Interview with Hassan A. Khalifeh
This is an excerpt of an Interview with Hassan A. Khalifeh, president of the chapter of the Secular Student Alliance at Wayne State University.
Start of Interview:
LW: Basically, I want to know about yourself. Who are you?
HK: I’m the president of the Secular Student Alliance at Wayne State University. I’m a Business Management major and a blogger. I grew up Muslim. My family is not religious, except for my mother. My father says he’s religious, but I’ve never seen him practice.
LW: Does your mother pray five times a day?
LW: Would you consider yourself atheist or agnostic?
HK: An Atheist.
LW: Straight up? (laughter)
HK: I don’t claim to know for sure, but it’s very unlikely that there is a God.
LW: What was your upbringing like? Did your mother ever force you to go to a mosque?
HK: I’ve never been forced. But it’s always during the religious holidays that we have to go to the mosques. I’ve never been religious all my life, but she would constantly say: “If you don’t pray you’re gonna go to hell.” So I’d just say “oh, fine” and I’d pray out of fear. But then I started getting into philosophy and science, and started reading more about religions and what it really says in the texts, and I realized that I’m not going to hell after all.
LW: So you were free to do that? Like your mother wasn’t apprehensive about it?
HK: Oh she is. She thinks I’m the devil.
LW: What?! (Laughter)
HK: She thinks I’m evil and immoral.
LW: Does your family know that you’re an Atheist?
HK: I don’t think I’ve come out and outright said it to my mother. I’m sure she has her ideas, but everyone else knows I’m an Atheist.
LW: I’ve talked to some Christians that think that Atheism is a religion. Do you think it is?
HK: No. Atheism is absolutely not a religion.
Secretary: Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color!
LW: I’m not necessarily an Atheist, I’m more of an Agnostic.
HK: Let’s put it on a scale of 1-10. A 10 would absolutely believe that there is a God. A zero would believe that there is no God. Agnostics are usually between a 4 and a 6. You will find some zeros, but I’d probably lean more toward a 0.5. You cannot be sure 100% there is no god. If you can’t prove Him, you cannot un-prove Him as well.
LW: Why is Atheism not a religion, period?
HK: Because the definition of Atheism is just “the lack of the belief in God.” And there is no set of rules, beliefs – nothing that you have to follow. Without a God, what you do with your life is up to you. You determine your own hierarchy of values. There is no one telling you how you should live your life. This is what religion does. Also, religion relies on faith to tell you how to think and what to do. Atheism relies on science to tell you how things really are not to take anything for face value.
LW: Why did you start the Secular Student Alliance?
HK: I started the WSU SSA chapter, because I wanted a group where like-minded individuals can come together to share ideas. Where a group of rational people can do good things just because we are human, not because some one tells us to…or else.
LW: How do you feel specifically about Christianity?
HK: I don’t have anything against Christianity. As long as Christians keep their beliefs to themselves, I’m fine with it. Of course, I think that free speech is allowed, but when people try to legislate their morality on others, it becomes a problem.
LW: What do you know about Christianity?
HK: More than Christians themselves know about Christianity. (Laughter) I’ve read the bible many times, I’ve read the Koran many times, I’ve read as much of the Jewish and Hindu canons as I could, as well as other important religious texts.
LW: What would you say are the origins of Christianity?
HK: There is no one origin of Christianity. It comes from many different past religions and superstitions. For example, the God “Horus” was also born of a virgin, he was crucified, he was brought gifts by three solar deities kind of like Jesus, and his mother was named “Meri.” And most Christian holidays are Pagan. There’s nothing original about Christianity, or Islam and Judaism for that matter.
LW: Do all Atheists have the same views when it comes to gay rights?
HK: Most Atheists accept that there is nothing inherently wrong about homosexuality. Actually, homosexual behavior has been found in over 1500 species. Are you trying to tell me that it’s unnatural and immoral for a fish to be homosexual?
LW: Are you Pro-life or Pro-Choice?
HK: Pro-Choice. But again, that’s just me.
LW: What is your partisan orientation. Any political affiliations?
HK: I tend to lean toward Libertarianism.
