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In our earlier paper The Sikh Worldview, we indicated an outline of the Sikh whole-life system, and its place among the religions of the world. After the rise of Christianity during the time of the Roman Empire and the latter’s subsequent fall, the question of Religion versus Empirical or Secular life arose. The issue came to the surface when after the Enlightenment, Renaissance and the rise of Science, Religion came to be increasingly marginalised. In this historical context two views are held. Some historians attribute the fall of the Graeco-Roman culture to the advent of Christianity. Others do not agree with this view and feel that the rise of Science and Technology has led to revival of the Graeco-Roman ideal of the national and parochial states.

In the twentieth century, apart from the two world wars and their holocausts, five other developments have taken place. First is the phenomenon of Hitler, Stalin, Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Second is the call of the North American Churches that consider Secularism to be a danger and suggest co-operation among different world religions to fight out its menace. Third is the fall of the Russian Empire and a part of the Communist world, an ideological development that the light of reason had placed before man. Fourth is the coming into existence of Secular national states with their own civil religions. Fifth is the rise of religious nationalism in many non-Western parts of the world and increasing tensions, even hostility, between Secular and Religious states. It is in this background of the history of the apparent opposition or even clash between Religion and Secularism that we propose to see the role and the views of Sikhism.

The current and real problem today is Religion versus Secularism. The Western world, as a whole, is wedded to Secularism. This view strongly believes that Religion, as such, has hardly any contribution to make to man’s secular life, and, by and large, it pertains to a matter of personal salvation and relation between man and God. In fact, it considers the intrusion of Religion into Secular life to be something quite negative in its impact.

This view is virtually accepted by the Amercian Society of Arts and Sciences that has initiated the Fundamentalisms Project in order to study the rise of religious movements in the world, which are many a time national in character. The West regards them as Fundamentalisms that impede the Secular progress and look backwards. Mark Juergensmyer in his latest book, The New Cold War, also seeks to present, on a smaller scale, the same problem of Secular nationalism versus Religious nationalism. His assessment is that a virtual war has started between the two ideologies, as had earlier been the case between Democracy and Communism. The question now is as to what is the historical experience of man about the equation between the Religious and Secular lives, and what is the position of Sikhism in this context.

Historical Perspective
From the angle of thought, there are three ways of looking at the problem. The Secularist way, the Christian view of the matter, and, third, the Sikh understanding of the issue.

The secularist view was first well presented by Gibbon in his classic work, Fall of the Roman Empire. Historians like Sir James Frazer and men of thought, like Bertrand Russell, wholly, or partly, endorse this view. Challenging the view of Gibbon and Sir James Frazer, Arnold Toynbee, in his Burge Memorial Lecture at Oxford, has presented the Christian point of view. Many Modernists, including numerous scientists, who do not believe in the existence of a Transcendental Reality, hold the Secularist view. For them, four values, namely, the entity of the individual, freedom, human rights and democracy are basic to the progress of man, and all thinking has led to it. Two criticisms of religious life are common. First, that it tends to be otherworldly, and, second, that in the social field, while sometimes emphasising communitarian values, it downgrades the individual personality of man and his capacity for creativity.

Instead of tracing the long and chequered history of this tension between the Religious and Secular views, for the sake of our brief presentation, we shall, on the one hand, refer primarily to the views of Gibbon and Frazer, and, on the other hand, to those of Toynbee. All of them are noted authorities in their own fields. It is true that both these expositions relate essentially and largely to the Western historical context. It may be objected that we are ignoring the Eastern context. Although the criticism is partly correct, yet, for all practical purposes, the discussion will have to be related mainly to the realities as they are today, especially because the invasions of Western thought and systems in the East, in the form of Communism, Dictatorship, or Democracy, have been very large. In China and some other countries of the East, Communism, a Western Secular ideology, stands accepted. The Indian land mass in its Constitution also accepts the Western Secularist-cum-democratic model. Islamic countries are the only major group that are holding to the views of Religious Nationalism. Thus, one reason for our taking up the examination of Western history is the overwhelming dominance of Western culture in the world. The second reason is that by the very examination of the problem of Religion versus Secularism, we accept the presentation of all views opposed to Secularism. Nor can we ignore the reality that Science and Technology, which have their own cultural implications, have been accepted by almost all Eastern countries including leaders like Japan.

