MARK CONTE’S LETTER AND KHALID SOHAIL’S RESPONSE
Dear Dr. Khalid Sohail,
Thank you for offering me in print your story
From Fundamentalism to Humanism.
I have read it and written comments you can find below. This email, however, is
primarily a reminder for the information you said you would send concerning my
question on the relationship between humanism and atheism (and humanism as
identity). What I have written below serves me in my own pursuit in
understanding the idea of humanism, both during the Renaissance and today, its
perspective, method, philosophy, and as a means towards cultural conflict
resolution (cases in point: evolution vs. intelligent design; science vs.
religion; atheism vs. theism; etc.);
You may respond to my comments if you wish. I thank you again for your time and
wish you the best in your professional and philosophical journey. Warm Regards,
M.A. History (Renaissance Humanism: Lorenzo Valla - Giambattista Vico)
University of Windsor.
Dr. Khalid Sohail, I hope that my comments
to not upset you. The humanist association conference was a wonderful
opportunity to engage in a dialectical confrontation with many interesting
people with strong opinions. I stepped on some toes via my instigations, I hope
I don't step on yours. The rising tide of identity politics worries me. We seem
to be too eager to seek catchy slogans to self-identify and join organizations
of "like-minded individuals", which serve to
only further divide society rendering the public weaker as a whole. I do not
believe that humanism can be considered an identity, nor atheism or theism. Why,
as individuals, do we seek to categorize ourselves as members (or defenders) of
a group that is always set in
opposition to another? And why, for example, is Ellen Johnson playing
opportunistic identity politics appealing to the grievances that atheists have
towards theists? It appears that the need to identify is similar to the need for
God or religion as proclaimed by "humanists/agtheist" such as diCarlo?
Underlying both needs there appears certain common elements: a need for purpose,
meaning, comfort, direction, support, etc. Humanism to me is about cultivating
the individual and resisting the urge to be categorized in any pre-packaged
commodifiable identity group. I do not believe that religion is the problem or
in any way "the principle enemy of moral progress in the world". Human beings
kill, some kill in the name of God, others for King and Country, others for
ideals, and still others for food, land, water, etc. Dr. diCarlo said we should
explain the historical damage done by the religious to illustrate the harm
religion has imposed on humanity. But what about the harm science has imposed on
humanity in the past century alone? The conference was silent about the nuclear
arms race and chemical weapons. Only Dr. Doug Thomas humbled the audience and
reminded us that we as human beings are all responsible for the ecological
damage done to our world, a danger nevertheless amplified by technological
advances in the sciences.
A quote from your presentation reads "The men who dropped the atomic bomb on
Hiroshima said God was with them, those who flew from England to destroy Germany
said that God was their co-pilot...". I must protest: science created Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, science was also at service in concentration camps and gas
chambers. This intentional objection to the selected quote pits me in a cultural
war between science and religion. Which side is more harmful to humanity?
Indeed, the Catholic Church has the Inquisition, but Science has the nuclear
bomb. The humanist should be wary of any simplistic generalization that condemns
an entire group due to the acts of individuals. Galileo, for example, is praised
as a courageous anti-papal scientist, which equates for a point for science and
the anti-religious. Blame, on the other hand, is given to religion and,
erroneously, the religious. Why should an entire group be condemned to the same
fate that deserves only individual agents? Sadly, this practice of identity
politics has a long and brutal tradition. It is my belief that a humanist should
not engage in these battle, although the HAC surely has, but should rather take
a step back and disengage from the destructive cultural war and reflect from a
perspective you brought to my attention?
"We are all human beings first and Muslims and Hindus second". Alongside Muslims
and Hindus could we also add Christians, Jews, Capitalists, Atheists,
Freethinkers, Skeptics, Agnostics, Humanists, etc.? Your observation, which I
gratefully quote, was revealed to you in a work of literature. It was by means
of literature, not science, that you were first introduced to what may be
considered a humanist philosophy. But what exactly is a humanist philosophy? And
in what way have the works of Darwin, Marx, Freud, Russell, and Sartre led you
to accept atheism and humanism? What is the relationship between atheism and
humanism? I understand that you were complimented on being a friendly atheist,
but what really does atheism have to do with one's identity? The claim that
there is no God can be as radical and as faith based as the belief in a God. In
my opinion a humanist should be concerned with the objective things, public life
(such was the concern of Dr. Henry Beissel), and avoid the realm associated with
the subjective, thus including peoples emotional attachments to divine beliefs.
From your presentation I gathered three aspects of a humanist perspective:
1. It is scientific and rationally based. Science, you said, was the "light"
(your quote), that, I assume, led you away from what would be the "dark"
irrationality of religion. Is there not a pseudo-religious tone to the
conviction that science is the "way, the light, and the truth". Bertrand
Russell, one of the most frequently cited philosophers of those pro-scientism
and wary of religion famously stated "Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be
attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot
know". Yet he then goes on to say that most of the interesting questions lie
outside science: "Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is
mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of
independent powers? Has the universe any unity of purpose? Is it evolving
towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them
only because of our innate love of order?...Is there a way of living that is
noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living futile?...To such
questions no answers can be found in the laboratory". (John C. Lennox, God's
Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, 41).
2. Of its canons of literature consists the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, Russell,
and recently added diCarlo. These authors, I feel, offer an unjustified and
unbalanced attack on the negative events of religion because a few extremists
have indeed "killed in the name of God".
