Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
Morality is generally defined as principles relating to right and wrong and the distinction between them especially as it relates to individual and collective human behaviour. As we rise away in perspective from the different instances of moral structures encountered across cultures it becomes necessary to look at morality in a more generalized way, as what constitutes good and bad in general. What is the distinction between right and wrong? At some point when things are seen from a sufficiently high perspective, variations in specific interpretations of morality melt away and seemingly vanish while the principles which underlie specific instances of morality emerge. And if the perspective is sufficiently elevated, then is morality, in the usual sense, even relevant?
From the level of Divinity, what is the relevance of morality. Is God truly Omnipotent and Omniscient or is morality something higher to which God must conform? It seems absurd to ask such a question. If God is the one in whom all opposites coincide, if He is the One who is above place, time, form, contingency, differentiation, and limit, then how can morality or a moral framework that applies to human beings apply to Him. These aspects would melt away as a Divine perspective rises above all limited, contingent perspectives. Otherwise, we are left with our human definitions, which must necessarily carry within them the limitations of our perspectives. Since we are limited contingent creatures hemmed in by physical, mental, historical, societal, civilizational limits, our perspective is necessarily delimited in numerous ways. But God, in the Islamic perspective, is not just free of the limits which hem in our minds, but is beyond all limits of which we can conceive, like a singularity beyond which we cannot see and beyond which our minds cannot penetrate. Whatever happens within the Divine essence is concealed from us and whatever we speculate about this matter is a projection of our limitations since we are encompassed within a system whose boundaries we cannot escape. It is a mistake to definitively define God and His perspective based on our own limitations. It is because of this recognition of human limitations that a negative theology (via negativa) concerning Divinity exists to balance out the positive theology which describes God from the perspective of His nearness to creation.
“He fashions (kayyaf) 'howness' (kayfiyyah), so it is not said of Him, 'How?' (kayf); He determines (ayyan) the 'where' (ayn), so it is not said of Him, 'Where?' (ayn)….places encompass Him not…measures gauge Him not…standards judge Him not. Impossible is it for imaginations (awham) to fathom Him, understandings (afham) to comprehend Him, or minds (adhhan) to imagine Him…. No limit is attributed to Him, no similitude struck for Him and nothing veiled from Him. High indeed is He exalted above the striking of similitudes and above created attributes.” (hadith from “A Shi’ite Anthology”)
The Qur’an says, “He (God) does what He wants (wishes).” (Qur’an 22:17) Other verses also indicate His uniqueness in this regard: “Do not invent similitudes for God. Surely God knows (the true nature of things) and you do not know.” (Qur’an 16:74) “There is nothing whatsoever like Him.” (Qur’an 42:11) He is utterly unique and cannot be compared to anything in creation or anything that is contingent.
Moral frameworks must begin to operate on levels lower than the Divine essence.
In the realm of creation, as a descent begins from the Divine essence to the levels of creation, systemic frameworks, rules of operation arise. Creation is not chaos, but consists of emergent interacting complex systems, arising from principles and rules embedded into the systems and the individual components of the system. According to religion, this is by means of the Divine Will which bestows on things their contingent nature and which sustains and supports that nature through a process of complex interactions and causality that leads to structure and coherence and balanced systems. According to a secular scientific view, this would be by means of an inherent nature which sorts itself out through fine-tuned complex interactions that lead to structure and coherence. Science has no choice but to leave the question of ultimate origins alone and can, in its current form, really look only at the interacting mechanics of the physical universe. Religion indicates that everything from the Divine essence down is a symbol that reflects or has imprinted within it higher archetypes and principles of operation. Everything in this world has woven into it the participation and connection in that Divine structure that descends and shapes and permeates creation.
“Nor is there anything but it glorifies Him with praise….” (Qur’an 17:44)
Morality emerges from frameworks that operate within creation. According to science it would have only a biological/historical/cultural origin. According to religion, it would have a Divine origin through connection to the frameworks and principles manifested in creation. These frameworks also exist within the human realm to guide human behaviour according to rules or principles that have (or are meant to have) an operational effect on collective and individual behavior and to bring human behavior into balance with the larger frameworks.
These frameworks emerge from God, according to religion. God ordains first, for Himself, certain characteristics or principles of action. For example, the Qur’an states, “He has ordained for Himself Mercy.” (Qur’an 6:54). Here God has placed a constraint upon His own self which implies that all that issues from Him has an ultimate underlying foundation and endpoint of mercy, whether that is visible to us or not in the moment by moment details of life within the constraints of space and time. Although God can do what He wants, He ordains or imposes certain principles on Himself with regard to creation.
What there is in God’s essential nature that causes Him to do so remains a mystery concealed from the reach of our minds. Perhaps it is connected to the creative endeavor. In order to create, He contemplates all the infinite possibilities implicit in creation and then sets, for Himself, certain underlying principles or limits to ensure the best possible outcome. The purpose is not chaos but a coherent creation, so rules that set limits are required. And the nature of these rules impact all of creation at all levels, from the Divine principle on down to our material world. So here, in God’s ordaining mercy upon Himself, is a principle that affects the unfolding of morality as it emerges structurally within creation.
Other general principles are issued at the level of moral commands. For example, “My Lord has commanded justice….” (Qur’an 7:29). And there are the numerous names of God, which can be seen as principles of relationship between God and creation as well as within the complex web of the created world. They can be thought of as active principles that emerge from the Divine and filter down into the systems or structures of existence, such that adherence to these moral principles aligns, balances, or harmonizes with the systems operating within existence. Just as principles of physics and mathematics and biology operate in the material world, accompanying these are principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, spiritual principles that permeate creation at the level of mind, selfhood, and society. Acting in opposition to these principles result in subtle disharmony or a throwing out of balance and therefore the generation of the possibility of existential crises that gradually grow within the system the longer the opposition to these principles continues.
