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Religion across the world – Interviewing the founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement

Religion across the world – Interviewing the founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement

David G. McAfee | Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

As a secular activist in America, I always find it interesting to learn about the viewpoints of other advocates for non-belief in other areas of the world – especially in areas where the religious fundamentalism is perhaps the most extreme. For the last year or more, I’ve been writing a book called, “Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-Believer” (release, Sept. 2012). In the course of that writing, I became very interested in reading the “coming out” stories of atheists from around the world. In some regions, this act is certainly more serious – and more dangerous – than in others.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is the founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement on Facebook. With more than 84,000 fans, the group aims to use critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry – rather than faith and mysticism – in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.

Faisal is a 20-year-old Iraqi writer and advocate for freedom of thought. Recently, Faisal sat down with me to discuss his upcoming projects and religion’s powerful influence throughout the Middle East. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

1.       What is “secular humanism” and why did you found the Global Secular Humanist Movement on Facebook?

I think there have been many definitions proposed to identify what Secular Humanism actually means; they all go back to the same principles that we, as a species, can have fully ethical lives relying on ourselves using reason and science to solve problems without the belief in the supernatural.

I can simply define it as, “Doing goodness for goodness’ sake.”

There are many reasons why I founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement (GSHM); the most important one is to discuss ideas and realizing that you are not alone. I have received many emails and messages from members telling me how happy they are to find other people who think similarly on these issues, many friendships are being created and many ideas are being discussed.

I think what makes GSHM different from other Humanist councils or movements is that it’s a movement without leaders and without a rigid platform. I never claim to be leader or anything of that kind, I am an administrator, my job is to stimulate discussions and share views that sometimes even I don’t support just for the sake of stimulating a debate and listening to multiple views.

We emphasize a lot on individual thinking and individual freedom, we ask people to think for themselves, think critically about issues that matter to their lives and our planet in general.

At the end, we humans are responsible for fixing the world and making it a better place to live. There can’t be any real solutions if we don’t first acknowledge that there are problems and that Gods, miracles, and apocalyptic beliefs are not the answers – because they are based on fiction and not facts.

2.       Were you ever religious? How did you become a secular humanist?

No, but I used to a Deist. I was interest in science and philosophy since I was a child, I used to believe that God – or whatever you call it – is a grand scientist and a philosopher and Science and Philosophy are the languages of God; I used to consider Scientists to be prophets because they are sharing the language with us, after a while I realized that God that I used to believe in is actually the one I created. Just because I had interest in these topics, I wanted God to be this way.  I never believed in religion in any day of my life because I think it’s very incompatible with the beauty of the universe and I find it to be so trivial.

3.       Being born in Iraq, you’ve experienced a type of religious fundamentalism that rivals most others. What is the most heinous act that you’ve seen committed in the name of religion?

Unfortunately, yes. Iraq’s history is filled with religious wars since its existence.  The most recent one is the civil war between the Muslims that led to thousands if not millions of deaths and injuries. I lost my eldest brothers and my cousin, I lost many friends because of the civil war, I used to witness 100s of dead bodies on my way to school, suicide bombers, beheadings etc. That caused me to have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I am struggling with it every day.

Most of these crimes – if not all – are committed under the name of religion, if you think about it logically, what would lead a young man in his 20s or 30s to blow himself up and kill 100s of civilians? Money? Being famous? No. It’s the reward in heaven and indoctrination with hatred since a very young age.

4.       Is there a law against blasphemy in Iraq?

Constitutionality speaking, no we don’t. But Iraq is considered a failed state, that’s according to foreign policy institute.  It’s mostly under the control of religious militias either of the previous regime (Saddam Hussein), Al Qaeda or Iran sponsored militias. You may be killed/prosecuted at any moment from any of these militias; you may be killed not only for being an Atheist, you may be killed for being a Christian or being a member of other sect in Islam. Atheists are very small minority in this country but definitely they are also a main target.

5.       Why do you think religion is such a powerful force in the world? Is secular humanism the force you expect will help diminish the hold that religion has?

I think religion’s power differs from a region to a region, the most extreme forces can be found in the Middle East or countries Like Pakistan, Uganda, etc. But in places like Western Europe and North America, religion is on decline due to the rise of enlightenment and scientific development.

