Lead Article

  • Issue 88 / July - August 2012



    Dignifying Humanity

    M. Fethullah Gulen

    Your essence is even loftier than angels.
    Hidden in you are spheres and compacted globes
    Mehmed Akif


    The human is the main subject of every philosophical and scientific view. Neither any philosophy nor any science can be developed without taking human beings into consideration. With both physical and metaphysical sides, the human being is the ultimate subject of all sciences, and all avenues of investigation can be evaluated in relation to their significance for human dignity.

    Sciences explore different human qualities, through the various branches, in books that multiply continuously, overflow, and diffuse light all over.

    The body shape and function of the human is so perfectly adjusted that it marks an unbelievably ideal structure. Whichever organ we may study, it is impossible not to feel admiration before its anatomy.

    And the depth of the inner world of a person has such rich potential to develop, and the potential to keep developing dimensions within; a complicated brain and a spirit with an elusive essence that evades material measure; and then the perfectly harmonious relation of these two phenomena-the physical and the spiritual together. . . mysterious beings... Within everything are meanings crystallized from the hues in the corona of that magnificent artwork-the human and her dignity.

    Here, we will neither touch on this magnificent corporeality, nor delve into the inner dimensions of an individual we can hardly sense in any event. Instead, we are going to mention a few potentials and abilities that dignify the human.

    The human is a difficult creature to understand in all qualities. The complexities begin from the day of we come into this world and continue. Except for the human, every creature comes to this world as if already trained about life. As for human beings, in spite of being the most magnificent and esteemed creatures, we are born devoid of all these inherent gifts and functions necessary for life. Everything that goes beyond the mechanical order of physicality develops in a person thanks to reason, mind, will, freedom, sense, and introspection. Thus, a person maintains the unity of inner and outer reality, and only in this way does an individual attain selfhood.

    These potentialities, which exist in all human beings as an intention and a herald of being a great figure in the future, can only flourish through training and education. Discovering dignity requires introspection and self-criticism. Leaving a person alone to whatever whims come along means leaving one in a most miserable condition. A seed or group of seeds needs to be cultivated to grow into the most perfect thing it is intended to be. As the lion comes to the world with the paw it needs, and the cattle with horns, a person arrives in the world needing to cultivate all means to preserve one's self, to flourish, and to work together toward mutual dignity.

    A person should use his insight and intellect, will and reason and then invent things to obtain what is beneficial and avoid what is harmful. Thus she establishes both an individual and social world, where she can find serenity. And then persons can pass to future generations the works they formed and the values they established, so that dignity can be preserved in both heart and mind.

    It is natural for a person to do these things, because we are not concerned with the very moment only. Past and future are always vivid along with the present and are pieces of any existent reality. For this reason, even though those who have contributed to the development of thought and science throughout history could not personally see the fruits of their efforts, they did not feel languor and give up working. They worked and strived for humanity, leaving an immense heritage in the name of knowledge and culture. If it weren't so, we would neither be able to talk about science nor civilization on earth.

    In addition to sciences, accumulation of knowledge, and heritage of civilization, human dignity, human perfection and virtue are the fruit of human efforts again. Developing potentialities, regulating human behavior, channeling people to good and virtuous paths are the results of human effort. All through history, one generation after another inherited the refined manners and quest for dignity of the previous generation and took it as a duty to improve it. In this respect, the greatest gift the former generations presented to the latter was teaching good manners and edification of human dignity! Edification prevents a person from being diverted from human dignity due to base inclinations. By setting the frame of acts and activities, edification prevents any individual from running wild and degenerating. At the same time, edification helps develop the potentialities every human comes equipped. Edification helps the capabilities hidden in human spirit to be unearthed and to flourish.

    There are always seeds of the good and beautiful in us; seeds of the bad and ugliness are non-existent. Even feelings like lust, rage, and revenge in a way can be seen as sprouts for indirect beautiful outcomes. However, one thing should not be forgotten: that as the beauty of everything positive or negative is the result of some edification, true human dignity depends on edification again. We need edification to make our reason, will, and introspection to utilize all their functions. Edification dignifies humanity above animal existence. Edification allows us a degree of autonomy before nature, which operates according to rules of causality. Through edification, the human can be dignified by being attached to the Absolute, Free, and Sovereign One. This distinguishing trait is developed through being a rational creature possessing will and introspection.

    Reason, as defined in philosophy, is to be able to derive particularities from general conditions by framing laws and principles. So it is this power of reasoning that underlies the basis of the difference between beast and human. Reason is the prime faculty that makes us human; however, it is not given in its perfected form and matured condition, but in a simple and potential state. A person has to elaborate what makes us different from animals and make this potential flourish. When reason becomes a corridor between the inner and outer worlds, it gains a totally different identity. If we call this a combination of finding oneself and being found, then the conscience plays the role of a "reason" which makes our judgments of deeds and shows us which way to act. The ultimate aim and the loftiest ideal of reason-the ultimate source of human dignity-is coming to knowledge of the Divine. The reason or mind which has come to know God attains wisdom and undertakes conscientious responsibilities that promote the dignity of all.

    One of the qualities that make a person human is freedom; in other words, we have the capacity to decide our own acts. We possess an active reason. We have "autonomy." This way, a person supersedes the rest of creation, living or non-living; this brings us not only the ability to control our acts, but accountability for them. It is not possible to explain morality and immorality without taking freedom and human will into consideration. Sheer materialist and positivist accounts of human beings, which see us as machines and deny free will, lead to superficial and banal conclusions.

    So it seems that we are obliged to accept that each person has a free and independent side, namely, there is a dimension which is not determined by laws in nature and which constitutes a basis for morality. Ultimately, this freedom results from being the addressee of a divine authority, leads to the need to carry out the responsibilities that correspond to this dignified position, which means discerning right from wrong based on both extrinsic and intrinsic reasoning.

    This dignity merges cognitions about the outer world with introspection. A meaningful, dignified life is like a ray of light that provides its own verification. Dignity opens inlets to the beyond of the realm of possibility. It is as if one feels an ascent ("miraj") from the dimensions of the present space. Such an ascension-depending on the circulation of the mind, stability of the will, and soundness of contemplation-is possible for every individual. Each of us takes a share from this dignity according to the capacity of the bowl in our hands and the heavenly drink it contains.

    And further beyond, there is such a point, which the most perfected figures, the most magnificent wills, and those of deepest introspection and spiritual delight reach: it is the contemplation of the matchless beauty of our magnificent Creator who makes us feel His being beyond our own, makes us feel His Will beyond ours and who lets us enjoy this bliss.

    For centuries, generations have been alien and indifferent to this lofty journey. Making people conscious of their dignified essence, letting reason flourish and vitalizing the will, purifying human feelings and maintaining our contact with the rest of creation: this is a duty upon our eminent educators.

    Here I address once more those who are responsible for training the new generations. Do not delay guiding them to the values that render us truly human. That is our responsibility before history: to promote the dignity that keeps us from destroying each other.

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