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Secular Materialism versus Spiritual Humanism
Professor Mohammed Sharif, University of Rhode Island, Kingston
This paper was presented at the International Seminar on "Peace, Jihad, and Conflict Resolution" held on November 2-3, 2002 at Georgetown University, organized by the Association of Muslim Social Scientists, International Institute Islamic Thought, and Islamic, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and Sponsored by the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding of Georgetown University.
Conflicts and violence are as ancient and primitive as the history of humankind. Desire to dominate others, to use them for material gains, and thereby to play distinctive and superior is not uncommon in human nature. Pursuit for social and political authority and economic and military power as means to achieving this superiority, thus, generates conflicts that often lead to violence. Since unmitigated competition in pursuit of this power and authority leads to chaos and anarchy, societies devise and adopt comprehensive systems of rules and regulations to ensure their orderly functioning. Historically, two broad approaches have been attempted in dealing with this issue of societal control-recognize, accept, and legitimize the system of domination and use coercion to subjugate and rule, or recognize, repudiate, and establish a system based on the concept of equality and cooperation and thereby ensure voluntary loyalty of the members. While the former is based on the ideology of secular materialism of human living, the latter is the ideology of spiritual humanism. In the following, I first take up the case of secular materialism that has dominated the human society for most of its history. I will show that secular materialism fueling the competitive pursuits of social, political, economic, and military power to dominate others has been responsible for most of the conflicts and violence, contrary to the oft-repeated assertion that religion is responsible for most of the violence. Then I present the case of the ideology of spiritual humanism that has played an enormously important role in restoring back to its respectable humane condition the despondent human society corrupted and bankrupted by the secular materialism. Next, I evaluate the condition of our present day world and examine the potential of spiritual humanism in curing the malaise of this ailing society. I conclude the study making recommendations for salvaging whatever of humanity is left.
Secular materialism assumes human life as a combination of body and mind only; the soul for all practical purposes does not have any place in it. Thus, all human efforts are based on the functioning of the body and the mind and are directed toward their development only. The fact that the body and the mind function as long as the soul is in the body and that they begin to degenerate as soon as the soul departs is of no consequence in this concept of human living. Thus, life on earth from birth to death catering to the needs of body and mind becomes the sole purpose of living and no higher objective enters into this configuration. Although some members of the society privately might consider the existence of a higher Authority and the possibilities of living after death and accountability for actions in this life, it has little to no bearing on their social, political, and economic living individually, nationally, or internationally. Thus, competitive accumulation of material possession to enrich one's individual, community, and national life becomes the sole objective of human living in such a system. Ever-lasting conflicts of self-interest in this pursuit are the obvious results faced by the society. Since there is no concept of guidance from any higher spiritual Being and there is no fear of accountability to an ever-watching Authority, laws, rules, and regulations enacted by the society become the only force to establish an orderly system and to save it from the potential chaos and anarchy generated by these continuous conflicts. The objective of these laws is to coerce compliance from the members of the society and subjugate them by imposing punishment for violation. However, no punishment is deterrent enough if the reward is lucrative and/or the probability of getting caught is low, or the members of the society are unhappy enough to rebel against the subjugation. Recent wave of disclosures of corporate fraud and the failure to solve the problem of illegal drug in the USA are illuminating examples of failures of this system. The failure of the war on drug is especially noteworthy-the failure even after spending billions of dollars, incarcerating millions of people, and aerial spraying of de-foliage in Colombia on marijuana crops and thousands of people living there1. Faced with situations such as these, societies keep enacting harsher laws, but to little or no avail. One obvious result this generates is increasing the intensity of coercion and subjugation and making the conflicts more violent.
Another aspect of this competition for self-interest divides the family into 'he' and 'she,' and pits 'him' against 'her;' the society into communities of 'ours' and 'theirs,' and pits 'us' against 'them;' and the humanity into 'our nation' and 'their nation,' and pits one nation against another. In this scenario, 'my' and 'our' interest always gets precedence over 'his'/'her' and 'their' interest and in most of the cases, self-interest is realized at the cost of the interest of others-the stronger trampling on the weaker and almost always prevailing. Competitive families, thus, generally become the hot bed of conflicts and discords, instead of becoming a cooperative institution of peace and happiness, leading them to fall apart in large numbers2. Communities turn the society into a system of cutthroat competition in their pursuit of community interest by trampling those of other communities3. Racial, ethnic, and gender-based conflicts dictate the social agenda highlighting the tension that plagues the society's health almost all the time. The conflict between the economic classes of labor and capitalists is a classic example of this clash of competitive self-interest and coercion and subjugation. The on-going fight for equal rights amendment by the women and the civil rights movement by the African Americans in the USA are other examples of competitive struggle even to achieve their fundamental rights pre-granted in Spiritual Humanism.
At the international scene, the humanity is divided into many nation-states based primarily on geographical entities and secondarily on racial, ethnic, and ideological foundations. Whatever be the foundation of the nation states, most distinguishing characteristic of this system is to separate 'us, the significant ones' from 'them, the insignificant others,' making our interest the sole consideration for our relationship with them4. The competition it generates in grabbing the landmass and resources of the world leads to the major conflicts and violence the world has seen throughout history. Wars the colonial powers fought among themselves in their incessant efforts to establish their respective empires and the wars they had to fight to subjugate the resistance to their occupation are clear examples of the consequences of competitive pursuit for superiority and domination.
Although the land-based empires are not in existence any longer, the empire in essence does exist in the form of domination and control with the use of military power to serve the same objective of gaining access to and ensuring uninterrupted use of economic resources. This in turn ensures the maintenance of dominance in the world scene. Bush administration's current plan of going to war on Iraq, in spite of the advice from so many sources not to do so, is to a large extent predicated by the objective of maintaining the dominance in the region and control on its oil supply. This contention is substantiated by the administration's contrary policy with respect to North Korea; though it is more of a threat with respect to weapons of mass destruction, it does not have the viable economic resources.
