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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
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(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. kevo.bx

    The most high God is with thee. Thou is the white man who love art, is that correct? Does Esau love his brother, tell the truth *Genesis 27:41 then will I slay my brother Jacob. (*1st John 3:10 whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.) *Daniel 8:24-25 and he shall destroy wonderfully, and prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: *1st Thessalonians 5:3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (*Revelation 22:11*)

    May 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • Science

      Plesae donate $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to storm victims............thanks

      https://www.facebook.com/RichardDawkinsFoundation/posts/10151583537145155

      May 22, 2013 at 7:26 am |
  2. kevo.bx

    What does Sandy Hook, or even Boston have to do with a tornado? Satan rituals, mankind puts little children into a school without a shelter, why? The adults were in a shelter correct. *1st John 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: *Matthew 13:38-39 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil;

    May 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  3. kevo.bx

    Satanists need fleshly blood to survive, which is easily seen (Galatians 5:19-21). Mark them, those who have sworn oaths on the Bible. *Ezekiel 21:23 And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken. (How will they be taken, in their pride *Psalm 59:12*)

    May 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  4. kevo.bx

    Satanists need fleshly blood to survive, that is an oath with the devil. (Galatians 5:19-21) Mark them, those who swear on the Bible. (*Ezekiel 21:23* And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity, that they may be taken.) How will they be taken, in their pride *Psalm 59:12*

    May 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  5. kevo.bx

    Save a life, that means you lose a life that is so crystal clear as glass. Christ came to save what is lost, his lost sheep and no one else. *Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. *Matthew 18:11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. *Isaiah 1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. *Revelation 2:18 These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; *Matthew27:25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (*1st John 3:10*)

    May 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  6. kevo.bx

    Armageddon is spiritual warfare, no weapon will prosper against us, the twelve tribes, the children of Israel. Who took Joseph, out of the pit? The truth will set you free. *Isaiah 24:17 Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. *Luke 21:35 For as a snare shall it come on them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. *Revelation 17:8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perditon: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (*2nd Thessalonians 2:3*)

    May 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  7. kevo.bx

    When death comes to the door, what are the proud people saying? They glorify Satan himself, praising the Almighty. Death brings evil spirits, (*Isaiah 38:18*). What happen to saying God Almighty? *Revelation 16:14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

    May 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      wow...more weak bible quotes...completely pointless....completely.

      May 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  8. Science

    Whom ever is doing the deleting on article below................you know..............thanks.........have a great life !

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/5/5/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority#

    Peace

    May 21, 2013 at 7:36 am | Report abuse | Reply

    Hey faith.......Chadie...........the peach........... did you learn or hear from that Discovery show about the LAND BRIDGE ?

    How many years ago did we cross into North America ?

    Also is place maybe for International RR ?

    May 21, 2013 at 6:35 am | Report abuse | Reply

    Science

    Kepler or not, we'll find life in space

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/20/opinion/urry-kepler-malfunction/index.html?hpt=op_t1

    Evolving Planets Get a Bumpy Ride

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120305131756.htm

    Where Does All Earth's Gold Come From? Precious Metals the Result of Meteorite Bombardment, Rock Analysis Finds

    Not by the horn-y red thingy CHAD !

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907132044.htm

    Peace

    May 21, 2013 at 6:06 am | Report abuse | Reply

    May 21, 2013 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |

    May 21, 2013 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |

    May 21, 2013 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |

    Science

    Whom ever is ............you know .................has no morals or ethics !

    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like. ............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408165955.htm

    May 21, 2013 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |

    May 21, 2013 at 7:59 am | Report abuse | Reply

    May 21, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  9. Todd

    Frank, you have hit it on the head. People bragging about not watching television but spend time web surfing are hypocrits.

    May 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  10. I Fear No God

    I knew there was some reason I could never take more than about one minute of this "actor".

    May 20, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Bells B.

      Right, we should be intolerant of those with beliefs. Let's see where this thinking goes.

      May 22, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Nathan

    As an actively proselytizing atheist myself, I have all sorts of respect for Baha'is. I think they are wrong about the facts, but as people (I've known 3 or 4) and based on the actions of their religion's history, I find many of them like Rainn–centered, moral, zen, intellectual, content with life, generous, and prone to live in the moment. I find their religious att.itude to be deep within themselves, but casual as far as trying to make converts. Despite not believing in gods, I do find the dispositions of some religions and their adherents preferable to others and Baha'i is definitely high on the list of religions I rather do respect.

