Religion continued to wield undue influence in world culture and politics, with a number of seismic shifts felt throughout 2013. Here are the top stories of 2013 noted by Atheist Alliance International:
Pope Benedict XVI Resigns
On February 11, Pope Benedict announced to a shocked world that he was resigning as Pope as of February 28 - the first Pope to do so in over 600 years. Although he claimed that his decision was based on his declining health, he also stepped down from a papacy mired in sexual and financial scandals, from the rampant child molestations being uncovered in countries around the world (and the efforts by the church to keep them secret) to the trial of Pope Benedict's whistle-blowing butler to the scandals of the Vatican bank leading to the bank chief's ouster. More than one Vatican-watcher openly wondered whether these scandals weighed as much as, if not more than, the Pope's decision.
Pope Francis Takes to the Stage
Benedict's successor, elected on March 13, began making his own news in short order on the world stage. Beginning with his spurning of the use of the papal condo and limosine, the first Jesuit and non-European elected to the papacy soon began sounding very different from his predecessors. From his "Who Am I To Judge?" comments at World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero regarding gays and atheists to his formation of a panel to examine and make recommendations to address the church's sexual scandals to his criticism of the shortcomings of capitalism, Pope Francis seemed to be indicating a new direction and focus for the Catholic Church. His disarmingly open and humble persona have successfully pushed many of the church scandals to the "back burner" as the world has elevated him to something of a celebrity "rock star" status, even as he has taken pains to assure church leaders that he is not advocating any changes in church doctrine, such as priest celibacy, women in the priesthood, or the assertion that the Catholic church is the "one, true church" in its worldview.
Jews Step Away From Their Religion
A Pew survey released in late 2013 on American Jews brought sharp debate to the surface over the disclosures that more than one in five US Jews are non-reliigous, with fully 32% of Jewish Millenials being so, and that fully 58% of American Jews have non-Jewish spouses, bringing into question the definition of Who Is A Jew and, indeed, the future of American Jewry.
"Arab Spring" Leads to Increase In Religious Restrictions in Middle East
A movement started primarily by secular youth who were tired of high unemployment and the lack of political freedoms in their respective countries, the chaos that has followed the challenge and overthrow of longstanding Arab leaders has allowed better-organized Islamist groups to move to the forefront in dictating the type of change being brought about. In 2012, both Tunisia and Egypt put Islamist parties in power. In Libya, Islamist militias have become the 'de-facto' local government in many communities, several of which have been leading a secession of the oil-rich eastern third of the country from Tripoli. In Syria, the opposition to the Bashar government has splintered between the secularists and the Islamists, with better-trained and better-equipped Islamist units pushing out secularist units from opposition strongholds and imposing Sharia law. The biggest losers have been the women, many of which enthusiastically participated and even led parts of the Arab Spring but who are now seeing what few rights they had being dialed back even further, being told how to dress, being fired from and denied holding jobs, and being shut out of the new political institutions arising. Christian and other groups are also being subjected to increasing persecution and violence in all of the countries involved in the Arab Spring.
LGBT Community Under Assault by Religious Interests
It’s been a mixed year for the LGBT community. The targeting of the community by religious groups was especially prominent over the past couple of decades in the US as religious groups frantically put up barriers to legalizing same-sex marriage, but this wave now appears to be quickly diminishing as a majority of Americans are now approving of same-sex marriage and states have voted or legislated to remove same-sex marriage restrictions in 18 US states plus the federal district. In June, the US Supreme Court struck down the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. As of the end of 2013, over 40% of the US population now lives in states that allow same-sex marriage, and at least two more states will recognize it in 2014.
Elsewhere in the world, however, the legal attacks against the LGBT community seem to be on a steep rise as of the end of 2013:
- Uganda (Finally) Passes "Anti-Homosexuality" Bill
In mid-December, the Speaker of the Ugandan legislature announced that the legislature had finally passed the notorious "Anti-Homosexuality" bill that had been bottled up in legislative committees for years. Extending existing Ugandan laws criminalizing homosexual acts, the new law not only provided life in prison for repeat offenders but also criminalized the "promotion of homosexual agendas" and failure to report knowledge of homosexuals to government authorities. The bill had been promoted not just by Ugandan Pentecostals but also by their American counterparts who have been identified as being part of a Christian Dominionist "New Apostolic Reform" movement that seeks to bring all governments under an aggressively conservative Christian worldview.
