Is faith and religion antithetical to the concept of a civilised society? What is the primary reason that urges a human to act in a civilised manner? How do societies with and without religion compare in terms of their nature of obedience to social laws and limitations that are necessary for a progressively noble and peaceful human society? The following article extrapolates Tabatabai’s (2011) take on the role of belief in the next life in shaping the society.
Taming the human actions into a desirable form that enables a peaceful coexistence of human species is both natural and necessary. The reason that laws and limitations come into existence are because of the undeniable erroneous nature of human beings, who all but err in their usual social conduct, and hence, inevitably, there needs to be a thoroughly defined code of conduct that can “protect the rights of individuals and determine the share of each person in the benefits of society.” (Tabatabai, 2011: 93). This, in turn, precedes a cooperated advancement towards perfection, which humans cannot do individually, and have to perform as a team instead. In it lies the interest of a society as well as that of all the individuals within the society.
While the acceptance of social laws is a common condition for the success of all societies and cultures, it follows that there is still a division within socially collaborative societies, between those that do not practice the concept of resurrection in their lives and those that do. It is witnessed that both the societies have a respect for the social and civil norms and it is looked down upon if someone breaks these limitations. However, there is a major difference in the acceptability and applicability of these laws, as will be discussed now.
For Tabatabai (2011), social cooperation cannot flourish in realistic terms, unless through ‘virtuous human morality’ (2011: p. 94). This, then puts to trial the first type of society which is based upon secular principles, in that such a society promises perfectly good social conduct but only and until when the laws are accompanied by provision of sufficiently enforcing penal codes as well as surveillance. In the society without the concept of hereafter, the social obedience is only determined by punishment, the reach of monitoring services and implementing bodies. This is the reason why, at the first sight, one mistakenly starts praising the members of a secular society for their sublime obedience to the laws. According to Tabatabai (2011), those who do not believe in life after death are likely only to follow the law as far as they are forced by the government to do so.
As proven, the essence of obedience to the laws in a secular society is the excellent provision of penalties and surveillance and not the moral integrity of the members. This also forms the very basis of an oppressive and tyrannical rule:
“Also, if the government lacks the power to punish criminals or if it is negligent, criminal offence and infringement of rights will become prevalent. This is because humans have a propensity for greed and make use of everything in their power to gain personal interests–even if it causes disadvantage to others.” (Tabatabai, 2011: p. 93)
The nature of unbalanced power relations in a secular society is further explained as Tabatabai (2011) argues:
“The greatest tragedy occurs when all powers are focused in the executive and ruling body. When this unparalleled power considers the people weak and no power remains among the people to regulate its power, its will shall reign absolutely over the affairs of the people. History is brimming with stories of tyrants and oppressors that exploit and abuse the people. The world is still rife with such cases.” (2011: p. 94)
To Tabatabai (2011), exploitation of the third world countries by the first world nations, of the oppressed by the oppressor and other such atrocities are caused by this very superficial acceptance of laws, in opposition with the human morality.
In comparison, a society that does believe in life after death, resurrection, and other eschatological concepts, is expected to accept the social laws imposed by religion wholeheartedly, practice its teachings willingly, and is not to host even the grimmest of denials regarding these laws even in the most private of situations. This is because, according to the Islamic monotheism, God knows even the deepest secrets of one’s hearts.
Such a society is expected to be many times more civilised and observably more cohesive as a social unit than the superficially obedient society that is, but looking for loopholes to pry into, or self-interests to serve by manipulating the law, as much as it can, because the hearts of the members of such a society are not in line with their social laws, thus producing the most evil intentions which evolve into evil actions.
It is inferable from the above discussions that a society with faith and religion is not only a perfectly civilised society, but is a society that is socially more progressive and advanced many times ahead of the secular society in terms of its civil social conduct, cordial acceptance of laws, abstinence from breach of laws even in private, purity of intention, and most importantly, its connection with its final place of return, God: a belief that tames and civilises all social conduct.
“It is evident that if morals are based upon such beliefs, no grief or sorrow will remain except the anxiousness associated with being heedful of the Lord’s approval. Thus, devotion to God will prohibit violation of laws and committing prohibited [harām] acts. If morality does not stem from such belief, no aim will remain for humans but hedonism—pursuit of ephemeral worldly pleasures.” (Tabatabai, 2011: 94)
Tabatabai, M. H. (2011). The Role of the Supernatural in Society. In quarterly “Maktab-e-Tashayyu”, Spirituality of the Shi’ism (and other discourses) (91-103). Tehran: ABWA Publishing and Printing Center.