Gibbon’s Views (1737-1794)
Gibbon believes that the Graeco-Roman civilisation represented a universal and thoughtful culture and was at its peak in the age of the Antonines, but after the death of Emperor Marcus, because of Christian influences, the Roman Empire went into decline. “All the values that I, Gibbon, and my kind care for, began then to be degraded. Religion and barbarism began to triumph. This lamentable state of affairs continued to prevail for hundreds and hundreds of years; and then, a few generations before my time, no longer ago than the close of the seventeenth century, a rational civilisation began to emerge again.” Thus, Gibbon’s view is that the age of the Antonines in the second century CE was the peak of the Roman Empire and its decline started after that period, which synchronises with the rise of Christianity. Its influence worked to the detriment of the Graeco-Roman culture, leading to its enervation and fall before the barbarian invasions. He concludes that not only Christianity was the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, but it was also the reason for the setting in of the subsequent Dark Ages in Europe. This view is also held by Bertrand Russell : “It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence (He is particularly referring to the approach of St. Augustine, one of the greatest exponents of the Christian Gospel and author of City of God) before the dark ages were concerned not with saving civilisation or expelling the barbarians or reforming abuses of the Administration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damnation of unbaptised infants. Seeing that these were the pre-occupations that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition.” Russell asserts that the otherworldly Christian world-view not only arrested the expansion of the ideas and ethos represented by the Roman Empire, which earlier had given its cultural gifts to the world, but also led to a long period of European history which was marked by bigotry, murders, massacres, pogroms, inquisitions, ghettos and the like. All this was subversive to the growth of an ethical culture, much less to a universal culture. For, the basic belief was of individual salvation in Heaven with the back to the Secular world of man.

Sir James Frazer has also expressed the contrasted impacts of the two views : “Greek and Roman Society was built on conception of the subordination of the individual to the community, of the citizen to the state; it set the safety of the Commonwealth as the supreme aim of conduct, above the safety of the individual, whether in this world or in the world to come. Trained from infancy in this unselfish ideal, the citizens devoted their life to public service, and were ready to lay it down for the common good; or if they shrank from the supreme sacrifice, it never occurred to them they acted otherwise than basely in preferring their personal existence to the interests of the country. All this was changed by the spread of Oriental religions, which inculcated the communion of the soul with God and its eternal salvation as the only object worth living for, an object in comparison with which the prosperity and even the existence of the State sank into insignificance. The invariable result of this selfish and immoral doctrine was to withdraw the devotee more and more from public service, to concentrate his thoughts on his own spiritual promotion, and to breed in him a comtempt for the present life, which he regarded merely as probation for a better and eternal one. The saint and the recluse, disdainful of earth and rapt in ecstatic contemplation of heaven, became in the popular opinion the highest ideal of humanity, displacing the old ideal of the patriot and hero who, forgetful of self, lives and is ready to die for the good of his country. The earthly city seemed poor and contemptible to men whose eyes beheld the City of God coming in the clouds of Heaven.

“Thus the centre of gravity, so to say, was shifted from the present to a future life, and however much the other world may have gained, there can be little doubt that this one lost heavily by the change. A general disintegration of the body politic set in. The ties of the State and the family were loosened; the structure of society tended to resolve itself into its individual elements, and thereby to relapse into barbarism; for civilisation is only possible through the active co-operation of the citizens, and their willingness to subordinate their private interests to the common good. Men refused to defend their country and even to continue their kind. In their anxiety to save their own souls and the souls of others, they were content to leave the material world, which they identified with the principles of evil, to perish around them. This obsession lasted for a thousand years. The revival of Roman Law, of the Aristotelian philosophy, of ancient art and literature at the close of the Middle Ages, marked the return of Europe to native ideals of life and conduct, to saner, manlier views of the world. The long halt in the march of civilisation was over. The tide of Oriental invasions had turned at last. It is ebbing still.”

We have recorded above the views of two distinguished historians and an equally distinguished man of thought. Their conclusion based on their historical understanding is that the Roman Empire represented a sound and rational culture that was doubly enriching life by educating people in Europe in higher ethico-social living, and by extending the sphere of this higher culture to larger and larger parts of the world. But the rise of Christianity, coupled with its otherworldly approach and contempt of social values and life on earth, brought about, on the one hand, the fall of the Graeco-Roman culture and the arrest of its expansion, and, on the other hand, hastened the advent of the Dark Ages, steeped in superstition. This decline further led to the growth of corruption and cruelty in all spheres of life, religious, cultural and secular. Lest it should be understood that the above is a misinterpretation of the Christian view, it is relevant to quote the view of St. Augustine himself. For, Augustine’s City of God (426) attacked both Christians who expected the world to get better and pagans with a cyclic view of history. Augustine did not believe that the spread of Christianity would ensure political and economic improvement, “The earthly city of self-will will continue to exist amidst the rise and fall of states and empires.” For the Christians, the “good news” was that Christ’s martyrdom was an act of redemption that had secured their place in Heaven, which was going to be an event not far in the future.

Toynbee’s View (1889-1975)
In the historical period from the martyrdom of Christ to the present day, Toynbee accepts three facts. First, that the age of the Antonines and Emperor Marcus was a peak in the Graeco-Roman civilisation, although he asserts that it was a smaller peak in what was otherwise a period of decline of that culture. Second, he agrees that the rise and expansion of Christianity synchronises with the simultaneous decline of the Graeco-Roman culture. Third, as a believer, he laments the revival of the Graeco-Roman parochial States since the beginning of the eighteenth century. In his study of this period, Toynbee’s view is based on a number of assumptions, propositions and formulations. We shall discuss his views and their validity.