In this fight for establishing and maintaining dominance, nations have developed all sorts of weapons including weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to subjugate others. Although development and possession of these weapons are claimed to be meant to act as deterrent to war, their main objective is to establish dominance through intimidation by threat and they have been used in the past by the world powers when they felt it necessary to maintain their position of superiority and dominance. Nations also produce these weapons of war for gaining economic power by selling them to their client states and making the world more prone to conflicts and violence5.
Three doctrines setting the foundation of secular materialistic civilization provide support to this policy of domination through subjugation. Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest in the natural world is translated into what came to be known as social and political Darwinism simply offering justification for domination by the strongest.6 Machiavelli's principle of using any means including deceit and assassination to attain and maintain power in this fight for domination completely eroded the ground for morality from the society and legitimized the use of immoral means in the fight for power.7 Goebbels providing the doctrine of turning through repeated publicity falsehood into acceptable truth in the public eye has laid the third foundation for this policy of establishing dominance in the competitive world of secular materialism8.
One obvious result of the unmitigated competition premised on these doctrines is to generate extreme inequity of economic and political power both domestically and internationally9 - those making effective use of these doctrines emerging as the stronger and subjugating the weaker. Since the subjugated weaker are the majority, discontent and loss of respect for the system grow, and it turns into discontent and hatred against the stronger few because they impose the system on the majority. Chaos and disorder, therefore, commonly show up as byproducts of the secular materialistic system. To ensure the compliance to subjugation under such situations, the system introduces and uses more stringent and harsher measures; but the conflicts and violence grow and perpetuate10.
It has become fashionable in this secular world of today to blame religion for wars and the loss of life they wrought in the history of humanity. As a matter of fact, it is the unmitigated competition promoted by secular materialism to establish dominance that has caused most of the wars and their devastations. Some of these wars might have been waged and fought using the name of religion, but in their nature and purpose they have been nothing but secular and materialistic devoid of any moral bearing.
The great empires and civilizations of the past, such as the Egyptian, the Indian, the Mayan, the Persian, and the Roman were all secular and materialistic, though some of them sweet-coated their systems with religious garb to make it easier to subjugate and control. We teach our children the material wonders of these civilizations, but completely ignore the human cost in the form of subjugating people even to slavery, dividing people into many classes/castes and relegating the majority into a community of subhuman beings called untouchables, a category of people designated only to serve the ruling upper class/caste, and the extent of violence and killings they inflicted on others11. The history is replete with instances of such outrageous actions of subjugation and domination. Enslavement of the Israelites by the Pharaohs, hunting and capturing the Africans from their homeland and bringing them in chains to Europe and the Americas to sell as cattle in the open market for use as slaves, designating the weaker class as untouchables and condemning them to perpetual sub-humanity for serving the stronger class are only some of the crimes of violence against humanity that can be attributed to the pursuit for superiority by dominating and subjugating others.
The history of the colonial empires of recent past is not much different in their nature and ferocity of subjugation and dominance-they were only wider in scope. In addition to subjugation, the loss of human lives in the wars colonialists fought among themselves and the wars of resistance they had to fight with the natives is not trivial. The two world wars cost the lives of hundreds of millions of people both military and civilian. The number of people killed during War Communism in the USSR and during the communist revolution and Cultural Revolution in China for the sake of communist subjugation is extremely high. The proxy wars fought in other lands for and against the spread of communism by the erstwhile USSR and the USA cost the lives of a significant number of people. The Khmer Rouge carnage in Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians, Croatians, and Kosovars by the Serbs, the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Palestinian fight against the Israeli occupation, the decimation of the city of Groznyy by the Russians, economic sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq that are responsible for the death of about a million people including more than half-a-million children, genocide of the native Americans, and that of the Hutus and the Tutsis are some of the most cruel misdeeds of the secular materialists in their pursuit of power to dominate12.
The ideology of spiritual humanism is based on the recognition of the soul (spirit) and its importance in human life along with that of the body and the mind. By acknowledging the role of the body, the mind, and the soul, this philosophy thus treats human life as a unity in them and considers the human life to function harmoniously. As a matter of fact, this ideology begins with the Unity of God Who created the universe and every thing in it. The Unity of God translates into the unity of the universe, of the galaxies, of the planetary systems, of the planets, of every thing on and in the planet earth, and the unity of humanity. Similarly, the physical organs of human body function harmoniously in unity. Thus, the chaos and conflicts are ruled out of the God's creation of the natural world where every thing functions in an orderly fashion cooperatively13.
However, the natural unity of humanity, because of the faculty of thought and the freedom of will the humans are endowed with, does not automatically lead to social unity needed to achieve order and harmony in the society; the humans have to deliberately work for it. The recognition of the soul, granting it its due importance, and acceptance of its functioning in unison with the body and the mind play the crucial role in establishing this social order and harmony.
While by granting the body and the mind their due roles, spiritual humanism ensures competition for physical and intellectual development that leads to material progress, by recognizing the existence and role of the soul, it ascertains the importance of unity and cooperation in establishing a smoothly functioning healthy human society through spiritual development. In essence, it adds humanity to the body and the mind and thereby differentiates humans from the lower animals. It, however, is up to the humans to elevate their status to a superior level by culturing the soul along with the body and the mind, or relegate it to that of the lower animals by just developing the body and the mind denying any role to the soul. Thus, spiritual humanism emphasizes a balanced development of all aspects of human life-material, intellectual, and spiritual, contrary to the secular materialism.
