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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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II. NON-CHRISTIAN DETERMINISM

In non-Christian traditions, there are approaches to
determinism which resemble closely those one finds in
Christian theology. There are also objections to systems
approaching determinism which are quite similar to
ones found among Christians. The theology of Islam
provides a particularly important place for determi-
nism. This is reflected above all in the history of the
concept of kadar, or divine decree, which is closely
analogous to the Christian concept of predestination.
The position of Muhammad, the Prophet, as reflected
in the Koran, is ambiguous on the problem, although
it seems clear that he developed a real predestinarian
position late in his life. The earliest Islamic tradition
built on this position by developing a strong belief in
uncompromising fatalism. By the beginning of the
eighth century, however, some Muslims began to
question this dogma, particularly the members of the
Kadariya sect. In reaction to their questioning, a sect
of extreme predestinarians formed, called the Djabriya.
They argued that man bears no responsibility of any
kind for any of the actions which seem to proceed from
him. This makes of man an automaton, and was too
extreme for most Muslims. So intermediate positions
generally prevailed.

Those Muslims who have defended human free will,
do so basically for ethical reasons. They argue that
Allah cannot be just if man does not possess moral
responsibility for his actions. Those who have defended
kadar grapple with the problem of explaining man's
apparent consciousness of free choice. This phenome-
non is sometimes explained as an illusion, sometimes
explained as applying only to unimportant decisions
and not to those of ultimate importance.

The mature position of Islamic orthodoxy, however,
continues to endorse a strong measure of determinism.

The theology of Judaism provides less room for
approaches to determinism than either Christianity or
Islam. But it does provide some. The doctrine of pre-
destination is of particularly little importance, partly
because of the great importance Judaism assigns to the
necessity for ethical behavior among humans, partly
because Judaism did not continue to accept an elabo-
rate eschatology. Even among the Jews, however, there
have been some groups which have adopted a doctrine
of predestination. According to Josephus, this was a
cardinal tenet of the ascetic Essene sect.

In general, however, a more significant approach to
determinism in Judaism can be found in the widely-
held doctrine of providence. Since biblical times, many
Jews have believed that God controls the universe in
ways which benefit His chosen people, both as individ-
uals and as a group. In general, they believe that this
control is made most evident in the temporal life of


030

man on this earth, rather than being postponed until
some post-temporal life, after death. The Jews, of
course, given their history, have had ample reason to
be aware of the existence of evil and pain in this
temporal life. Such evil is sometimes explained as a
prophylactic or purge, designed by God to prepare
man for a good greater than that to which he would
otherwise be entitled. Or evil can be explained away
as an illusion, or a step in a process ultimately issuing
in something good. Arguments of this sort can easily
be squared with belief in a Jehovah who is omnipotent
and omniscient and who rules the world through His
providence. But evil is often explained by Jewish
thinkers as a punishment administered to man by God
for his wicked behavior, an explanation which would
place full responsibility on man for the evil that befalls
him, but which diminishes the full plenitude of divine
power. In popular Judaism, the dilemma is generally
evaded, with both the doctrine of providence and the
moral responsibility of man being taught.