These texts also endorse scientism, which is itself intolerant to any belief
outside the materialist scientific matrix. Could scientism and materialism lead
to similar extremist tendencies of those who kill in the name of God? I guess my
concern is that a humanist perspective needs to look beyond the religious (or
scientific) cloak worn by the extremist to make a fair and balance "humanist"
critique of the situation. How this can be done, I do not yet know, but what I
do know is that there was far too much laughter and ridicule towards those who
are religious and profess a belief in any entity unexplainable by science, as if
they are naive because they have faith in a supernatural (or are simply a part
of a religious community, for support, for identity, much like many of the
"humanists" at the HAC conference).
3. It does not tolerate religion of any kind. I say this due to your strict
avoidance of any association with any symbolism of religious nature, such as
circumcision, and the assumption that religion is the enemy of modern man. It
sees religion as a method of control ("religion is the opium of the people").
You stated that you saw God as a "God of the gaps", like scrabble (which brought
forth the laughter of the crowd). I assume that this "God of the gaps" are those
gaps which science or reason cannot yet explain, and that it is only a matter of
time that science will be able to explain everything. I do not believe that that
same "God of the gaps", as an alternative to science (as is often proposed in
the Intelligent Design and Evolution debate) is the same as the concept of God
held in by (I believe) the monotheistic faiths; that of the God of the Universe,
the God that explains why Science explains. The Evolution and Intelligent Design
debate, and the atheistic and theistic positions take the form of displacement
battles. Their dichotomous relationships are self-destructive and do little help
in alleviating the concrete problems of society.
Dr. Sohail, I, too, am on my own intellectual journey to conceptualizing what
humanism means to me and how to effectively apply my theory to the public life.
This email is incomplete and I am not entirely satisfied with it. But if I
continue to pause and reflect upon this email it may never be sent. I hope you
take no offense to what I have written above. All the best,
KHALID SOHAIL’S RESPIONSE
REFLECTIONS OF A HUMANIST PSYCHOTHERAPIST
Dear Mark, Let me thank you one more time for asking genuine and intellectually
stimulating questions about Humanism and making me think and reflect. Your
letter and questions inspired the following responses.
1. My primary identity is that of a Human Being. For me this primary identity is
more important than my secondary identities based on race, ethnicity, gender,
sexual orientation, nationalism, language and religion. My car plate says
HUMANIST….than can also be read as HUMAN….Ist
2. For me Humanism is a philosophy that inspires people to become fully human
individually and collectively.
3. I grew up in a religious community and culture where questioning blind faith
was considered a sin and people who left religion were punished and persecuted.
As I grew older I became a free thinker. For me Atheism is declaring one’s
absence of faith in God and Religion. I like to define myself with what I am
rather than what I am not. Being brought up in a Muslim family everybody assumes
that I am a believer and a Muslim, that is why I say I am a Humanist
highlighting that for me human beings are the primary focus of my philosophy. I
like Humanist Groups as they provide an atmosphere where one can develop
4. After becoming a psychotherapist I developed a secular and humanist model
(Green Zone Philosophy and Psychotherapy that you can read on my website
In my clinical practice I help my patients and their families to
… reduce human suffering
…. increase mental health education and
,,, raise social consciousness
so that people develop their happy, healthy and peaceful lifestyle that I call
Green Zone Living. I find such encounters quite rewarding and growth promoting
and make my life more meaningful.
5. For me Science is a discipline that deals with WHAT IS while Religion deals
with WHAT SHOULD BE. For me modern science, psychology and philosophy help us
discover laws of nature so that we can understand natural causes of life and
universe that do not include supernatural causes offered by religions.
6. I fully agree with you that human beings have to take responsibility for
their choices and actions and their consequences individually and collectively.
A murder is a murder whether committed in the name of Science, Art, Politics or
Religion. If you are interested you can read my two articles titled
…Seven Causes of Human Suffering
Role of Mystics, Artists and Scientists in Human Evolution on
www.chowk.com under my name Khalid Sohail
7. In my mind injustices committed by individuals are different than committed
by institutions whether religious or secular. I am quite critical of
....Catholic Church who control people’s sexual lives in the name of Religion
….Mystic Cults who control people’s spiritual lives in the name of Spirituality
…Communist Parties who control people’s economic and political lives in the name
In my mind they are all anti-humanists as for them, ideologies are more
important than human beings. As a Humanist I am of the opinion that human beings
are more important than ideologies…secular or religious. On the other hand I
respect secular leaders like Nelson Mandela and religious leaders like Desmund
Tutu, who promoted human rights in South Africa and played a role in the
liberation of Black People and received Nobel Peace prizes for their services to
8. Over the centuries religious and spiritual traditions have guided humanity.
In the last couple of centuries, secular tradition is serving humanity by
developing science, psychology and philosophy and creating modern technology and
finding cures for physical and mental illnesses.
9. I support people and organizations who want to serve humanity with good
conscience, whether religious, spiritual or secular and I am critical of people
or organizations who hurt humanity with bad conscience whether secular,
spiritual or religious.
Dear Mark, I think you and I are on the same page. We might use different
vocabulary and language but we both want betterment of human beings in our
As a humanist psychotherapist I am trying to create a peaceful lifestyle for
myself and help others create the same.
I am sending you two articles titled
Subjective and Objective Truths
Fundamentalist and Humanist personalities (I presented that in Humanist
Association of Toronto …HAT..Seminar)
I hope you like them.
Now I am working on a paper titled
Evolution of Human Psyche….Mind and Personality
in which I am planning to review ideas presented by Charles Darwin, Sigmund
Freud, Karl Marx, Abraham Maslow. Victor Frankl, Eric Fromm and many others and
share my critique of them and show how Human Mind and Personality are developing
in the 21st century.
I am developing a theory of Human Mind and Personality to show the wide spectrum
from the less evolved to the more evolved. I am of the opinion that more evolved
human beings have a mind and a personality that are
If you are visiting Toronto please let me know and we can meet for a cup of tea.
August 19th, 2008