There is considerable substance in Toynbee’s first proposition that the Graeco-Roman civilisation was not at its height in the age of the Antonines, but for the earlier over 700 years it had already been on the decline, and the times of Marcus were just a small peak or a flicker in that long period. For, the emphatic other-worldliness of Christianity only reinforced the growing life-negation of the later period of the Greek culture, which since Pythagoras and Plato had already downgraded the reality and worth of this world : “The psychological preparation for the other-worldliness of Christianity begins in the Helenistic period and is connected with the eclipse of the City States. Down to Aristotle, Greek philosophers, though they might complain of this or that, were in the main not cosmically despairing, nor did they feel themselves politically impotent. They might at times belong to a beaten party, but, if so, their defeat was due to the chance or conflict, not to any inevitable powerlessness of the wise. Even those who like Pythagoras and Plato, in certain mood, condemned the world of appearance and sought escape in mysticism, had practical plans for turning the governing classes into saints and sages. When political power passed into the hands of the Macedonians, Greek philosophers, as was natural, turned aside from politics, and devoted themselves more to the problem of individual virtue and salvation. They no longer asked : How can men create a good state ? They asked instead : How can man be virtuous in a wicked world or happy in a world of suffering? The change, it is true, is only one of degree; such questions had been asked before, and the latest Stoics, for a time, again concerned themselves with politics — the politics of Rome, not of Greece. But the change was none-the-less real. Except to a limited extent during the Roman period of Stoicism, the outlook of those who thought and felt seriously became increasingly subjective and individualistic, until, at last, Christianity evolved a Gospel of individual salvation which inspired a missionary zeal and created the Church.” Undoubtedly, this other-worldliness in the Graeco-Roman culture increased in the time of Plotinus, a mystic, who only believed in contemplation and considered activity a fall. Greek thought had by then become almost completely otherworldly, and the social health and culture of Greek society was far from edifying. Russell writes about Plotinus; “He turned aside from the spectacle of ruin and misery in the actual world, to contemplate an eternal world of goodness and beauty. In this, he was in harmony with most serious men of his age. To all of them, Christians and pagans alike, the world of practical affairs seemed to offer no hope, and only the other world seemed worthy of allegiance. To the Christian, the other world was the Kingdom of Heaven, to be enjoyed after death; to the Platonists, it was the eternal world of ideas, the real world as opposed to that of illusory appearance. Christian theologians combined those points of view, and embodied much of the philosophy of Plotinus. Dean Inge, in his invaluable book on Plotinus, rightly emphasises what Christianity owes to him. “Platonism,” he says, “is part of the wider structure of Christian theology, with which no other philosophy, I venture to say, can work without friction.” “There is,” he says, “an utter impossibility of excising Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces. He points out that St Augustine speaks of Plato’s system as “the most pure and bright of all philosophy” and of Plotinus as a man in whom “Plato lived again,” and who, if he had lived a little later, would have “changed a few words and phrases and become Christian.” St Thomas Aquinas, according to Dean Inge, “is nearer to Plotinus than to the real Aristotle.” Plotinus, accordingly is historically important as an influence in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Catholic theology.” There is little doubt that except for the later period of Stoicism and the time of Marcus, when universal ideas took shape and equality of men, including slaves, was contemplated, the period of Greek civilisation, from Pythagoras down to Plotinus, was certainly of increasing other-worldliness and withdrawal. We shall consider this point about the Greek culture separately as well. Here we shall first state that Toynbee’s proposition and his reply to Gibbon’s arguments has certainly some validity.

The second proposition of Toynbee, which he himself seeks to demolish later, is that Higher Religions are a chrysalis between two civilisations. He suggests that Graeco-Roman culture being on the decline, Christianity acted as a Higher Religion that ultimately gave birth to two civilisations, the Byzantine and the Modern. He suggests that the collapse of Syrian and Egyptian civilisations gave rise to Higher religions of Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Similarly, the spiritual experience of Abraham was the fruit of the Fall of the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures. Later, for a number of reasons, he rejects his own proposition of Higher Religions being a chrysalis between two civilisations, one falling and the other rising. For, he does not find any Higher Religion intervening between the fall and rise of some earlier civilisations like Minian and the Graeco-Roman civilisations or between the Indus Valley culture and the Aryan culture. Second, he does not contemplate that the role of Higher Religion could just be subsidiary, namely, of being just a chrysalis or carrier between two civilisations.