These are the main enemies of religion. In my opinion, the more we know about the world, the more we realize the religion offers no answers and has no evidence to support it. Because Secular Humanism is based on the values of human freedom and scientific inquiry, it will definitely overcome religion as time passes by and scientific knowledge becomes more accessible in the world.

6.       As a fellow young secular writer, I wonder how you answer the charge that perhaps you’re just too young and inexperienced to understand faith or “God.”

I have written in previous articles that I don’t believe in religion not because I tend to ignore it or I have hatred for it, but because I understand it, I spent many hours reading the religious scriptures. People don’t realize that books like the Quran and the Bible are the CLAIM – and not the EVIDENCE. As a student of philosophy, when I read the religious books, I examined their claims and looked for the scientific explanations and realized that they don’t match. My non-belief in God is no different to me than my non-belief in Unicorns or Astrology, there is no scientific evidence to support them and I see no reason to believe them. I don’t claim that I know all the answers, there is nothing wrong with ignorance if you admit it, It led to me to be more humble and more into  inquiry when I don’t know the answer, I suspend judgment as simple as that.

Faith is simply a way to make ignorance holy – and to be satisfied with it. If someone can present me a scientific proof for God, I am ready to change my mind.

7.       I read that you’re working on a book called, “Dogma.” What can you tell me about it?

My book is divided into many parts.  It talks about dogmas in general, whether they were religious or political, and how dogmas suspend us from finding better solutions and better answers.

8.       Aside from GSHM, have you founded any other pages, sites, or projects?

Yes. I consider the United States Secular constitution to be one of the best man made documents. I worked with friends to translate the U.S constitution Bill Of Rights into many different languages and uploaded it into my website http://www.faisalalmutar.com/BillOfRights/.

I conducted many interviews with Middle Eastern free thinkers and women’s rights activists – You can check them in my website www.faisalalmutar.com.

I am also working to create a media company called Secular Post to discuss ideas from Secular perspective.

I am the Admin of Daniel Dennett fan page (unofficial) as well as Facebook for Science https://www.facebook.com/dailyscientia.

9.       My next book, which releases in September, is called Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-Believer. Do you think “coming out” is a real problem for non-believers in Iraq and around the world?

For Iraq and the Middle East in general, of course it is because there are no laws to protect freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I think with the rise of Atheism in United States, many people will accept it just like they are now accepting that some people are Homosexuals. It will take some time and many struggles but with the free market of ideas, I think religion will lose the competition, just like Racism and Slavery ‘partly’ lost a while ago, Religion at the end is a slavery of the mind, but most people who fall into it don’t know they are slaves and that’s the biggest problem we are facing.

10.   Do you think secularism is gaining traction in the modern world? What can we do to speed up that process?

I think it is, more people need to come out, and more people need to speak out. There is nothing wrong with basing your life on reality and support Human Rights. The world would be a better place to live in if dangerous delusions are out of it.

11.   Anything else you’d like to add?

I think that most beautiful thing about being a Humanist is that I don’t claim to know things I don’t know, there is nothing wrong with that, it motivates me to know more, it motivates me to be humble person as well as it makes me honest with myself and people around me.

While we do know that we are living right now, so let’s make the best of our lives, let’s work together to reduce suffering and most importantly improve education and make it more accessible to all people around the world because we can’t make the planet a better place unless we innovate and understand what problems we are all facing and work individually or together in fixing them.

About the author:
David G. McAfee is a journalist, a religious studies scholar, and author of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is a columnist for Canadian Freethinker Magazine and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with dual degrees in English and Religious Studies. You can “like” his Facebook Page or follow him on Twitter.

Global Secular Humanist Movement

Global Secular Humanist Movement

“Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-Believer.”

This photo is in celebration of my upcoming book, “Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-Believer.” The book is set to release in late August or early September.

If you are a podcast/radio host and would like to arrange an interview – or a writer/blogger interested in a review copy, please contact me by e-mail: David@DavidGMcAfee.com


Mom, Dad, I'm an Atheist

Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist

Press Release: Secular Author Offers Free Book to Interested Parties

For Immediate Release:

Secular Author Offers Free Book to Interested Parties

LOS ANGELES— David G. McAfee, author of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings (http://www.amazon.com/Disproving-Christianity-Secular-Writings-revised/dp/0956427685/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1338253896&sr=8-3), will be giving free PDFs of his book to interested parties who e-mail him requesting it, McAfee announced on his website (www.DavidGMcAfee.com) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DavidMcAfee7) on Friday. Disproving Christianity was published by Dangerous Little Books (www.dangerouslittlebooks.com) in January 2011, and is a critique of biblical literalism.

