The New Western Civilzaion

Shared by Dr. Syed Ehtisham

The New Western Civilization:

M.K. Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western Civilization said, “It would be a good idea”. 

By the 16th century AD, the West was entering the industrial age by the 16th century AD, and exported it to North America later. They would impose it on the rest of the world in the 19th and 20thcenturies. It would adversely affect all the religions. Islam, as a reaction to humiliation in the post-colonial world, would experience a revival, with traumatic results.

It was based on Mercantilism which developed into capitalism. Capital would accrue from surplus value. Expensive innovations and inventions became affordable as technology made ceaseless replication of infrastructure feasible. Empires based on agriculture had inevitably run out of their financial base and could not compete with those based on industry. They were conquered (Turkish) or imploded (Russia).

But there was a catch; greed drove to too much production. The capacity of consumers would be exhausted. The process would go through cyclical crises. Free trade would not allow central planning. 72.

Profit was the difference between the cost of production and the value of the product. Labor wages were an important component of the cost and reducing them as much as possible became the goal of the capitalists.

Markets had to be found for excess production. Terms of trade had to be imposed on less developed countries. Their indigenous industries had to be stopped from competing (for example textiles and Indigo in India). Colonization made actual control over the assets of other societies possible. This happened in Asia and Africa.

In societies in early stage of development the natives were driven off their land and confined to inhospitable areas. They were killed with guns and germs, with impunity. This happened in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand.

The process of capitalism took three centuries and involved industrialization, and change of social relationship from feudal-peasant/serf to capitalist and working class.

Ideas and inventions had to meet the test of rational explanation.

Discoveries in medicine and hygiene made life longer. Inventor and the scientist became the new heroes of capitalist, the ruler. Better transportation facilitated the transport of end products to colonies and raw material from regions under control of the west.

Capitalism could not replace the solace provided by myth/religion. From early 16th century AD, en mass despair, depression and other psychiatric disorders spread like the plague. Reformers tried to offer solace. But they too were subject to the mental sickness. Martin Luther (1483-1546) suffered from bouts of depressions and uncontrollable rage. Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and John Calvin (1509-64) suffered from the same afflictions. 73.

In pre-modern age religion symbol was one with the reality it represented. Now Eucharist was just a symbol. Mass re-enacted sacrificial death of Christ and made it a present reality. Invention of printing made scripture available to the masses and they became less dependent on the clergy.

Astronomer Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) himself a religious man, saw his work in a religious light. But his findings demolished the myth that human beings occupied central place in the universe as they were shown to be living on an unremarkable planet revolving around a minor star. 74.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in England declared in his Advancement of Learning (1605), that science would put an end to human misery. Religion should be subjected to high criticism. 75. Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727) believed his discoveries proved the existence of god, the great ‘Mechanick’, who had brought the intricate machine of the universe into being. He felt that he had a mission to purge Christianity of such doctrines as Trinity. He took it literally and not, according to Karen Armstrong, a doctrine devised by Greek theologians as a myth. Gregory, Bishop of Nicaea (335-395) had explained that Father, Son and Spirit were not objective, ontological facts, but only the ‘terms that we use’ to express in which the limitations of human mind can adapt to and comprehend the ‘unnamable and unspeakable’ divine nature. 76.

The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, another deeply religious academic was horrified by the ‘eternal silence’ of the infinite universe opened up by science, “…I marvel that so wretched a state does not drive people to despair. 77.

The 18th century AD enlightenment seemed to lift the cloud of universal desperation. John Locke (1632-1704), had no doubt that God existed, though it was impossible to prove it. The German and French Enlightenment Schools saw religions as outmoded as did the British. They believed that logos alone could lead to truth.

But people believed that witches had sex with demons and flew through air to participate in orgies. The great Witch Hunts took over the 16th and 17th centuries AD. That led to the execution of thousands of men and women. 78.

Self-destructive new Christian movements emerged. Quakers quaked, trembled, yelled and howled in their meetings. Puritans tried to use religion as a vehicle to convince the working class that they should be content with their current state, because the “kingdom of Heaven was theirs”. 79

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72) representing an emerging trend in the 19th AD Europe that religion was actually harmful, argued that it actually alienated people from humanity. Karl Marx (1818-83) called it the Opium of the People.

Publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1858) caused a furor exposing the struggle between science and religion. Christians felt existentially threatened by the book.

Higher Criticism of the Bible, which applied scientific methodology to the Bible, showed that many of the book’s claims were demonstrably untrue. The Pentateuch had been written not by Moses, but by many authors, much after him. King David did not compose the Psalms.

The Higher Criticism is still a thorn in the side of Christian fundamentalists, who take the Bible as the literal Word of God (and Muslim fundamentalists too. Scholars have been working on the Higher Criticism of the Koran). 80.

Secular crusaders like Thomas H. Huxley (1825-95) asserted that people must choose between mythology/religion and science and a compromise was not on cards. Truth was what was “demonstrated and demonstrable”. 81.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900 AD) announced in 1882 AD that God was dead. Modern men and women had killed it by insisting on reaching God as a wholly notional truth through critical intellect. The Madman in his “The Gay Science” asked “Is there still an above or below?  Do we not stray, as though through an infinite nothingness? 81.

Religion, to the utter delight of the ruling establishment throughout the ages, had preached to the poor the acceptance of their lot on this earth. Without that, people went into despair. Religion co-opted science in Auschwitz, the Gulag and Bosnia. Imperialism used it to kill millions with nuclear power. Global corporations used technology to fight socialism in Afghanistan and released the hydra-head of Islamic Jihadism and were hit by 9/11. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind!

 

 

 

  1. 70. Seyyed, Hossein Nasser : “The Meaning and Role of “Philosophy” in Islam” (Paris, Maisonneuve & Larose, 1973).
  2. 71.  Demetrios J. Constantelos,  “Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church” (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press 3rd edition, 2005)
  3. 72. Hobsbawm, E.J, “ Industry and Empire,” (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.: Penguin, 1968).
  4. 73. Ehrenreich, Barbara, “Dancing in the Streets,: (New York, Henry Holt and Co, 2006);
  5. 74. Armitage, Angus,” The World of Copernicus” (New York, NY: Mentor Books, 1951).
  6. Bacon, Francis, “The Advancement of Learning,” (Adelaide:published by eBooks@Adelaide, 2013).
  7. Leo Donald Davis, “The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (Wilmington DE: Michael Glazier Inc., 1983).
  8. Pascal, Blaise, “Pen’sees” trans A.J. Krasilshiemer, (London: Penguin Classics, 1995);
  9. 78. Witch Hunt Lois Martin, “A Brief History of Witchcraft,” (New York, Running Press. p. 5. 2010).
  10. 79. Lovelace, R.C, “Puritan Spirituality: the Search for Rightly Reformed Church” in Loius Dupre and Don E. Saliens (eds), Christian spirituality: Post Reformation and Modern, (Spring Valley New York: Crossroad Publishing Co, 1991), 313-315;
  11. 80. Maier, Gerhard, “The End of Historical-Critical Method,” (Concordia: Concordia Press, 1974); Soulen, Richard N,; Soulen, Kendall, R.; “Handbook of Biblical Criticism (#rd rev and expanded . ed),” (Loiisville, KY: West Minster John Knox Press, 2001).
  12. Huxley, T.H., “Science and Christian Tradition”, (New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1898), 125;
  13. Friedrich Nietzsche “The Gay Science” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 181