His reluctance to accept this proposition could, perhaps, be due to the reason that as a Christian, it seemed difficult for him to comtemplate that Christianity has completed its natural course and purpose of a chrysalis and that after the fall of the present Modern civilisation, another Higher Religion would arise. On the other hand, while he cannot hide the receding role of Christianity in the Modern civilisation, he is disinclined to concede that Christianity is now past its historical utility. He, therefore, suggests a third proposition, saying that while rise and fall of civilisations is cyclic in character, the rise of Higher religions is progressive. Strangely and incongruously, while he considers that Judaism has been a base for Christianity, he is reluctant to concede any spiritual role for later Higher religions like Islam, or the disappearance of Christianity even though he agrees that it has a diminishing contribution to make in the Modern civilisation. Rather, he regards the fall of civilisation as a suffering, the purpose of which fall is to give rise to a Higher Religion.

In support of this he quotes the maxim, “It is through suffering that learning come,” and the verse in the New Testament, “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth; and scourgeth every son who He receiveth.” Thus, he now reverses the earlier proposition by saying that it is the fall of a civilisation which is subsidiary to the creation of a new spiritual experience of a Higher Religion. “The kingdoms of Israel and Juda were two of the many states of this ancient Syrian world; and it was a premature and permanent overthrow of these worldly commonwealths, and the extinction of all the political hopes which had been bound up with their existence as independent polities, that brought the religion of Judaism to birth and evoked the highest expression of its spirit in the Elegy of the Suffering Servant which is appended in the Bible in the book of Prophet Isaiah. Judaism, likewise, has a Mosaic root, which in its turn sprang from the withering of the second crop of the ancient Egyptian civilisation. I do not know whether Moses and Abraham are historical characters, but I think it can be taken as certain that they represent historical stages of religious experience, and Moses’ forefather and fore-runner, Abraham, received his enlightenment and his promise at the dissolution in the nineteenth or eighteenth century before Christ, of the ancient civilisation of Sumer and Akkad — the earliest case known to us, of a civilisation going to ruin. These men of sorrow were precursors of Christ; and the sufferings through which they won their enlightenment were Stations of the Cross in anticipation of the Crucifixion. That is, no doubt, a very old idea, but it is also an ever new one.”

“If religion is a chariot, it looks as if the wheels on which it mounts towards Heaven may be the periodic downfalls of civilisations on Earth. It looks as if the movement of civilisation may be cyclic and recurrent, while the movement of religion may be on a single continuous upward line. The continuous upward movement of religion may be served and promoted by the cyclic movement of civilisations round the cycle of birth-death-birth.

“If we accept this conclusion, it opens up what may seem a startling view of history. If civilisations are the handmaids of religion and if the Graeco-Roman civilisations served as a good handmaid to Christianity by bringing it to birth before that civilisation finally went to pieces, then the civilisations of the third generation may be vain repetitions of the Gentiles. If, so far from its being the historical function of Higher Religions to minister, as chrysalises, to the cyclic process of the reproduction of civilisations, it is the historical functions of civilisations to serve, by their downfalls, as stepping stones to a progressive process of the revelations of always deeper religious insight and the gift of ever more Grace to act on this insight, then the societies of the species called civilisations will have fulfilled their functions when once they have brought a mature Higher religion to birth; and, on this showing, our own Western post-Christian Secular civilisation might at best be a superfluous repetition of the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman one, and at worst a pernicious backsliding from the path of spiritual progress. In our Western world today, the worship of Leviathan — the self worship of the tribe — is a religion to which all of us pay some measure of allegiance; and this tribal religion is, of course, sheer idolatry. Communism, which is another of latter-day religions, is, I think, a leaf taken from the book of Christianity — a leaf torn out and misread. Democracy is another leaf from the book of Christianity, which has also, I fear, been torn out and, while perhaps not misread, has certainly been half emptied of meaning by being divorced from its Christian context and secularised; and we have obviously, for a number of generations past, been living on spiritual capital, I mean clinging to Christian practice without possessing the Christian belief — and practice unsupported by belief is a wasting asset, as we have suddenly discovered, to our dismay, in this generation.”

