Turkeys, Israel, Pat Robertson and the Pope is a Grinch! Plus Han Hills talks to Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland.
Click here for the Secular World podcast. Enjoy!
For a second it seemed that Malawi was on
its way towards improved rights for its gay community. After being sworn in as President in April 2012, Joyce Banda promised to overturn the
country’s anti-gay laws. Following this, in November 2012 the Malawian
government announced that it was suspending anti-gay laws and ordered police to
stop arresting gay people. Malawian
churches acted swiftly to strongly oppose the announcement. As reported by the
Independent/Reuters, the Malawi Council of Churches, a coalition of 24 church
groups, pressured the government until its backed down and reversed the decision.
While Malawi is officially a secular state,
recent events show that separation of church and state does not occur in practice. In Malawi (and many other African countries) religious institutions
use their positions to influence national politics and further their agendas. Gay
people continue to be marginalised
largely due to religious influence. As a
gay man in Malawi put it, the Council of Churches "believes
that gays are not human beings and should not be allowed to be free."  Secularism
promotes human rights for all but, as demonstrated in Malawi, religious
institutions choose their particular interpretation of their particular god’s law over human rights.
Grinch....or just different? (image: Dr Seuss' The Grinch)
Our poor senses have been abused recently by the most prominent holiday of the year (at least in Western countries): Christmas. Even as a budding atheist last year I celebrated it. It can be quite fun. But it always feels as if those who choose not to participate in these yearly solstice-based activities, be it due to their beliefs or lack thereof, are demonised in our culture. Even the basic act of ignoring the Christmas season is seen as supremely anti-social.
For some reason, it seems to be those few social 'commentators' who think that their insightful rantings and lists on why EVERYONE should be joyful around Christmas time always receive publicity in the media. Those who write nice and simple articles about the need for some variation in holiday music for the non-religious among us and those of other religions  are ignored in favour of things such as one of the many over-hyped nonsense lists on "Why you need to stop being a Christmas grump". 
Those who come out against public collections of art only depicting nativity scenes are shown as 'grinches' or 'grumps'. Those who ask that Christmas messages are not splayed over every wall and window in shopping centers are told to be quiet and bare the brunt of the mass marketing of an over-stated holiday. And don't even start about the infamous 'war on Christmas'.  It makes me want to rip my hair out even more than the holiday and its consumerism itself.
So, for those of you out there who don't need a certain date on which to give gifts to those whom you love, for those of you who don't see the significance in celebrating a conglomeration of pagan and Christian traditions, and for those of you who prefer to read a book or play games instead of listening to "important sounding dead languages"  during a mass, I say to you, you are not alone.
Let’s face it, atheists have been the ultimate scapegoat for society’s problems for years and we have often just accepted this role in society. Perhaps it is easiest; perhaps we find it pointless to put up a fight against the narrow-minded. The longer we do not fight back against this prejudice, the more likely it is this role will stick, and that this way of thinking will be passed down through generations.
I have often been subject to countless assumptions about myself purely based on the fact that I do not subscribe to an all-powerful being in the sky. But a recent event struck a chord with me. Whilst on a train journey to work I was approached by a woman carrying a Bible who asked me what I personally thought of ‘our Lord Saviour Jesus Christ’. Although I was in no mood to get into a heated debate about my thoughts on God or Christianity, I felt obliged to tell her that I do not believe in God. I braced myself for the initial shock, and I was not disappointed: her expression was of sheer terror, as though I had just told her that I sacrifice goats on a daily basis when the sun goes down. As much as I anticipated this reaction, the response that shocked me above all was when she asked me whether I felt love. Is this really how the religious still views the nonreligious? That we are incapable of love, that we are hollow, cold sinners?
I have been contemplating this notion of how the nonreligious community is perceived for a while now and following the horrific events of the Connecticut shootings in which 28 people were killed, including children, it dawned on me that as a community, atheists tolerate an absurd level of prejudice against their lack of belief. After reading an article via Twitter, I came across a statement made by former US Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee whereby he indirectly blamed the Connecticut massacre on the atheist community by proclaiming that the shooting rampage was the natural result of our having “systematically removed God from our schools”. Would Christians stand for being blamed if Lanza had been educated in a faith school? Have atheists and the notion of a God-free curriculum become the ultimate scapegoat for political and societal problem?