As culturing the body and the mind leads to physical and mental development, culturing the soul brings spiritual uplifting-Physical and mental development translates into material progress and spiritual development manifests itself in the achievement of higher ideals of human living. The universally accepted concept of uplifting the soul is to connect oneself with God, acquiring the qualities of God, and practicing them in living one's life on this earth. Thus, being in harmony with God's creation rather than being in conflict with, helping to sustain rather than destroying the environment, living in brotherly relationship with the rest of the humanity, helping each other rather than hurting each other, and competing to excel and promote rather than subjugating and dominating each other are some of the higher ideals of human living spiritual development generates.
By establishing the unity of body, mind, and soul and achieving their balanced development, this philosophy frees the individual from its mental conflicts created by the separation of life mundane from life spiritual and thereby restores the inner peace badly needed for effective functioning of the individual life. Restoring balance to the life suffering from complete denial of its spiritual needs as in the case of extreme materialism, spiritual humanism saves the individual from despondence14 so common in materialistic societies-drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, violence, and suicide even by materially successful people are examples of spiritually deprived despondence.
Since spiritual uplifting connects one with the Creator, this establishes the unity of the individual with God; thus the individual is in peace with God. The universal concept of the creation of humanity from a single pair of human beings, emphasizing that the individuals might be physically and mentally different, but spiritually are the same, unites the individual with the rest of the humanity in equality; so the individual is in peace and harmony with the rest of the human society15. The faith in God also asserts the unity of humanity with the rest of the God's creation, making the individual to be at peace with the environment. Thus, this philosophy of life induces in the individual mind the sense of belonging to God, to all of humanity, and to the rest of the God's creation. It makes establishment of order and peace imperative on the humans, the autonomous agents of God on earth. This ensures the establishment of a harmoniously functioning healthy human society.
Although spiritual humanism acknowledges and permits competition for progress, this competition takes the healthy character as it is between or among 'us,' not between 'us' and 'them.' The competition among people who feel affinity with each other generally takes a different form and nature than that with those who are considered aliens, the latter being fiercer. The resulting conflicts and violence similarly are harsher and crueler in the latter16. The system based on the philosophy of spiritual humanism minimizes the problem of conflicts and violence by introducing the concept of spiritual similarity of all human beings irrespective of their race, gender, ethnicity, geographical location, and physical and mental differences. This system also reduces the basic problem of human urge to subjugate and dominate as it enjoins equality and admonishes subjugation and domination. The fundamental rights of all members of the society, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, and gender are pre-granted in this system. Thus, unlike in secular materialism, ethnic minorities do not have to fight for their civil rights and women do not have to struggle to have their right to vote, own property, make their own decisions, and earn constitutional recognition of their equitable treatment.
The only difference between individuals spiritual humanism accepts is that of the purity of faith in God and the quality of deeds. The concept of community in this system, unlike the secular materialistic system of nation-states, is founded on this criterion of faith and deeds; thus the community permeates across humanity eliminating the barriers of race, ethnicity, gender, and geography. The only division it creates is between those who believe in God and live obeying God's commandments and those who deny and transgress. This system, thus, reduces the division of humanity to a minimum from the many communities based on race, ethnicity, and geography, thereby decreasing the potential conflict between 'us' and 'them.'
The community of believers, however, is forbidden to subjugate the community of transgressors and is enjoined to allow them to live their lives according to their own will17. More importantly, the followers of spiritual humanism are enjoined to win the hearts and minds of the people by treating them with utmost compassion. Thus the Qur'an declares, "The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with the one that is better, in such a way that he, between whom and you there was enmity, will become as though he was your best friend. (41:34)
Spiritual humanism establishes a menu of permissible and forbidden activities for its followers to ensure smooth functioning of the system. Implementation of the rules and regulations, however, generally does not need coercion; members of the community voluntarily comply as they are trained in the tenets of faith that has won their trust. As this system is just and equitable even to its enemies and the faith in a Supreme Higher Authority is made strong in its membership, the members are motivated followers18.
In this philosophy, the life on earth is very shot-lived, and the real life starts after death which is infinite. The quality of this infinite life depends on the purity of faith and the nature of the deeds in this world. Everything an individual does, speaks, and thinks is recorded-Think of a giant video camera which is not only recording sounds and images, but also the thoughts, and there is no way to escape (Qur'an, 24:24). There is a Day of Judgment when this record will be produced and played and rewards for good and punishment for evil deeds, words, and thoughts will be handed out determining the quality of the infinite life one will enjoy or suffer. The Qur'an fourteen hundred years ago declared, "… their ears and their eyes and their skins testify against them as to what they used to do," (41:20) and "On the day when their tongues and their hands and their feet testify against them as to what they used to do…" (24:24)19 Since this faith is implanted in the minds of the followers, it turns them into self-monitored members of the society; thus the need for societal monitoring and coercion is reduced to a minimum and the conflicts and violence are virtually eliminated from spiritually humanistic systems.
By rehabilitating the spirit into human living on this earth, by firmly engraving in the minds of its followers the concept of infinite life after death, by introducing the concept of unavoidable accountability for thoughts, words, and deeds, and by connecting the quality of the infinite life in the hereafter to the nature of the short-lived earthly life, spiritual humanism eliminates a second type of despondence people in secular materialism suffer. It eradicates almost completely from the society desperate behaviors, such as killing the employer or coworkers after losing a job, random killing of people as a result of frustration and anger of losing custody of children, serial killing of women by a man disgruntled with just one woman, mass killing of teachers and class mates by school children because of being teased, killing all members of the family and then committing suicide as a result of business failure or loss of employment, etc. so endemic in secular materialistic societies20.
