(A review of The Next Stage of Human Evolution)

I’d like to begin by talking a bit about my first meeting with Dr. Sohail, and how our discussions about religion, philosophy, sociology, and humanism, led me to the surprising realization that despite our being on opposite sides of the religious divide, there existed a significant commonality of thought between us. My views have, to borrow his use of the term, evolved since that time. When I first met him, I informed him that I had rejected traditional understandings of Islam and had developed my own “homegrown” understanding of my faith. Quickly, he asked me what I meant by “homegrown” even though all along, he knew the answer. It is found in his own book, which eloquently describes a religious outlook that falls somewhat in between religious dogmatism and atheism. The first is associated with organized religion. The second represents a clean break from religion. Dr. Sohail had gone through this stage of spiritual evolution himself, as described in the chapter of his book entitled From Fundamentalism to Humanism.

As I read along, I could not help but conclude that he exhibits a keen understanding of comparative religions and successfully relates his findings to his own conclusions. The book is very readable. The author discusses novel ideas like “self transcendence “with depth and clarity in layman’s terminology. In fact, the book introduces quite a number of new and interesting ideas. For example, it eaborates on the idea of human spirituality. Traditionally, we have viewed the notion of spirituality as being associated with the “supernatural” or metaphysical, but the author tells us that this need not be the case. Human or earthly spirituality he says, can be understood as a human experience that lifts human beings out of their mundane existence to higher levels of consciousness and self-awareness. Some intense and powerful emotions, like love, can take human beings to newer heights of ecstasy. In thus discussing human spirituality, Dr Sohail elucidates the philosophy of the mystic/psychotherapist Victor Frankal.

When I look at my own philosophical evolution, and that of Dr Sohail’s as described in his own book, I see many parallels. The book in fact describes how collective evolution toward a humanistic identity can take place one individual at a time. This is possible whether one is a religious humanist or a secular humanist. This “next stage of human evolution” will result in societies that are more humane, more egalitarian and more tolerant. The practical steps to achieve this noble goal will require an acknowledgement of the primacy of our common humanity, as opposed to the ascendancy of superficial differences based on culture, ethnicity or religion. Although the book is a collection of essays written at different times for different occasions, the theme that human beings must evolve to achieve a better, more harmonious world is apparent to the reader

Borrowing the word evolution from the person who used it most efficiently, Dr Sohail begins the book by discussing Charles Darwin’s role in shaping a new way of thinking. Indeed, Darwin is credited with turning the world from a theistic to a more humanistic world, by formulating a theory of man’s origin rooted in the natural rather than the spiritual realm. Darwin as presented by Dr. Sohail favors critical thought as opposed to blind faith.

He writes: Darwin’s theory of evolution has forced millions of people over the world to review their beliefs about god, scriptures, creation and the special position of man in the universe. Those who welcome scientific research have changed their positions. Over the decades the numbers of scientists, biologists, intellectuals, and lay people who believe in the theory of evolution is increasing.”

When I read this, I thought about how this was linked to the idea of the next stage of human evolution described by the author as humanism. The connection is quite straightforward. We are all forced to recognize our humble origins, rather than blindly accept fanciful ideas of having descended from gods, or of being the chosen of God.

Within this context, I noticed Dr Sohail urging humanity to set some goals for itself. The goal is peace, harmony and cooperation among all human beings—one that has until now, remained elusive. Toward achieving this goal, the author discusses Joseph Campbell and uses a very interesting analogy to describe his philopshical style. I can detect the poet Sohail in these lines. On page 40 he says: Campbell was like a mythological old man, sitting on the top of a mountain watching the caravans of humanity.

He points out that Campbell exemplified a humanistic personality, as he was a kind man who accepted rather than judged humanity. He further states that Campbell was a gentle and compassionate man—a quality, if instilled in human beings universally, would eventually lead to better, more humane communities. Dr Sohail also notes that Campbell is a unifier between eastern and western thought, and alludes to the possibility of reconciling the two traditions. He also envisions the possibility of the Eastern and Western traditions enriching each other. I must say here that the author’s commentary on various philosophers is a faithful and insightful depiction of their philosophical thought—a quality that can be seen throughout the book.

In the chapter entitled “The Psychology of spiritual Encounters” Dr. Sohail chronicles his own spiritual transformation. It was in this chapter that I encountered some of the most lucid expositions of the philosophies of spiritual figures like Krishanmurti, the difference between psychotic and mystical experiences, and the physiology behind these so called mystical experiences.

