Humanists, atheists look to higher global profile
By Robert Evans
HUMANIST and atheist groups around the world are looking to boost their profile in 2005 to counter religious fundamentalism and efforts by some Western leaders to relaunch faith as a keystone of national life.
Under pressure from the rise of militant Islam, Vatican activism in the European Union and the re-election of a “born-again” Christian to the White House, they feel they must resist to ensure the ideas of secularism survive and spread.
“In the face of the religious onslaught on Humanist values, we have to speak out and get our message over,” says Roy Brown, Swiss-based president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which links groups totalling millions of members. Two central events will be a World Atheist Conference at Vijayawada in India in early January and the IHEU’s World Congress in July at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
"…Bush’s triumph has also boosted opponents of abortion and homosexuality, as well as supporters of Intelligent Design (ID) which rejects evolution - the development of all life on earth from lower forms through natural selection of the fittest - as elaborated by 19th century British naturalist Charles Darwin. The ID movement emerged from the ranks of US creationists, who believe the Bible is literally correct and that their God created the world and all in it. ID limits itself to arguing that an intelligence must have shaped life.
… However Humanists see some advances over the past year in Europe, Asia and even in Africa where atheists have begun to organise. In Europe, Vatican efforts to have the EU constitution include a reference to the continent’s Christian heritage were blocked. The European Parliament voted to bar a traditionalist Italian Catholic from becoming the new justice commissioner.
France’s ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools was imposed in September with few problems, despite warnings that it would unleash protests and alienate many in Europe’s largest Islamic minority.
In Spain, the Socialists replaced the Catholic-inspired Popular Party after its decade in power and began a series of secular reforms angering the Church hierarchy, including a move to allow gay marriage. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in India’s general elections to the firmly secular Congress Party. Even at the United Nations there was good news from for Humanists.
Bangladeshi writer and medical doctor Taslima Nasrin, living in exile after criticising Islam and an active campaigner for the rights of women and the non-religious, was awarded a UNESCO prize for promoting cultural tolerance. But at the same time a Vatican campaign led to the world body adding “Christianophobia” to “Islamophobia” and anti-Semitism as issues its human rights bodies report on - a sign for many that religious forces are reinforcing their grip.