This philosophy of spiritual humanism is based on the concept of God as propagated and established by various prophets of God from the beginning of the creation of humanity till the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbut)21. The fundamental nature of the message all the prophets propagated is the same and the system they established was what I call spiritual humanism. When secular materialism gets to its worst creating an environment where human soul is almost completely deported from the society, oppression of the weaker by the stronger becomes rampant, fight for material self-interest subordinates all other human considerations, inequity and poverty reach inhuman proportion, use of brute force and subjugation of humans by other humans become extensive and rule of the day, rulers become corrupt, mischievous, and try to play God, and the society is bankrupted, God sends a messenger (pbuh) with the mandate to reform the despondent human society and restore it back to its respectable humane condition. With great endeavor and through a lot of sufferings, the messenger (pbuh) succeeds in bringing the society back to humanity. However, after the messenger (pbuh) passes away the society slowly goes back to the abyss of darkness secular materialism breeds. In such a situation, God sends another messenger (pbuh) to perform the same duty of correcting the society22. The human society thus evolved through a successive rotation of secular materialism and spiritual humanism and a large number of messengers (pbut) were sent to humanity in this process. The spiritual humanism improved over time through this evolutionary process and got its perfect and complete shape with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
In contemporary secular terminology, this system is called religion; but the Qur'an, the Islamic Scripture calls it the complete way of life. Conventionally, the way of life propagated and established by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) only is called Islam and its followers Muslims; but the Qur'an categorically declares that the way of life propagated and established by all the messengers (pbut) of God was Islam and all the messengers (pbut) and their true followers were Muslims23. The meanings of the words 'Islam' and 'Muslim' will make it clear. 'Islam' means willing submission to God and a 'Muslim' is the one who willingly submits to God in living his/her life following the commandments of God. Thus, the Qur'an calls Islam the universal way of life for all of humanity24. In this respect, 'peace' (salam), another meaning of the word 'Islam' is very appropriate-this implies that if all the people live their lives following the commandments of God, there cannot be anything but peace on earth.
If Islam is what all the messengers (pbut) propagated and established as the way of life, then why and how did their way of life came to be known by many other names? In my understanding, these are the creations of secular materialism. Note that the way of life propagated by each messenger (pbuh) of God included a bundle of rituals to worship God, as is the case with what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did. After the passing away of the messenger (pbuh), as the human society slowly deviated from the true path of life established by the messenger (pbuh) and rolled back to secular materialism, it also modified and corrupted the message and changed the way of life to serve its purpose. However, some remnants of the system, not necessarily in their true forms and obviously not in their true spirit, remained in practice among its followers. These remnants were derived from the rituals that became the religion for the later followers of the messenger. This is true for all the religions known today including Islam25. The only difference between all other religions and Islam is that Islam is preserved unchanged in the Qur'an and the Tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), while others are not, and the rituals of worship in Islam also remain in their true forms, if not in spirit. However, what are left of Islam in practice are the rituals, the way of life practiced by the Muslims especially at the societal level, to a large extent, is secular and materialistic. Thus, Islam I talk about is the Islam of the Qur'an and the Tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the way of life of all the messengers (pbut) and their true followers, and spiritual humanism is its general characterization.
The contemporary human society is making miracles with respect to scientific and technological progress, as did the great civilizations of the past, expanding the realm of our civilization far beyond human imagination. We have conquered the width of the space and the depth of the oceans, reduced the distance of time and space to a bare minimum, created the great cyber space virtually with no bounds, expanded the horizon of our knowledge way beyond our own galaxy, and performed medical miracles difficult to visualize in human perception.
These are the fruits of competitive pursuit for material progress engendered by secular materialism and they provide enough reasons to celebrate our achievements. Thus, we really take pride in claiming that we are currently at the pinnacle of civilization. We have conquered most of the diseases that used to take huge tolls of human life in the past. The developments in medical science and technology are saving lives for millions and have improved the quality of life for many millions. The progress we have made with respect to the means of transportation and communication informs us almost instantaneously of any human tragedy-natural or man-made-taking place in the remotest corner of the world and offers us the means to rush to help. The phenomenal economic progress achieved is more than enough to eliminate the curse of absolute poverty from the human society and significantly improve the standard of living for every body living on earth.
At the same time, our civilization has invented and developed technologies that put all of humanity in shame-the development and use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that kill millions and have already killed significantly large number of people are crimes against humanity. Millions of people are killed in racial, ethnic, ideological, and national conflicts as a result of the 'us'-vs.-'them' competition for subjugation and dominance. In the century just ended, we have killed on an average more than one million people every year.
Although we claim to be at the pinnacle of civilization, questions can be raised as to whether we are really more civilized than we were in the past. People of the past, the less civilized ones, used to wage wars and fight and kill each other; still today, we the people at the pinnacle of civilization do the same thing, only more extensively with much more intensity and ferocity. They used to kill each other with swords, arrows, and guns; we kill using much more sophisticated weapons including weapons of mass destruction. Thus, they used to kill in hundreds and thousands; but we have developed the potential to and in reality do kill in hundreds of thousands, may be in millions. Worse yet is the fact that the fighters of today as they kill remote do not have to feel the pains of killing that the fighters of the past had to endure; rather they cheer when their missiles hit the targets. The military and political leaders even developed the terminology of 'collateral damage' to refer to the number of people decimated, undoubtedly to eliminate any possibility of public backlash aroused by human feelings.
Although we have won the war against deadly diseases, such as small pox, we have lost the war against our own inhumanity; we have not only preserved the germs of these deadly diseases, we have used these germs to produce weapons of mass destruction with the clear objective of condemning the 'others' to perilous ends.
