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Terminologies

Ethics

‘Ethic’ is the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation, a set of moral principles or values, the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group, according to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  At all levels Ethics deals with questions such as: How should we live? Is it right to be dishonest in a good cause? Can we justify living in opulence while elsewhere in the world people are starving? If conscripted to fight in a war we do not support, should we disobey the law? What are our obligations to the other creatures with whom we share this planet and to the generations of humans who will come after us? Its subject consists of the fundamental issues of practical decision making, and its major concerns include the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong. The terms ethics and morality are closely related. Although ethics has always been viewed as a branch of philosophy, its all-embracing practical nature links it with many other areas of study, including anthropology, biology, economics, history, politics, sociology, and theology.

Adherence to the Commandments [besides monotheism, which also emphasize good behavior with parents, neighbors and not to kill or commit adultery] have been repeatedly emphasized in Bible (Genesis;26:5, Exocus;15:26, there are 168 verses with word ‘commandments’). Jesus Christ (pbuh) also emphasized adherence to commandments (Mathew;5:19, 19:17). Jesus Christ (pbuh) gave the gist of the Old Testament in few words: “Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”(Matthew;7:12,  also 22:39-40). It implies that this principle is the foundation of all the detailed instructions of the ancient scriptures, with respect to the relative duties of man with others.

Qur’an repeatedly enjoins the believers to perform good deeds, avoid evils (amir-bil- maroof- wa- nahi- al- munkar) and repel evil with good deeds (Qur’an;41:34, 23:96,22:41,9:112). It further adds: “Serve God and do not associate any partner with Him, and be good to your parents, kinfolks, orphans, the helpless, near and far neighbors who keep company with you, the travelers in need, and what your right hands possess. God does not love those who are arrogant and boastful”(Qur’an;4:36). The essence of Islam is to serve God and do good to your fellow-creatures. This is wider and more comprehensive than “Love God and love your neighbor”. For it includes duties to animals as our fellow-creatures, and emphasizes practical service rather than sentiment.  Taking care of the way-farer may be a casual acquaintance in travels, much wider than the “stranger within your gate.” The Prophet (pbuh) often stressed a believer’s moral obligation towards his neighbours, whatever     their faith; and his attitude has been summed up in his words, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him do good unto his neighbour” (Bukhari, Muslim, and other compilations).

Theology

The study of the nature of God and the relationship of the human and divine is called Theology. The term was first used in the works of Plato and other Greek philosophers to refer to the teaching of myth, but the discipline expanded within Christianity and has found application in all theistic religions. It examines doctrines concerning such subjects as sin, faith, and grace and considers the terms of God’s covenant with humankind in matters such as salvation and eschatology. Theology typically takes for granted the authority of a religious teacher or the validity of a religious experience. It is distinguished from philosophy in being concerned with justifying and explicating a faith, rather than questioning the underlying assumptions of such faith, but it often employs quasi-philosophical methods.

Functions of Theology & Link to Ethics:

The vastness of theological interests and aspects implies that theology can master the material with which it is confronted only within a broad spectrum of partial disciplines. Since theology is based on authority (revelation), and since this authority is documented in the Holy Scriptures (especially in Islam, Christianity and Judaism), it is constrained to engage in philological and historical studies of these sources and, related to these studies, also with hermeneutical (critical interpretive) questions. This historical task broadens into a concern with the history and tradition of the religion that a particular theology represents. In this concern many difficult and controversial questions arise, including whether and to what extent the canon (scriptural standard) of the sources of revelation is glossed over and modified by tradition and what normative value the modifying tradition has or should have.

The question of truth posed by theology requires the constitution of a discipline that specifically concerns itself with fundamental questions (systematic theology). Its task can be determined in the following manner:

(1)               It has to develop the totality of religious teachings (dogmatics, or the doctrine of faith).

(2)               It has to interpret man’s existence in the world and, related to this, to determine the norms (ethics derived from faith) for action in the world–e.g., for the disposition toward one’s fellow man and toward societal and political structures and institutions.

(3)               It further has to represent its claim to truth in the context of confrontation with other claims to truth and with other criteria of verification (apologetics, polemics).

As part of this concern, theology’s task is to explain reasonably, in view of historical relativism, the absolute claim of the truth that it represents. Related to this is the modern-day task of coordinating its doctrine of creation or its doctrine of the revelation of the transcendent with the worldview of modern natural science and its thesis of the immanency of being–i.e., of being that is self-contained.

Another aspect of this task is the confrontation with other religions’ claim to truth, which can lead to vastly different results: either–this is noted only as an example–it can lead to the thesis of the complementary positions of individual religions and therefore to tolerance or to one’s own religion’s claim to be absolute. But also, in the last mentioned situation, such a claim is widely modified. It can manifest itself by a total rejection of other religions as “devil’s work,” but it can also be expressed in an interpretation of other religions as first steps to and as seeds of a religious development, the completion of which it knows itself to be.

