Journeys to Humanism: “Thank God” I Am a Humanist

Journeys to Humanism,’s regular series, features real stories from humanists in our community. From heartwarming narratives of growth, to more difficult journeys, our readers open up about their experiences coming to humanism.

Kalai Mugilan
Alabama, U.S.

I love life, and I love humans. I think I came into the world like this, simply in love with humans and humanity.  Maybe I became this way because my parents—my young mother of twenty-eight, with five other children already, and an emotionally absent husband—were trying to make ends meet and found themselves lost in their own emotional and economic journey and therefore were not able to give me the attention they could or would over the years. It seems this made all life forms around me tremendously kind and generous with me, or I reached out to every human and life form around me. I was exposed to a form of skeptical Hinduism and of Brahmins. But, I was barred from attending the Hindu temple events because my father was not in agreement with the people at the local temple. I was raised to think that even God could be wrong if God fails the local decorum. I noticed the evolution of religious thoughts in my parents from staunch bhajan or worship songs to Buddhism to eventually becoming the followers of a man called Vallalar.

When I was fifteen, the Anglican evangelists found me, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Buntong, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. They preyed on troubled families; troubled children were easy targets. Voila, I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior in my heart. Boom! I was a Christian now, but so said some of them, since I was not baptized I was not “truly” Christian yet. Regardless, I suddenly had a family, community, friends and adults treating me with respect and with regard, which mattered for a lost boy, who was still wondering why I did not have a relationship with my parents. Now, I had a place where I felt like I belonged, and had a platform to serve and I was valued for it. I was simply in my elements. I emulated Jesus so well, I was phenomenal, that he too loved so hard he wept.

Alas, I had to pay a price. The price, was to give up my love for all of humanity, especially non-Christians, unless I had intentions of converting them. Perhaps I saw Jesus embodying humanism, and little did I let my new Christian community know the way I saw Jesus was different from them. Jesus loved humans, and that was the argument I made, even at the age of fifteen. Secretly, I broke bread with friends, and I claimed what Jesus would do (WWJD) even in 1985 for all my decision making. Thus, I was denied leadership positions, and that was further chiseled away when I denied baptism, even while some felt I might become a priest. I spoke openly about love and respect which had nothing to do with believing in Jesus nor the dichotomy of reward and punishment, or hell and heaven upon death for my behavior.

I remained open to other faiths along with Hinduism, like the Baháʼí faith that my eldest sister pursued. I continued to support the large community feasts hosted by the Hindu temples. I fasted with my Muslim and Baháʼí friends, studied selected Quranic and Aqdas verses, and learned their greetings. I basically converted to all the religions exposed to me at that point. Such was my rambunctious terrible teens, which I thought was quite awesome. My friends would tease me about me making all the gestures of prayer when I was scared or threatened. I still occasionally summon all the great spirits and laugh afterwards at its absurdity.

However, all Christians or Abrahamic religions are held together by a nice dose of fear of the devil. My acceptance of Jesus also meant the acceptance of the devil. It was a package deal, I was constantly told to be afraid of the devil, that it was crippling my thought processes. Eventually, thank god, or my family that said you can question even god, I was done. I was so beyond done, I summoned the devil to show up. I gave the devil fifteen minutes, and I wanted evidence without a shred of a doubt. Fifteen minutes came and went. The devil decided not to show up thus rendering him dead. I think somewhere in there, the beginning of the end of the idea of God began.

When I was nineteen, I had a major showdown with my drunk father and a mother uncommitted to my life, which oddly rendered me homeless. Given the size of my father’s social position and my lack of utter love for Jesus or disdain for all things non-Christian, “thank god” the church did not step in to rescue me or make a move on me at my weakest. I experienced my first social solitude. A blessing I still am thankful for in many ways.

When I was twenty, I came to the United States of America where all things were possible. At this time, I was still steeped in the Anglican world while being curious about the Islamic brotherhood and intrigued by the Baháʼí inclusion of all religions and world peace. Reverend Larry Wilson, a Methodist priest who enchanted me the most, embodied Jesus for me. He did not break bread symbolically, he fed us with it. Besides, I drank the nectar, the sweetness of all things church, community, love and kindness, support from elders and relationship including the young and beautiful. I was active with the Methodists to the scorns of Baptists.

I was still open, and eventually I joined a Black Baptist church in the South. I was so good at being a Christian, I even became a Deacon. I was very much a Christian at heart, I loved Jesus and I loved all life forms Jesus loved. I loved being accepted at the church, I loved the hugs, I loved the women, and I would have happily married a church member. I was as broke as the other church members were. Naturally, tithing was important. I was made to feel guilty that I was not tithing, while I was contemplating moving into my 1978 beige Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and “thank god” that broke the spell. I got up and walked away one really sunny Sunday morning when Leviticus Chapter Twenty Seven was quoted.

At this point, I returned to Hinduism slowly with this famous catchphrase, “my religion is peace between the religions, or my religion is to agree.” However, a friend told me that “surely you cannot say all religions are the same,” and insisted I read the Bible and the Quran―not take the hundreds of interpreters at their word. I returned to Hinduism when I read Autobiography of a Yogi. While I did not agree with some of the concepts, something about the book made sense to me. I began looking at Hinduism from a sociological point of view and an anthropological point of view. I studied Hinduism for the first time. I was especially influenced by Dr. Rajaram who broke it down for an Indian who has only learnt Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma through the missionaries’ interpretation of this tradition. In this journey, I found a well know mantra or chant that said, the goal of human life is for the mind to be enlightened, free of all things, even God him/herself.  “Om Bhur Bhuva Swaha, Tatsa Vitur Varanyam, Bhargo Devasya Deemahi.” At about this time, I lost a best friend & mentor of mine. At this point, I was confronted by the sweet question: what is it that I truly know in my being without anyone interpreting or giving me a book about it?

But I was still a romanticist and loved the idea of god that was all loving and of humans as a big family. I lied to everyone around me of what I truly believed, that I was no different from humanists like Jesus and others. I loved all things, and that was sufficient for me. And, I was a closet humanist. It was the dirtiest secret I held inside of me. All my relationships had a little drop of dishonesty. I wondered if they would treat me the same if they knew.

One day, at the age forty-nine in Nashville, TN, as I had given up my job and attempted to figure out my new identity, I met with my friend who offered me one of his life coach sessions. During the session, he asked me to write down all that I valued. He read back my values and I found myself sobbing. What he read to me was my absolute idea of a man whose life is well lived.  I told him, if I died, and if that was my eulogy, I am ready for my death today. He was moved, and asked me about my belief system, at which point, I was the most honest person. I told him I love life, and I love humans, and all things in it. I see whatever he thinks as god in everything, I experience that energy at every conscious moment. I’m just in love with life, and I love humans. I suppose today, I have included all things that sustain humanity, perhaps I am not a romantic, but I am certainly in love. Thank god!

Now I am a humanist. I’m out of my closet, open and sharing my love for humanity with the zest of an evangelist. I love life, and I love humans. I think I came into the world like this, simply in love with humans and humanity, and hoping to die this way.

We all have our own stories of how we came to be humanists, and we want to hear yours! Fill out the form here to be featured in this series.