In spite of the fact that we have achieved unprecedented economic progress in terms of growth in income and wealth, most of it is enjoyed only by a very small fraction of the world's population; as I have already cited, a fourth of the human inhabitants of this planet live with less than one dollar per person per day and one-half with less than two dollars a day, and famines still claim a huge toll of human life. Homelessness, hunger, lack of medical care, and illiteracy condemn a large segment of the total population to a subhuman living, even in the most affluent country of the world. Worse yet is the degradation of humanity to a low level almost impossible to imagine. Procurement of the body parts of human beings as they are executed, selling them in the open market to the highest bidders, and international trafficking of more than five million women a year (2000 data) for commercial prostitution are only a few examples of such outrageous practices of our secular materialistic society. Recent events of school children meticulously planning and executing mass murder of their fellow students and teachers; workers, losing the job, going back to the work place with automatic submachine guns and brushing down many of their colleagues; the serial snipers, only because of the problems in their personal lives and their hatred for the country, killing many innocent people; blowing up a whole building and killing hundreds of innocent people just to express one's hatred of the government; and flying planes full of innocent people into buildings full of thousands of innocent people and killing them just to express one's grievances are examples of how low the humanity can go when the soul is completely deported from the society.
Historically, many times the human society sank itself in the abyss of darkness created by secular materialism, every time spiritual humanism extended its beacon of hope to salvage humanity. Now, I strongly believe, is one of those occasions when spiritual humanism is the answer to the hopeless condition of our society. Humanity responded to the call of spiritual humanism in the past to pull itself out of such utter hopelessness. This time also, I am sure, it will respond; only thing it needs is a group of courageous people with sane mind to call upon it.
For this salvation, the objective is to rehabilitate the soul in our lives-individual, social, economic, and political-both national and international. The main objective of this rehabilitation is to transform us from individual beings of only body and mind-some kind of species lower than human-to complete human beings of body, mind, and soul. The first and the most important step in this respect is to firmly establish in the minds of the people the faith in the concept of the unity of God, the unity of the universe and of everything else God created, and the unity of the humanity. Once the individuals are trained in this concept of unity, establishing a system-social, economic, and political-based on the universal commandments of God, to a large extent, will eliminate conflicts and violence and ensure an equitable, just, and harmonious human society. Most importantly, these results will derive with voluntary participation of the members, not by means of coercion and subjugation.
A couple of points need to be clarified here. They relate to the question of faith in God and the training of members of the society based on this faith. Modern secular materialistic mind scoffs at the idea of believing in the unseen and unknown and considers as irrational the idea of building any system based on faith. I would like to suggest that the argument of rationality in this context is very flawed. Faith, in essence, is the basis of human living; without faith we cannot and do not live a single moment of our lives. One simple example from the world of material living will suffice to make the point: When we get sick, we go to the physician; the physician diagnoses the disease and prescribes the medication; we do exactly what the physician tells us without knowing anything about the disease, the diagnosis, and the medication; we believe in the physician and the medication's power to cure. Without the faith in the competency of the physician and the faith in the power of the medication, we would not go to the physician and would not take the medication and, therefore, would probably live a sick life or die prematurely.
What it implies is that faith is the essential foundation of living and without it nobody can survive26. The question is only that of right or the wrong kinds of faith. Thus, what is important is to replace the system of faith wrong and harmful to humanity with the right and beneficial kinds that will be uplifting both for the individual and the society27. Not to have faith in God is to put faith in many things lower than God, most important of which is economic and political power, thus subjugating oneself to some other human beings. Putting faith in God frees people from the subjugation of fellow humans and thereby elevates their status on the one hand and establishes the universal equality of humans, on the other.
With respect to the second, the objection is that training based on faith to create the social environment is brain-washing and therefore, not desirable. My argument simply is that it is not scientific knowledge or information, but faith and social environment that motivate people to do or refrain from doing things. There is ample knowledge regarding the harmful effects of smoking, using drugs, body piercing, and tattooing, but increasingly larger number of people are getting into their use. Worse yet, the deadly disease of AIDS is spreading very rapidly throughout the world, in spite of the widely publicized scientific information about the methods of its transmission. Secular materialistic methods have miserably failed in curtailing these practices even after spending billions of dollars on education and, in certain cases, coercion. It is the fad and the peer pressure it generates that are responsible for this failure. What does a secular materialistic system do under such circumstances? It either uses more and more coercive measures and fills up the jails, or gives in to the societal pressure and legalizes the use of the product or the practice. The USA in the past tried almost every thing to keep alcohol consumption banned, but finally gave in and legalized it. The same process has already started with respect to the use of other illegal drugs-the failure to control the use of illegal drugs is now prompting the call to legalize them.
The spiritual humanism corrects the root of the problem, not just the symptoms, by educating the people based on the right kinds of faith and creates the environment conducive to all the members of the society. This strategy of training wins the hearts and minds of the people who then become self-enforcing and self-monitored.
This self-enforcing and self-monitoring system functions efficiently because spiritual humanism makes it absolutely imperative that the generation of income and wealth is for the wellbeing of the human beings, rather than making the human beings the instruments only of generating the income and wealth; that the system is for the preservation and promotion of the rights of the humans, rather than making the humans sacrifice their rights for the system; and that the social-economic-political power is to protect the humans from subjugation, rather than subjugating the humans to the power. Spiritual humanistic system not only professes it as an ideal, but also implements it in the real world and generates the results desirable to every body. This system, thus, eliminates the root cause of conflicts and violence that plague the secular materialistic societies.
