The role of religion in the US Presidential election

It should be no secret, even to those outside of the U.S., that the Republican Party is deeply entrenched in religious belief.  While its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has not been strident about his own religious beliefs, his speeches and voiced policies have consistently reflected an adherence to his party’s rather dogmatic Christian point of view.  His support of the Hyde Amendment, which would ban abortions funded by tax payers, his views opposing same-sex marriages as well as civil unions, and his support of displaying religious symbols in public areas by governmental agencies and schools are all obvious leanings toward his Christian supporters.

However, the Governor’s own religious view has been a topic that has been avoided by his campaign. Specifically, the differences between Christianity and the Governor’s own Church of Latter-day Saints have not been much of a talking point since his winning of the Republican nomination. Prior to the other Republicans dropping out of the race it was mentioned by a few news stations, but no in-depth details given. It would also seem that the Romney campaign itself wishes to turn a blind eye to these differences and allow their constituency to focus on their opponent’s imagined religious views, that he is a Muslim in disguise, God forbid. More on that later.

Do American Christians of the Republican party, who believe in a talking snake, a divine virgin birth, and body spontaneously turning into a pillar of salt, know that they are backing an individual whose faith believes in magical underwear and that their prophet translated sacred text while planting his face in a hat, but does not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?  No wonder the Grand Old Party does not wish anyone to delve too deeply into Mormonism, their beliefs are as crazy as….oh well, never mind.

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Alex Aan update

Atheist Alliance International is pleased that a friend and supporter of Alex's was able to visit him in prison recently.  Thank you everyone who sent in messages of support for Alex - the second set has now been delivered.  Here is an update about Alex:

"Alex is in good spirits and is very much his old self. I had a nice long chat with him. His burning ambition remains to work to relieve poverty and injustice. He is very interested in the situation in Iran and wants to fight for the people there. He has heard of a journalist who has been imprisoned and is also deeply shocked by the executions there. He is horrified by the idea of stoning in particular. This was one of the things that made him question the morality of religion. “How can anyone,” he said, “pick up a stone without thinking about their mother or their sister?”.  I told him about the case of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan and he was deeply moved. Once again, his main concern and the thing he wants to talk about most of all is the plight of others. 

"He told me again how much the support from around the world inspires him and keeps him going. He sends you all he love and thanks. The scholarship fund has been a strong motivator and he promised that he will always work for humanity and for science.

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First information stall on secularism, humanism and atheism in Dublin

Brendan Maher launched first ever information stall about secularism, humanism and atheism in Ireland on 6 October 2012 in Dublin's city centre.  Brendan says:

"The purpose of this initiative is to furnish information on secularism, humanism and atheism to the person in the street.

This idea began about two and a half years ago when I noticed that there were about two or three street preachers in the vicinity of the GPO.  Since then the number has grown to about nine.  There are a range of different Christian groups and a few Islamic and Hari Krishna people.  I felt that there had to be an alternative view given, a rational, ethical, scientific and realistic view of things.

Although we live in the era of the computer there are still many people who live their lives without reference to the computer.  A stall like this and the personal approach can be quite effective.  I do not see it as proselytising but as an information exercise to help raise awareness with regards to secularism, humanism and atheism.

Because of the success of this first event I plan to have the stall at the GPO on the first Saturday of each month from 12 to 2 pm.  Perhaps this could be done in other cities in the country.

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The Profane in Pakistan

In Pakistan, two young women have recently become the target of violence and accusations of blasphemy, as retribution for speaking out about modernisation and education, or for simply belonging to a minority group, highlighting ongoing divisions in the country.

Malala Yousazai , a 15 year old girl, was attacked earlier this month for being an activist for the rights of children and education for girls. [1]  Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban, for what a spokesman for the Taliban claimed as ‘obscenity’ and bringing secular and Western ideas to Pakistan. She has since been moved to a military hospital then to the UK, and while there are hopeful signs she remains in a critical condition. This incident has resulted in public outcry within and outside Pakistan, suggesting that violent and unjust acts may not be as acceptable as the perpetrators appear to believe.  Avaaz has started a petition to support Malala and the right of Pakistani girls to receive an education.

