The spiritual worldview
A traditional wisdom necessary for our times
In Introducción a la Cosmovisión del Islam [Introduction to the Worldview of Islam], published in 1988 in Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran, by the Fundación Cultural Oriente, Mulammad Husain Beheshti and Muhammad Yauád Bahonar describe what is in essence, more than an Islamic worldview, but a spiritual worldview based in the Judaic-Christian-Islamic tradition. I propose in today’s commentary to present the spiritual worldview that has been formulated by Beheshti and Bahonar. I will maintain, furthermore, that the spiritual worldview of the Judaic-Christian-Islamic tradition coincides with the political ideology and the implicit epistemology of the Third World nations that are seeking, with the support of China, to develop an alternative economic world order and a more just and sustainable world-system.
Beheshti and Bahonar maintain that the quest for knowledge and truth ought to be the primary objective of individuals and societies. All humanity ought to be driven by a quest to understand the world, including nature and the laws that govern nature as well as human history and the causes of human progress. And all should understand that neither corrupt individuals nor corrupt societies arrive to happy endings; humans cannot ignore with impunity the structure of God’s order or God’s expectations. In their view, knowledge and religious obligations are intertwined.
Beheshti and Bahonar maintain that God created human beings with desires, but with the capacity to distinguish right from wrong and to control passions, such as egoism and the desire for wealth and power. God has chosen various prophets, contacting them by means of Revelation, and sending them to teach the people and to exhort them to struggle for just causes and to set aside the false gods of wealth and power.
Beheshti and Bahonar see human history as a continuous struggle between right and wrong at different levels: between truth and falsity; between faith and infidelity; and between justice, on the one hand, and tyranny, oppression, and exploitation, on the other. This continuous conflict is rooted in the nature of human beings, who possess passions and free will but also the capacity to control their passions. It is a conflict within individuals as well as between social classes in a particular society. It is a conflict that can be resolved through the harmonization of the two opposing forces.
In the case of society, the conflict is resolved by exhorting the people to good. Social justice prevails when the side of rectitude is stronger, when the consciousness of the people is elevated, and when the people follow the correct guide, enabling the triumph of truth. History has produced exceptional leadership, Beheshti and Bahonar maintain, in the form of the prophets, who teach justice, philanthropy, equality, service to humanity, freedom, and peace. The prophets expose the oppressors and the tyrants, and they teach the people resistance to their oppressors. Knowledge of history and social structures comes to the fore in these moments, as does a capacity to organize popular thinking.
There are those who pretend to be champions of the just causes but are disposed to oppress. They are a great danger to humanity, Beheshti and Bahonar maintain. Arrogance, which often leads to intolerance, is common, as is hypocrisy. In the history of the Islamic civilization, there have been corrupt governors who distort Islamic teachings without openly attacking the Islamic system, pretending to be faithful; and there have been opportunistic governments saying that all is in the hands of God to justify wealth and poverty.
But because of the exceptional leadership of the prophets, the total and complete triumph of truth and justice will occur. The Prophet Mohammad prophesied it: “the oppressed will inherit the earth.”
Beheshti and Bahonar observe that since the beginning of recorded history, the Prophet Abraham has been recognized as the great defender of monotheism and as the destroyer of false gods and myths. In addition, the Prophet Moses is recognized as the great emancipator of the people from oppression and from those who possess wealth and power.
As is common among Islamic theologians, Beheshti and Bahonar do not accept the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They describe Jesus as a prophet who has been recognized for two thousand years as a messenger of peace and justice, who stood against the war traffickers, the shedding of blood, and the accumulation of wealth. In the times of Jesus, they write, deception and fraudulent activities were common. And the rabbis, the supposed religious leaders, were involved in vane conflicts. They committed atrocious crimes, including the assassination of prophets, the falsification of revealed Scripture, and all forms of deception, usury, and hypocrisy. Jesus took a firm stand and struggled against such evils of his time. He reformed and reintroduced the Mosaic Law that had been distorted and badly interpreted. He preached purity, humanitarianism, love, and service to humanity.