The nature and the cause of conflicts and violence in human societies are analyzed from the religious-historical perspective. It is shown that while the conflicts and violence are similar in nature irrespective of their contexts, they become more intense and ferocious as they move from domestic societal to national and international level. Conflicts and violence result from the clash of self-interest in competitive pursuit of social, economic, political, and military power as a means to achieving individual, community, and national superiority over others. As this competition to establish superiority obviously leads to chaos and anarchy, societies devise and adopt systems of rules and regulations for societal control.
Historically, two broad approaches have been used by societies to achieve this objective: secular materialism and spiritual humanism. While the former recognizes the competitive behavior of humans to dominate others, accepts it as a means to achieving social progress, and legitimizes it in devising social systems of coercion to subjugate and rule, the latter recognizes the behavior, however, repudiates its unmitigated practice and establishes a system based on the concepts of justice, equality, and cooperation to curtail the adverse effects of this behavior. The objective here is to win the hearts and minds of the people, turn them into a community of self-enforcing and self-monitoring individuals, and thereby ensure smooth functioning of the system to attain cooperative progress.
As secular materialism promotes competition for self-interest, it divides the family into 'he' and 'she,' and pits 'him' against 'her;' the society into communities of 'ours' and 'theirs,' and pits 'us' against 'them;' and the humanity into 'our nation' and 'their nation,' and pits 'ours' against 'theirs.' Thus, a system based on this philosophy becomes a hot-bed of conflicts and violence and requires very stringent rules and regulations with harsh punishments for noncompliance. Spiritually humanistic societies, however, do not suffer from these problems as they are founded on the philosophy of Unity of God, unity of the universe, unity of the galaxies, unity of the planetary systems, unity of our planet earth and everything in and on it, and the unity of humanity. The system is cooperative as it is based on the unity and universal equality of humanity and the competition here is between 'us' and 'us.' The conflicts and violence, thus, are eliminated from the system or at least reduced to a minimum.
More importantly, secular materialism considers human life as a combination of a body and a mind only, the soul does not exist in its framework of life. Thus, it caters to the development of the body and the mind, completely denying the needs of the human spirit. This denial of the spiritual aspect of human living generates despondence which material wellbeing cannot eliminate and therefore, creates problems for the society the system is ill-equipped to deal with. The spiritual humanism, on the other hand, treats human life as a combination of the body, the mind, and the soul, and insists on its balanced development. Spiritual humanism, thus, establishes a smoothly functioning, harmonious human society consisting of satisfied individual members.
I have shown that, by using competitive pursuits of power and authority to establish superiority and dominance, secular materialism does achieve great material progress, however, at a huge cost to humanity in the form of subjugation of the majority by a fraction of the human society and in enormous loss of human lives in the fight to subjugate and in the struggle of the subjugated to liberate. At the international level, this pursuit for superiority and dominance leads to wars and decimation of the weaker by the stronger nation. This method of subjugation through coercion, however, does not continue forever both at the national and international levels. When coercion becomes excessive and subjugation gets unbearable, the subjugated revolt against the system causing chaos and anarchy coercive measures fail to control. As a result, the system collapses and most of the material miracles achieved get lost. Anyway, the consequences of the competitive pursuits for dominance are conflicts and violence and enormous loss of human lives.
When secular materialism creates an environment where soul is completely deported from human life, oppression of the weaker by the stronger becomes the rule of the day, inequity and poverty reach inhuman proportions, the rulers become corrupt, mischievous, and try to play gods, and the society gets bankrupt, spiritual humanism extends its beacon of hope to humanity. This spiritually humanistic system is the one all the prophets (pbut) of God propagated and established for the humanity. However, because of the faculty of thought and freedom of will humans are endowed with, societies deviate after the death of the messenger of God from the straight path established by the messenger and corrupt the message, creating the need for another messenger (pbuh) of God to come. Thus, human society evolved through successive rotation of secular materialism and spiritual humanism and a large number of messengers (pbut) of God have been sent in this process for the salvation of humanity. As this system is based on justice, equity, and fairness, and it ensures the voluntary compliance of the members of the society who become self-enforcing and self-monitored, it reduces the conflicts and violence to their minimum.
An examination of the present-day condition of humanity around the globe suggests that the humanity, on the one hand, is performing miracles taking material progress to its highest feat and, on the other, is sinking in the abyss of darkness generated by the unmitigated competition in pursuit of power to subjugate and dominate. The elimination of almost all deadly contagious diseases that used to take huge tolls of human life and the medical success in transplanting human organs are examples of the achievements of modern civilization. At the same time, the use of some of the viruses of these deadly diseases to produce weapons of mass destruction, trafficking of millions of women for prostitution, and sale in open market to the highest bidders the body parts of convicts procured immediately after their execution are only few examples of degradation of humanity to the lowest of the lowly. This is high time for spiritual humanism to stop and reverse the process and restore humanity to its respectable condition. The people of conscience need to step forward with courage and determination and assert their role in bringing human dignity back to its rightful place in the society.
