Wednesday, Pope Francis addressed people from all walks of life by claiming
that anyone who does ‘good’ will go to heaven, even atheists. Pope Francis has
been the first in many aspects of his papacy: first Pope from the Americas,
first Jesuit Pope, and first to use Francis as a regnal name. However, he is
not among the first to take a more universalist approach. Pope John XXIII began
the Second Vatican Council in 1962, stating he wanted to “throw open the
windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.” That
council went on to be more accepting of others, but their acceptance focused
primarily on other types of Christ-based religions. Many Christians, from
Origen in the third century to Madeleine L’Engle in the twenty first century,
have argued for a universal acceptance to heaven, but never has a Pope so
concretely stated that morality, not faith, is the way to heaven. With such a
broad change from the denominationally strict tendencies of his predecessor,
Pope Benedict XVI, what does Pope Francis’ Wednesday morning mass mean for
Francis alluded to the Gospel of Mark during his mass, telling a story of
Jesus’ disciples seeing another man do good and complaining that “if he is not
one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not our party, he cannot do good.” The
Pope explained that Jesus tells his disciples not to “hinder him” and they
should “let him do good.” It appears that the Pope is paralleling the story
found on Mark 9:39-40. This book was likely the first of the four canonical
gospels, having been written around 60 C.E. It provides the early groundwork
for what modern Christians believe, such as being the only gospel to refer to
Jesus as a carpenter. With such significance, shouldn’t Mark’s universalist
undertones have come to light sooner? Additionally, Mark isn’t the only one
arguing for acceptance: “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is
for you” (Luke 9:50). With all of these apparent allusions, why is Pope Francis
the first to openly accept all people? There is a simple answer: the Bible is
Karl from Indonesian Atheists, an AAI Affiliate, talks to the Jakarta Globe about "You Ask, An Atheist Answers":
Discussions between atheists and theists, or those who believe in the existence of God, are fragile events that rarely, though not impossibly, manage to do anything more than reinforce just how disparate the two factions’ stances are. This profound divergence is evidently true in Indonesia, where the concept of atheism is still seen as remarkably foreign, to put it mildly.
Stigmas and assumptions about Indonesian atheists often paint them as smart-aleck contrarians with a penchant for hedonistic nihilism who leave the burden of proof to believers.
To disprove this widespread view, two Indonesian atheists have taken up the call, Karl Karnadi and Virgi Albiant, the latter of which is a pseudonym used by the founder of “Anda Bertanya, Ateis Menjawab” (“You Ask, an Atheist Answers”), an Internet-based forum and community that aims to build a friendly bridge between believers and non-believers.
Yesterday AAI tweeted a link to an Atheist Revolution article that trivialised harassment of women in the atheist community. The tweet (and related Facebook post) have been deleted and this apology posted on the Butterflies & Wheels blog:
Hi everyone, tweeting that link was a mistake, a big one. One of our Social Media collaborators twitted the link from what looked to him as a sensible source with a title that seemed on the same page as we are. He wasn´t aware of the fact that the article is far off from our stance on harassment: we don´t condone it, we don´t defend it and we certainly will not accept it in our community, end of story. We are completely committed to promoting women feeling safer in our community (something we should all strive for) and to stopping this senseless harassment that plagues us.
We have an anti-harassment policy that is mandatory for all conventions we help organize or give funding to and we are always open to receiving suggestions or requests for help regarding this, and any other issue (email: president [at] atheistalliance [dot] org).
I personally apologize for the slip up and hope you understand we, in no way, share any view other than the fact that we all must work together against harassment in our community, we must all feel safe discussing ideas among ourselves and not blame the victims in order to hide the shortcomings our community has.
Written by George Thindwa, Association for Secular Humanism
19 March 2013
We are very concerned about Witchcraft based violence in Malawi. Here is the story that should make you very disturbed. The attached two photos is that of Margaret. One where she is alone and of course on the second photo I am there standing with her.
Margaret Wisele (50) who has her leg chopped off with a machete because she was accused of witchcraft. This happened on 21st January 2013. The local hospital had to finally amputate her on 25th January 2013. This was done at Zomba Hospital.
