Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

“…whoso disbelieveth in God..”

This posting was on Bahai_discuss, 22 january 2008, in response to

> I’m sure I read something by the Master about not trusting an atheist.

June 2013: I have added some thoughts on the translation at the end.

I think you may be thinking of Baha’u’llah’s Tablet to Sultan Aziz,
in Gleanings CXIV:

Beware, O King, that thou gather not around thee such ministers as
follow the desires of a corrupt inclination, as have cast behind their
backs that which hath been committed into their hands and manifestly
betrayed their trust. Be bounteous to others as God hath been
bounteous to thee, and abandon not the interests of thy people to the
mercy of such ministers as these. Lay not aside the fear of God, and
be thou of them that act uprightly. Gather around thee those ministers
from whom thou canst perceive the fragrance of faith and of justice,
and take thou counsel with them, and choose whatever is best in thy
sight, and be of them that act generously.

Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither
trustworthy nor truthful. This, indeed, is the truth, the undoubted
truth. He that acteth treacherously towards God will, also, act
treacherously towards his king. Nothing whatever can deter such a man
from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbor, nothing
can induce him to walk uprightly.

Take heed that thou resign not the reins of the affairs of thy state
into the hands of others, and repose not thy confidence in ministers
unworthy of thy trust, and be not of them that live in heedlessness.
Shun them whose hearts are turned away from thee, and place not thy
confidence in them, and entrust them not with thine affairs and the
affairs of such as profess thy faith. Beware that thou allow not the
wolf to become the shepherd of God’s flock, and surrender not the fate
of His loved ones to the mercy of the malicious. Expect not that they
who violate the ordinances of God will be trustworthy or sincere in
the faith they profess. Avoid them, and preserve strict guard over
thyself, lest their devices and mischief hurt thee. Turn away from
them, and fix thy gaze upon God, thy Lord, the All-Glorious, the Most
Bountiful. He that giveth up himself wholly to God, God shall,
assuredly, be with him; and he that placeth his complete trust in God,
God shall, verily, protect him from whatsoever may harm him, and
shield him from the wickedness of every evil plotter. (Gleanings from
the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 232)

Disbelief is explained here as acting treacherously towards God, and it is
compared to acting treacherously towards the king. It is not the modern
atheist who is the target, or Buddhists or Confucians, but some people
around the Sultan, or still seeking government appointments, who were
claiming to be good Muslims but in fact regarded religion as a mere means
to pacify the unenlightened masses, while they, as educated and
enlightened and westernised people, could be atheists as long as they
pretended enough piety to achieve their political ends. [June 2013, amendment: I don’t know who Baha’u’llah is referring to here: this was written too early to be referring to Al-Afghani]…

Abdu’l-Baha seems to have had no trouble with relating to forthright
atheists, but both he and his father despised the hypocrite. And he is
right: if someone is known to by hypocritically using public piety for
political expediency, how could the Sultan be sure that he was not also
using the appearance of loyalty to the throne to conceal his real

To bring this up to date: there are some people who say they do not
really believe in the myths of the nation, but that such myths are
necessary for maintaining public order for the masses. They are
called communitarians, and derive their ideas from Leo Strauss,
although I am not sure how much blame Strauss should actually bear
for what communitarianism has become, particularly with Etzioni’s
popularisation of communitarianism. I would apply the same standard
to these people: only people who say what they believe and believe
what they say are fit for high public office.

It may seem odd to see Baha’u’llah writing “Take heed that thou
resign not the reins of the affairs of thy state into the hands of
others,” as if he favoured absolute monarchy, when his endorsements
of democracy are well-known:

The system of government which the British people have adopted in
London appeareth to be good, for it is adorned with the light of both
kingship and of the consultation of the people. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets
of Baha’u’llah, p. 92)

In the Kitab-e Aqdas para 93:

Erelong will the state of affairs within thee [Tehran, Iran] be
changed, and the reins of power fall into the hands of the people.

and in para 189:

“O members of parliaments throughout the world! Select ye a single
language for the use of all on earth, and adopt ye likewise a common

The reason is the peculiar form of ministerial government that was
being experimented with in the Ottoman empire at the time, “tanzimat” or
“reform” government, which proved to be even worse than an absolute
monarchy. The prime ministers were appointed at the whim of the Sultan,
without any tenure, so they tended to enrich themselves quickly and
concentrate on getting their own people into so many positions that they
could ride out the storms of court politics. Under an absolute monarchy,
at least the king would be blamed for whatever government failings there
were. Under this system, the appointed ministers and prime minister were
there to take the blame instead of the Sultan: when they had accumulated
enough blame they would be replaced, rather than remedying the failures of
the system itself. Real power remained in the hands of the Sultan, but
with a shield of appointed ministers so that he could have power without
responsibility. It sucked. But Baha’u’llah seems to be saying that it
would be workable if the Ministers were really honest and diligent.

~~ Sen

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