The attack on Malala follows the 16 August arrest in Mahrabad, Pakistan, of a 14-year-old girl on a charge of blasphemy.  Rimsha Masih spent two weeks in remand in an adult prison after her accuser said she had been carrying a bag of refuse which included burnt pages of the Koran. As blasphemy laws in Pakistan decree a life in prison for anyone who defiles the Koran, and require no evidence other than the word of the accuser, there is little hope for most who are accused. [2]

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Petition to free arrested Egyptian atheist Alber Saber

More information has come to light regarding the arrest of Alber Saber in Egypt, as reported by The Examiner on 16 September  2012, including reports of Saber being abused while in captivity by other prisoners who were incited against him, and also of his mother being further harassed by the mob, which threatened to burn her alive in her own home unless she leaves the neighbourhood. [1]

There is now a petition to free Alber Saber, which quotes a television interview with Saber’s mother, where she indicated that her son had been tortured for three days in custody, and that no lawyers are prepared to assist them, due to receiving death threats themselves.

Atheist Alliance International encourages all readers to show their support for Albert Saber, and for the freedom of expression, through signing the petition.

[1]   American Humanist Association statement.

Criticising Catholicism in Ireland through art

Richard Wall is an Irish artist.  This is a short film about his life and work, including (in the later part of the film) his artwork criticising the Catholic Church for its influence on his country. 

Ambassador's death result of political use of religion, not simple mob mentality

This isn't really a story about a trailer for a movie. It's a story about the use of religion as a violently divisive political tool.

The hate has a direction, and it has a political purpose, grander than a Youtube video.

Late at night on September 11, an apparent riot over a Youtube clip of a movie mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad turned into a full-scale assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. By the time the night ended, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chrisopher Stevens, lay dead.

It's easy to draft the narrative, 'Dumb Muslims freak out over dumb movie.' But there's a more complex narrative in these protests and all of them. Really, we're seeing a dangerous and all-too-frequent tactic by government and paramilitary groups: using people's most prized cultural beliefs about life and death and good and evil as a control and manipulation tactic. In these cases, hate has been fomented by agitators with distinct political purposes. The tool they used is an old one: religious belief.

Ansar al-Sharia is a militia with ties to former Libyan ruler Muammar Ghadafi. Its goal is to establish a government based in the political application of religious law.

It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the Muslims with whom Chris Stephen of the Guardian spoke, but the people who were there don't remember anything like a typical protest. [1]  What they remember is a deliberate attack. Individuals carrying military-grade weaponry slipped through a mob creating chaos in order to assassinate an ambassador whose career ran parallel to the Libyan revolution to overthrow Ghadafi in 2011.

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The increasing role of religion in state schools in German-speaking countries endangers secularism

Image from Spiegel Online

With schools in more German-speaking countries moving to teach religion, as well as religious interest groups applying pressure for the increased importance of religion, especially Christianity, in public schools, there is an increased pressure on the separation of church and state.

In general Europe can be considered a fairly tolerant region regarding the freedom of religion and the freedom to have no religion. Most people in Europe are free to follow whatever religion they wish, or none.

However, it is not quite as simple as that, especially for atheists, as each religion takes advantage of its freedom, and seeks to ensure its own place in society, for example through a presence in public schools.

People’s rights to religious belief are taken seriously in Europe. In some cases, great lengths are taken to ensure religious freedom, and also that religion remains an important part of children’s lives.

A previous Atheist Alliance International story highlighted the influence of religion in German schools, how students are expected to study religion unless written permission is given to study ethics instead, and in particular how the Islamic faith may soon be expected to be taught in all schools in Hesse with at least eight Islamic children. [1]

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Egyptian atheist arrested for posting ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on Facebook

Originally published in the Examiner.

27-year-old atheist activist, Alber Saber was arrested in Cairo, Egypt after he posted the now infamous 14-minute trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” on the Facebook wall of his group, “Egyptians.Atheists.” Neighbors in his mostly Muslim community of el-Marg in eastern Cairo gathered in protest outside Saber’s home on Thursday and Friday with many calling for his death. According to his mother, one person shouted, “Why are we standing down here? Let’s go upstairs and get him.”

