Category Archives: Spiritual Humanism

The Problem of evil as understood in World Cultures & Systems

World cultures and world systems how evil is cognized: a summary of Hasan Askari’s view from the book Towards A Spiritual Humanism

Ancient Indian discourseevil is “avidya” or ignorance – lack of knowledge. A lack of being. Duality is the source of all evil

Ancient Chinese systems – distinction between function and contemplation. Human mind immersed in functionalism it becomes evil, unless attended by a contemplative perspective on life, world and relationships. Variety of shades and options of emphases between Confucius and Laotze. 

Buddhist – evil is the phenomenon of desire. Philosophically desire is an expression of want, of lack. This lacking or want creates suffering which is evil. 

Jewish – post Sinai understanding of evil, evil is the rebelliousness, the wantonness and the pride within man to erect false idols which are the projections and embodiment of his fear and desires. Jewish paradigm offers a sharp contract between two moments:(i) Moses in dialogue with God, receiving the Ten Commandments (ii) the other of his people at the foot of the mountain worshipping the Golden Calf. It is this sharp dichotomy within the same moment which sums up the entire tragedy and the entire failing in human history. 

Christian – an extraordinary situation. Evil is seen as generic to human nature. Historically Christian conception of evil is expressed in the human vulnerability to failure, to wantonness and towards evil.

Near Eastern Civilizations – Zoroastrian and later Manichaean understanding of a polarity between good and evil.  

Islamic – Quranic insight, evil is “ghafala” to remain unconscious and heedless. 

Philosophy – Greeks – but Hellenistic culture as a whole- the opposite of reason,  the opposite of the rational man, namely, whatever is irrational, wilful or untamed in human nature is evil. Through education and discipline and purification one obtains a rational self attaining to truth and wisdom.

Theory of Evolution forestalled in drama, poetry & symbol

“There are two extremely crucial moments in our modern transformation which both humanists and Muslims and religious people in general have to come to terms with. The first moment which created the greatest upheaval in our thought came about through Darwin and Spencer, namely, the theory of evolution. Let me now make a comment that is going to take us both into the heart of the matter. I totally accept the evidence and the theory built upon that evidence that there is a temporal unfoldment of the material universe, that there is a temporal unfoldment of the various life forms. There is a progress from simple to the complex; there is a mutation, adaptation and survival of the fittest not only in quantitative terms but also in qualitative and functional terms. All this pertains to what I call the collective forms. I would apply even the concept “collective form” to consciousness, language and culture. Therefore, I would go a long way with Spencer when he reiterates the evolutionary principle on the social level, on the cultural level. I would go to the extent of embracing Auguste Comte in his well-known formulation of the stages of human growth arriving at the rational or the positivistic as their highest summit.

However, there is something missing, and that something has been highlighted by those who disagree with the theory of evolution, and who at the same time commit all sorts of mistakes in exaggerating the lacunas in the theory and attempt to rely upon any evidence that might come forth to contradict it. Such a ritual employment of the scientific method to disprove the theory of evolution is to me nonsense – that is not the issue.

The issue is about another mystery which the traditional scientific theory of evolution does not meet. In the absence of any other language I would tentatively suggest that we don’t have a theory of emergence. By emergence I mean the emergence of individuals. We have a theory – sociologically and biologically – of coming into being and unfoldment in evolution of a species, of cultural species, of linguistic species, but we don’t have a theory to explain or help us understand how individuals emerge in history. I am using the word “individual” as applicable not only to those creative geniuses throughout history, but also to those creative configurations of culture – say, Ancient India, Greece, China and Egypt – which are very enigmatic, and very mysterious in terms of symbol, in terms of constructs, and in terms of philosophy. To me these configurations are also “individuals”. “Individuals” are not comparable. Nevertheless, the theory of evolution with all its limitations was one of the first crucial moments in modern thought.

The second great upheaval in our modern transformation was registered by the School of Vienna headed by Sigmund Freud. Here something more spectacular happened because the theory of evolution was forestalled in both metaphor and myth in ancient and medieval times. We have, for example, striking evidence of notions pertaining to evolution in Islamic gnostic philosophy. Both the great Persian poet Rumi (d.1273), and Ibn Miskawa, (d.1030) the first philosopher of ethics in Islam, talked about evolution, and they regarded the philosopher-prophet as the culmination of human evolution. Rumi talks about the development of life, from mineral to plant and from animal to man. In response to the question of what lies behind man Rumi gives us through poetry and parable a fascinating account of the human soul. The ecstasy he expressed through dance was itself a form of evolution.

So the theory of evolution as expressed in the 19th century was not a surprise for those already familiar with the idea running through history. It had already been given in drama, in poetry and also in different symbols. Even the myth of creation was a foretelling of that theory in a very succinct and symbolic manner.”

Hasan Askari : extract from Towards A Spiritual Humanism

Spiritual Humanism – a call to repel evil with the Good

Spiritual Humanism is convinced that there are resources within the human soul to repel the evil with the good, that truth and virtue have their own power to defend themselves. We should have long given up the very idea of self-defence by physical means. While other animals were growing weapons of self-defence upon their bodies, man was shedding off all such weapons. See how defenceless our physical body looks compared with other animals as though there are powers, yet unknown, deeply concealed in our soul. How weak does man appear though he is armed with nuclear weapons, and how powerful a Buddha or a Jesus looks with his bare hands having made the choice of walking on the path of Peace.

It appears as though we have accustomed our soul to combat violence with violence, destruction with destruction, physical threat with physical deterrent. We seem to have forgotten how powerful the choice of the peaceful deterrent could be. Spiritual Humanism therefore calls for every party to act first without waiting for the other to act when it is convinced of the principle that the evil be repelled by the good. If disarmament is the good, let one disarm without waiting for any other to disarm first.

Responding to violence by suspending human rights is to act with violence to one’s own moral and social fabric. Life is honoured when the individual is honoured. The individual is honoured when the individual rights are honoured. Only by honouring the life and the rights of the other, our life and rights are preserved.”

by Professor Hasan Askari (*see also “Towards a Spiritual Humanism: A Muslim – Humanist Dialogue” by Hasan Askari & Jon Avery)

Spiritual Humanism – an alternative ideology

Spiritual Humanism is an alternative ideology to secular humanism and racial and religious separatism. We require at the present hour of history a spiritually regenerative ideology with a universal perspective.

By the criteria of universality we touch that purity of the human essence which has been at the centre of each religious tradition but has been obscured by its dogmatic and collectivistic expressions. By the criteria of universality and spirituality we touch that nobility of the human essence which has been the aspiration of secular humanism but has been crippled by its stubborn rejection of the metaphysical nature of that essence. We require such a school of thought as can overcome these limitations and pave the way for an ideological stand which has universal reference, and which can inspire universal hope and confidence. Spiritual Humanism is such a school of thought with the potentiality to transform the world.

Spiritual Humanism takes a clear stand against all forms of violence, against the entire cult of militarism and terrorism of states and groups. It can be replaced by the trust in the power of the peaceful means to resolve conflicts, that truth and justice has their own might to defend themselves. Spiritual Humanism will uphold in all circumstances the life and dignity of each individual as more preceious than any ideology or cause.

Spiritual Humanism is a comprehensive ideological option, a philosophy and a policy of liberation from all that enslaves and cripples humanity.”

by Professor Hasan Askari (1932-2008)

*see also “Towards a Spiritual Humanism : A Muslim -Humanist Dialogue” by Hasan Askari & Jon Avery