1: See Knight, Daniel, "Plan Colombia: Fumigation Threatens Amazon, Warn Indigenous Leaders, Scientists," Inter Press Service, November 21, 2000; Brauchli, Christopher, "Plan Colombia, US may be Wading into a Poisonous Quagmire," Boulder Daily Camera, February 24, 2001; and Wheatley, Lois Carol, "Witness: Drug War Spraying Colombia to Death," The Herald Sun, March 7, 2002. (back)
2: Divorce rate in the USA is phenomenally high. It is predicted that if the current rate of divorce continues, one out of every two marriages contracted in the early seventies will be dissolved through divorce (Bumpass, L.L., R.K. Raley, and J. Sweet, "Changing Character of Step-Families: Implications of Cohabitation and No Marital Childbearing," Demography, vol. 32, 1995). Increasingly larger number of people is living together out of wedlock. This is especially true of well-placed professional women. A third of all Americans are born to unmarried women creating what is called single-parent families-32 percent of all families with children in 1998 were of this type (US Bureau of the Census, 1999). (back)
3: The genocide in Rwanda and Burundi perpetrated against each other by the Hutus and the Tutsis, the communal riots in India the latest of which has taken the lives of more than 2,000 people and rendered over 150,000 into refugees, the ethnic cleansing practiced by the Serbs, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the talk of transferring-a fancy name for ethnic cleansing-the Palestinians from the occupied territories are some of the extreme examples of intercommunity conflicts. Some of these conflicts have been incited using the name of religions, but in essence, they are very secular. For example, the recent hate filled comments about Islam and the Muslims made by Reverends Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Jimmy Swaggart may be called anything but religious. Similarly, the language used and the actions advocated by Osama bin Laden are anything but Islamic, although the grievances of the Muslim community he talks about are genuine. (back)
4: The production and export for use by unsuspecting producers and consumers of developing countries of domestically prohibited products, such as DDT by the western developed countries is only one example of such behavior. See Weir, David, Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World, 1981 and CUTS, "The Circle of Poison-Unholy Trade in Domestically Prohibited Goods," CUTS Briefing Paper No. 8, January 1998. (back)
5: Annual weapons bazaar has become a common practice for the arms manufacturers and traders of the world. The developed countries are the manufacturers and traders and others are the buyers, especially those countries engaged in armed conflicts, actual or potential. During 1996-2001, conventional weapons' export netted US$121 billion, USA leading with $54 billion (UNDP, Human Development Report, 2002). The US earnings from weapons export increases to $142 billion if one takes the period of 1992 through 2002 (Reese, Charley, December 9, 2002, http://reese.king-online/Reese). It is worth noting here that the U.S. arms industry is the second-most-heavily subsidized industry after agriculture. Bush administration's current policy of going to war with Iraq is based on the argument of need for destroying the weapons of mass destruction. However, it is common knowledge today that it was the USA that supplied Saddam Hussein with both biological and chemical weapons for use in his war with Iran that killed over one million people and maimed many more. (back)
6: The survival of the fittest theory has actually turned by secular materialism into the theory of fight for dominance and subjugation. (back)
7: The assassination of democratically elected leaders of foreign countries and installation of obliging autocratic governments in power while talking loud about the ideal of establishing democracy and promoting freedom and liberty illuminates the practice of Machiavellian principle. Installation in power of and support for Pinochet of Chile, Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Husni Zui'im of Syria with abominable human rights records are but few examples of this policy. The drum of going to war to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and at the same time, threatening to use the weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons although sounds morally bankrupt, is a perfect use of Machiavellian principle. The well-documented record of training foreign military and police forces by the School of Americas in Fort Bennings, Georgia to subjugate opposition forces using worst human rights violations, contrary to the professed and publicized policy of promoting liberty, freedom, and democracy, is a glaring example of the widespread practice of the Machiavellian principle (Amnesty International, 2002, Unmatched Power-Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimensions of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces). (back)
8: The eye-witness story of Iraqi soldiers throwing babies from incubators and stealing the incubators narrated by a young daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador who was safely living in the USA and the Pentagon claim of having satellite photographs of '265,000 Iraqi troops poised in the desert to pounce on Saudi Arabia,' a claim later disproved by photographs taken by Russian commercial satellite, mobilized the public support for the Gulf war (O'Kane, Maggie, 'This Time I'm Scared,' The Guardian, December 5, 2002). A recent story circulated by the Bush administration of Saddam Hussein ordering a million antidotes for a poisonous gas from Turkey and the immediate Turkish denial that they do not have any trading relations with Iraq and never received any such order and the story of al-Qaeda-Saddam connection based on presumed al-Qaeda operatives functioning in the Northern Iraq except that the Northern Iraq is Kurdish territory under the US-British occupation, are examples of such publicity attempts, though failed ones. (back)
9: The powerful get control of the state machinery and manipulate the system to serve their self-interest. Thus the system they put in place work very well for them in regulating the nature of the government policy-the role of money in determining the outcome of the US elections is a well-known phenomenon. It is no wonder that the richest 20 percent of the households in the USA enjoy 84.6 percent of the net wealth, leaving 15.4 percent for the remaining 80 percent. The figures for net financial wealth are even worse-top 20 percent getting 93.9 percent. These figures for the top one and five percent are 48.1 percent and 72.2 percent, respectively. The income share of the top 20 percent is 55.9 percent (Wolff, Edward, Economics of Poverty, Inequity, and Discrimination, South-West Publishing, 1997). The international distribution of income and wealth is far worse than that of the USA-the developed countries making up less than 15 percent of the world's population enjoy nearly 80 percent of the global income, while 1.4 billion people accounting for 23 percent of the world's population live with less than US$1 per person per day and 2.8 billion, almost half the global population, live with less than US$2 per capita per day (World Development Report, 1999 and 2000). (back)
10: The discontent of the subjugated majority at some point grows so deep and wide that the harsh and stringent measures, no matter how tough and punishing they are, cannot keep the masses subjugated. Thus, the rebellion of the masses against the system is a common outcome almost all the oppressive systems had to face in the past. This rebellion takes different forms ranging from nonviolent civil disobedience by the masses to violent uprisings. The outcome, however, is the same, the demise of the oppressive system. The fall of mighty empires and civilizations followed the same route with almost mathematical precision-the fall of the Soviet empire was the latest following this path. (back)