The 14-minute trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” has been blamed for protests and rioting against US embassies in Cairo and in other cities throughout the Middle-East. In Libya, the attacks have led to the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Alber Saber was arrested on Friday after his mother called the police out of fear of the crowd outside their home. Saber was arrested under the rarely used law that prohibits insulting religion. He was allegedly thrown in a crowded jail cell and the officer allegedly told those in the cell that Saber had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. There are reports that Saber has been attacked in the jail cell and according to one blog, his neck was slashed with a razorblade.

A Facebook page has been created to demand for Saber’s release. The “Free Alber Saber” Facebook page has over one thousand “likes” at the time of the publication of this article.

Islamic religious education in German State Hesse soon to be mandatory

Thanks to the group German Atheists [1] for translating this from the German media Welt Online [2].

WEISBADEN, GERMANY - The introduction of Islamic religious education is approaching the finishing line in the German state of Hesse. These faith-oriented classes could begin in the 2013-2014 school year, Nicole Beer, minister of education and cultural affairs in Wiesbaden, said in March.
In their 2009 coalition agreement, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) introduced faith-oriented religious education into state schools.  Students in many public schools already are required to attend classes about Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, unless they receive permission to take a civics class instead. [3]
 
Beer said the religious education would take place in German; also, it would become a compulsory subject, determining whether students could move up grades. The CDU opposed adding the Islam classes.
 
According to an expert report, two Muslim regional associations, Ditib and Ahmadiyya, fulfill the necessary requirements.  Jörg Uwe Hahn, minister of integration and Hessian FDP chairman, said in March he has always compared the introduction of such a religious education with a marathon.  “Now Ditib and Ahmadiyya have reached the stadium again, but there are two or three more laps to run,” he said.  The final decision could be made towards the end of the summer holidays. 

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Global survey finds fewer religious people, more atheists

A recently released global survey on religion and atheism has found that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is declining.
 
Globally, the survey found that 13% of people identify as atheists and a further 23% as non-religious, while 59% of people identify as religious.  On a comparable basis, since the same question was asked in 2005, the number of people claiming to be religious has fallen by 9% while those specifically identifying as atheists rose by 3%.
 
The survey conducted by WIN-Gallup International, an established worldwide network of opinion pollsters, was based in interviews with more than 50,000 people across 57 countries, which collectively cover more than 73% of the world's population.  The survey captures people's self-identification on the topic of religion, specifically including their identification as atheists.  Key findings of the survey include:
  • Religiosity is higher among the poor: 66% of people in the lowest income group are religious compared to 49% in the highest income group,
  • A higher level of education is associated with lower religiosity:  68% of those with no or only a basic education identify as religious compared to 52% of those with higher than secondary school education,
  • Women are slightly more inclined to identify as atheists (14% globally) than men (12% globally)
  • The top 10 countries where people specifically identify as atheist are China (47%), Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), South Korea (15%), Germany (15%), Netherlands (14%), Austria (10%), Iceland (10%) and Australia (10%).  Ireland, Canada and Spain followed (10%, 9%, 9%),
  • The countries which illustrated the largest increases in identified atheists were France (+15%), Czech Republic (+10%), Japan (+8%),  Ireland (+7%), Netherlands (+7%), Argentina (+5%), Germany (+5%) and the United States (+4%),
  • The largest declines in religiosity between 2005 and 2012 occurred in Vietnam (from 53% to 30%),  Ireland (from 69% to 47%), France (from 58% to 37%),  Switzerland (from 71% to 50%), South Africa (from 83% to 64%) and Ecuador (from 85% to 70%), 
  • The most religious region of the world is Africa, with 89% of people identifying as religious, followed by Latin America at 84%.  In the Arab World 77% identified as religious, although current volatile countries Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were at 88%, 83% and 84% respectively,
  • The least religious regions of the world are North and East Asia, where only 17% and 39% of people, respectively, identified as religious.  In Western Europe the figure was 51%, it was 66% in Eastern Europe and 57% in North America, and
  • The top 10 most religious countries are: Ghana (96%), Nigeria (93%), Macedonia (90%), Romania (85%), Kenya (88%), Peru (86%), Pakistan (84%), Moldova (83%), Colombia (83%) and Cameroon (82%).