By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail

Over the years I have met a number of Muslims, Christians and Jews who told me that I was the first non-believer they had met. They were curious how did I lose my faith and how did I become a humanist. I have also met many religious people who were surprised that in spite of being an atheist they found me a caring human being and a compassionate psychotherapist. They were honest in sharing their opinion that they associated morality with religion and believed that if people left religion and faith in God then they would become immoral and unethical people. They could not imagine a life without religion especially without God. After a lengthy dialogue with me they were willing to entertain a possibility that people could lead an ethical and peaceful life without God and Religion.

          When people ask me “How is a humanist different than a religious person?” I share that different humanists might answer that question differently but in my opinion a humanist has a humanistic philosophy and a humanistic personality. If they want to know more I share with them that to develop a humanistic philosophy one need to develop a secular and scientific approach to life. Humanists leave the traditional belief systems and superstitions behind and develop a rational attitude towards life and nature. They no longer have a blind faith in God, Prophets, Scriptures and life after death. They focus on their life on earth and not worry about life before birth or after death.

          Alongside adopting a humanistic philosophy they also develop a humanistic personality. To develop such a personality they have to follow their own conscience rather than Holy Scriptures. They learn to love their neighbors because they are fellow human beings and not because God told them to do so. They get involved in the struggle of human rights in their communities because they realize that growing together is better than growing alone.

          I have met many religious people who had to go through a transitional stage as if they were in a no-man’s land. They had left religious faith and lifestyle but still had not discovered their personal code of ethics. Some of them were atheists but not humanists, as they knew they did not believe in religious values but were not sure what values they believed in. They had said ‘goodbye’ to God and organized religion but still not said ‘hello’ to a humanistic lifestyle. They had lost the traditional faith but not discovered their personal truth yet. As a psychotherapist I am aware that from believing in God to believing in oneself is a long journey, for some adventurous while for others painful. For some it takes years to get in touch with their inner centre, a source of personal truth, creativity and self -direction.

          I have gradually discovered in my clinical practice that each human being is born with a ‘natural self’ unique to his/her temperament and personality. If that child is born and raised in a religious family and community then that child develops a ‘conditioned self’. Such conditioned self is guided by many ‘shoulds’. It is not uncommon for that conditioning to distort or restrict some aspects of ‘natural self’ and the person feels trapped in that religious ideology and lifestyle. The more the religious ideology is autocratic and authoritarian, the more the natural self is vulnerable to be restricted by the conditioning of religious attitudes.

          When humanists say ‘goodbye’ to religions they feel free as they can say goodbye to all the restrictions that were a hurdle in their freedom. Such freedom is on one hand liberating but on the other hand can also become a source of confusion. Religion provides a traditional highway from birth to death and guides people what to do and how to do it at every turn in their lives. It is interesting though that those guidelines are different even contradictory in different religions as they are the reflection of the traditions of the culture that religion was born and brought up. For example in one religion beef is allowed but pork is not as pig is considered unclean but in another religion beef is not allowed, as cow is considered sacred. Similarly in one religion one man can have more than one wife and sleep with many wives but in another religion sex is allowed only with one woman inside the institution of marriage and only for reproductive reasons.

          When religious people leave their religion some of them feel as if they got off the highway. Now they have to discover a trail of their heart and that process takes some time from a psychological point of view. After leaving religion God and Scriptures are not going to provide the guidance and non-believers have to decide what is best for them and they have to face the consequences of their actions.

          I usually suggest new humanists to meet other humanists who have left their religion a long time ago and have found answers to those questions. Listening to the stories of other humanists help new humanists to discover their own trail of heart. I share with the new humanists that such a transformation can be a slow and painful process but at the end it is all worth it.

          I am of the opinion that when people leave the blind faith in God and traditional religion behind it opens up a world of new opportunities in their lives. They can explore many new creative ideas and alternative lifestyles that might have been prohibited by their religion. Now they can explore their potential to the fullest and become fully human. I am convinced that following a humanistic philosophy and developing humanistic personality and creating a humanistic lifestyle will inspire us to become fully human individually and collectively.