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.
During the first
two Arabic months, Moharram and Safar (most recently mid-Nov 2012 to mid-Jan 2013 on the Western calendar), Shia Muslims go into a mourning
period and the colour black comes into prominence. People wear black clothes. Arabic
sentences written on black pieces of cloth are seen in streets, in the entrance
doors of shops, and especially in mosques. During this two-month holy period,
Shia Muslims attempt to find solutions for their problems. One of their
solutions has always been quite strange to me.
It was the
beginning of Moharram when I went as
usual to the Afghan Student Union (in Mashhad City, Iran) to take part in a weekly English-discussion
class. In the yard, there was a tree which had several
pieces of cloth tied to it. Some of the cloths had two or three knots in them
and some had many. While I have seen the green pieces
of cloth tied onto the door handles of mosques or holy places before, this time
it was different for me: this time, I was at a place where university students
gathered. I have decided to write something about this tradition because it has
found its way into a place where the younger generation is educated.
How many serious
problems do you have in your life? An Islamic traditional solution recommends
you to take a piece of cloth (green is preferred) and begin tying.
Outside of the “Arab Spring” movement and unbeknownst to most of the atheist community in the West, there has been an equally forceful effort in East Asia to throw off Islamist domination since its establishment as an independent country in 1971.
Bangladesh - A country that was initially created as part of Muslim-dominated Pakistan in the movement of Indian independence in 1947, and later separated from Pakistan in 1971 as an independent country - has had a schizophrenic identity since then. Having been the ruling seat of British-ruled India, the Bengal region has had a strong heritage with the British Enlightenment. The region played a major part in the Indian Independence movement. But the region is also strongly Muslim and was the birthplace of the separationist Muslim League which led to the partitioning of India and the creation of Pakistan, which included East Bengal, later renamed East Pakistan, as a nation and a society focused on strict Sharia (Islamic law).
Politics have always been complex in Bangladesh. Since its separation from India, Bangladesh has endured a series of corruption scandals, assassinations and coups that left the country mired as one of the poorest for decades and eventually led to its own war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Much of that war was driven between conservative Islamists (supported by Pakistan) and moderate-minded Muslim and secular progressives (supported by India). The Islamists formed a military faction, the Jammat-e-Islami, which later transformed itself into a political party that led the state for the first decades after independence.
resignation of Pope Benedict, does that mean there will be real change in areas
where the Catholic Church is seen to be at odds even with its own people? Paedophile priests aside, I wish to focus on
the attitude of the church toward women, their health needs, and in particular
contraception and abortion. There have been recent events in Europe regarding
these issues which are worth discussing.
Jones, writing for the Irish Times,
wrote of her disapproval of a custom in Ireland, a country with strong Catholic
traditions, where medical professionals address women
patients as “mother”. Catholic bishops have spoken about their “two-patient model” regarding
maternity services in which mother and child are treated as one unit. Jones’ objection is that referring to a woman as
“mother” means treating that woman as a role rather than as a person; it implies
that women are for breeding, and cannot be considered in separation from that
role. Such a stance skews any possible discussion on abortion: “Women have the
right to be treated as equal, responsible, capable human beings, independent of
any roles they may assume. Women are entitled to medical services in their own
right, including abortion.”
not the only country in Europe where Catholic views have conflicted with the
health needs of women. As reported by Der
Spiegel in January of this year, certain Catholic hospitals in
Germany refused to examine a rape victim. The case was reported by an emergency centre
doctor who treated a 25-year-old woman suspected of being the victim of a
date-rape drug. After prescribing the
‘morning after pill’, the doctor contacted two Catholic hospitals, and both
hospitals refused to provide the gynaecological examination requested by the doctor
and the woman. This refusal was given because Catholic hospitals do not want to
be in the position of having to advise victims of rape regarding possible
unwanted pregnancies. The case caused uproar in the community, and a defensive
reaction by the Catholic Church at the time.