In fact, in the case of Christianity, Toynbee seems to assume that it marks the peak of spiritual progress and has a continuing role, it being a Higher Religious dispensation too recent to be superceded. Actually, he contemplates a universal role for Western civilisation and considers that just as the Roman Empire helped the expansion of Christianity, the Modern civilisation, too, preceded by its economic influence and expansion, would play a unifying role and create one world in which Christianity, as the successor of all Higher Religions and as enriched by the wisdom of spiritual experiences, would play an illuminating role as the carrier of His Grace : “Our modern Western Secular civilisation in its turn may serve its historical purpose by providing Christianity with a completely worldwide repetition of the Roman Empire to spread over. We have not quite arrived at our Roman Empire yet, though the victor in this war may be the founder of it. But, long before the world is unified politically, it is unified economically, and in other material ways; and unification of our present world has long since opened the way for Saint Paul, who once travelled from the Orontes to the Tiber under the aegis of the Pax Romana, to travel on from the Tiber to the Mississippi and from the Mississippi to the Yangtse, while Clement’s and Oregan’s work of infusing Greek philosophy into Christianity at Alexandria might be emulated in some city of the Far East by the infusion of Chinese philosophy into Christianity. This intellectual feat has indeed been partly performed already. One of the greatest of the modern missionaries and modern scholars, Matteo Ricci, who was both a Jesuit Father and a Chinese Literatus, set his hand to the task before the end of the sixteenth century of the Christian era. It is even possible that as, under the Roman Empire, Christianity drew out of and inherited from the other Oriental religions the heart of what was best in them, so the present religions of India and the form of Buddhism that is practised today in the Far East may contribute new elements to be grafted on to Christianity in the days to come. And then one may look forward to what may happen when Caesar’s Empire decays — for Caesar’s Empire always does decay after a run of a few hundred years. What may happen is that Christianity may be left as the spiritual heir of all the other Higher Religions, from the post-Sumerian rudiment of one in the worship of Tammuz and Ishtar down to those that in CE 1940 are still living separate lives side by side with Christianity, and of all the philosophies from Ikhnaton’s to Hegel’s; while the Christian Church, as an institution, may be left as the social heir of all the other churches and all the civilisations.”

“That side of the picture brings one to another question which is always old and ever — the question of the relation of the Christian Church to the Kingdom of Heaven. We seem to see a series of different kinds of societies succeeding one another in this World. As the primitive species of societies have given place to a second species, known as the civilisations, within the brief period of the last six thousand years, so the second species of local ephemeral societies may perhaps give place, in its turn, to a third species embodied in a single worldwide and enduring representative in the shape of the Christian Church. If we can look forward to that, we shall have to ask ourselves this question : Supposing that this were to happen, would it mean that the Kingdom of Heaven would then have been established on Earth ?”

We have already quoted Toynbee giving a negative reply to this question. While predicting a permanent spiritual role for Christianity, he has to concede its present lean position. “But I would agree with Frazer, and would ask him to agree with me that the tide of Christianity has been ebbing and that our post-Christian Western Secular civilisation that has emerged is a civilisation of the same order as the pre-Christian Graeco-Roman civilisation. This observation opens up a second possible view of the relation between Christianity and civilisation — not the same view as that held in common by Gibbon and Frazer, not the view that Christianity has been the destroyer of civilisations, but an alternative view in which Christianity appears in the role of the humble servant of civilisation.” Because of this decline, he is very concerned and unhappy at the consequent rise of the national Secular States :

“On this political plane, the renaissance revived the Graeco-Roman worship of parochial states as goddesses; and it did this all the more insiduously because it did it unavowedly, out of deference to the West’s Christian path (the Greeks had deified Athens and Sparta consciously and frankly). This unavowed worship of parochial states was by far the most prevalent religion in the Western world in CE 1956. Even the experience of the rise and fall of Hitler’s Europe and the menace of Russian Communism have hardly begun to shake the hold of nation worship over Western hearts; and the Graeco-Roman inspiration of this Modern Western nationalism is ominous, because we know, from the long since concluded history of the Graeco-Roman civilisation, that this form of idolatory was the main cause of that civilisation’s breakdown and disintegration. The erosion of the West’s traditional common institutions and common outlook by Nationalism has been progressive. The unity of the clergy in Western Christendom was broken by the Reformation.”

Toynbee’s third formulation that rise and fall of Higher Religions is progressive suggests clear dichotomy between the spiritual and secular worlds. But it also leads to corollaries that are self-contradictory. Apart from the fact that there is not much of an historical evidence to show that the fall of civilisations is subsidiary or necessary to the rise of a Higher Religion, it, at the same time, assumes a contingent relationship between the two courses of history, since it is the fall of a civilisation that gives rise to a higher religion. Equally self-contradictory is the connected argument that it is “suffering” that leads to “spiritual progress,” meaning thereby that the two events, one in the secular or mundane world and the other in the spiritual world, are intimately related. But if there is dichotomy between the two worlds, and they are independent spheres of movement, it is so incongruous to assume that an event of suffering in the mundane world can be essentially effective in the spiritual world.

The fourth formulation of the learned author is a virtual endorsement of St Augustine’s thesis, in City of God, of complete dichotomy between the spiritual and empirical worlds quoted earlier. Toynbee first raises the question whether the empirical world will improve, and then answers it in the negative, as did St Augustine : “As the primitive species of societies has given place to a second species, known as the civilisations, within the brief period of the last six thousand years, so the second species of local and ephemeral societies may perhaps give place, in its turn, to a third species embodied in a single worldwide and enduring representative in the shape of the Christian Church. If we can look forward to that, we shall have to ask ourselves this question : Supposing that this were to happen, would it mean that the Kingdom of Heaven would then have established on Earth ?