If morality and moral commands indeed emerge from an existential framework that originates at the level of Divinity and then structurally emerges or manifests in the systems operating in the world of existence, then moral frameworks and moral intents that are fully embedded with social and individual systems are unavoidable.
Interestingly, Adam emerges from paradise into the lower material world only after having knowledge of the names woven into his being. “And He taught Adam the names (nature/values) of all things.” (Qur’an 2:31) Since human beings are part and parcel of the created world, they have embedded within them the ability to derive, know, and understand, principles and values. “Our Lord is He Who gave to everything its creation, then guided it (within the systems of existence) to its goal.” Moral principles at the human level would then emerge repeatedly in historic time since these archetypal qualities would, at some level, be imprinted within human nature and be projected and manifested to some extent within human societies. With them, human actions and the configuration of society would be in conformation with Divine principles, with the truth that emanates from God, such that each aspect of creation is given its proper due and receives proper due. Without them the result would be a series of moral and existential crises as human will and desire clashes futilely, to its own detriment, against the very architecture of existence. Human will and desire manifest, not only through individual moral choice and behaviour, but through the social, economic, governmental, military, educational, psychological, and numerous other structures that shape our lives communally. There can be harmony or there can be dissonance between these structures and the moral frameworks or principles built into creation as a whole. Usually there will be some combination of harmony and dissonance. When the dissonance grows beyond a balancing point, both societal and individual crises can quickly spiral out of control.
Since humans are part and parcel of the larger architecture of creation, they would have to overthrow, or cover over their own nature in order to rebel, to actively ignore principle and give priority to their own will or desire. In doing so they would be engaging in a sort of living suicide, demolishing core aspects of their own self in the course of such a pursuit. As the Qur’an says, “So set your face (your direction) for religion as one who is by their primordial nature (fitrah) upright - that nature structured by Allah, with which He has created humankind. There is no altering (the architecture and systems of) Allah's creation. That is the right and balanced religion (way/system), but most of humankind know not.” (Qur’an 30:30) Knowledge of the nature of existence, of its connection with principles that emerge from the Divine, and knowledge of good and evil and the ability to choose between them is subtly present and active within the human configuration.
Created things operate within a world infused with frameworks, which like a network of active links connects all created things to their Divine origin. On the human plane, the condition of an individual or a society depends on whether the link is sought out or not. What is the level of connectedness or disconnectedness - what predominates - disconnection or connection.
“They know only an outward appearance of this lower life, but are heedless of the higher realms.” (Qur’an 30: 7)
“It is He who deadens and enlivens.” (Qur’an 53:44) Souls wither and the good within them dies through opposition to the fitrah, through opposition to the moral framework and the accompanying conscience, through opposition or turning away from the pathways, links, and structures that connect existence to Him. He enlivens hearts when the hearts seek harmony with Him and act in awareness of the frameworks that operate within the realm of the created world. It is a losing game, an ultimately suicidally destructive game to shut oneself or one’s society off from that which courses through all of existence, which gives existence its shape, its architecture, its structure, its quality, its balance and harmony, its truth. A dissonant, unbalanced humanity that is disconnected from the qualitative aspects of existence and from the values and morality that must necessarily emerge from and be bound to the frameworks operating within creation, will deprive themselves of participation in a profoundly interconnected creation, every aspect of which descends from transcendence and offers a connecting link, a rope, to its Divine origin.
“Surely We created humankind in the highest stature….” (Qur’an 95:4) “….and We know what his soul whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than the jugular vein.” (Qur’an 50:16)
1 – Nietzsche and Morality
Nietzsche recognized religion as the source of morality and realized that a rejection of it and therefore of God was necessary for his superman or overman to become a possibility. “God is such an obvious and crass solution; a solution which is a sheer indelicacy to us thinkers - at bottom He is really nothing but a coarse commandment against us: ye shall not think!” (from Nietzche’s “Why I am so Wise”) Perhaps Nietzsche was not so much concerned with rejection of God as creating a philosophical outlook that made God utterly irrelevant, and thereby make morality irrelevant. It is to his credit that he recognized that morality emerged from religion and religious principle - that morality is intimately connected to religion - (he was especially focused on Christianity as a limiting force for humanity). Therefore, a rejection of religion in the traditional sense was necessary for humans to move to the next state. The superman cannot and must not be constrained by God and morality but must dethrone God and become the source, through will and desire, of a new anti-morality, cut free from limits and tied primarily to a will to power.
“What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome. Not contentedness but more power; not peace but war; not virtue but fitness.” (from Nietzche’s “The Antichrist”) There must be no morality of the kind embedded in religion, as this is the greatest hinderance to the emergence of a humankind that must, in their supposed maturity, disconnect from traditional morality, and engage in a revaluation, or transvaluation of all previous values. For Nietzsche, this is what must define the future world, a world in which all previous hindrances, moralities, and values can and must be overthrown. The erasure of all existing values and the opening up of all desires simply because one desires it, free from all constraints was the brave new world that was envisaged. Whereas Dostoevsky warned that “Without God all things become permissible”, Nietzsche embraced and sought this outcome so that the new man he envisioned (the superman who was free of all moral constraints) could come about - and he believed that through his philosophy this is the future that humanity would choose.
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