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  Opinion   Oped  01 May 2019  Mystic Mantra: Modern materialism breeds moral ennui

Mystic Mantra: Modern materialism breeds moral ennui

Moin Qazi is a well-known banker, author and Islamic researcher. He can be reached at
Published : May 1, 2019, 2:28 am IST
Updated : May 1, 2019, 2:28 am IST

True morality is possible only through value-based education.

Morality has different connotations for different minds. (Photo: Pixabay)
 Morality has different connotations for different minds. (Photo: Pixabay)

“Unless our civilisation is redeemed spiritually, it cannot endure materially.”
— Woodrow Wilson

 The world is now on the cusp of really glorious progress in almost every field. Despite several tragedies, the world’s poorest and most desperate inhabitants are enjoying far more improved well-being. However, we need to pause and reflect whether this external progress is accompanied by corresponding internal progress. The hard truism is that material progress has produced moral and spiritual ennui, or a form of moral and spiritual “lag”. The dilemma of modern life can be best summarised in that famous aphorism of Thoreau: “Improved means to an unimproved end”.


This is a very serious predicament, a vexing and haunting problem gnawing at modern man. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living on earth as fellow beings. There is always that nervous twinge of waiting to see precisely which dark force will take us down.

Spiritual enlightenment and the pursuit of truth are two cardinal values that can provide man eternal freedom and peace. However, the majority of mankind is not yet intellectually prepared, nor is it sufficiently evolved spiritually, to recognise and acknowledge this fact. Arnold Toynbee vehemently advocated the need to restore the spiritual axis of our life to enable us to get rid of social afflictions: “I agree that the sickness of modern society can be cured only by a spiritual revolution… The only effective cures are spiritual”.

All faiths and philosophies take a natural interest in the question of time. It is perhaps the experience of passing time that gives consciousness about our first questions on life. There is life, there is time and then, life passes away. The question of time shapes an awareness of death, which is reflected in the essence of existence. The three basic philosophical questions formulated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant correlate the awareness of time to this existential quest: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? The very last question embodies the others and has much to do with our time.

We lack confidence: confidence in ourselves, confidence in man, confidence in society, and confidence in the future. Fears, doubts, phobias and mistrust imperceptibly colonise our hearts and minds. All this points to weakness of faith in God. We have to get back to the same old elementary truths of life and set out on a new journey and ask ourselves the same essential questions we were taught to ask in our nursery age. Our parents had already resolved the dilemmas, but we have messed it by our arrogance and ignorance and our perceived notions of superior intelligence.

Morality has different connotations for different minds. It may conjure thoughts of honesty, kindness, justice, probity and integrity for some. For others, it could also bring to mind a sense of judgment, restriction and relativity. When approached positively, morality can help provide a framework for societal norms and relationships. True morality is possible only through value-based education.

Educating the heart, the mind and the imagination to enable us to observe better, hear better, perceive better and understand better is one of the requirements for achieving the autonomy and freedom that defines modernity along with its attendant realities. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Tags: spiritual enlightenment, confidence