Fear of God: Elixer for the Shameless Masses

The cornerstone of Bahá'u'lláh's religion is fear of God. Fear of divine retribution is what keeps believers in line.

Lay not aside the fear of God ... 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.

Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet to Sultán `Abdu'l-`Azíz

So it was that Bahá'u'lláh warned the Sultán of the Ottoman Empire. That empire was about to undergo a thorough transformation from Islamic empire to a Westernized state. Already the "Young Turks" were pressing for major changes, and here was Bahá'u'lláh warning the Sultan against unbelievers.

Bahá'u'lláh, in this warning to the Sultan, was using a familiar Muslim argument: the fear of God "deters" men from evil deeds, so the man that does not believe in God does not fear God. So it is that atheists, agnostics, Confucians, and others that do not fear divine retribution cannot be trusted:

Bring thyself to account ere thou art summoned to a reckoning, on the Day when no man shall have strength to stand for fear of God, the Day when the hearts of the heedless ones shall be made to tremble.

Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet to Sultán `Abdu'l-`Azíz

Fear the sighs of this Wronged One, and shield Him from the darts of such as act unjustly. For what thou hast done, thy kingdom shall be thrown into confusion, and thine empire shall pass from thine hands, as a punishment for that which thou hast wrought. Then wilt thou know how thou hast plainly erred. Commotions shall seize all the people in that land, unless thou arisest to help this Cause, and followest Him Who is the Spirit of God (Jesus Christ) in this, the Straight Path. Hath thy pomp made thee proud? By My Life! It shall not endure; nay, it shall soon pass away, unless thou holdest fast by this firm Cord. We see abasement hastening after thee, whilst thou art of the heedless. It behoveth thee when thou hearest His Voice calling from the seat of glory to cast away all that thou possessest, and cry out: `Here am I, O Lord of all that is in heaven and all that is on earth!'

Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet to Napoleon III

In the following passage, Bahá'u'lláh points out that few men are blessed with a sense of shame, and that most people depend on the fear of God to deter them:

The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed and do not possess it.

Kalímát-i-Firdawsíyyih (Words of Paradise)

Thus it may be argued that religion is for the wretched, shameless masses, and not for those who are deterred by an innate sense of right and wrong!

Also, he commands:

Fear ye God and be not of them that well deserve the chastisement of God, the Lord of creation...

... Fear ye God and be not of them that well deserve the chastisement of God, the Lord of creation.

- Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 244-245

Again, he implores:

Fear ye God, and be not of those who perish

- Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 104

Believers and unbelievers alike are commanded to fear God 19 times in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

Fear God, O men of insight, and be not of those who disbelieve in Me.

... and even more times in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf:

The fear of God hath ever been the prime factor in the education of His creatures.

We have admonished Our loved ones to fear God, a fear which is the fountain-head of all goodly deeds and virtues.

Admonish men to fear God. By God! This fear is the chief commander of the army of thy Lord. Its hosts are a praiseworthy character and goodly deeds.

... and so he quotes the Qur'án:

I fear , if I rebel against My Lord, the punishment of a great day.

Bahá'u'lláh may not have believed in a literal Hell, but he made it clear that without fear of God, the punishment would be significant. This, he thinks, keeps men in line. Good men behave well because they want to avoid punishment. So it is for Bahá'u'lláh that those who do not fear the retribution of God cannot be trusted.

Of course, I view this as a very dim picture of man, that paints the human soul as a beast responding to the whip. Whether that whip is hellfire or spiritual torment, the lesson is the same: Man is a selfish beast which responds best to fear of punsihment.