[ExI] In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal

Sergio M.L. Tarrero sergio.ml.tarrero at mac.com
Tue Sep 18 01:57:15 UTC 2007

On Sep 18, 2007, at 1:32 AM, nvitamore at austin.rr.com wrote:

> I am forwarding this message from another list I am on:
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/14/ 
> AR2007091402501.html?referrer=emailarticle

Good article. Thanks for forwarding that, Natasha.

The times are certainly changing for the better in the religious  
arena, at least in the more civilized areas of the world. It's about  

Despite the awful sadness of it all, the 9/11 atrocities, the other  
attacks in Madrid and London, the failed attacks, the daily attacks  
in Iraq and Afghanistan (from both sides), the religious genocides  
taking place from time to time, the (temporary) rise in madness and  
fundamentalism everywhere as superorganisms clash, the stem-cell  
luddites and anti-abortionists and creationists, the ludicrous  
requests of Muslims in Europe...  it is refreshing to hear from time  
to time that all this shit is precisely what is causing ever larger  
groups of people to react, think for themselves, and take a stand,  
lose their patience, change sides. Repudiate the concept of "faith"  
without fear of criticism, or "going to hell". It is nice to see  
significant sections of the population deciding to "grow up", fight  
the old demons of religion inside their heads, and choose the path of  
intellectual and moral honesty.

Sam Harris started writing his valiant "The End of Faith" the day  
after 9/11. Dawkins and Hitchens have also radicalized their  
positions, and written important new books to help make a difference  
(I can particularly strongly recommend "God Is Not Great", it's an  
important book which waves will resonate for decades, a courageous  
and beautiful work of art, a joy to read). Dennett has focused his  
sharp and persuasive mind on reaching the average person in doubt (a  
once rather rare specimen which numbers rise with every passing day)  
and done so quite gracefully (and respectfully), as we're accustomed  
to. So has Harris with his second work, a neat little book designed  
specifically to reach a much wider audience and tweak their brains a  
bit (or a bunch).

And, of course, the Internet is also to "blame" (the faithful would  
say) for this freethought renewal in the West. It seems now (to me,  
anyway) that it is a matter of time until we win the fight in our  
semi-cultured part of the world. Because reason and honesty are on  
our side. And the snowball will only get bigger faster as the second  
decade of this century unfolds before our eyes.

But, despite my optimism, an important question remains - will this  
trend extend to Africa and Asia in time to stop the suicidal madness  
that, with advanced tech, could quite easily do us all in?  Not much  
access to books, free-to-think-or-speak media, or the Internet out  
there. Will we see the progressively more enlightened ex-Muslims in  
Europe and the US export their hopes for a more united, secular world  
to their countries of origin?  How can we reach those countries  
directly (eliminating the middleman, if possible, to save time) and  
affect the common citizens' mindsets so that they will repudiate  
religion the way many of us do?

When the US was preparing to come into Afghanistan, some time after  
9/11, they took the time for a few days (before moving on to push  
those nasty pious Talibans over the Pakistani border, destroying many  
of their caves, and obliterating a good number of them in the  
process) to drop windup radios from the skies, which would allow the  
common folk to listen to what was about to happen, and to hear why it  
was happening, from our perspective, with no Taliban nonsense to  
distort it.  They actually attempted to reach people's minds, and win  
them over (although it was a half-assed attempt).  I thought for a  
minute there that I was daydreaming - could this administration  
really be doing this, to take the lesson from simple memetics  
postulates and persuasion techniques and decide to fight a war of  
ideas (or at least to do so in parallel to a conventional war/attach/ 
occupation)?  Of course, the effort was short lived, and I understood  
it was just my optimistic innocent me there, hoping for something  
good.  But that type of effort, albeit sustained and on a much larger  
scale, is precisely what it will take to illustrate the Muslim world  
to the point that they don't want to kill or convert us all.

Unfortunately, I am rather pesimistic about our chances to do this in  
the relevant time frame. I have a feeling that it will take bigger  
attacks, bigger catastrophes, maybe megadeath, for the whole world to  
react and let go of its deadly faiths and other childhood nightmares.  
And decide to live *this* life to the fullest, the way many of us in  
the West are doing. The article points to an important corollary to  
losing one's faith: the more one distances oneself from "faith", the  
more one appreciates life. Let's just hope we reach critical mass in  
time to avoid some major man-made catastrophe of "biblical" proportions.