“I think this question is a very pertinent one in our day, because some kind of earthly paradise is the goal of most of the current secular ideologies. To my mind, the answer is emphatically ‘No,’ for several reasons, which I shall now do my best to put before you.

“One very obvious and well known reason lies in the nature of the society and in the nature of man. Society is, after all, only the common ground between the field of action of a number of personalities, and human personality, at any rate, as we know it in this World, has an innate capacity for evil as well as for good. If these statements are true, as I believe them to be, then in any society on Earth, unless and until human nature itself undergoes a moral mutation which would make an essential change in the character, the possibility of evil as well as of good, will be born into the world afresh with every child, and will never be wholly ruled out as long as that child remains alive. This is as much as to say that the replacement of a multiplicity of civilisations by a universal church would not have purged human nature of original sins; and this leads to another consideration; so long as original sin remains an element in human nature, Caesar will always have work to do, and there will be Caesar’s things to be renderd to Caesar, as well as God’s to God, in this World. Human society on Earth will not be able wholly to dispense with institutions of which the sanction is not purely the individual’s active will to make them work, but it is partly habit and partly even force. These imperfect institutions will have to be administered by a secular Power, which might be subordinated to religious authority, but would not thereby be eliminated. And even if Caesar were not merely subordinated but wholly eliminated by the Church, something of him would still survive in the constitution of a supplanter; for the institutional element has historically up to date, been dominant in the life of the Church itself in her traditional Catholic form, which, on the long historical view, is the form in which one has to look at her.” He adds, “I have already confessed my own adherence to the traditional Christian view that there is no reason to expect any change in the unredeemed human nature, while human life on Earth goes on. Till this Earth ceases to be physically habitable by man, we may expect that the endowments of an individual human being with original sin and with natural goodness will be about the same, on the average, as they always have been as far as our knowledge goes. The most primitive societies known to us in the life or by report, provide examples of as great natural goodness as and no lesser wickedness than, the highest civilisations or religious societies that have yet come into existence. There has been no perceptible variation in the average sample of human nature in the past; there is no ground, in the evidence afforded by History to expect any great variation in the future either for better or for worse.” Evidently, Toynbee’s view on the future of the world, based on his interpretation of Christian theology, is quite dismal and pessimistic, if not similar to that of scientific materialists. For, he believes that even if the secular life were put under the control of the Church, the moral position would be no better. In fact, his and St Augustine’s stand about the fate of the secular world is, more or less, the same as that of Buddhism, that it is a place of suffering (dukh’) and that the only way out is nirvana. He quotes Plato to say that we live in a hazy world and can never see the Truth clearly : “We live,” Plato suggests, “in a large but local hollow, and what we take to be the air, is really a sediment of fog. If one day we could make our way to the upper levels of the surface of the Earth, we should there breathe the pure ether and should see the light of the sun and the stars direct; and then we should realise how dim and blurred our vision is down in the hollow, where we see the heavenly bodies, through the murky atmosphere in which we breathe as imperfectly as the fishes see them through the waters in which they swim.”

Thus, according to the Christian view, no progress can be envisaged in the secular life of man which is deemed to be a cycle of growth and destruction. For, progress can be only in the spiritual field or in seeking and obtaining personal salvation. The main reason for its justification is the theological assumption that man is born with original sin. This being man’s constitutional weakness, it is his basic and unalterable legacy. Thus follows Toynbee’s interpretation that secular progress is cyclic and spiritual progress is linear. This inference, though arbitrary and self-contradictory, is a logical deduction of the dichotomous view of life and the separation of the spheres of spiritual and secular developments.

However, the formulation raises a new query, and its answer Toynbee gives in his fifth formulation. The question arises as what is the relevance of spiritual progress if the empirical life remains unaffected by it ? And what is the meaning of the Christian prayers : “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven,” and “For our daily bread.” Toynbee’s lengthy explanation follows: “In the first place, religious progress means spiritual progress, and spirit means personality. Therefore, religious progress must take place in the spiritual lives of personalities if it must show itself in their rising to a spiritually higher state and spiritually fine activity. Now, in assuring that this individual progress is what spiritual progress means, are we after all admitting Frazer’s thesis that Higher Religions are essentially and incurably anti-social ? Does a shift of human interest and energy from trying to create the values aimed at in the civilisations to trying to create the values aimed at in the Higher Religions mean that the values for which the civilisations stand are bound to differ ? Are social and spiritual values antithetical and inimical to each other ? Is it true that the fabric of civilisation is undermined if the salvation of the individual soul is taken as the supreme aim of life ?”