LW: Does your political affiliation result from you being an Atheist?
HK: My Atheism affects my political views. Libertarians are very pro-liberty. Our principles are that you can do whatever you want in your life, but once you start infringing on other people’s rights, that’s when it becomes a no-no.
LW: Would you say that Atheism is beneficial or better for society?
HK: I think secularism is better and beneficial for society. My personal goal is to know what is true about the world. It doesn’t matter if, for example, being religious makes me feel better. It doesn’t make it right or true.
LW: Do you feel that the politicians address the needs or concerns of Atheists, Secularists, Agnostics, etc?
HK: Sometimes they do cater to Atheists and Secularists in this country. We’ve actually got it good here in the northern states, where it’s much more secular than others. If you go down to southern states, you’ll see that they really do try to teach creationism in public schools, they’re trying to make recitation of prayers mandatory in schools, they’re trying to erect the Ten Commandments in city halls. In the military, you are considered “spiritually unfit” if you’re an Atheist.
LW: “Spiritually Unfit?”
HK: Yeah. It’s almost like Atheists are going through what gays went through, when homosexuality was considered a psychological illness.
LW: So, back to prayers in school. Do you think there should be open discussion about religion, and let children express themselves? Instead of there being a set rule of “were gonna say this prayer and read these commandments” and that type of thing?
HK: I don’t think that religion should take any part or have any place in schools whatsoever. You can express your beliefs, in that you can wear a cross, you can pray before a test… quietly. But nothing related to religion should have anything to do with public schools.
HK: Period. Exclamation mark.
LW: There’s this ongoing debate between Christians and Atheists about evolution. Do all Atheists believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution?
HK: I don’t believe in evolution. I know that evolution is true. I don’t take a leap of faith and say “I hope that evolution is true.” It’s a scientific fact that you can try to make changes to, because science is ever changing. But evolution itself is a fact and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just deluded.
LW: Okay, what is evolution? Do you merely believe people evolved from monkeys? Or is there more to it?
HK: There’s definitely more to it, and we didn’t really evolve from monkeys. We had an earlier ancestor, and that lineage broke off into two species: humans and common apes. People have a hard time understanding evolution because its takes such a long time to happen.
LW: Would you say we’re still evolving now?
HK: Richard Dawkins was asked that question once. I do think we could still be evolving, but that’ll take millions of years and no one knows into what.
LW: What would you want to evolve into? Just for laughs, maybe a superpower?
HK: Well, we’d definitely have to evolve to adapt to the changes of our environment. But a superpower?…Maybe to be able to read people’s minds (Laughs).
LW: How do you feel about marriage and family structure, as an Atheist? In religion, the man is above women, and God is above man…
HK: Each couple should be able to determine how their marriage and family structure should be like. It doesn’t have to be the conventional approach, where the man brings home the bacon and the woman stays at home. Nowadays, many women go to work and the men are stay at home fathers. So, whatever works for each individual family is the approach they should take.
LW: Many Christians believe that you’re not fit to raise kids and you can’t teach them morals and values, because you don’t have a set of moral values. Because like you said before, you think that morality is subjective…so, you could think anything is right. What do you think?
HK: Good question. I think morality is subjective, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s actually inter-subjective, which means that you can believe or act however you want to (and this is where Libertarianism comes in), but once you start infringing on other’s rights and harming them (whatever the means may be), then it becomes wrong. It’s inter-subjective, because we still try to do what’s in our best interest and society’s best interest. It’s not in my best interest for me to go kill this girl over there. But even that’s subjective, because for example, Al-Qaeda sincerely believe that they are heros for flying the planes into the Twin Towers. On the other hand, we think they’re evil for doing that. So, it depends on who you ask. Actually, I’d say that when you have a view that’s widely accepted by literally everyone at a certain point in time, you only need one person to conjure up in his/her mind the slightest disagreement about this idea for it to become subjective – but this is still a completely ideal situation. In real life, we have never ever had a view that was widely accepted by literally every human.
Also, I’d like to turn this question around: how can you teach you’re children to be moral? If someone did follow exactly what the Bible, Quran, and Torah told them to do, they shouldn’t be allowed to be anywhere near a child, or any other human for that matter.
