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

A Farewell Wish

Whiter than white, The setting sun departs, Bidding goodnight, Pain in my heart

Hope to see you again my friend, Pay tribute to you as you descend, In your wake, The Sky: Still, Clear, And light, A lone bird takes its final flight, Settling for the night

Earlier I recollect, Strength of your heat upon my chest, A feeling strong, Holding me down, For a moment, No escape to be found

Thanks to you I see the mess, Objects that cause my distress, Shelter of shade, Easy to find, But what am I to do? When these objects I still cling to

Take me with you as you set, Free me from which I am beset, Tell me how when clouds hinder the way your Light still shines through? What am I to do?

Dear Friend of mine, you come from which That is impossible to define, So grant me this fare-well wish, As your light here begins to diminish, Promise me you will return, For my heart without Him would surely burn.

By Musa Askari

Plotinus, father of Neo-Platonism

“This is not a journey for the feet; the feet bring us only from land to land; nor need you think of coach or ship to carry you away; all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see; you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birthright of all, which few turn to see.”

by Plotinus

The Enneads, 1.6 “On Beauty”

 

Plotinus on Soul – History of Philosophy :

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/plotinus-soul

History speaking to our time

Scientifically we take much note of species within the natural world becoming extinct. We make a great commotion at the discovery within archaeology of some forgotten monument, people or treasure. We peer into history through artefacts and old preserved documents trying to piece together a coherent picture of life in a bygone age as instinctively we feel it has something to speak to our time. The Kondh people of Orissa, India for example and other such identities around the planet are right before us. We can learn and value them in the here and now or are we to read about them in some distant future looking back with the question “why did we look the other way?”. And let us not be so arrogant to think the current world order will persist indefinitely. Who is to say that centuries from now, in some new kind of humanity free of collective fear, suspicion and national interest, an archaeologist will not be looking back at us and asking, “what went wrong?.”

By Musa Askari

The Platonic Illusion

“The rise and fall of Marxism is linked with the emergence of the socialist state. It had emerged with the assumption that it would protect the socialist revolution which will ultimately lead to a classless and stateless golden social order. But the directors of the October Revolution suffered from what we call the Platonic Illusion from which all ideologies, whether religious or secular have suffered, namely to create a protective state to guard what they hold as true.

Plato had thought as he watched his dear Socrates being put to death, by the City of Athens, that by creating a Republic he would protect the free quest for truth, a state governed by the wise and the enlightened, under which no other Socrates would be silenced. Plato failed to notice that by the manner Socrates accepted his death he had showed how he regarded himself and his soul as indestructible, that he did not require any other means than of himself and his awareness in order to protect what he stood for.

Marxism in its original vision did not need to externally direct the dialectical movement of history once the transformed state of consciousness of the individual is reached; it is that critical point whereby the individual becomes both the means and the end of revolution.

Marxism reached then its ultimate self-contradiction when the socialist state made its own nuclear weapon. No difference is left between a socialist and capitalistic state. The weapon is indifferent to all ideological differences. For the weapon the individual does not exist. For the weapon only masses of people exist to be wiped out at any time of day and night. The deadly absurd brink has been reached.”

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

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