As occurred in the case of Jesus, God sends prophets in the historic moments most opportune, when injustice and erroneous conceptions prevail, and the rejection of moral duties and obligations is widespread. Beheshti and Bahonar write that “the Revelation has a social mission, namely, the reconstruction of the society, the establishment of a just system, and the reorganization of a nation.”
Beheshti and Bahonar maintain that the spiritual worldview has a solid epistemological foundation. Moral principals have a moral base; they are not the inventions of the rich and powerful to exploit the masses. There is a real and knowable difference between justice and injustice, however much the name of justice is used to promote injustice. They declare that the diversity of points of view does not negate the solid base of morality in human nature, inasmuch as the human being desires by nature to possess those qualities that are in harmony with human dignity. All of the formulators of moral principles, the great prophets and the great philosophers, were driven by a desire to safeguard the common human good and not the interests of a particular class. The moral person, they maintain, defends human dignity and seeks to approach God.
Beheshti and Bahonar write that some erroneous conceptions of scholastic philosophy and the medieval Church gave rise to a reaction in the form of the European Renaissance, which attempted a new form of human emancipation, but which resulted ultimately in placing the human being under the new gods of industrialism, consumerism, and the exploitation of others. The sciences flourished, but they were captured by the new gods, placed in the service of the causes of the expansion of production and human exploitation.
M. T. Misbah Iazdi, in Enseñanza de la Doctrina Islámica [Teachings of the Islamic Doctrine], published in 1986 by the Fundación Cultural Oriente, views the new philosophy as a materialist worldview that considers the existence of God to be unimportant for human understanding. It displaced the divine worldview that had been proclaimed, although often with errors, since the human species first appeared.
The materialist worldview was exported to other regions of the world, along with the industry and technology of the West. Iazdi considers that “the phenomenon of the expansion of materialism is the greatest tragedy of humanity.” The materialist worldview, he maintains, provided the foundation for a false liberation from responsibility and moral limitations, thereby empowering ideologies that justified economic development unconstrained by consideration of social and economic consequences. These supposedly emancipatory ideologies legitimated a form of conquest that dismissed the humanity of the conquered, implemented on a global scale.
Universal human values
In my commentary of December 25, 2022, I write of the cognitional theory of the twentieth century Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan, who like the Islamic theologians, writes in defense of an epistemology rooted in the real, in science, and in fundamental moral principles. I refer in the commentary to “universal human values,” which are the common values that have been formulated by humanity in defense of itself and against the forces of conquest, domination, oppression, and exploitation. (See “The cognitional theory of Bernard Lonergan: The invariant structure for understanding the true and the right,” December 25, 2022).
The universal human values have been codified in the documents of the United Nations and its affiliated organizations. They include the concept that all persons possess fundamental human rights, such as the rights to education, health care, nutrition, and housing, unconditioned by ability to pay. And they include the rights of nations to sovereignty and to control over their natural resources, without the interference of the global powers. These codifications have not been formulated as epistemological treatises, but as declarations of self-evident facts, formulated by humanity in common struggle against the forces of oppression and exploitation.
There is, however, an implicit epistemology in these declarations endorsed by all of humanity, which proclaims that there is a difference between truth and untruth, based in fundamental moral principles; that truth can be known and proclaimed; and that society can be organized of the basis of proclaimed values that are taught to the people. In practice, the social movements of the peoples of the world have lifted up and recognized exceptional leaders, who have proclaimed and taught to their peoples the universal human values; just as the religious traditions have recognized the role of prophets in teaching God’s expectations for humanity.
Against the epistemology of the religious traditions and the people’s movements, post-modern assumptions have emerged. Post-modernism maintains that truth is constructed rather than discovered on a foundation of moral commitment and scientific analysis. Post-modern assumptions have been disseminated in the Western world precisely in a historic moment in which the modern Western project of liberation and domination has reached its inherent limits, a phenomenon that has given rise to the increasing recognition by religious institutions, peoples’ movements, and progressive and socialist states of their common commitment to universal human values. In this ideological context, post-modernism is disseminated as an arm of the powerful, seeking to negate truth. Truth remains the principle arm of the peoples against the tyranny of the powerful.
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