‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” 1
THE WORLD’S RICHEST MAN when 1912 began was a Scottish immigrant from Dunfermline, County Fife, who emigrated with his family to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, at the age of twelve in 1848. …
He retired in 1901 at the age of sixty-six, selling his steel interests to J. P. Morgan for $480 million and becoming the richest man on earth.
But even as he was living the life of a robber baron during the Gilded Age, piling up capital and repressing striking workers, Carnegie was already formulating a different outlook on wealth than most of his tycoon friends. “Man must have no idol,” he wrote, “and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money! . . . To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá participated in several peace gatherings sponsored by Carnegie, including the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration, which Carnegie’s millions had underwritten. In November Carnegie called on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in New York, and, it seems, gave him a copy of his book, The Gospel of Wealth. In it Carnegie had argued for the responsibility the rich had to improve society. Not only should they give away all their wealth, but they had to administer it themselves, focusing their resources on enterprises that would elevate the masses of society “in the forms best calculated to do them lasting good,” not merely frittering it away on indiscriminate charity. …
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had upheld similar views on the responsibilities of the wealthy at least since 1875, when he wrote The Secret of Divine Civilization, an open letter to Iranians proposing an ambitious program of social, legal, religious, and educational reform. “Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote, “if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá read The Gospel of Wealth and wrote back to Andrew Carnegie on January 10, 1913, shortly after he had arrived in London after his American journey. Carnegie was so impressed with the letter that he sent it to the New York Times. In his reply, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá contributed the observation that to redistribute wealth successfully it was essential to make sure that the act of doing so did not create further rifts between the classes.
Wednesday, November 20, 1912 2
The Master again called some of the friends and asked them to show kindness and love to Mr [Howard] MacNutt and to be patient with him. Some of His words were these:
“You must all arise in unison to serve the Cause of God. You must work hand in hand to teach the Cause and know that the confirmations of Bahá’u’lláh will descend upon you. My hope is that New York will excel all other cities because at the beginning it had precedence over them. God willing, it shall be so again. The favors of the Kingdom of God are great, the attention and bounties of the Blessed Beauty are fixed upon you and His hidden hosts are assisting you. Arise in this arena and you shall see what will transpire.
“I am but one of His servants. After the ascension of the Blessed Beauty, the Ottoman people and government arose against me as did enemies of the area from different nations and religions. In such a state everyone was attacking me from outside and even my brothers from inside opposed me. But in a short time the enemies were frustrated and brought low so that some of them cried, ‘Would to God that Bahá’u’lláh had not ascended because this Cause has become even greater, its fame has spread to more places, and its support has become stronger.’ Therefore, we must arise in servitude so that His confirmations may surround us from all sides. Undoubtedly whenever you arise to serve and proclaim the Cause you shall be assisted and shall attain success. Rest assured.”
In the afternoon the friends gathered at the home of Mr [Hooper] Harris, each one eager and delighted to see the Master and to listen to His words. While He was leaving His residence, some school children saw the Master and rushed towards Him. They asked, ‘Who is this man who looks like Christ?’ Miss Juliet Thompson spoke to them outside the house about the Cause and the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. They asked to meet Him and they were invited to come to Mr [Edward] Kinney‘s home, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spent most of His days, the following Sunday.
Both private and public meetings were held in that home. The first to third floors were filled with people, some even standing on the stairs. From this day forward a spirit of steadfastness in the Covenant of God, unity and faithfulness appeared among the friends as the Master burnt away the veils and the hearts of the believers attained the highest degree of love and union. This was the Master’s purpose in staying so long in New York. Furthermore, many wonderful friends became humble and sincere in His presence.
He spoke this evening to a large gathering about the influence of the Cause and the victory of the Supreme Word over the nations and powers of the world.
17 November 1912, Talk at Genealogical Hall, 252 West Fifty-eighth Street, New York 3
After every night there is a morn. In the supreme wisdom of God it is decreed that when the gross darkness of religious hatred and hostility, the obscurity of religious ignorance, superstition and blind imitations cover the world, the Sun of Truth shall arise and the spirit of reality become manifest and reflected in human hearts. At such a time as this Bahá’u’lláh appeared upon the horizon of the Orient. For fifty years He endured the greatest hardships and ordeals, ever striving to dispel the darkness of religious conditions, to remove the cause of enmity and rancor, to awaken the world of humanity from the beds of negligence and heedlessness by the flashing light of the glorious glad tidings and trumpet tone of the heavenly call and summons. For the spread of this message He offered His life and bore every vicissitude.… He was always under the threat and menace of the sword, yet He uplifted the standard of divine teachings and flooded the world of the East with illumination. In the Orient today the light of the heavenly glad tidings is visible everywhere, the divine call is heard, the effulgence of the Sun of Reality is shining, the precious rain is pouring down from the clouds of mercy, and the breaths of the Holy Spirit are bestowing fresh life upon the hearts of men. Erelong the darkness will pass away entirely, and the regions of the East will become completely illumined; enmity, hatred, ignorance and bigotry will no longer remain; the satanic powers which destroy human equality and religious unity will be dethroned, and the nations will dwell in peace and harmony under the overspreading banner of the oneness of humanity. Therefore, we supplicate the Lord our God with sincere and contrite hearts, asking aid and assistance in the accomplishment of this mighty end: that the nations shall be unified in the Word of God; that war, enmity and hatred between races, religions, native lands and denominations shall disappear and be forever unknown; and that peoples and nations shall spiritually embrace each other in the indissoluble bond and power of the love of God. Then will the world of humanity become radiant and the human race enjoy to the fullest capacity the graces of divine bestowal. So long as religious discord and enmity continue among mankind, the world of humanity will find neither happiness, rest nor composure.
Pray that God may assist in this heavenly undertaking, that the world of mankind shall be saved from the ordeals of ignorance, blindness and spiritual death. Then will you behold light upon light, joy upon joy, absolute happiness reigning everywhere, the people of the religions consorting together in fragrance and felicity, this world in its maturity becoming the reflection of the eternal Kingdom and this terrestrial abode of man the very paradise of God. Pray for this! Pray for this!
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Andrew Carnegie’s ‘Gospel of Wealth.’” 239 Days in America, 20 Nov. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/11/20/abdul-baha-andrew-carnegie-gospel-of-wealth/. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=9#section242 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 440-441. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/32#708845191 ↩