1. The Rise of 'Nones' in the World
A survey released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in late 2012 identified the Religiously Unaffiliated, or ‘Nones’ as the third largest ‘faith’ group in the world, 16% or 1.1 billion, approximately the same number as Catholics. 900 million of these unaffiliated reside in the Asia-Pacific region, where they make up an average 21.2% of the population. Europe is the next largest region then North America. Latin America, Africa and the Middle East all lag behind, with 7.7%, 3.2%, and 0.6% of the populations identified as ‘Nones’.
A trending study by WIN-Gallup International in 2012 noted that religiosity is declining worldwide while atheism and non-belief are increasing. Religiosity has fallen by 9 points just since 2005, while the number of atheists has almost doubled. The U.S., France, UK, Ireland, Canada as well as Vietnam are included in the top-10 list of countries to have experienced a "notable decline in religiosity" since 2005. 'Nones' tend to be younger than the overall population.
References: Pew Forum, Huffington Post, Time, LA Times, UK Census
2. Islamic Religious Violence and Intimidation Explodes in Response to Offence
2012 was a year with multiple incidents where Islamist leaders reacted to criticism, mocking and attacks on their faith by fomenting and encouraging violence to express their displeasure. At the same time, Islamic nations cracked down on religious dissent in their own countries and again demanded that the UN adopt anti-blasphemy laws as a ‘human right’ (albeit the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has now abandoned this path - refer #9). Atheists were exceptionally vulnerable to these actions but the problem extends far beyond the atheist community, to the level of being an international menace that threatens not just free speech rights, but human lives and livelihoods.
A member of Indonesian Atheists recently visited Alexander Aan in prison. The visitor was able to bring food and drink for Alex and spoke with him for around 20 minutes. Alex appears to be well, socialising with other prisoners and communicating with the officers. Alex and the visitor discussed recent news related to secularism and atheism and Alex provided a copy of some of his recent notes, including (on the second page) "I always concern in humanity and science and never come back to Islam", "I need to leave Indonesia quickly" and "I need to be myself". Alex also thanked his supporters: "Thank (you) for all my friend who support(ed) me all the way".
Alex's appeal to the Indonesian Supreme Court is in process. Atheist Alliance International is raising funds to support Alex's legal case and, separately, to assist him to study outside Indonesia after his release if possible. If you would like to help Alex please donate here.
Eve 2012, attacks on two Nigerian churches resulted in
the deaths of at least 12 people. Brutal as the attacks may have been, they
were not necessarily surprising as attacks by militant Islamist groups against
Christians in Nigeria have become all too common. The Christmas attack is one
of many since 2010. More than 30 people died in 2011 on Christmas Day in a wave
of attacks in the region, blamed on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Indeed,
al-Qaeda affiliated militant Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have become
more active not only in Nigeria but in other African countries as well. Some of
the other main groups include Ansar Dine in Mali and al-Shabab in Somalia.
As of January 2012, Boko Haram had killed close
to 1,000 people. One year on and many attacks later, the death toll is well over
1,000. Although it has targeted a wide range of people, Boko Haram is especially
known for attacking Christians during religious gatherings. This is in part due to the fact
that many international news agencies tend to give more coverage to Boko Haram
when it targets Christians as opposed to other groups. Ansar Dine has
taken over large areas of Mali, most notably Timbuktu, and imposed sharia law.
Al-Shabab has caused devastation in Somalia and has been responsible for
attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
concerned with the negatives of atheism often concentrate on moral “ideals”
that they perceive atheists could not have, they seem to forget that their own
ideals give less validation to this life we have now, allowing finite time to
be taken up by demonstrably petty mythical tales.
recent times we have seen an upsurge in honour killings in the large
up-and-coming powerhouse of the world, India, and from it, a greater acceptance
of honour killings from the communities within these regions. While
this is not an issue confined to the South Asian continent, it is an issue strongly
linked to religion (and, in India, specifically, the caste system), with the
ideology of these murders spreading through several doctrines of faith.
Now, with more emigration
around the world (which is not a bad thing in itself), some of these strange
ideologies have spread into western societies, hiding in plain sight as we wear
our politically correct tinted glasses and ignore that an essential issue
behind these numerous human rights abuses is religion. Proving a ‘higher’
set of morality provides justification in some people’s minds for what is
simply a crime. While when the judicial system
is involved the right outcome can be achieved many people are
sympathetic to the notion of allowing immigrants to keep their ‘culture’. A lot
of people feel like it is too much of a messy issue to deal with.