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 REFLECTIONS OF A HUMANIST PSYCHOTHERAPIST

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,
Mark Conte
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,
Mark Conte

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 critical thinking.
4. After becoming a psychotherapist I developed a secular and humanist model (Green Zone Philosophy and Psychotherapy that you can read on my website www.greenzoneliving.ca ).
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
and
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
and
…Communist Parties who control people’s economic and political lives in the name of Atheism
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 humanity.
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 hearts.
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
And
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
Critical
Creative
and
Compassionate
If you are visiting Toronto please let me know and we can meet for a cup of tea.
Sincerely,
Khalid Sohail
www.drsohail.com
August 19th, 2008

 

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