11: We look at the wonders of the pyramids, Tajmahal, the miracles of Industrial Revolution, and similar other feats of human civilizations, but forget the inhuman sufferings these civilizations imposed on millions of human beings. We are all in praise for the Industrial Revolution for laying the foundation on which the glittering heights of western civilization are built, but never in popular discourse remind ourselves that this foundation was laid on the coerced blood and sweats of the working class. For fifty years after the advent of Industrial Revolution, the wage rate remained below its pre-Revolution level, not to mention the subhuman living conditions and physical torture the workers were legally subjected to. These days, we celebrate the supremacy of American power, but do not pay attention to the ugly facts of the decimation of the Native Indians and of building the foundation of this power on slave labor. (back)
12: These are undoubtedly the actions of 'secular fundamentalists,' to use Sojourner's editor Jim Wallis's phrase, not of the religious people, moderate or extremist. (back)
13: Think of a condition when, in the absence of orderly functioning, the galaxies, planetary systems, and the planets fall out of their orbits and clash with each other, or the organs of human body behave erroneously in disorder. Will not the universe collapse and the life support system disappear? It is the physical unity that keeps the harmonious functioning of the universe and the life sustained. (back)
14: This spiritually starved despondence leads to two kinds of violence-violence against others, both domestic and societal, and violence against the self. Recent incidents of mothers killing all of their children one by one, an action unheard of even in the world of lower animals, is an example of egregious behavior that can be at least partially attributed to human despondence. (back)
15: In fact, the basis of spiritual humanism is the oneness of humanity that all humans are created from a single soul. The division of humans into different communities of races, ethnicity, and culture, however, is meant to promote appreciation and celebration of diversity; but they are all innately similar. In this perspective, superiority of one over another is judged by the quality of deeds and the depth of piety, not by the color of skin, ethnicity, or geographical origin, nor by the physical, social, economic, or political power (The Qur'an, 4:1, 39:6, 49:13). This spiritually-based philosophy of life considers all of humanity as the family of God and all of its members as brothers to one another (Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him (pbuh))). The Qur'an also clarifies that it is the rejection of this philosophy of life by the secular materialists in the past that divided the single community of humankind into many through hatred of each other (2:213, 10:19). This is not just a theory, when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), after emerging victorious, came back to Makkah, declared amnesty for everybody including those who tortured and murdered his companions, tortured him and his friends, drew them out of their homes into exiles, and tried to assassinate him. Compare this with the current methods of treating the enemy by the secularists. (back)
16: The history of spiritual humanism offers many contrasting examples of exceptionally friendly and humane treatment of one time enemies. Prophet Joseph's kind treatment of his brothers who threw him into a well and later sold him to be used as slave, Prophet Moses' acceptance of those who caused him untold sufferings but were later thrown out by the Pharaoh, and Prophet Jesus' compassion to his enemies are but a few examples of treating human beings as members of God's family. (back)
17: It requires the community of believers to treat the community of transgressors with equity and justice. The Qur'an enjoins, "O you who believe! Be upright for God, bearers of witness with justice, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve from justice. Be just, this is nearer to piety, and fear God, for God is Aware of what you do." (5:8) (back)
18: The followers of the philosophy of spiritual humanism believe that they are accountable to this Higher Authority That is ever-watching and keeping records of every moment of their lives; therefore, they strictly abide by the rules of permissible and forbidden activities, without being coerced or subjugated by the social authority. (back)
19: Today, when humans the creation of God have invented video surveillance cameras, it is not difficult to understand that God the Creator can easily use such a device to record not only our words and actions but also our thoughts. May be, someday humans will invent also an improved version of polygraph system to record our thoughts. (back)
20: Material losses in secular materialistic framework of life easily lead to desperation, because material wellbeing is the only concept of living individuals perceive; therefore, its loss leaves them with no hope for living. (back)
21: pbut stands for peace and blessings of God be upon them. (back)
22: An examination of human history substantiates this contention. Human societies at the time of arrival of each of the known prophets were tyrannical, oppressive, unjust, inequitable, and the rulers playing the god to their subjugated humans. At the same time these were the times when secular materialism achieved the miracle of civilizations of their contemporary world. Prophet Abraham's confrontation with the rulers of Ur, Prophet Moses' confrontation with the Pharaohs, Prophet Jesus' confrontation with the Romans, probably Prophet (?) Buddha's confrontation with the caste Hindus, and Prophet Muhammad's confrontation with the rulers of Makkah and, to a lesser extent, Byzantine and Persian emperors substantiate this contention. (back)
23: In the Qur'an, God enjoins Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that God has ordained for him the same way of life commended to Prophet Noah, to Prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (pbut) (42:13). The Qur'an also categorically calls the companions of Prophet Jesus Muslims (3:52). (back)
24: Note that all the religions, except Islam, are known by the name of their preachers, by the place where they were preached, or by the people to whom they came. Islam is not known by its preacher, by the place where it was revealed, or by the people among whom it started. It addresses the problems and needs of all of humanity. More importantly, it establishes the universal equality of humanity, equitable justice for all-followers or transgressors, and enjoins the cardinal principles of achieving universal peace. (back)
25: Some Muslims might find this assertion very shocking. I have dealt with this issue at length in my works, "Who are the True Followers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)?" posted in www.geocities.com/islamicresourcecenter, and "The Condition of the Muslims in the World-An Evaluation and Prescription," Iqra, Vol. 21(1), April 2002, also posted in www.geocities.com/islamicresourcecenter. (back)
26: An atheist's perception of God is also based on faith. When he or she says that there is no God, he or she is actually saying that 'I believe that there is no God.' (back)
27: A drug addict puts his or her faith in the power of the drug for salvation-taking the drug makes the person feel high. This is an example of wrong faith and replacing it with the one that will induce in the addict the will power to resist the temptation is the right and beneficial faith. (back)
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