She was hacked on 21st Jan 2013 by three boys from her village. She was accused of being a witch. On this day, there was a funeral of a grandson to Margaret`s sister. And the village blamed her for the sudden death. And these three boys picked themselves out of the group at the funeral to go and kill Margaret. Since the incidence in January the local police did not arrest the perpetrators for reasons best known to themselves.
However, with our influence the perpetrators have now been arrested now. The arrest was made yesterday, on 18th March 2013-one and half months after the event. We went to see Margaret on Monday 18th March, 2013 at her village.
We should be buying her walking clutches or artificial leg in the near future. Margaret is well. Except that she feels some pain on her amputated leg sometimes.
Written by Jo Stephanie, News Team
18 March 2013
On the night of 13 March, white smoke and
chiming bells alerted the world that we had a new Pope. I waited, somewhat
impatiently, to see who the new leader of the world’s largest religious institution
was going to be. Part of me wished I could have been in the Vatican to witness
the revelation for myself. Strange as it may seem for an atheist to express
such a desire, it is true. As a Catholic I had once listened to Pope John Paul
II speak in the Vatican and I wondered what it would be like to once again
listen to a pope speak in the same location but as a non-believer. Furthermore,
the revelation of the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a
significant moment in history. One moment that happened to be going on just
twenty minutes from my old home.
Once Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis,
stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, it quickly became clear
that he would have more mass appeal than his predecessor. News contributors
have talked at length of the significance of the name Francis but I realised its
significance as soon as I heard the name. For eight years I attended a Catholic
school named after St Francis of Assisi and I was well aware of his legacy. He
was a man who was born into a wealthy family but chose to live a life of
In his hometown of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio
famously rejected the perks that came with his high rank in the Argentine
church. However, it seems that religious leaders are held to a low standard
when people determine whether or not they are good people. A church official
taking public transport or rejecting a palatial home should not make
international headlines. After all, when priests begin their ‘careers’ they
take a vow of poverty. All too often though, once a priest climbs a few notches
up the church hierarchy those vows are forgotten. I recall when the news broke
that Pope Benedict’s butler had leaked private Vatican documents; my first
thought was, ‘Why on earth does a man who took a vow of poverty have a butler
Written by Alexandre F. Shimono, News Team
16 March 2013
Tweets from Marcos Feliciano in 2011: "Africans are descendants of an ancestor cursed by Noah. This is fact. The reason for the curse is polemic." and "The rottenness of homosexual feelings brings hate, crime and rejection.”
7 March 2013 was not a day to be remembered by minorities in Brazil as Marcos Feliciano, a known racist and homophobic preacher, was elected president of the Human Rights Commission by Brazil’s House of Representatives. Originally planned to take place on the 6th, the voting process had to be transferred to the 7th due to protests and rows among the voting deputies.
Following consultation with members, AAI is pleased to announce that it has finalised its position statement on freedom of expression. This statement is intended to provide a concise reference and coherent argument that members and other atheists may use in situations in their own countries, and refute the common accusation that 'atheists stand for nothing'. Thank you everyone who contributed their views!
The report, released on 12 March, indicates that the percentage of Americans who do not claim any religious affiliation has reached a new high of 20 percent, the highest recorded since US religious affiliation began to be tracked in the 1930s. This new number is more than double the percentage reported in 1990 when only 8 percent of Americans polled did not identify with an organized faith, and constitutes a steady and accelerating rise in the Unaffiliated since the 1930s when only 3 percent of Americans identified as such.
It is important to note that the research did not measure the percentage of Americans who self-identify as atheists or agnostics. Responses in the survey were to the question, “What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?”
Other interesting aspects of the survey include a heavy skewing to the younger generation, with over one-third of 18-to-24 year olds claiming no religious affiliation, compared to only 7 percent of those 75 or older. Also some 40 percent of progressives and liberals claimed no religious affiliation, compared to only 9 percent of conservatives. And more men (24 percent) versus women (16 percent), and more whites (21 percent) compared to other minorities.
Some analysts attribute the trend to the heavy influence that Christian conservatives have had as of late in US politics, particularly in dominating the issues of the US Republican Party. They describe the rise as "blowback" to the mingling of church and state in the US.