Sergio M.L. Tarrero
Lifeboat Foundation     http://lifeboat.com

On Sep 18, 2007, at 1:32 AM, nvitamore at austin.rr.com wrote:

> I am forwarding this message from another list I am on:
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/14/ 
> AR2007091402
> 501.html?referrer=emailarticle
> =======================================================
> In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal
> By Mary Jordan
> Washington Post Foreign Service
> Saturday, September 15, 2007; A01
> BURGESS HILL, England -- Every morning on his walk to work, high  
> school
> teacher Graham Wright recited a favorite Anglican prayer and asked  
> God for
> strength in the day ahead. Then two years ago, he just stopped.
> Wright, 59, said he was overwhelmed by a feeling that religion had  
> become a
> negative influence in his life and the world. Although he once  
> considered
> becoming an Anglican vicar, he suddenly found that religion  
> represented
> nothing he believed in, from Muslim extremists blowing themselves  
> up in
> God's name to Christians condemning gays, contraception and stem cell
> research.
> "I stopped praying because I lost my faith," said Wright, 59, a  
> thoughtful
> man with graying hair and clear blue eyes. "Now I truly loathe any  
> sight or
> sound of religion. I blush at what I used to believe."
> Wright is now an avowed atheist and part of a growing number of vocal
> nonbelievers in Europe and the United States. On both sides of the  
> Atlantic,
> membership in once-quiet groups of nonbelievers is rising, and books
> attempting to debunk religion have been surprise bestsellers,  
> including "The
> God Delusion," by Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins.
> New groups of nonbelievers are sprouting on college campuses, anti- 
> religious
> blogs are expanding across the Internet, and in general, more  
> people are
> publicly saying they have no religious faith.
> More than three out of four people in the world consider themselves
> religious, and those with no faith are a distinct minority. But  
> especially
> in richer nations, and nowhere more than in Europe, growing numbers of
> people are actively saying they don't believe there is a heaven or  
> a hell or
> anything other than this life.
> Many analysts trace the rise of what some are calling the  
> "nonreligious
> movement" to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The sight of  
> religious
> fanatics killing 3,000 people caused many to begin questioning -- and
> rejecting -- all religion.
> "This is overwhelmingly the topic of the moment," said Terry  
> Sanderson,
> president of the National Secular Society of Britain. "Religion in  
> this
> country was very quiet until September 11, and now it is at the  
> center of
> everything."
> Since the 2001 attacks, a string of religiously inspired bomb and  
> murder
> plots has shaken Europe. Muslim radicals killed 52 people on the  
> London
> public transit system in 2005 and 191 on Madrid trains in 2004. People
> apparently aiming for a reward in heaven were arrested in Britain  
> last year
> for trying to blow up transatlantic jetliners. And earlier this  
> month in
> Germany, authorities arrested converts to Islam on charges that  
> they planned
> to blow up American facilities there.
> Many Europeans are angry at demands to use taxpayer money to  
> accommodate
> Islam, Europe's fastest-growing religion, which now has as many as 20
> million followers on the continent. Along with calls for prayer  
> rooms in
> police stations, foot baths in public places and funding for  
> Islamic schools
> and mosques, expensive legal battles have broken out over the  
> niqab, the
> Muslim veil that covers all but the eyes, which some devout women  
> seek to
> wear in classrooms and court.
> Christian fundamentalist groups who want to halt certain science  
> research,
> reverse abortion and gay rights and teach creationism rather than  
> evolution
> in schools are also angering people, according to Sanderson and  
> others.
> "There is a feeling that religion is being forced on an unwilling  
> public,
> and now people are beginning to speak out against what they see as  
> rising
> Islamic and Christian militancy," Sanderson said.
> Though the number of nonbelievers speaking their minds is rising,  
> academics
> say it's impossible to calculate how many people silently share  
> that view.
> Many people who do not consider themselves religious or belong to  
> any faith
> group often believe, even if vaguely, in a supreme being or an  
> afterlife.
> Others are not sure what they believe.
> The term atheist can imply aggressiveness in disbelief; many who don't
> believe in God prefer to call themselves humanists, secularists,
> freethinkers, rationalists or, a more recently coined term, brights.
> "Where religion is weak, people don't feel a need to organize  
> against it,"
> said Phil Zuckerman, an American academic who has written  
> extensively about
> atheism around the globe.
> He and others said secular groups are also gaining strength in  
> countries
> where religious influence over society looms large, including  
> India, Israel
> and Turkey. "Any time we see an outspoken movement against  
> religion, it
> tells us that religion has power there," Zuckerman said.
> One group of nonbelievers in particular is attracting attention in  
> Europe:
> the Council of Ex-Muslims. Founded earlier this year in Germany,  
> the group
> now has a few hundred members and an expanding number of chapters  
> across the