    May 20, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • I Fear No God

      You Sir, Are a kind person. 🙂

      May 20, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  12. kevo.bx

    How can God hate some one just born? Remember, Esau swared to him Jacob, and did not tell his father Isaac what he did with own birthrights. *Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. *Genesis 25:30 therefore was his name called Edom. (Jacob wrestled with the truth, and became blessed by God with the name Israel) *John 13:18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. *Genesis 25:26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob. *Genesis 25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; *Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread. *Isaiah 46:3-4 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. *John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

    May 20, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  13. kevo.bx

    What is the difference? In the Holy Spirit, you must tests the spirits *1st Thessalonians 5:20. The Holy Ghost teacheth comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (*1st Corinthians 2:13) *Psalm 108:8 Judah is my lawgiver; *1st Corinthians 4:4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hearby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (*Deuteronomy 33:21*)

    May 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  14. kothel

    Is it fair to say that Ricky Gervais regularly and "caustically" attack religion? I know he is an atheist, but any comments I've heard him make about it wasn't disrespectful to religious people, just made clear his beliefs. As for his standup, he made fun of a children's version of the Noah's Ark story in one of his specials, but I've never heard him say stuff in the vein of like David Cross' standup about religion. Any routine I saw about religion was pretty light, and could have just as easily been done by a religious person who didn't take the bible literally. But maybe he does it on his podcast or something. I thought he always came across as pretty tolerant. Even that movie the Invention of Lying, which was clearly about Religion being made up wasn't caustic.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Nathan

      Yeah, I'd say its fair. He is an outspoken atheist, but he can get pretty cutting on religious belief. Not unduly so, I'd say, but yeah, he's definitely gone for the jugular a time or twelve.

      May 20, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  15. kevo.bx

    Salvation is for Jacob and Joseph the children of Israel, only a remnant is from the world, those who escaped mount Zion. Name the people of the trans atlantic slave ships, they were all tribal. Those twelve stones are not casted away. Joseph owns Reuben's birthrights, like Jacob owns Esau's. *Genesis 49:16-17 Dan shall judge his people, as one of tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, *Nehemiah 13:26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? *Acts 7:47 But Solomon built him an house. *2nd Timothy 2:26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. *John 8:24 for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. *John 9:9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  16. DWN

    The Baha'i faith is a major player at the UN. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQnH4waAXGc

    May 19, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Science

      And the big cry baby chadie is crying again............wow chad grow the fvck up !

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/19/proofs-of-heaven-popular-but-not-with-the-church/#comments

      May 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

      May 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  17. DWN

    The Baha'i faith has a huge delegation at the UN. The effort to unite all the world's religion is one of the goals of the UN. Christ would be demoted in that system. So the media has to love that.

    May 19, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • sdh

      So is the Catholic church and the Episcopal church. The idea that the Baha'i Faith would view Christ less is silly and ignorant. Nothing in Christ's teachings would oppose world peace or efforts at international diplomacy and love and tolerance for all humanity. Baha'is believe their faith fulfills Christ's teachings and prophesies of the Bible. They celebrate Christ.

      May 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  18. kevo.bx

    Beware of casting stones at Elijah (*1st Kings 18:31*). *Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. *Romans 10:16-17 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. *Matthew 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: *Isaiah 26:2 Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. *Revelation 21:12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: *Ezekiel 39:7 So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. *Matthew 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Isreal. *Zechariah 1:21 Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifed up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it. *Psalm 75:10 All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. (*Matthew 26:31*)

    May 19, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • sdh

      The holy name is the "Glory of God" in both the Old and New Testament. Baha'u'llah means Glory of God in English. Those prophesies you quote relate in part to events that have occurred but not the way you understand them. The "end" means end or an era or period of time, not a literal end of the world. You are quoting stuff and clearly have no clue as to what it means.

      May 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  19. AdamANT

    The pope sux.

    May 18, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  20. AdamAN�T

    I haven't watched the tube since it was actually a tube.

    May 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Frank

      So you now waste all your free time posting idiotic comments on the internet. What's the difference?

      May 19, 2013 at 12:44 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.