Criticism of Religion (Part 5)
The Irreligious Spirit and Causes of its Spread
by Maulana Muhammad Ali, M.A. (Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Lahore)
The Young Islam, 1st August 1934 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 5, pp. 2, 4)
End of the Materialistic Wave:
Our younger people turn away from religion if for no other reason than to this: The world has advanced too much to accept theories propounded by religion. This age is anti-religious. Therefore, it is sheer backwardness to cling to clothes one must cast off sooner or later. Such is the line of argument adopted. Let us examine this problem.
There is no doubt that the nineteenth century was one of matter. It saw the zenith of discoveries in the material sphere. As a result of man’s rapid advance in domain of matter his mental equilibrium became unbalanced. The law of the indestructibility of matter was propounded. It was taken to be an axiom. The universe was believed to work like a blind automatic machine.
The power behind this universe was thought, if at all existent, to be a blind force. Everything came to be interpreted in terms of space and time. Man’s spiritual aspect was totally denied and a mention of it considered to be a relic of old times. In short, matter ruled supreme. We began with matter, we worked with matter, and our efforts ended in the domain of matter. This was thought to be the crown of man’s success.
But the swing of balance is turning to the other side. The atomic theory has been superseded by the electron theory. The ultimate source of matter is not matter itself but energy. This has meant a deathblow to the notion that matter is indestructible. The ‘Theory of Relativity’ has exploded our time-honoured notions of time and space. The spread of the movement of spiritualism and the association with it of such eminent scientists as Sir Oliver Lodge have at last paved the way to the realisation that the human spirit and its survival are after all not pure myths of a pre-historic age. Again, the worldwide unrest and agitation have forced thinking men to admit that scientific achievements and material comforts are not the only factors conducive to human progress and welfare. Nationalism, once the highest ideal before man, has been replaced by a spirit of international toleration and goodwill. Capitalism, once a stepping stone to organised advance, is now positively understood to be a block in the way of the progress of the masses. It makes interesting reading to observe how there has been a revolution in the basic ideas during the past two decades.
Domination of the West:
We witness all this change—a change so fundamental and profound. Still, the pity is that the world is dominated and dictated by the West. Politicians lament that the West has occupied Eastern territories. It is quite true. But there is yet another field which the West has not left unoccupied. The West is dominating the hearts and souls of men. Is it impossible for us to free our minds of the Western sway? Superficial persons begin the game in the reverse manner. The spirit must emancipate itself before the body can obtain its freedom. It is, however, being tried to free the body while the mind and spirit are in total subjugation. If ever freedom to man must come in the real sense of the word it must be of the heart and soul. Our younger generation is following a curious policy. While they want emancipation of their bodies from Western Powers, at the same time they are worshipping Western culture and civilisation heart and soul. What a paradox! Nay, to deviate from the frills and fashions of the West is a folly—a sign of backwardness and of stagnation! Western ideals, Western fashions, Western culture and civilisation, even Western looks and appearances are our highest aims.
The Spirit of Science:
If our young men must worship the West and its ideals then let them do it at least in one respect. They must cultivate a spirit of scientific outlook. This consists in keeping our minds open. We ought not to be slaves in our mental attitudes. We must think for ourselves. There is no harm if we say that the West is master of science and of matter. We may take our lessons from it in this domain. But when we are treading spiritual paths the West should no longer be our guide. And the reason is simple. The West has neither claimed nor has it devoted itself to specialising in spiritual the realms. How can it then serve as a model for us?
A mind which is ever ready to accept evidence gained through observation and experiment is one which has imbibed the true spirit of scientific inquiry. Therefore, while we begin to enter the domain of the spiritual world we must note what great experts in these spheres have observed. It does not behove us, being laymen in the spiritual realm, to outright condemn everything which experts in this domain have observed. Expert evidence after all is a weighty argument and if it be unanimous it becomes authoritative. It is true that the door of experiment and experience is not closed at any time to anyone. A man, uninitiated in the paths of science, may refuse to accept evidence of an expert scientist merely because he cannot comprehend it or because he has never had the ability or opportunity to perform the experiments himself. Such a man would surely be regarded as half-mad. It may safely be said in a parallel strain that expert spiritual evidence if trifled and mocked at by lay persons is nothing short of self-deception.
Express Function of Religion:
There are three fundamentals of religion: a belief in the Divine Being, a belief in revelation as a source of knowledge and guidance, and a belief in the Hereafter. Taken together the essence of all the three fundamentals is this that there is an Unseen Higher Power giving man guidance and then rewarding him on its basis. A belief in the Higher Power is certainly not superstition. Superstition signifies superficial thinking. Islam asks man to go deep down into the realities of life. It seeks to unite man with the ultimate reality. How can this be taken to mean superstition?
A belief in revelation from on High does not stand in man’s way to acquire knowledge through his physical senses. On the contrary, the door of knowledge where closed to the physical is shown to be still open to our spiritual senses by means of revelation. And again, a belief in the Hereafter does not block the way of man to progress in this world. It lifts man higher and above it. A knowledge of another life is sublime and raises man into higher elevated planes.
Let our young men study religion in its true sense. They will invariably come to the conclusion that it is something worth acquiring. They will certainly realise that religion and its spirit are essential for the united advance of humanity. Man does not consist of body and intellect alone. His higher and more sublime part is his feeling or emotional aspect. The control and guidance of this side of man is as much a necessity as is the development of his physical and mental sides. No philosophy, no scientific theory, no deep reflection has ever given man guidance for his soul better than religion. If humanity must be saved from total extinction, the soul of man must first be saved. The saving of the soul or a correct guidance of his sentiments pertains to the realm of true religion. Let not our young men turn away from it in haste and ignorance. Let not our young men ridicule and mock profound truths and deep realities which even the West is forced to accept today. The Ahmadiyya Movement exists for the sole purpose of disseminating Islamic truths. Its one object is to convince the whole world of the utility and beauty of true religion in this materialistic age. Let our young men not despair that religion today is a mass of fiction and superstition. The Ahmadiyya Movement explains every religious truth on a scientific basis. It does not assert any idea unobserved or untested. Hence it is that this Movement is certain of its success, for a fact observed and experienced is a truth and a reality which no amount of adverse criticism is able to falsify.