What Makes Us Truly Human?

aleister-crowley1According to the free-thinker and magician Aleister Crowley, the powers of light would never ask any human being to bow before them. Indeed, according to this radical thinker, slavery is as far away from these spirits as the stars are from this Earth. All of which raises the question of what it means to be both religious and human. But there is the problem. Perhaps it is not possible to have a religion and fully human freedom. After all, religion tends to cause more harm than good. What is more, organised religions have been the greatest instruments for intolerance, warfare and ignorance. Also, they stop human progress, and limit the freedom of thought in every nation throughout the centuries. Perhaps that is why the powerful as well as the rich use religion to control and frighten their own people.

Religions start with people. The prophets and saviours that have claimed to be speaking on behalf of gods were, at the end of the day, only human themselves. Furthermore, the people that listened to them speak were listening to human words and not the sound of angels. According to the German thinker Feuerbach religion was the projection of deep human needs onto the cosmos. If this is the truth human beings should ask themselves why the mystery of humanity is not enough for them. Religion, therefore, does little or nothing to unify people, or to make them fight back against cultural oppression or natural disasters. All it can do is give images of a heavenly king who is more concerned with the way people behave towards him than with suffering or sadness. If you do what the king says he will reward you, but if you disobey him he will punish you forever. Of course, the fact that this situation would be unjust seems to escape most religious people who are too busy flattering their dictator. On reflection, we should consider the words of Napoleon when he said “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich”.

354px-Epicurus_bust2Believing is the issue. In some cases, belief sets Muslims against Christians and Christians against Jews. It may even set Muslim against Muslim when different interpretations or translations of so – called holy books arise.  To disagree with your neighbour is somehow understood to be an offence against god. The simple fact that different people see things in a variety of ways has been lost. Human beings use religion against themselves and their humanity. What human being can believe that a new born baby is corrupted or wicked? Who can really say that the old and sick should be thrown on to the scrap heap?

If a humanist is feeling generous perhaps he or she can say along with Carl Marx that “religion is the heart of a heartless world, the soul of a soulless world, the opium of the people”. However, religion becomes a problem the moment it places itself above the human condition. It is then that these stories become poisonous. More often than not, religion is the cover under which lands are occupied, taxes collected (some advertises have recently claimed it was a religious duty to pay yearly tax) and alternative ideologies threatened with destruction. It is the cloak which hides murder, hypocrisy and thought control. Nevertheless, we are all good men and women. Only religion stops us remembering that each and every human being is good. Even though there are times when humans forget their goodness and fall short of right conduct.

Ironically, it is my contention that faith is the principal characteristic of being human. Not, however, faith in a god but faith in other people. As scholars have pointed out faith as a term comes from the Latin word fidere (“to trust”). In other words, faith is an attitude of belief which goes beyond all the evidence that is available to our inspection. It helps us to pose the right questions and to avoid false or limiting alternatives. In this sense, faith is the capacity to see above media representations of human duplicity, genocide, suicidal bombers and racial hatred. According to the Spanish existential writer Unamuno, the conflict between faith and reason leads to a “tragic sense of life” even though it made us fully human. Faith, therefore, should be placed in the ultimate goodness of the human heart, the empathy of the human mind and the saving power of human reason. This is why the Victorian atheists are such attractive individuals. They were giants amongst men with big bushy beards and large bellies. Some of them would chase clergymen along the road while shouting at them that they were betraying the Truth. Certainly, these magnificent men believed in beauty and virtue in a manner that most moderns do not. So, there is the problem. Contemporary humanists have lost their faith in the power of the ethical. Our debating societies have become empty due the fact that humanism has abandoned it is core practices.

Only in a state of atheism can our human limitations and problems be assessed. Needless to say, religion does its best to prevent this situation from happening. Priests and Mullahs would rather tell us to keep looking for a god that we can not see and never find than guide us into and encounter with ourselves. They tell us to stay on our knees but do not mention that their god wants us to bow before him to make himself feel superior. Even Rabbis in their synagogues refuse to mention that without acts of worship their god would have no purpose. Surely human beings are more than slaves or god’s toys? Even though none of us asked to be born religion tells us that we should be grateful and give everything that we have in our lives back to a god that needs nothing. He is then, a tyrant and a slaver. Also religion is an ignorant conspiracy in which human rights have no position or a political prison where the jailer can never be pleased. Everyday we have to thank a power which we never see.

With this in mind, we should remember the founders of Hurufism in the Middle East. As a Medieval movement that believed in the unique perfections of each and every human being, they led lives devoted to knowledge (as the only true religion) and the spread of universal education. These exemplary philosophers often became martyrs as a result of their unflinching devotion to the Arts and Sciences. Imaddaddin Nasimi (1369 – 1417), a poet remembered in Azerbaijan to this day, due to the beauty of his ghazals, is a case in point. He studied Hurufism under its ideological creator Fazlullah Astarabadi (Naimi) in his twenties and went on to teach this doctrine to all of those who were willing to keep an open mentality. Perhaps, this is the reason why he was considered to be an enemy of the state, specifically religion, and targeted as a socio – religious problem by the Mullahs. Defiantly, Nasimi retorts:

Bulmuşam haqqi, analhaq soylaram,

Haq manam, haq mandadir, haq soylaram.

I found the truth, “I am divine truth” I say,

I am the whole truth, the truth is upon me; truly I say.

Eventually, Nasimi was forced into exile by their plots, only to be arrested, and then executed, for the crime of raising people’s expectations. The violence of his death (he was flayed, decapitated and finally dismembered) demonstrated the fear felt by his enemies. Yet, his message of love to all human beings, faith in the future, and the fact that humanity embodied absolute truth, shines as a testament to his enlightened perspective

What is the solution? At the risk of sounding like a Victorian, an answer presents itself in tuition. Not the pumping of technological information into innocent children’s brains that is held up as an idol by present day Western educators, but a community based access to art, science and philosophy posited by ethical humanism. Therefore, it is useful to recall the Ethical Culture Movement founded by Felix Adler which was open to people of diverse beliefs. Adler himself, certainly, developed and promoted the ideas of Kant and Ralph Waldo Emerson, mixed with certain socialistic concepts current in his day. Clearly, he believed that the idea of a personal god was unnecessary and that the human personality should be understood as the central force of Knowledge. After all, learning is the only saviour and only the truth will set us free. In which case, as humanists, we must wage a metaphorical war on ignorance, intolerance and religion, in our battle to see human beings as the measure of all things good.

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