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. *Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. *Numbers 24:17 there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. *Psalm 108:8 Judah is my lawgiver; *Numbers 25:5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baal peor. *Psalm 106:28 They joined themselves also unto Baal peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. *Psalm 106:34 They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the Lord commanded them: *Genesis 18:23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? *Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. *John 9:9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.

    May 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  9. kevo.bx

    Who are the gods? *Psalm 106:28 They joined themselves also unto Baal peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. *1st Chronicles 14:12 And when they had left their gods there, David gave a commandment, and they were burned with fire. *Hebrews 12:29 For our God is a consuming fire. *Romans 4:6-7 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Jeremiah 13:13) *Micah 4:5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. *Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. *Psalm 60:7 Judah is my lawgiver; (Deuteronomy 33:21)

    May 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  10. kevo.bx

    All religions are the devil's doings, even Muhammad is evil. The world will judge wickedness, and not the truth (2nd Corinthians 13:8). God the Father, is the word of God. And Jesus Christ is the word of the Lord *1st Corinthians 8:6* From the old to the new testament, the most high God told us to listen to Elijah (1st Kings 17:24) & (1st Peter 5:17). Where is Muhammad created from? Egypt (Exodus 11:7) or is it in Saudi Arabia (Genesis 37:27). See the ham in Muhammad *Psalm 78:51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham: (*Exodus 13:15*)

    May 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  11. Religionispointless

    Surprise. Someone in Hollywood belongs to a silly cult.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • sdh

      Where do you get you ideas? Ignorance and prejudice? The Baha'i Faith is not a cult. It isconsidered the opposite of a cult. Its scripture is widely available; it does not have secret practices, it practices tolerance, it is led (locally, nationally and internationally) by members elected. It encourages obedience of government and its laws. It teaches tolerance and independent investigation of the truth. It encourages its members to participate actively in society and pursue higher education and excellence in their professions and to serve humanity. It is recognized as one of four legitimate religions by the state of Israel with holy sites in Israel. Religious scholars and members of the clergy of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have become members of this faith and this is the second most widespread religion and religious organization after Christiantiy and the Catholic church.

      May 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  12. Chris O.

    Can someone explain to me why everyone is responding to only Rainn Wilson's acting news.. and NOT the bulk of the articule about the Baha'is in Iran being persecuted and held in jail ONLY for their religious belief?

    Do we not care b/c they aren't labelled as "Christian"? Injustice is injustice people... please wake up.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      It's only a small section of the article, and we are talking about a group who declares "truth" comes from three religions who have aggressive stances towards one another.

      May 17, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Personally I don't care because it's hard to sympathize with people who believe in silly ideas.

      May 17, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Chris O.

      Wow.. i'm very saddened by your responses. I thought there was going to be more meat to them.

      Honestly.. this is where "reading for yourself" comes into play. We can all read now.... not like back in those days when reading was for the aristocats. If you can get on the internet and read articles.. then you have enough knowledge to read a holy book and understand what's being said.

      Read the holy books of the major (legit) religions (Christianity, Islam, Jewish, etc)... and tell me with a straight face that the underlying message in each book is not the same (or so similar that you can just consider it the same). The messenger is different... the word is different (tailored to that specific time by that messenger).... but the fact remains... none of those religions truly contradict each other when you get down to the main foundamentals. The difference lies in the presentation and message for that particular time period. They all say we should do unto others as we'd like done to ourselves, in so many words. This does is not rocket science.. it should be quite obvious.

      My disclaimer is that it's only undeniable if you really give a rat's ass about investigating :-)... which most people do not, including myself for many years. You don't have to be a Baha'i to realize the basic foundamentals of "what's good, what's bad, how should i live my life, and how should I live my life relative to others"... the answers to which the major religions have in common. You just need to pay attention to the details.

      One God is hardly a silly belief... the God of Abraham is the God of Jesus is the God of Muhammah is the God of Bahaullah. The oneness of humanity is far from a silly belief.

      To make yourself educated and to then disgaree with that is totally okay.... but to be disagree from ignorance (the "not knowing" type of ignorance) is really a shame.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Chris O.

      Lastly.. I'm having trouble understanding why have zero sympathy towards persecution, exile, and imprisonment over someone's BELIEF SYSTEM.

      Just to encorporate your arguement... i'm pretty sure that if you believed something silly like "the world is round" back in 1400s, you'd hope to god you were not imprisoned for that reason alone. Or... if you believe there is life on Mars here in 2013... i'm certain you'd want someone to try to get you out of prison b/c they jailed you for believing life exists on Mars.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I don't have "zero sympathy." I was merely explaining why you weren't seeing the responses you had hoped for. Sorry I and others don't meet your approval by saying the things you expect based on your values and judgment.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Chris O.

      Well i'm relieved at that.

      Apologies if I jumped down your throat. It sounded like you were downplaying the situation in Iran and ridiculuing Baha'is. Perhaps I read your comment wrong. If so... apologies.

      May 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • ddsanders

      first of all, my comment is not meant to condone the Iranian response to people trying to peacefully practice their religion. however, it is humorous that you (and i assume you live in the west) are all riled up about what Iranians are doing, when Americans are not free from guilt either. How about Guantanamo Bay. sure, many of the prisoners are terrorists, but many of them are not. they are there on suspected activity, without even being given the opportunity to stand trial. our tendency towards selective moral outrage is getting really old.

      May 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  13. Pat

    Great actor and great job in the Office. Wish you the best!

    May 17, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  14. Anna


    May 17, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  15. Jim

    Dwight tried to kiss me.

    May 17, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  16. scranton

    Loved the Office and Dwight was at it's core.

    May 17, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  17. BB

    Can someone explain why actors always have a beard when they are shown "off camera" in an interview or at the basketball game? Are they afraid to be associated with the character they play in real life?

    May 17, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Todd

      I would say Yes, also it gives them some privacy when they are out in public. They are too many people who have a hard time separating the actor from the character they play, also actors are people too who need their own private time, even if they are out in the public. If you can grow a beard, or put on less makeup or change your hair style between seasons, it allows you to move around the public much easier.

      May 17, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Hilikus

      Shaving kinda blows. You do much less of it when you're off work. Beards make you look less homeless than just un-shaved.

      May 17, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Yusuf

      It opens them up to more roles if a character requires a beard they already got it. Its easy to shave and takes time to grow.

      May 17, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Jimmy the Swartz

      Yusuf is right. Also, that is why you often see idle actors with long hair, in case the next role requires long hair.

      May 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  18. mplaya

    Rainn was GREAT in Six Feet Under – he may not come over well on the "big comedic" screen, but he is a very talented guy.

    May 17, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Angie

      Agreed. Arthur was a great character and SFU was a brilliant show!

      May 17, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  19. ShanefmMD

    You are one of my favorite character in Office, gonna miss you guyz, great work Rainn. Looking forward for what next in your career.

    May 17, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  20. Tim

    Wilson's portrayal of Dwight K Schrute was one of my favorite TV characters. I am sad to see the show go but will admit it has lost its luster. Good Luck to you Sir wherever life takes you next.

    May 17, 2013 at 7:03 am |
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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.