We were discussing about the Carvaka school of Indian philosophy in the class and that prompted me to blog this entry. There are many schools/groups in the world traditions who could be called as materialists (who gives utmost importance to matter and deny anything spiritual etc). Some of the ones I am familiar with are Carvaka (Indian tradition), Marxism, many of the pre-socratic greek philosophers. With Darwin’s theory and recent developments in neuroscience, there are many others who are linked to this particular branch. My purpose is not to give a survey of them, but to see some positives from it though I am not a materialist myself.
Many of materialists schools originate as a protest against the prevailing trends. Carvaka in Indian philosophy was a protest against the extreme ritualistic aspects of Mimamsa tradition. Marxism was a protest against capitalism and religious justification given for poor remaining poor. It was also against the other-worldly happiness justification for the suffering in this world.In one way, Darwin’s theory was a protest against the church controlled authority in all fields including science (though it had reduced a lot by his time). So there is a strong sense of emphasis on this world, life around here and happiness here. (Most of them don’t agree to a happiness in the other world.)
In Christian tradition, we have Jesus who became human and he blessed the human nature. But there are tendencies to focus extremely on soul and forgetting about the body. The body is also the temple of the Holy Spirit. In religious traditions, people taking inspiration from materialistic ideologies have tried to challenge religious beliefs and patterns when it has become too-otherworldly. Liberation theology (as I understand) in South America is an attempt or critique against the up-in-the-air theologies. It tries to theologize from the ground realities of human person. It may be true that some of the materialistic critiques are too extreme, but these can serve as an inspiration for the highly spiritual theology to be grounded in realities. It is also a critique against over-spiritualization in the traditions.
We have issues like beef ban (Hinduism), triple talaaq (Islam) and women priests (Christianity). They are made sacrosant by the religious authorities, justified by them based on many arguments. I am not saying whether the justification is right or wrong. But the problem is these rationale is not acceptable for many within the traditions and many outside the tradition. In such cases, rationalists and others do challenge them. Some do have to sacrifice their life for those challenges.
Materialism, which is a non-religious philosophy, which is a non-spiritual philosophy, can challenge the spiritual and religious philosophies to be rooted in the world. Many of the religious philosophies are not-dualistic, but many of the influential interpretations project as such. The materialistic challenge can help them to maintain the balance. For me, many of these have helped me to understand God, humans and creation in a little more integrated way.
I am not body. I am not spirit. I am a combination of body and spirit. An influence of materialistic trend can be a help to be rooted and winged; to get into the problem at times and to sublimate the problem at other times. If atheists and materialists are ethical, how much more the religious and spiritual people have a responsibility to be ethical as they have greater incentives (accompanying God and promise of heaven or liberation).