The Profanity of a Profane World
To understand the rebellious nature of fallen man, it is important to first understand his “created” nature and the fact that he is not the cause of his own existence. Man exists, but then so do dogs.The modern era in which we find ourselves is unlike any other era in the history of the world. From the very beginning of human history, the greatest and most intelligent men of every epoch have given credence to the existence of worlds and beings beyond this physical realm and have posited an Absolute Being who is at once the Origin and Destination of all things. It is only now – in the last few centuries – that man has found not only “reason” to doubt the things that his forefathers saw to be certain and sacred but has also discovered the “courage” to break from tradition and, by standing on his own two feet, has had the audacity to deny the very existence of anything sacred. The roots of this newfound “enlightenment” of man can be traced to his predilection to rebel against his Creator, individually speaking, and to the effects of the Fall of man, on the level of society and civilization. A thorough examination of these roots reveals the fact that modern “reason” is nothing other than the obfuscation of metaphysical insight and vision or, at best, the vestiges of the sacred Intellect deposited in man; and the much touted “courage” is really foolhardiness and merely the masked rebelliousness of Promethean man.
To understand the rebellious nature of fallen man, it is important to first understand his “created” nature and the fact that he is not the cause of his own existence. Man exists, but then so do dogs. What separates man from other creatures is his ability to reflect on and intellectualize his “own” existence. Upon doing so, he discovers that in himself and by himself he is nothing, and that his existence is nothing but the consequence of his connection with the Source of all existence. Just as a ray of light radiating from the sun has no independent existence, so too man is an effusion of Divine Being. But when man does not use his intellect and does not see in this essential way, he begins to imagine that his existence is real and that he is a “something” in its own right. Such a skewed view of reality results in a corresponding deviation of human will. Fallen man in this new and modern fashion of “seeing” now starts to appropriate powers and rights for himself that he previously saw as a trust from Heaven which he had to safeguard and be true to. As he is now the measure of all things, he is also the sole criterion of human activity, and henceforth, only he decides what is to be done and what is not to be done – a bona fide rebel without a cause.
It is when man is rebellious and a renegade from heaven that he does not see the need for mediums and conduits of grace that connect him with the Source of all being and all grace. He balks at authority – spiritual or mundane – and hopes to go it on his own. Unwilling to see anything beyond his own self, he fails to transcend his limited and relative reality and becomes a prisoner of his body and a slave of his carnal desires. Sensing this and the futility of his situation, he becomes desperate, and in an occasional act of vulgarity, lashes out at the very sources of grace and sanctity that could save him from himself and his dire situation. Hence, it is not a coincidence that profanity and blasphemy aimed at holy personalities are commonly observed in our modern era. But arguably that which is worse than the verbal or pictorial blasphemies is the general attitude of indifference and nonchalance that modern men have adopted towards religion and the sacred. It is one thing to vent “hatred” towards sacred realities; it is quite another to totally ignore them. In this vein, the very act of living a modern, liberal, secular life that is “untouched” by religion is the greatest of blasphemies.
Turning now to the social plane, it is the general conditions of the Fall which bear heavily upon modern man’s inability to have faith in God and the men of God. To explain, in opposition to the cult of progress that modern man subscribes to, traditional religious doctrines have always seen man’s entry into this world to be a fall from a higher realm to lower and lower ones. They speak of a degression, not progression. On the noetic plane, they hold that since the former generations of men had more of a direct access to Revelation and the vision of the prophet through whom the religion was established, the later ones – due to their distance and the entropic conditions of the Fall – have more difficulty in “seeing” the truth. They need to be helped from the outside, so to speak. They require aids to achieve the vision and intellection of the former generations. These aids and “artificial” constructs are providentially provided and are a part and parcel of the religious tradition as a whole. So while they are in reality instruments which compensate for the overall decline, they are seen ostensibly as “developments”. After the initial vision, there is for instance the development in the religious universe and orthodoxy of a doctrine, theology, ideology, sociology, and political system.
For a time, the constructs, ones that pertain to a discursive and rational understanding of religious truths, were satisfactory and sufficient, as reason was still based on higher levels of the intellect, and the sense of the sacred and holy was still alive and strong in traditional societies. Further on this was not the case, and reason was increasingly divorced from its higher principle – namely the sacred intellect or al-Aql al-Qudsi – and a purely human rationality came to take its place, a rationality that insisted that all aspects of being fall within the pale of its discursive and deductive methods. This led to the absolutization of the said constructs – things which are in principle relative – leading to their solidification, irrelevance, and eventual impotence. This in turn opened a Pandora’s Box of religious criticism, after which there was nothing sacred left. All things were to be dissected by man’s rational faculty and pronounced as dead after the event. Indeed, God himself was pronounced as dead at the scene of the crime that modernity represents.
Man without a sense of the Absolute is a man that is bewildered and distraught amongst countless relativities. In a world where there is no Sacred, everything is profane. In a profane world, profanity is indistinguishable from truth and noble speech worthy of man and his divine origins. Without such distinctions, man is free to bark everything and anything that comes out of his mouth, not realizing that the very freedom of will that he uses to express his profanity is only made possible by the existence of the sacred and supreme will of his Creator. Hence the profound statement of Meister Eckhart, “the more he blasphemes, the more he praises God” rings true in our day more than in any other. But the final word must be from the Master of Eckhart, Jesus (peace be upon him) who said:
“Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.” (Matthew 18:7)
Shaikh Shuja Ali Mirza is a graduate of the University of Toronto. For the past 18 years, he has been studying at the Islamic seminary in Qom, where he is currently completing coursework at the Kharij level.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally written as a comment on the article “Danish cartoons and the sacred“ at the blog Islam from Inside.