- Australian Supreme Court Invalidates Same-Sex Marrage Legislation
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in October became the first state in Australia to legalize same-sex marriage. But in early December, based on an appeal mounted by several conservative religious groups, the Australian Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the the new law, declaring it to be in violation of federal statute.
- India’s Supreme Court Reinstates Colonial Criminalization of Homosexuality
Also in early December, the Indian Supreme Court overturned a lower-court ruling and reinstated a law imposed by British colonial powers in the 19th century criminalizing same-sex relationships. The Court was pressured by several Hindu, Muslim, and Christian groups to reinstate the ban, even though opponents say the colonial law had been used primarily to harrass and stigmatize the LGBT community.
- Indonesian Government Shuts Down National Condom Week
Also in early December, the Indonesian government cancelled National Condom Week, an annual program designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDs in the country. The program was attacked and condemned by Islamic religious groups, claiming that the program “encouraged homosexuality” and legitimized pre-marital sex.
Collection & Reporting of Discrimination & Persecution of Atheists
On December 10, 2012, at the suggestion made at a meeting with the US State Department Office for International Religious Freedom, the American Humanist Association, in collaboration with the International and Humanist Union, the Center for Inquiry International, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the Secular Coalition for America (US) released a report outlining a review of the state of religious freedom for nonbelievers in some 60 countries around the world. The report identified systematic discrimination against nontheists by social groups as well as governments. In 2013, a new website, www.FreethoughtReport.com, was launched to provide a reporting portal for additional cases of nontheist discrimination. This website has opened up discussion of persecution of nontheists in the mainstream media and has provided important statistics on the threat against nontheists around the world such as the discovery that atheists can be put to death for being open with their atheism in 13 countries around the world.
Malala Versus the Islamists
In 2012, a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai dared to stand up for the rights of women to receive an education and who then barely survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for her "offense to Islam." Since recuperating from her life-threatening injuries, Malala has become a prominent spokesperson for women's rights in the Muslim world, speaking at the United Nations, on a number of western news and talk shows, and through the release of a book on her experience. While she continues to embrace and promote Islam, she has become an important voice in promoting the moderation and humanization of Islam for the modern age.
Pakistani & Afghani Islamists Hunt & Murder Polio Vaccine Workers
In a story that appeared repeatedly throughout 2013, Islamists killed more than three dozen polio vaccine workers over the course of the year as part of an anti-vaccination campaign. Portrayed as a conspiracy by the West to sterilize and reduce the world Muslim population, Islamists have successfullly shut down vaccination programs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, the three remaining countries in the world where polio is still active. The World Health Organization has said that the ongoing threats have caused over a million children to miss being vaccinated in these countries in 2013, slowing down and perhaps even reversing the eradication of polio in these countries and in the world.
African Pentecostals Expanding Into Worldwide Enterprises
For the past several years, Nigerian pastors have been vying with American pastors for the notorious honor of being listed on Forbes' Top 10 Richest Pastors list. Among the American pastors of Bishop T.D. Jakes ($150 million), Benny Hinn ($42 million), Creflo Dollar ($27 million), Kenneth Copeland ($35 million) and Billy Graham ($25 million), the list includes Nigerian plutocrat-pastors Bishop David Oyedepo ($150 million), E.A. Adeboye ($100 million), "Pastor Chris" Oyakhilome ($30-50 million), Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo ($30 million), and Temitope Joshua ($10-15 million). All of these pastors, both American and Nigerian, are known for having multiple opulent homes in multiple countries and their own private jets while relying heavily on nepotism to manage their empires. Less-known is that they also have sizable international operations: All of the Nigerian pastors listed above have missions in the US, the UK, and even Australia and Canada, all contributing significant contributions to their bottom line - and, of course, all tax-free. This past year, Pastor E.A. Adeboye made headlines in announcing a tour through Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea to plant new missions for his evangelical empire; in doing so, he raised the ire of human-rights and secularist groups who sought to have his visa application rejected for the demonization of LGBT people and the victimization of individuals accused of witchcraft. The visa was granted anyway, but the incident exposed just how lucrative evangelical preaching has become in some parts of the world.