In the 2012 US Presidential election, over 70% of the religiously unaffiliated voted for President Obama, a higher percentage than any other constituency. With this new report, it seems that the religiously affiliated will only become a more powerful and important constituency in future US elections.
In each of these cases Islam was apparently 'offended', providing 'justification' for the crimes against these apostates and blasphemers. Those who claim Islam is a religion of peace need to think further about the behaviour of Islamists and how they justify their actions.
Recently the Australian Government acted to ban the
discrimination practices of churches that run aged care facilities. In a great
step towards equality for older gay couples who have been rejected from such
facilities, this new bill would allow churches to be sued for
discriminatory practices against patients within their
institutions. However, in one giant leap backwards, the bill still allows
religiously-run facilities to use discriminatory hiring policies.
While the current finely-balanced federal parliament supports
these measures overall, the opposition Coalition party rejects the bill, stating
that it is a “back-door
attempt” at allowing a human rights bill into
parliament. There has also been opposition from bishops and religious
institutions, claiming that the bill restrains their freedom of religion.
It has now emerged that
the committee behind the bill attempted to add clauses that would make
it unlawful to ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ a person (these clauses have been removed
after a backlash) and the exemption that permits religious institutions to use
discriminatory hiring practices has been subject to criticism. These aspects of
the bill have worried
several human rights groups within Australia, which have noted that several sections of the bill may contravene
international human rights law.
That this bill has been drafted without
consideration to its compatibility with international human rights principles
is concerning. This bill is
intended to consolidate five pieces of current anti-discrimination legislation,
but it does not appear that it will adequately protect our population
from discrimination within both public and religious institutions.
Written by Leo Igwe, Nigerian Humanist Movement
07 March 2013
On February 9, 2013, the former Chair of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Eze Ebisike died after a brief illness. On March 2, he was buried in his hometown Okpokume, Mpam, Ekwerazu Ahiazu Mbiase in Imo State. Ebisike was an ex-catholic priest and an atheist. He was buried after a short humanist funeral ceremony in the compound. The ceremony was a historic event because it was the first time, in that part of the country that someone who was an atheist was given a non-religious funeral.
Funerals constitute a vital part of the local culture and tradition. Most people attach a lot of importance to rites marking the end of life. Some people plan for their own funerals even though they know they won't be there to celebrate it! People devote time, energy and resources to mourning the dead and paying their last respects.
But like most other aspects of culture, funeral ceremonies have been based on religion and supernaturalism. A funeral is a ‘spiritual’ and godly exercise.
Hence people think that a funeral must be conducted in line with the teachings of one of the traditional religions; Islam or Christianity. They cannot imagine a godless funeral service or a non religious or non theistic way of mourning the dead. This is to be expected given the ubiquity of the theistic cosmological outlook. Most people believe in a god that rewards or punishes people after death. There is a strong belief that death is not the end of life, that death is a kind of transition from this life to the ‘next life’, that there is a heaven and a hell. But humanists do not hold to these beliefs. For humanists, death is the end of life. When people die they decompose just like all other living things. Post mortem life in heaven and hell is viewed at best as a comforting illusion. The evidence for a personal god is simply not there. There has also been no evidence produced for the existence of a soul. And the whole idea of the soul leaving the body is just wishful thinking.
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.
Atheist Ireland, an Affiliate of AAI, will be hosting Empowering Women through Secularism in Dublin, 29-30 June 2013. The speaker line up is excellent - Annie Laurie Gaylor, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and Dan Barker, as well as AAI President Carlos Diaz. Don't miss this fantastic opportunity - early bird tickets now on sale for EUR100. For more information click here.
Atheist Alliance was established in 1991 as a
democratic network of US-based atheist organizations plus one non-US
organization. Over time Atheist Alliance
expanded to include more non-US members and changed its name to Atheist
Alliance International (AAI) in 2001. In
2010 AAI had 31 US-based affiliates and 18 non-US based affiliates. At this time the board of AAI concluded that
its goals could be achieved more effectively by separating into two
organizations – one focused on US local and national issues and one focused on
providing a supportive global network for atheist and freethought organizations
around the world. In October 2010 the
separation was approved in principle by AAI’s members and in June 2011 AAI effectively
separated into Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance of America.