> continent. "You can't tell us religion is peaceful -- look around  
> at the
> misery it is causing," said Maryam Namazie, leader of the group's  
> British
> chapter.
> She and other leaders of the council held a news conference in The  
> Hague to
> launch the Dutch chapter on Sept. 11, the sixth anniversary of the  
> terrorist
> attacks in the United States. "We are all atheists and  
> nonbelievers, and our
> goal is not to eradicate Islam from the face of the earth," but to  
> make it a
> private matter that is not imposed on others, she said.
> The majority of nonbelievers say they are speaking out only because of
> religious fanatics. But some atheists are also extreme, urging  
> people, for
> example, to blot out the words "In God We Trust" from every dollar  
> bill they
> carry.
> Gaining political clout and access to television and radio airtime  
> is the
> goal of many of these groups. With a higher profile, they say, they  
> could,
> for instance, lobby for all religious rooms in public hospitals to be
> closed, as a response to Muslims demanding prayer rooms because  
> Christians
> have chapels.
> Associations of nonbelievers are also moving to address the growing  
> demand
> in Britain, Spain, Italy and other European countries for nonreligious
> weddings, funerals and celebrations for new babies. They are  
> helping arrange
> ceremonies that steer clear of talk of God, heaven and miracles and
> celebrate, as they say, "this one life we know."
> The British Humanist Association, which urges people who think "the
> government pays too much attention to religious groups" to join  
> them, has
> seen its membership double in two years to 6,500.
> A humanist group in the British Parliament that looks out for the  
> rights of
> the nonreligious now has about 120 members, up from about 25 a year  
> ago.
> Doreen Massey, a Labor Party member of the House of Lords who  
> belongs to
> that group, said most British people don't want legislators to make  
> public
> policy decisions on issues such as abortion and other health  
> matters based
> on their religious beliefs.
> But the church has disproportionate power and influence in  
> Parliament, she
> said. For example, she said, polls show that 80 percent of Britons  
> want the
> terminally ill who are in pain to have the right to a medically  
> assisted
> death, yet such proposals have been effectively killed by a handful of
> powerful bishops.
> "We can't accept that religious faiths have a monopoly on ethics,  
> morality
> and spirituality," Massey said. Now, she added, humanist and  
> secularist
> groups are becoming "more confident and more powerful" and  
> recognize that
> they represent the wishes of huge numbers of people.
> While the faithful have traditionally met like-minded people at the  
> local
> church, mosque or synagogue, it has long been difficult for those  
> without
> religion to find each other. The expansion of the Internet has made  
> it a
> vital way for nonbelievers to connect.
> In retirement centers, restaurants, homes and public lectures and  
> debates,
> nonbelievers are convening to talk about how to push back what they  
> see as
> increasingly intrusive religion.
> "Born Again Atheist," "Happy Heathen" and other anti-religious T- 
> shirts and
> bumper stickers are increasingly seen on the streets. Groups such  
> as the
> Skeptics in the Pub in London, which recently met to discuss this  
> topic,
> "God: The Failed Hypothesis," are now finding that they need bigger  
> rooms to
> accommodate those who find them online.
> Wright, the teacher who recently declared himself a nonbeliever, is  
> one of
> thousands of people who have joined dues-paying secular and  
> humanist groups
> in Europe this year.
> Sitting in his living room on a quiet cul-de-sac in this English  
> town of
> 30,000, Wright said he now goes online every day to keep up with  
> the latest
> atheist news.
> "One has to step up and stem the rise of religious influence," said  
> Wright,
> who is thinking of becoming a celebrant at humanist funerals. He  
> said he
> recently went to the church funeral of his brother-in-law and  
> couldn't bear
> the "vacuous prayers of the vicar," who, Wright said, "looked bored  
> and
> couldn't wait to leave."
> Now, instead of each morning silently reciting a favorite nighttime  
> prayer,
> "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy
> defend us from all perils and dangers . . . " (from the Anglican  
> Book of
> Common Prayer), he spends the time just thinking about the day ahead.
> He said his deceased mother, a Catholic, was comforted by her  
> faith: "It
> kept her going through difficult times," particularly when his  
> father left
> her when he and his sister were young.
> "I really don't know how I will react if something really bad  
> happens," he
> said. "But there is no going back. There is nothing to go back to."
> Not believing in an afterlife, he said, "makes you think you have  
> to make
> the most of this life. It's the now that matters. It also makes you  
> feel a
> greater urgency of things that matter," such as halting global  
> warming, and
> not just dismissing it as being "all in God's plan."
> He called himself heartened that the National Secular Society,  
> which he
> recently joined, is planning to open chapters at a dozen  
> universities this
> fall. The rising presence of the nonreligious movement, he said, is
> "fantastic."
> "It's a bit of opposition, isn't it?" he said. "Why should these  
> religious
> groups hold so much sway?"
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