LW: Like, in the case of a child touching a hot stove – even if you tell them not to touch it, they will still touch it.
HK: And who’s fault is that? (Laughter) In this case, the child is learning not do do something by experience. You could guide you’re children. You could teach them that this is what you think is right, and this is what you think is wrong – but in the end, you should let them decide what’s best for them.
LW: Before this interview, some Christians asked me: do Atheists believe that bestiality is wrong? But you would think anyone with a brain can see that this is wrong.
HK: Maybe the only reason that they had to have such strict and objective moral rules is because they’re too scared to think on their own. Maybe if these rules were lifted from them, they’d be the ones going around doing horrible things and having sex with non-human animals. The way I see it, maybe these people should keep believing in a God. No one knows what they’d do without Him. Like, when some religions tell women to cover their bodies from head to toe, all I have to say is…the men in those days must’ve been pretty perverted and barbaric for women to have to do something that extreme.
LW: And I think the Bible says that if a girl has her menstrual cycle, a man can raper her and take her as her wife. So if someone rapes your little girl, would that be OK? I’ve seen God do worse things in the Bible than Satan does.
HK: In the Bible, Satan kills like, 10 people; and God kills I think, 2.3 million people…
LW: Is worshipping false Idols good or bad?
HK: I think the worship of anything is bad. You can use certain idols or symbols and archetypes as a guide to life, like Buddha, for example. But you have to recognize that he isn’t real.
LW: Suppose Christians didn’t believe in the Bible literally anymore.
HK: But they still believe in a God?
LW: I guess.
HK: Many Christians today don’t take the Bible literally. That’s a little better, but not good enough. My personal view is that many “good” and “loving” things that Jesus preached, like turning the other cheek, is cowardly. And loving your enemy is unnatural. I cannot love a rapist, for example. And I would not turn the other cheek and let him rape again. And loving everyone? What value does that place on love? In my world, you only love the select few that deserve your love – the ones that you really care about, you unabashedly hate your enemies, and you’re nice to everyone else.
LW: Define God.
HK: You could call the matter that exploded and caused our universe to exist that way it does now, God. To me, that’s more beautiful than any of the stories of the Gods described in any religion.
LW: How do you feel about the Occult? Have you heard of it?
HK: In the way that people use it nowadays, I think it’s all superstitious conspiracies. The real meaning of occult means “the hidden, or unknown,” so when we use it like that, I think everyone should get into the “occult.” Meaning, you should always try to learn things about the world that the general population might now know. And you should always look for and explore alternative means of doing things, because the status quo of doing things might not always be the best. Every one’s goal should to learn things beyond what they’re handed. I think it takes a brave man/woman to explore what is considered to be dangerous, or not supposed to be known by everyone – now they’re smart. But when people say that famous people, like Lady Gaga or George W. Bush are part of the Illuminati (which actually comes from the Latin “The Illuminated”) they’re being deluded. The Illuminati were a group of very influential men, and people fear that. So they labeled them as evil and Satanic. They were also very secretive, and that tends to scare people too, because people are always afraid of what they don’t know. The Illuminati doesn’t even exist anymore, anyway. And what’s wrong with being Illuminated?
LW: And they say that Masonry is Satanic and creepy. But it’s really not, when you do some reading. I must say it’s very symbolic…
HK: Christianity is always using symbolism. Look at how “Satanic” Christianity and Catholicism really is: they either symbolically or literally eat the flesh and drink the blood of a man! (Laughs) They point their fingers at Satanists of doing that (which they don’t), while they’re feasting on human flesh and blood, and have a symbol of torture around their necks!…who’s evil here?
LW: How do you feel about the New Age movement?
HK: They tend to be spiritual and believe in metaphysics. Like I said, anything dealing with the supernatural, for example, astrology, psychics, even wishing for something before blowing out your birthday candle, goes against reason and science, and is not to be trusted. Although I do want to add, that there are many things that occur that science cannot yet explain. But we should not call these things supernatural or spiritual occurrences. All we know is that they might be happening, and unless we can scientifically prove them to work and try to find out from where and why, we should not rely on them.