Renaissance and French Revolution
Renaissance started in Italy in the 14th century and spread throughout Europe till the 15th century shaping the modern culture and civilization. It ended in the 17th century. Towards the end of the 17th century French Revolution (1789–99) took place of which equality, freedom, democracy, sovereignty, secularism, welfare state were important ideas which are still driving the post-modern man’s mind. Of so many merits and demerits these ideas had and still have, one common objective — to express dissent against religion and its values.
Napoleon Bonaparte who played a key role in the French Revolution, introduced the ‘Napoleonic Code’ wherein he made the authority of men over their families stronger, deprived women of any individual rights, and reduced the rights of illegitimate children. All male citizens were granted equal rights under the law and the right to religious dissent, but colonial slavery was reintroduced. He also reconstructed the French education system.
It does not seem out of place to mention here that while compiling his code which in fact marked the foundation of the modern French law, Napoleon benefitted to a large extent from Imam Malik’s Muwatta. The reason is that the Muslim Spain followed the Mālikī school of law and, as stated earlier in my first article of this series, the fore-runners of the modern French jurists learnt jurisprudence in Spain (Dr Riyaz ul Hasan, Reconstruction of Legal Thought in Islam). But unfortunately, as usual to the Western thinkers vis-à-vis the Muslims, Napoleon never acknowledged it.
Humanism and Stoicism
From the lap of renaissance emerged ‘humanism’, a new school of thought which argued that the world around can only be understood by logic and reasoning. So, man is considered as center of all creation. This overconfidence on logic and reasoning revived and boosted stoicism, a 3rd century BC thought, which believes in rational thinking and philosophy and that there is no religion at all. Followers of Stoicism did not believe in God and understood that it is man himself who can decide anything without fear of any kind of divine punishment or favour. Hence, they believed that man is his own God. Humanism has ever since been the new religion of the ‘modern educated western man’.
Humanism and Agnosticism
As a natural consequence, humanism further enriched the materialistic view of life which in turn created a society bankrupt of all kinds of values— moral, ethical as well as spiritual. Ironically enough, the same humanism and individualism was projected as the moral foundation of the contemporary civilization, in fact as an alternative to the revealed truth.
As mentioned elsewhere, humanism emerged, according to the humanists, against the degradation of the personality of man, his essence, caused by the old creeds, and medieval religions that slighted his position in the universe and forced him to sacrifice himself to the gods. So, against this, humanism raised man to the level where he became his own God to decide what is good and what not. And yes, he finally decided that nothing is good or bad by nature, it is rather man’s own thinking which makes things so. With the result agnosticism gripped human mind and created a mindset which rendered all values relative and ultimately meaningless. In fact, agnosticism is an unhealthy state of mind where an agnostic wavers about the existence of God because it thinks (if it thinks anything at all) that human reason is not so competent to decide about the existence or non-existence of God. Strangely, such people who were actually against reason itself were declared to be philosophers because of the sole reason that after all their sick mind did not contain any notion of God.
Now the modern mind does do not accept God or His role in revealing the truth. It also does not believe that absolute morality is in fact harmonious with human nature thinking that it is something imposed from outside. The general view about morality is that it hinders man from enjoying true freedom, whereby he falls prey to psychic maladies and nervous agitation; morality is the legacy of the old tribal period when man’s temperament was intolerant. Hence, with the evolution of humanity and civilization, the myth of morality should go now, and it is timely to wipe out its all traces from the society (Muhammad Qutb, Islam and Modern Materialistic Thought).
As a result of the changed notion of morality and human freedom very dangerous problems took place. The individual as well as the society were subjected to more and more complications. What gained from this was that man degraded himself much more than he had been earlier by the old creeds. No saner mind could deny the stark reality that licentiousness, free sex, lesbianism, incest, homosexuality and so many other social evils, now rampant in the western society, finally degraded man to the lowest ebb of immorality. But thanks to the renaissance rationalism, agnostic irrationalism, so on and so forth, that modern educated man is hardly able to understand this all.
West’s ‘free indulgence of sexual immorality’ (Maryam Jameela, Western Civilisation Condemned by Itself) has disgraced humanity to the highest possible degree. Although adultery is not legally prohibited, still the incidents of forced rape are frequently happening in everywhere and homosexuality is also at its rise (Justice Taqi Uthmani, Jahān-e Dīdah). Due to the shameful indifference to moral values the spiritual vacuum created in Europe made descend by degrees into the depths of materialism. With the result the Western people now, generally speaking, do not believe in any God other than matter.
For a long time, the West did not openly reject the idea of God—all of them are not atheists even now, but the intellectual and moral position they had adopted definitely precluded all claim of religion upon life. Attempts were made after the renaissance to produce reconciliation between religion and science as some sort of religious arrangement was thought necessary to preserve the tranquility of society by influencing social relations of men. But the pace set by materialistic civilization was so brisk that religion could not withstand it. It also entailed a good deal of inconvenience to keep materialism in harmony with transcendental truths. As decades and centuries advanced, the ceremony was waived off, and Europe took unconditionally to the worship of matter. As a result, ‘the post-modern society views religion and religious values as the biggest obstacle in the way to material progress. So people are invited to freely fulfil their temptations’ (Mawlana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Islam and the West).
On the other hand, the scientific attitude, despite its great merits, has proved to be a vital factor in the overwhelming forgetfulness of God. The indoctrinated ‘objective’ and ‘scientific method’, which interpreted the material world along mere mechanical lines, culminated in the belief that there is no absolute power; that there is no creator of the universe; and that there is no purpose of life; everything, based on religion and belief in the existence of an Almighty Creator, was scornfully rejected. This is how even science was misused to serve the interests of materialism. What an injustice to knowledge! And what an insult to human nature itself!
The uncontrolled rationality which led to the development of the wishfully calculated and highly propagandized worldview opened the way for skepticism as it did not accept to recognize what lay beyond the physical world.
To be continued…
Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar, Coordinator, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.