The Three Pillars of the Western Culture
By: Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi
It can be said that the Western culture has been consisted of three pillars. Of course, there are other parts and elements, but its most fundamental parts are three. Its first pillar is “humanism”. That is to say, for man to have a life full of comfort, happiness and ease is valid and nothing else for him has validity.
The word “humanism” is brought up in contrast to inclination to God and religion. Of course, they have also propounded other meanings for it but they are not our concern. Its famous meaning is “anthropocentrism”. That is, man has to think of himself, his pleasure, enjoyment and comfort, but that there is a god or an angel is not our concern. This trend is the opposite of the one prevalent before, during the Middle Ages in Europe and before that in the Eastern countries in which the main attention has been focused on God and spiritualities.
The proponents of this view say that we have to abandon this subject (extreme attention to the celestial affairs at the expense of the mundane affairs). We are already tired of the medieval subject matters. Instead of the discussions of the Medieval Church, we want to return to the core of humanity, and no more discuss anything beyond man and nature, especially God. Of course, it is not necessary for us to deny them, but we have no business with them. The criterion is man.
Inclination toward humanism in Europe and in the latter part of the Middle Ages through the renowned writers and literary men of the time, such as Dante of Italy, was brought up. In reality, it was a return to the pre-Christian era.
As we know, Christianity was born in the East, in Palestine in particular. Prior to the coming of Christianity in Europe, the European societies were idol-worshipers. The most important empire at the time was the Roman Empire consisting of the Byzantium (present-day Turkey) and the Western Roman Empire (Italy).
With the exception of the Jews, these people were all idol-worshipers. After the coming of Christianity in Rome, elements of idol-worship were adopted and the European society accepted such a form of Christianity. An example of distortions in Christianity is the Doctrine of Trinity and then erecting of statues of Hadrat Maryam (Saint Mary) and that of the angels in the churches. As a result, these churches are very similar to those idol-temples of the past.
Thus, Christianity in the Western world is a distorted form of Christianity which replaced polytheism; and in reality the government there was a worldly government devoid of spiritual values, established there in Europe in the name of Christianity, under the name of the divine rule, and for the sake of the heavenly and celestial mission.
Under the guise of Christianity and with ‘celestial’ and ‘heavenly’ slogans, they committed so many heinous crimes, until such time gradually the people were suffocated by these injustices and crimes, and eventually returned to the life prior to Christianity.
The humanist thought, in truth, emanates from the return to man in place of God, the return to the earth in lieu of the heaven, and the return to worldly life in replacement of the otherworldly life.
This is the kernel of the humanist thought, which states that we have to replace God with man. With the spread of the prevalent literatures of the time and through the efforts of the pioneering humanist writers such as Dante, the famous Italian poet and author, this trend gradually gained currency in all Western countries, propounded as a pivot with a wide array of dimensions and angles. Therefore, humanism is the mother of all other trends, which collectively constitute the Western culture.
This principle is contrary to the divine culture, which states that the pivot is Allah and that all our thoughts must revolve around the axis of the concept of God. All our attentions must be directed toward Him.
We must seek our prosperity and perfection through proximity and union with Him, for He is the fountainhead of all beauties, felicities, nobilities, and perfections. Hence, Allah is the axis. If we are really particular of putting ism with it, we say that this trend is “Allah-ism”. That is, attention to Allah in opposition to attention to man.
This is the first basic point of departure and clash between the divine culture and the Western atheistic culture. (Of course, there is also an exception in the West as there are also more or less divine and spiritual trends there. Thus, my point is the dominant trend, which today is called the Western culture.)
The second pillar of the Western culture is “secularism”. After the Westerners made man as the axis, if there were any person who wanted a religious inclination, he was like someone who wanted to be a poet or painter, and as such, he would not be confronted. Just as some accept a particular school of painting and sculpture, some also want to be Muslims or Christians, and there is no hindrance along their way, for what man wants must be respected.
They say that those who, at the margin of their life, want to choose a religion are like those who choose a kind of literature, poem and art, and their choice must be respected. But these individuals must be aware that religion has no relation whatsoever to the basic issues of life and must not become the basic core of life. Just as poems and literature have their own particular status, religion also has its own.
Let us assume that some individuals have their own arts, open a gallery and display their painting works. We will also respect them, but this show of respect does not mean that painting is the nexus of politics, economics and international issues. So, painting is a marginal issue. Their opinion is that religion has also the same status.
If there are those who want to worship God, go to the house of worship, and like a poet who recites a poem, supplicates to his God, it is none of our business. But we are concerned with which law is supposed to rule over the society; what kind of a system is the economic and political one. Religion is not allowed to interfere in this domain. The locus of religion is the mosque, church and idol-temple. The serious issues of life are related to science, and religion must not interfere in the issues of life.
This trend and mindset in general is called secularism. That is, the segregation of religion and the issues of life, or worldliness and so to speak, “thinking of this world” instead of “thinking of the heaven,” which is inculcated in religion. They say that we have to dismiss these statements that celestial angels are descending on the Prophet (S) or that in the hereafter man will be admitted to the kingdom of heaven and the like, and to think as earthlings.
Accordingly, you have to talk about food, clothing, art, dance, music, and similar things that are beneficial to life and have no relation with the domain of religion. The fact is that the fundamental affairs of the life of man, particularly politics, economy and law, are related to science, and religion is not supposed to interfere in them. This is the second pillar of the Western culture.
The third pillar is “liberalism”. That is, nobility lies on man. Man must be totally free, and there must be no restrictions and limitations on the life of man, unless they are necessary.
One must try to minimize as much as possible the limitations, and reduce the values. It is true that each person and each society has his or its own set of values, but they must not be treated as absolute.
Everyone is free to be faithful to a set of individual and collective ceremonies and customs, but he must not allow a certain manner to be regarded as a social value and let it interfere in politics, economy and law. Man is free to conduct any transaction he wants and to produce anything he wants.
He can use any kind of labor in any manner, and as much as possible he must be free in economy. There must be no restriction in choosing profitable transaction whether it involves usury or not. As much as possible, the worker must be given work and the length of time of his work must not be fixed so that the capitalist could earn more profit and income.
Concerning the labor wage, they say that the lower its level is, the better. Accordingly, fairness, compassion and justice are essentially discordant with liberalism.
The liberal man must think of advancing his economic interests. Of course, expediencies demand that sometimes law must be observed so as to avoid chaos and disorder. But the crux of the matter is that man must behave the way he likes. He is also free in choosing his mode of dressing, and should he wish he could even be nude, and there is no problem for that. No one should restrain him.
Of course, sometimes the particular social conditions impose restraint on the individuals such that if they want to be totally nude, the people will revile and vilify, and cannot tolerate them. This is a different story, otherwise no law is supposed to impose limit on man on how he would dress himself, whether his attire is short or long, limited or not, and whether the man or woman is stripped or not.
Based on liberalism, man must be free, and the relationship between man and woman must be free as much as possible. Only in case that in the society extreme conditions emerged that would end up in tumult that freedom must be checked to some extent. This is the bound and ultimate point of freedom. Yet, unless it reached the limit, the man and woman are free to have relationship in whatever manner they like, whenever and however they please. It is the same case on the political issues, so on and so forth.
The principle is that no condition or circumstance must limit man, unless it is necessary. This is the basis of liberalism, and as we have said the three pillars of humanism, secularism and liberalism constitute the triple edifices of the Western culture, which play a vital role in the lawmaking.