“If someone is interested in my work – and they can’t afford the book or they’d like to ‘try before they buy,’ I’d be happy to send a PDF,” McAfee said. “I just ask that – if they enjoy the read – they leave an Amazon review.”

McAfee said he will continue to send out the free PDFs to anyone with genuine interest until the launch of his next book, which is set for mid-August. The new book will be titled “Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming out as a Non-Believer.”

“I know that people will buy the book if they can,” McAfee explained. “But, for those who can’t, or those who have a vague interest in secularism or religious studies, this is perfect. They can check out the whole book and then decide if they want to support my work by purchasing a copy.”

Requests for a free PDF can be sent to David@DavidGMcAfee.com.

About the author: David G. McAfee is a journalist, a religious studies graduate, and author of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings, a critique of biblical literalism and a refutation of Christianity’s key principles. He is a columnist for Canadian Freethinker Magazine and a contributor to A merican Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with dual degrees in English and Religious Studies.

Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/DavidMcAfee7
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidgmcafee
Website: http://www.davidgmcafee.com/

Image created by Gordon T. Crowley

Image created by Gordon T. Crowley

Atheists Coming Out – New Series – “Born Atheist”

Atheists Coming Out – New Series

In the coming weeks, I will be publishing testimonials from atheists all over the world who have experienced coming out as a non-believer to less-than-supportive family, friends, and other loved ones. In some cases, the people featured in this series will have been ostracized or rejected by fundamentalist peers. And, in some, they have been met— as should always be the case— with love and respect. Each testimonial featured in Atheists Coming Out will help give insight to the large percentage of atheists who, for fear of rejection or misunderstanding, have not been open about their lack of faith. I will choose five (5) of the featured stories to be included in an upcoming book on this very topic. To submit your 1000-1,500 word de-conversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.com with “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.

To begin the series, I’ll publish my own coming out story:

“It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.”

Ernestine Louise Rose (January 13, 1810 – August 4, 1892)

Born Atheist

                In order to properly understand this guide to “coming out” as a non-believer, some might wish to learn more about the particular context in which I, as a secular author, am writing. Now, the way I see it, everybody is born an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position… more often than not, however, this is not the case. I don’t remember a particular time in my life in which I believed in the validity of a particular religious tradition but, eventually, even I had to break the news to my family and become “open” regarding my secular mindset. My parents were not always religious people… They may have abused substances religiously— but, when I was very young, church was probably the last thing on their minds. When I was two years old, my parents divorced and began their separate lives pursuing drugs to feed their addictions; thankfully, my grandmother volunteered to care for me until my mother or father could afford (financially and emotionally) to raise me. She never mistreated me or abused me, but she was the first person in my life to introduce me to religion and the authority of the church. My grandparents with whom I spent the majority of my childhood considered themselves Baptist Christians— and I was raised in a way that, they thought, would encourage similar ideologies in me.

When I was a bit older— around six years old— I went to a Christian church at the discretion of my grandparents; this was my first real experience with a religious institution. The church, located in a small town in Northern California, considered itself “non-denominational” and usually consisted of a pastor reciting well-chosen biblical passages for about an hour and providing some minor inspirational interpretations. Needless to say, I was not moved by the experience— and didn’t take the idea of church seriously. Even though this doctrine was being force-fed to me for as long as I can remember, I always had questions about its veracity— questions that, I quickly learned, were considered inappropriate to ask. My grandmother was a self-described traditional, god-fearing, Christian woman— though it wasn’t until much later that I would realize the closed-mindedness that this mindset bred in her and others. She saw that I was not excited about attending church on a regular basis and, at around age eight, she mandated that I attend a weekly children’s class at the same church in an attempt to force my involvement and encourage participation within the “House of God.” I recall my first day at this Sunday School very well; I remember that my younger step-sister was there with me in a classroom-like setting learning about Jesus Christ and his message, obviously at a superficial level that could be absorbed by young children. I also remember the tactics utilized by the “teachers” in order to keep the attention of the children and get us excited about church— such techniques included giving gifts of candy and other prizes for active participation. I do not doubt that the intentions of these people were positive but, in hindsight, I cannot help but see the gifts as a type of mild bribery in exchange for the willing indoctrination of a child. After we earned a certain amount of “Bible Bucks”, which were awarded for correctly answering trivia questions about the gospels and participating in Christian songs, we could cash in these vouchers for prizes like candy, toys, or even a ten-minute break to play on the trampoline behind the church.

