In Issue 14 we mentioned the characteristics of the materialistic society and the absence of responsibility for a possible Future Life.
Let us now study the features of unbelieving societies more closely. It happens that atheism and non-belief in the life to come remain vague and undetectable in a semi-conscious state. Beliefs continue to ostensibly subscribe to the existence of God and belief in the afterlife, but in all practical respects this does not appear to be true. It is sometimes a crisis to make these hidden realities conscious. Sometimes whole generations live without realising the fickleness and fragility of their ideas. When an era is exhausted and a new era gradually emerges, society as a whole tends to re-examine its inherited beliefs. It is at such times that atheism and non-belief in the life to come, which had remained undetected and uncriticised, begin to surface. In a society given to the pursuit of unbridled and indiscriminate pleasure, the conscious rejection of God and the afterlife rapidly accelerates the process of moral degradation and deterioration of fundamental values.
The direction of civilisation, no matter what region of the world or what epoch in human history, is always from the grossest to the most refined. The basic human psychological needs, which act as the underlying motivating force in human behaviour, remain unchanged. What changes is the response to these variations. For example, hunger can be satisfied by eating meat or vegetables. The quality and freshness of meat and vegetables are variable. These, in turn, can be eaten raw or seasoned and cooked differently according to taste.
As society develops, responses to basic needs evolve and become more refined and sophisticated. Such a process continues permanently, although the pace is largely set by people's political and economic factors. The cutting edge of society, however, always moves forward; sometimes faster, sometimes slower.
As a civilisation matures, excessive sophistication, along with other detrimental phenomena, reverses this progressive trend. In decadent societies the direction is reversed, from the refined to the crude.
When societies degenerate and are accompanied by an excess of sophistication, they begin to regress and return to the same animal response to their needs. This may not be visible in every social and cultural activity, but it is almost always prominently manifested in human relationships and in style in the pursuit of pleasure. A brief study of man in his responses to sex illustrates the case in point.
Around the basic instinct of reproduction through sexual regeneration, pleasure is naturally associated throughout the animal kingdom. What we find different in human society is a gradual move away from the mere satisfaction of these gross desires towards a gradually more refined attitude to the satisfaction of animal needs.
Nature never intended sex to be the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal has always been the reproduction and propagation of the species. Sex was secondary. When societies become decadent, this role is practically reversed.
The gradual development of the institution of marriage, the rituals associated with this institution and the existing taboos regarding the interrelationship between the male and female sexes, could be considered by a sociologist as a phenomenon resulting from the natural growth of society, unrelated to religion. However, whether the growth is directed from a higher instance or is a random phenomenon that drives itself forward, there is no denying the fact that, gradually, the responses to meet this fundamental need have become increasingly complex and elaborate.
The increasing promiscuity in relationships between men and women is thus symptomatic of the same disease. It is not just a permissive and liberal attitude towards sexual intercourse but certainly something much more important that accompanies this trend, which seeks to change the environment of this fundamental sphere of human interest and activity. The debate about the legitimacy or illegality of such a relationship is looked down upon as a thing of the past. Of course, there are various narrowly religious-minded groups who talk about it all the time, but it is easy to see that these outdated and fanatical-minded people are a meaningless minority.
It is much more "modern" in the West to regard sex as a natural need that must be met without inhibition. Nudity, exhibitionism, showing off, shamelessness in discussion and confession are considered mere public expression of truth.
No one takes the trouble to extend the same argument to other natural human desires. Is it not a natural animal desire, common to humans too, to want to possess whatever one pleases? Is it not a natural animal desire to feel angry and violent and to give vent to these emotions in wild terms? A weak dog is also seized by the same impulses as the strong dog, but while the strong one would bite, the weak one could at least bark.
What, if not the other social taboos - the codes of civil conduct, the concept of decency etc. - continually interfere with the free expression of natural impulses? Why should sex be the only motivating force that should be given free license to express itself without regard to tradition, norms, decency, property and belonging?
What we observe today is a phenomenon that needs to be carefully discerned and analysed. What we call permissiveness in the sexual relationship expresses itself as a growing tendency to steal and rob in other areas of human activity, as well as to hurt and injure others. The uninhibited pursuit of pleasure, which perverts taste, is born of the same decadent tendencies that are destroying the noblest edifices of civilisation and causing a return to ways of life corresponding to earlier times.
(To be continued in the next instalment, number 16).