The vast dimension of theological themes implies that theology is, with its many disciplines, a microcosmic image of the university. Even though it is a science in which the believers or the adherents of a particular religion explicate and critically analyze the truth that is represented by them, it nevertheless has to remain free within the framework of this commitment, and it has to fulfill the responsibility of its scientific task on the basis of its own autonomy. The opposite of this freedom would arise when an institution (like church) restricted the range of theological inquiry with normative claims, forcing the discipline therewith to assume ideological functions. The struggle concerning the freedom and limitations of theologyi.e., concerning responsible criticism and authority–is a struggle that has accompanied the history of theology from the very beginnings to the present.

Spirit and Soul:

Very little is known about the true nature and meaning of Spirit, God says:“They put you questions about Ar-Ruh (the Spirit). Tell them: “The Spirit is at my Lord’s command and I am not given any knowledge of it but a little.”(Qur’an;17:85). However Spirit (Arabic Ruh) is often interpreted as an immaterial, immortal element of a living being as well as true self, or soul apart from the body. Word Ruh is also used for angel Gabriel, Revelation and Jesus in Qur’an. In Hebrew  [vpn nephesh] neh’-fesh is used for a breathing creature [i.e. animal of (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense (bodily or mental):–any, appetite, beast, body, breath, creature]. It is mentioned in Genesis;2:7, that God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul [vpn nephesh neh’-fesh]. Spirit (Ruh), breath (of life) is used in Qur’an, referring to the divine spirit in the sense of communication of life force in creation of Adam, human beings and for birth of Jesus to Mary (Qur’an;15:29, 21:91, 32:9, 38:72,66:12). The breathing from Allah’s spirit into man i.e., the faculty of God-like knowledge and will, which, if rightly used, would give man superiority over other creatures.

Hence spirit is the ‘Rational Soul’ which animates humans, and preserves its being after the death of the body. That spiritual, reasoning, and choosing substance, which is capable of eternal happiness. The immortality of the soul is a fundamental doctrine of revealed religions [Islam, Christianity and Judaism]. The ancient patriarchs lived and died persuaded of this truth; and it was in the hope of another life that they received the promises.

In Qur’an, Arabic word Nafs has been used in wider sense with many meanings attributable to it i.e. soul, spirit, mind, animate being, living entity, human being, person, self (in the sense of a personal identity), humankind, life-essence, vital principle, and so forth. The Quality or state of being aware is termed as consciousness. As applied to the lower animals, consciousness refers to the capacity for sensation and, usually, simple volition. In higher animals, this capacity may also include thinking and emotion. In human beings, ‘consciousness’ is understood to include “meta-awareness,” awareness that one is aware. The term also refers broadly to the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware, as contrasted with unconscious processes. Levels of consciousness (e.g., attention vs. sleep) are correlated with patterns of electrical activity in the brain (brain waves). The three states of the development of the nafas (human soul, conscious) are: Firstly  Nafs Ammara (Qur’an;12:53), which is ‘Prone to Evil’, if not checked and controlled, will lead to perdition; Secondly; Nafs Lawwama: (Qur’an;75:2) which feels ‘Conscious of Evil’, and resists it, seeks   Allah’s grace and pardon after repentance and tries to amend with the hopes to attain salvation; Thirdly; Nafs Mutmainna (Qur’an;89:27), the highest stage of all, when it achieves ‘Full Rest and Satisfaction’. The second stage Lawwama may be compared to Conscience, except that in English usage Conscience is a faculty and not a stage in spiritual development.

Biblical Concept:

It is similar to Islamic concept, being of same divine origin. The ancients supposed the soul, or rather the animating principle of life, to reside in the breath that it departed from the body with the breath. Hence the Hebrew and Greek words which, when they refer to man, in Bibles are translated “soul,” are usually rendered “life” or breath” when they refer to animals [Ge 2:7; 7:15; Nu 16:22; Job 12:10; 34:14-15; Ps 104:29; Ec 12:7; Ac 17:25]. But together with this principle of life, which is common to men and other living creatures, and which in brutes perishes with the body, there is in man a spiritual, reasonable, and immortal soul, the seat of our thoughts, affections, and reasoning, which distinguishes man from the brute creation, and in which chiefly consists human closeness to God [Ge 1:26]. This must be spiritual, because it thinks; it must be immortal, because it is spiritual. Scripture ascribes to man alone understanding, conscience, the knowledge of God, wisdom, immortality, and the hope of future everlasting happiness. It threatens men only with punishment in another life, and with the pains of hell. In some places the Bible seems to distinguish soul from spirit [1Th 5:23; Heb 4:12] the organ of our sensations, appetites, and passions, allied to the body, form the nobler portion of our nature which most allies man to God. Yet human are to conceive of them as one indivisible and spiritual being, called also the mind and the heart, spoken of variously as living, feeling, understanding, reasoning, willing, etc. Its usual designation is the soul.

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