Again he says, “And if God’s Love has gone into action in This World in the Redemption of mankind by Christ, then man’s effort to make himself liker to God must include efforts to follow Christ’s example in sacrificing himself for the redemption of his fellow men. Seeking and following God in this way that is God’s way is the only true way for a human soul on Earth to seek salvation. The antithesis between trying to save one’s own soul by seeking and following God and trying to do one’s duty towards one’s neighbour, is therefore, wholly false. The two activities are indissoluble. The human soul that is truly seeking to save itself, is as fully social a being as the ant-like Spartan or the bee-like Communist. Only the Christian soul on earth is a member of a very different society from Sparta or Leviathan. He is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and, therefore, his paramount and all-embracing aim is to attain the highest degree of communion and likeness to God Himself; his relations with his fellow men are consequences of and corollaries to his relations with God; and his way of loving his neighbour as himself will be to try to help his neighbour to win what he is seeking for himself — that is, to come into closer communion with God and to become more God-like. If this is the soul’s recognised aim for itself and for its fellow souls in the Christian Church Militant on Earth, then it is obvious that under a Christian dispensation God’s Will will be done on earth as it is in Heaven to an immeasurable greater degree than in a secular mundane society. It is also evident that in the Church Militant on Earth the good social aims of the mundane society will incidentally be achieved very much more successfully than they ever had been or can be achieved in a mundane society which aims at these objects direct, and at nothing higher. In other words, the spiritual progress of individual souls in this life will in fact bring with it much more social progress than could be attained in any other way. It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself, but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”

He goes still further to clarify his position : “The matter in which there might be spiritual progress in time on a time-span extending over many successive generations of life on Earth, is not the unregenerate nature of man, but the opportunity open to souls, by way of the learning that comes through suffering for getting into closer communion with God, and becoming less unlike Him, during their passage through This World. What Christ, with Prophets before Him and the Saints after Him, has bequeathed to the Church, and what the Church, by virtue of having been fashioned into an incomparably effective institution, succeeds in accumulating, preserving and communicating to successive generations of Christians, is a growing fund of illumination and of grace — meaning by ‘illumination’ the discovery or revelation or revealed discovery of the true nature of God and the true end of man here and hereafter, and by ‘grace,’ the will or inspiration or inspired will to aim at getting into closer communion with God and becoming less unlike Him. In this matter of increasing spiritual opportunity for souls in their passages through life on Earth, there is assuredly an inexhaustible possibility of progress in This World. Is the spiritual opportunity given by Christianity, or by one or the other of Higher Religions that have been forerunners of Christianity and have partially anticipated Christianity’s gifts of illumination and grace to men on Earth, an indispensable condition for salvation — meaning by ‘salvation’ the spiritual effect on soul of feeling after God and finding Him in its passage through life on Earth ? If this were so, then the innumerable generations of men who never had the chance of receiving the illumination and grace conveyed by Christianity and the other Higher Religions would have been born and have died without a chance of the salvation which is the true end of man and the true purpose of life on Earth. This might be conceivable, though still repugnant, if we believe that the true purpose of life was not the preparation of souls for another life, but the establishment of the best possible human society in This World, which in the Christian belief is not the true purpose, though it is an almost certain byproduct of a pursuit of the true purpose. If progress is taken as being the social progress of Leviathan and not the spiritual progress of individual souls, then it would perhaps be conceivable that for the gain and glory of the body social, innumerable earlier generations should have been doomed to live a lower social life in order that a higher social life might eventually be lived by successors who had entered into their labours. This would be conceivable on the hypothesis that individual souls existed for the sake of society, and not for their own sakes or for God’s. But this belief is not only repugnant but is also inconceivable when we are dealing with the history of religion, where the progress of individual souls through This World towards God and not the progress of society in This World is the end on which the supreme value is set. We cannot believe that the historically incontestible fact that illumination and grace have been imparted to men on Earth in successive instalments, beginning quite recently in history of the human race on Earth, and even then coming gradually in the course of generations, can have entailed the consequences that the vast majority of souls born into the world up to date who have had no share in this spiritual opportunity have, as a result, been spiritually lost. We must believe that the possibilities provided by God of learning through suffering in this world have always afforded a sufficient means of salvation to every soul that has made the best of spiritual opportunity offered to it here, however small that opportunity may have been. But if men on Earth have not had to wait for the advent of Higher religions, culminating in Christianity, in order to qualify, in their life on Earth, or eventually attaining, after death the state of eternal felicity in the Other World, then what difference has the advent on Earth of the Higher religion, and of Christianity itself, really made ? This difference, I should say, is this, that, under the Christian dispensation, a soul which does make the best of its spiritual opportunities, will, in qualifying for salvation be advancing farther towards communion with God and towards likeness to God under the conditions of life on Earth, before death, than has been possible for souls that have not been illuminated during the pilgrimage on Earth by the light of the Higher Religions. A pagan soul, no less than a Christian soul, has ultimate salvation within his reach; but a soul which has been offered and has opened itself to the illumination and the grace that Christianity conveys, will, while still in This World, be more brightly irradiated with the light of the Other World than a pagan soul that has won salvation by making the best in this world of the narrower opportunities here open to it. The Christian soul can attain while still on Earth a greater measure of man’s greater good than can be attained by any pagan soul in this earthly stage of its existence.”

