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.