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FROM RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM TO SECULAR HUMANISM

 

                           

My dear atheist friend,

        I am quite aware that you enjoy passionate dialogues and heated debates with priests and pundits, maulanas and ministers and most of the times you win those debates because you have all the intellectual tools in your kit to win any debate. You are like a charming and aggressive sales person who can sell sand to the Arabs and snow to the Eskimos. You smile when I say that winning hearts is as important as winning arguments. You are right in your observation that I am more interested in sharing my truth than proving the other people wrong. You wonder why I avoid those angry dialogues and bitter debates. I am of the opinion that we need to be careful in choosing our friends and more careful in choosing our enemies because with passage of time we start adopting the characteristics of the people we love and hate because of our emotional involvement with them.

       You are my new friend and I have a lot of respect for your honesty and integrity but you do not know my past and you are not aware of different phases I went through in my life.  Since you shared some aspects of your life story, let me share with you some of the highlights of my personal and philosophical journey.

       There was a time in my life when I was a religious person. Looking back now I can see I was a religious fundamentalist (I did not recognize it then) and used to get into heated debates with people of other faiths and no faith. I had read many scriptures and remembered many passages to prove my point. I had a dream to spread the message of God to the whole world. In those years I won many arguments but not very many hearts.

       Then a stage came when I lost my faith and became an atheist. I completely changed my ideology. Looking back now I can see that I was an angry atheist (I did not recognize it then). Even in that phase I won many arguments but not very many hearts.

       And then it gradually dawned on me that not only I did not win many hearts, I broke many hearts and hurt some of my dear ones, the ones that loved me and adored me. I did not appreciate their sincerity because they were believers as I had developed an allergy to them. Now I can see that I was at war with them because I was at war with myself. Some of them became the victims of my intellectual attacks and emotional abuse. In that phase my rational and logical thinking was the ultimate authority and I did not care about other people’s feelings. I believed there was only one truth, the logical, rational, scientific truth. I gradually realized that I had changed my ideology but not my personality. I was still an angry man. I had just changed my positions and my opponents. First I was angry with non-believers and then I became angry with believers. First I thought all atheists were misguided and then I believed all believers were ignorant and narrow-minded. It was a major breakthrough in my growth to acknowledge that there are as many truths as human beings and as many realities as pairs of eyes.

       Gradually I became a Humanist and realized that human beings were more important than God and religions and ideologies, whether of the right or the left. I learnt to respect human beings from the bottom of my heart even when I disagreed with them. I gradually realized that a caring and compassionate heart is as important as rational and logical mind. Gradually I realized that for me developing a humanist personality was as important as acquiring a humanist philosophy. I learnt from Socrates that human beings are rational beings and from Freud that human beings can be rationalizing beings when they are dealing with emotional dilemmas and crises. I realized that religious belief and blind faith are as much emotional issues as they are intellectual issues and to become a humanist we need emotional as well as intellectual transformation.

In my journey of personal growth my practice as a psychotherapist helped me understand the mysteries of human mind and personality. My practice of psychotherapy helped me see the sufferings of my religious patients and I could rise above our ideological differences so that I could help them in relieving their emotional suffering and develop a healthy, happy and peaceful lifestyle that I call Green Zone Living. I could understand that people who experienced religious abuse had to deal with their guilt and resolve their anger before they could lead peaceful lives.

I also became aware that many men and women who became political activists were more anti than pro. Many feminists were more anti-men than pro women, many gay activists were more anti-heterosexuals than pro-homosexuals, many black activists were more anti-whites than pro-blacks. Similarly many atheists were more anti-religion than pro-humanism. Such realization helped me integrate my personal, political and professional positions in life and I became a humanist poet, writer and psychotherapist.

Gradually I realized that to create just societies and caring and compassionate human beings were the goals of all religious, spiritual and secular philosophies. With passage of time those philosophies became of historical importance. Life is like a river and it has to keep on flowing to stay clean, pure and healthy. If the river stops it becomes a pond and it develops algae. Many religious and spiritual traditions became institutionalized and became closed systems and stopped growing, as they did not learn from the developments in different parts of the world. In the last couple of century’s developments in science, psychology and philosophy has opened new windows in human minds and we need to learn from them and integrate them in our personal and social lifestyles.

With passage of time I learnt to respect all religious, spiritual and secular traditions. In my professional life I worked with many mental health professionals from different religious and spiritual backgrounds to serve our patients and their families and in my social life I conducted seminars with people from other professional, cultural and religious traditions to raise social consciousness and fight for human rights of minorities.

In my personal and professional journey I tried to develop a humanist personality alongside humanist philosophy and learnt to work with people from other backgrounds for common goals. For me serving humanity became more important that having ideological and political debates. Last year when I presented my paper Psychology of Fundamentalist and Humanist Personalities in Humanist Association of Toronto HAT meeting and one of my Christian friends said, “I am glad you are a loving humanist and not an angry atheist’ I was touched and thanked her for her generous comments. I think it is important to build bridges of caring and compassion and break down walls of anger, prejudice and discrimination. We, as human beings, are quite complex and we have our inherent conflicts and contradictions and to resolve those conflicts we not only need a rational mind but also a compassionate heart. I am realizing that religions are part of cultures that different communities have adopted over the centuries. In the 21st century we need to encourage communities to adopt secular and humanistic values and work together towards common goals that are important for our social and cultural evolution.

It took me a long time to realize that as a human being I have inherited all the religious, spiritual and secular traditions and all of them have played a significant role in helping me become a humanist. I have learnt from religious scholars like Ghulam Ahmed Pervaiz, Mohammad Iqbal and Paul Tillich and Martin Buber, gained some wisdom from mystic poets like Bullay Shah, Kabir Das, William Blake and Walt Whitman and acquired enlightenment from secular scientists and philosophers like Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre and Joseph Campbell. In the last decade I tried to integrate all those philosophies to create my own philosophy that I call Green Zone Philosophy that I use in my personal and professional lives to create a happy, healthy and peaceful lifestyle. For me to expect others to respect me I have to respect them even when I disagree with their philosophy and lifestyle and follow the golden rule of treating others the way I would like to be treated.

 I hope this letter helps you to understand why I do not get into heated debates and like to work with all of my friends and colleagues from diverse religious, spiritual and secular traditions.

                                                Affectionately,

                                                       Khalid Sohail

Feb 29th, 2008

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