- Published on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 05:50
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 3872
Most of the books you can read about World Religions focus mainly on ideology and philosophy. But Canadian Psychiatrist Dr. Khalif Sohail is of the opinion that the emotional, social and political problems we witness in our homes and communities exist not only because of differences in ideology but also because of the conflicts between personalities. When people are angry and want to hurt each other, they can use their ideologies like some people use knives, guns, tanks and bombs. The war that starts with words can escalate to knives and guns in domestic disputes and tanks and bombs in national and international wars.
In his practice, Dr. Sohail has come to realize that people's belief systems may not be realistic reflections of their lifestyles, and he started exploring the relationship between people's ideologies and attitudes, their philosophies and personalities. He realized that ideologies are like book covers and we all know that books should not be judged by their covers.
Dr. Sohail has a long and interesting essay on this subject which you can read here but I will try to summarize his thoughts:
Four groups of People
Each human being has a unique personality and lifestyle but it is useful to look at two aspects of people:
- Ideologies can be Religious or not
- Life philosophies or personalities can be Fundamentalist or people oriented (which we'll call Humanist in this discussion).
We can then divide people into four broad categories:
- Religious Fundamentalists…People with a Religious Ideology and Fundamentalist Personality
- Atheist Fundamentalists…People with an Atheist Philosophy and Fundamentalist Personality
- Secular Humanists…People with a Secular Humanist Philosophy and Humanist Personality
- Religious Humanists…People with a Religious Ideology and Humanist Personality
It is unfortunate that people with a Fundamentalist Personality create angry, hostile and destructive conflicts and initiate and maintain cycles of violence. When people with a Fundamentalist Personality become leaders of political parties or religious institutions, their communities can also get caught up in their conflicts.
Dr. Sohail is gradually coming to the painful realization that some atheists, agnostics and free thinkers also have a Fundamentalist Personality that creates a lot of tension in their inter-personal relationships and a cycle of violence in their families because of the anger generated by the conflicts.
Further, two people with a Humanist Personality, whether as individuals or heads of families and communities, can live in peace even if they have differences in ideology and philosophy.
From Religious ideology to Humanists philosophy
When we focus on religious ideologies and life philosophies, we find people on a wide spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum are the Orthodox Religious People. They believe in a Heavenly God and they also belong to a Church. For them, belief in a Creator is intimately connected with Institutions, be they churches, mosques, synagogues or temples. They believe that human beings need divine guidance to lead a holy life, and that such guidance has been provided by God in the form of scriptures revealed to Prophets over the centuries. For those orthodox Religious People, scriptures provide the guidelines for their individual, family, social and political lives. Such people are generally preoccupied with the past. They believe that the divine revelations in their scriptures are eternal and true and need not be revised. They believe in a rigid code of ethics and high moral standards based on their Heavenly Books.
Next to them are the Religiously Liberal People. They have the same belief structure as the orthodox Religious People except that they are flexible in their interpretation of the scriptures. They believe that as human conditions change, so should the morals and ethics of society.
Next to the Religiously Liberal People are those who consider themselves Spiritual People. These people believe in God but do not belong to a Religious Institution. They believe that people have to find their own path. Some of those Spiritual People believe in a Creator. They believe that there is a Being in the universe that they can connect with, who can provide personal guidance, consolation or even inspiration. On the other hand, there are some Spiritual People who believe that God is inside all of us. They do not believe in any Being outside of Human Beings. There are also some people who do not associate spirituality with God or Religion and believe that spirituality is part of humanity, not divinity.
Towards the other end of the spectrum are those who call themselves Agnostics or Skeptics or Rationalists. They believe neither in a Heavenly God nor in the Institution of Religion. Generally, they see life through the eyes of logic, rationality and objectivity, rather than blind faith. Some of them feel that to deny the existence of God is as irrational as to accept the existence. They believe only in those things that can be proven scientifically.
On the far end of the spectrum is the group who consider themselves Atheists. They feel strongly that there is no God and that mankind has no need of the Institution of Religion. Some of them even feel that the Institution of Religion, rather than a blessing, has been a curse for Humanity, and has played a significant role in causing Holy Wars throughout history. Some Atheists seem to focus more on what they do not believe in, rather than on what they do believe and become anti-religious.
In the world of life ideologies and philosophies, Humanists seem to have a special place on this spectrum. They hold Humanistic values close to their hearts. They believe that Human Beings are more important than Heavenly Gods and Religions. They encourage a scientific attitude towards life and become involved in activities to serve Humanity. They are of the opinion that Church and State should be kept separate. People's faiths should guide them individually, while the State's decisions should be based upon the recognition of Human Rights, by which all human beings, irrespective of their class, ethnicity, language, gender or religious affiliation should have equal rights and privileges. Some consider Humanism a philosophy rather than a Religion, or even an alternative to Religion.
If you look at how these people interact with each other and the world, it becomes clear that the volatile factor that leads to violence is the Fundamentalism, whether it be religious or atheist.
Looking from another viewpoint, it's not Religion or ideology or beliefs that cause wars, torture and terror - it's a personality or way of viewing the world - or if you like, their beliefs of how they should interact with others.
Dr. Sohail calls an ideal personality Humanist with the following characteristics:
- Their primary identity is that of a Human Being rather than a member or some ethnic, racial, gender, linguistic or religious group.
- They realize that every human being is unique. They accept rather than judge people.
- They are flexible rather than rigid in their attitude towards life
- They are realistic rather than idealistic in their interactions with others.
- They focus more on similarities than differences in people, individually and collectively.
- They respect other people's beliefs and do not impose their views on others.
- They believe that religion and state politics should be kept separate.
- They get involved in activities that serve humanity at large.
- They do not believe in wars, especially holy wars.
- They strive for peace, justice and harmony in life.
End of Summary
I'm not sure I'd call such people Humanists, I'd just call them good people.
But the message here is that people are complex and if everyone took the time to understand, accept and tolerate other viewpoints, there'd be less conflict and more harmony in the world.
We should not particularly try to change the beliefs of others - we should try to change them away from being fundamentalists.
Dr. Khalid Sohail is an active Secular Humanist and a practicing Psychiatrist based in Whitby Ontario. His web site is: www.drsohail.com