The bus ride to and from Sunday School was the most exciting part of the event for me and my step-sister; we would play games, sing songs, and we were always given a large amount of sugary sweets. My point in telling you this is not to glorify the practice of forcing a religion on a child, but instead to illuminate the ways in which this act is carried out within the Christian community and other religious traditions. My step-sister was always delighted to attend church in order to receive candy and prizes… it didn’t take long for this connection to become a subconscious one, which created an extremely positive outlook of church and religion in her mind. For one reason or another, I did not have this reaction— I simply didn’t take church or religion seriously. I remember thinking of it more as a pastime or a game to occupy my time on Sunday mornings, acknowledging that the “miracles” portrayed in the Biblical Texts could not have possibly occurred. There is no point in my past in which I would have considered myself “Christian”, or affiliated with any other religion for that matter. But, as my family took Christianity as God’s inherent truth, I was afraid to voice my opinions on the subject. It was this disparity between my family’s faith and my lack of faith that spurred my interest in the study of religion. It wasn’t until age thirteen that I became interested in actively studying the various religious traditions in the world and their effects on society at large. It is because of this curiosity, and my sincere hope to avoid familial confrontation, that I decided to remain silent about my skepticism surrounding Christianity— and all religions. I continued to accompany my family to church on Sundays— as a silent observer. After years of attending the same Christian church nearly every week, however, I had a lot of unanswered questions about the religion’s history, principles, and how it has become the most followed tradition in the world. But, out of fear of being ostracized, I remained silent and did not raise my concerns to my family.

            At age fifteen, I decided that I wasn’t getting enough information out of the weekly sermons to justify any sort of divine revelation— I decided to read the bible to get a more complete picture of what it teaches and why. It is at this time, after seeing first-hand the violent, discriminatory, and hate-filled passages that our pastor had neglected to read aloud, that I decided that I was definitely against the notion of organized religion. I could have remained silent for years as so many of us do, but instead I decided to confront my family head on. It is at age fifteen that I first told my family that I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I disagree with the religion on a moral level. I was honest and respectful about my opinions, but that didn’t stop them from attempting to force my participation in the church— they probably thought they were doing the right thing, trying to “save my soul”. I remember them being upset with me at first— as you would expect. But, because of my straightforward and honest attitude toward the subject, and because I broached the subject rather early in life, it blew over relatively quickly. From age fifteen on it was known to all those in my family that I was a Religious Conscientious Objector and, while some of the more closed-minded family members looked down on me for this rather bold decision, I simply turned the other cheek. Now, I am an open atheist in my private and public life and believe that I am truly better off for it. While keeping your opinions hidden might help to avoid small confrontations, being honest with yourself and others will be more rewarding in the long term and I truly empathize with those people who are still being forced to hide their non-religiosity.

I understand that, because I never fully believed, my de-conversion wasn’t as divisive as some of my friends and colleagues. Those of us who were more invested in church might have a more difficult time sharing their new-found skepticism with friends and family. This includes those non-believers who were once clergymen or preachers or otherwise associated with a religious tradition— this dynamic presents its own set of unique challenges. But the reason my de-conversion was not a traumatic moment in my life, is precisely because I didn’t wait. By telling my family as soon as I was sure that I didn’t want to be involved in the church, it became a soon-forgotten aspect to my developing personality— in other words, my family got used to it. By the time I was eighteen and decided to attend school for Religious Studies, nobody in my family or circle of friends was surprised that I was interested in studying the phenomenon of religion from a secular perspective; and, though I catch flak from strangers every once in a while, my true friends and family love and respect me for who I am, regardless of religious and ideological differences. This is, in my opinion, how it can and should be for everybody, provided that you are honest with yourself and others in a respectful manner; here, I will outline some steps to make the process easier for you and your loved ones, provide testimonials from non-believers of all ages who decided to take the enormous step to become open about their lack of belief, and provide helpful information for resources and support systems for open non-believers. The intention is that these instructions and stories will help people who are being forced to hide their thoughts and feelings from family and friends in a society largely dominated by religion.

To submit your 1000-1,500 word deconversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.com with “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.

E-mail your 'Coming Out' story

E-mail your 'Coming Out' story