MEETING NEW HUMANIST FRIENDS

My dear friend Zahir Anwar,

You live so far away, yet I feel so close to you. You live thousands of miles away in India but in my imagination I visit you in Calcutta and we go for a long walk and sit in a café and have passionate dialogues about life. For such a visit I do not need an air ticket or a visa. You have been a special friend as we have a creative connection. You have been a source of inspiration for me over the years. If you were in Toronto I would have introduced you to my new Humanist friends. Since you cannot meet them physically I will share with you about them in my letter.

It all started after I received my Humanist of the Year award. One day I got an unexpected email from a stranger Mark Robinson who had read about me on inter-net and wanted to meet me. I invited him for a cup of tea. I was impressed by his humanist philosophy, charming personality and creative talent as a musician. Within a short time we became friends. I introduced him to my sweetheart Bette Davis and he introduced me to his wonderful wife Lisa.

Now every Monday evening when Steve and I go for a cup of tea in Tim Horton’s in Oshawa, Mark and his other humanist friends drop in and we have intellectually stimulating dialogues.

While I was getting to know Mark and John and Rob I received a call from Janet Thomson, a CBC television producer who was making a documentary on Atheism and Humanism. She wanted to know about my Atheist and Humanist friends. I told her that I meet with a group that come from Muslim and Pakistani background who have said goodbye to God and Religion and another group that come from Christian and Jewish background. She asked me to invite all of them one evening and have a meeting. So I invited Rafiq Sultan, Zahra Naqvi, Askari Naqvi and Malik Jahanzeb, my Eastern friends and Mark Robinson, John Manuel, Carl Legault, Mark Witzel, Hildy Abrams and Bette Davis, my Western friends.

Janet came with her camera crew and videotaped our Humanist meeting and her colleague Clifton interviewed us by asking pointed questions.

          During that evening Janet met Bette Davis and they liked each other. After the meeting Janet asked Clifton to interview Bette and I as a couple as she was curious how Bette, brought up in a Catholic family of Newfoundland, became a Spiritual Humanist and fell in love with a Secular Humanist from a Muslim family from Pakistan. We told them that we believe that the essence of a healthy loving relationship is to resolve conflicts peacefully. Differences can be a blessing as they can enrich the relationship. They only become a curse when they turn into conflicts and cause tension and resentment. Bette and I had been friends for 25 years before we became sweethearts. Friendship is the cake, the romance the icing. Janet was quite fascinated by our loving relationship.

          I just got a letter from Janet that the documentary will be shown next week. There is a suspense, as we do not know out of 4hours of taping how much she has included in her 22 minute documentary. For me it was exciting to be part of that adventure irrespective of what she will include or not include in her documentary. For me it was significant to become a bridge between my Eastern and Western friends who are atheists, agnostics, humanists and free thinkers.

          On Sep 16th, 2007, I was invited by Humanist Association of Toronto HAT to present a paper on The Psychology of Fundamentalist and Humanist Personalities. It was an exciting experience. Mark Robinson helped me with my power point presentation. I spoke for an hour sharing my views that philosophy may not be a true reflection of personality and beliefs might be a poor reflection of behaviours. I shared that alongside religious fundamentalists there are also atheists who have a fundamentalist personality and while there are secular people with humanist personality there are also religious people who have a humanist personality. I believe that it is easier for two people with humanist personality to have a genuine dialogue and become friends even when they have philosophical differences but it is hard for two people with fundamentalist personality to have a dialogue as they get into bitter debates trying to convert each other. I suggested that it is harder to change one’s personality than one’s philosophy. I shared the stories of those friends and clients who had a fundamentalist personality but after their introspection and hard work they developed a humanist personality. I was pleased with the response of the audience. They asked many questions. Many people came after wards to talk to me. I just received some wonderful letters from Kevin and Lisette sharing what my presentation meant to them and how they wanted to share my paper with other friends. I was touched when Lisette called me a ‘loving humanist’ rather than an angry atheist. I have invited them to have dinner with me, Bette, Mark and Lisa. We are expanding our circle of humanist friends. I wish you were here so that you could join us too. In the next few weeks we would be visiting Port Hope and Bellville to meet more humanist friends.

          On Dec 1st, 2007 we are planning to have a seminar in Toronto on Understanding Fundamentalism in which a number of speakers will share their papers on religious, political and psychological aspects of fundamentalism and then have an open dialogue. I will moderate that seminar. It is our humble attempt to build a bridge between secular humanist friends from different communities and cultures.

          Mark has created a website in which he has created a Humanist Diary inviting people to share their biography and philosophy. So my letter to you is my contribution to that Diary. I wish one day they meet you and find out what a wonderful humanist and a playwright you are who lives so far but still is so close to my heart.

Affectionately,

Sohail

Sep 18th, 2007

welcome@drsohail.com