Toynbee’s final formulation stresses that Christian belief, even though it is dichotomous, and envisages and involves virtually no change in the empirical life, yet makes for a tremendous progress in the opportunities available for spiritual growth. We wonder if Toynbee’s long and laboured expressions could, in any manner, be considered impressive in its logic. In any case, he has no answer to Frazer’s argument of fall in social values after the rise of Christianity. For, all values are a corollary of the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the consequent brotherhood of man, and the love of your neighbour as yourself. It was these values and the related aspects of life which Emperor Marcus had emphasised. But as Russell has stated, it was exactly this doctrine and its values that were flagrantly flouted in the period of the rise of Christianity. It was the corruption and the fall in morals that ultimately led first to the emergence of national states, and the subordination of the Church to it, and later to the marginalisation of religion which Toynbee rightly considers a calamity or a decline. Historically, there is no evidence to suggest that there has been any marked spiritual progress since the rise of Christianity in the West. On the other hand, both Gibbon and Frazer have given ample evidence to show the increasing fall of social values in the Christian societies. And it is also on record that the rule of Muslim kings in Europe was more tolerant and humane than that of the Christian rulers. Strangely, Toynbee’s analysis hardly takes into account the rise and impact of Islam as a Higher Religion. The very fact that since the 18th century, religion, the only source of human values, has increasingly been eliminated from the secular life of the Western world, shows its diminishing impact in this field. The twentieth century, with its phenomenon of two world wars and of its secular rulers killing millions of their own citizens, has alarmed all thinking persons.

Toynbee himself writes : “The release of atomic energy by Western technology in CE 1945 has had three effects on Western technician’s position. After having been undeservedly idolised, for a quarter of a millennium as the good genius of Mankind, he has now suddenly found himself undeservedly execrated as an evil genius who has released from his bottle a jinn that may perhaps destroy human life on Earth. This arbitrary change in the technicians’s outward fortunes is a severe ordeal, but his loss of popularity has not hit him so hard, as his loss of confidence in himself. Till 1945, he believed, without a doubt, that the results of his work were wholly beneficial. Since 1945, he has begun to wonder whether his professional success may not have been a social and moral disaster. He has realised that the power he has been capturing from Nature, and bestowing on Mankind, is, in itself, a neutral force, which can be used at will for evil as well for good. He now sees his latest invention being used to give an impetus to morally evil actions by putting into them an unprecedentedly powerful charge of material energy. He finds himself wondering whether he may now have placed in human hands the power to destroy the Human Race. At the same moment, the technician has lost his intellectual freedom he enjoyed for 250 years ending in the year 1945. This freedom was lost when Western technology entered the field of atomic physics; for this new departure enslaved the technician in several different ways at once. . . . . .Indeed, among the public in a Westernising World in the later decades of the twentieth century, there might be a feeling of revulsion against Science and Technology like the revulsion against Religion in the later decades of the seventeenth century.”

On the other hand, the North American Churches have openly proclaimed that Secularism is a danger, and it is time that Christianity co-operated with other religions to combat this menace. This being the historical reality, it is too much to say that there has been progressive rise of spiritual forces since the coming in of Christianity. It is undeniable, and Toynbee also concedes it, that God is Love, and love of your neighbour is its integral counterpart. All the struggle and sacrifice for the redemption and saving of your fellow beings and the operation of His Benevolent Will on Earth as in Heaven are all spiritual activities that can have their expression only in our mundane or empirical world. Thus, spiritual progress cannot be beyond the measure of these indices.

We leave here further discussion of Toynbee’s views and take up three other related issues. The first two are the Judaic and Greek heritages of Christianity. Both these cultures have deeply influenced its form and course. The Judaic heritage of Christianity, because of the Bible, and Christ being from Jewish stock, is undoubted. But following the crucifixion of Christ, Christianity, especially in the earlier decades of its life, developed a distinct hostility towards the Jews who treated this splinter group with disdain. Understandably, therefore, it borrowed freely from the Graeco-Roman culture whose Emperors it later converted. In its theology, Christianity made a liberal adoption of Neoplatonism, Plotinus being in the third century CE an important figure representing the legacy of Plato and the Greek culture. His influence, in those centuries, was profound, since those were also the formative years of the theoretical structure of the Christian system and its Chruch. For, even the compilation of the Bible had taken place only in the first quarter of the fourth century CE. Except for the two matters of heritage, the third issue of consideration concerns the views of some modern Christian theologians who sometimes do not seem to agree with the dichotomous interpretation of Toynbee as expressed in his Burge Lecture. This is especially so, because of the question-mark that has been raised regarding the ethical impact of Science and Technology as indicated above.



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