But I became particularly interested near the middle of the book, where the author begins to discuss humanism

After discussing the so called mystical experiences as strictly human experiences, he urges people to acknowledge our common humanity. Here he characteristically expunges god from the equation, because humanism indeed is the goal of his book. He urges people to focus on the humanity that binds us, not the superficialities that divide us. Equipped with this attitude, human beings he suggests will inherit a much more peaceful world.

But despite his preference for secular philosophies, the author is willing to acknowledge the role of religion in society. In fact, on page 73, he alludes to the relationship between religion and humanism—one that is clearly uncomfortable at times. The author draws a distinction between theocentric faiths and those more focused on humanity. My own experience also tells me that some religious traditions are more humanistic than others, and more humanistic than theistic.

As part of the religious philosophies of these theocentric faiths, it is righteous to take the lives of other human beings if they fail to subscribe to accepted notions of God. Such an attitude is neither rational nor compassionate. Humanism on the other hand is equated with rationalism and Buddha as the founder of a religious tradition is the perfect rationalist and religious humanist according to the author.

Further along the book, Dr Sohail speaks of God as a metaphor. I am often intrigued by this phrase. And I have often struggled to understand what it means. However, the author’s explanations of the phrase are as lucid as his analysis of other complex philosophies and ideas. After reading his explanations, it dawned on me that he confirmed what I thought the phrase meant. Can the idea of a God be seen as a human attempt to objectify all that is good?

Allow me to explain my point. The human world is not as black and white in its experience of good and evil. Good exists in a diluted form. So does evil, even though pessimists may assert that evil is far more unbridled than good. Human beings, however, like to see ideas as absolutes, therefore, good comes to be objectified as God and evil gets objectified as Satan. God, therefore, becomes a metaphor for all that is good. When prophets and sages tell us something is from God, it is immediately accepted as sound and moral without question.

Unfortunately, much that is immoral has been accepted as good over the centuries, simply because it is seen as having emanated from God. It is only now, in the last one hundred years or so, that human beings have been able to de-sanctify religious icons by freeing themselves from the clutches of blind acceptance. And it is part of human evolution, as promoted by Dr Sohail, to critically examine much of what has been handed down to us as good and moral.

After discussing God as a metaphor, Dr Sohail reveals a personal detail about his own journey—one that resulted in his decision to disown God. He says:

I realized that all my life I had talked to god and he had never answered. After a long monologue and saying goodbye to god, I fell asleep and He left like one old native Indian grandfather who leaves in the middle of the night when it is time to go, and his family never sees him again

What therefore is the end purpose of all this? Indeed there is a conclusion to be drawn from these philosophical and spiritual meanderings. According to the author, humanism is the answer and it has seven colours. It is the seventh color of Humanist culture that needs to be instilled in human beings across the world as described in Dr Sohail’s own words. He writes:

It is my dream that we will reach the stage in human evolution where we can see a humanist culture all over the world. I believe that unresolved conflicts of class, gender , race, sexual orientation, language, nationality and religion, continue to be the cause of human suffering and we need to work together to create a just and humanist culture.

Further down he states:

We need a critical mass of humanists who are committed and dedicated and willing to work to create humanistic traditions.

In his earlier chapters, he proposes that religious humanists must be included in this struggle. He has in fact established an avenue for religious people who believe in universal human values, to join hands with secular humanists in this great quest. In his characteristic spirit of accommodation, Dr Sohail insists that religious people can also accommodate differences and work towards a more equitable world.

Lets see how some organizations and movements across the globe are working to realize this goal and whether according to the author, this critical mass of religious and secular humanists has achieved anything significant towards attaining peace.

1) Belgium, Netherlands and possibly Germany are refusing to accommodate US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil.

2) Japan is holding on to its article 9 prohibiting it from going to war despite US pressure. Costa Rica, Panama and possibly Bolivia are following suit as part of their new constitutions.

3) The UN wants to elevate the right to “peace” as a human right. Despite pressure from the US to oppose such a move.

4) Global security is being redefined in terms of sustainable, collective human security.

5) The highest echelons of governments have adopted programs to instill a culture of peace among citizens.

6) September 21 st is being proposed as an International day of Peace across the world by the federal government of Canada (Alton, 2010).

It seems the individuals who work so diligently for these organizations have repudiated the notion of the inevitability of war. Whether it is the doctrine of armed jihad or Thomas Aquinas’ righteous war, or the contemporary doctrine of preemptive strikes, war must be eradicated. Too much is at stake. I applaud Dr Sohail’s efforts in doing his share to achieve world peace through his writings and I extend him my hearty congratulations for his most recent publication: The next stage of evolution. 



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