However much we may be annoyed by the activities of religious organisations in the UK, at least we’re free to express our opinions about religion and belief without fear of death, which isn’t the case for many atheists worldwide. Bob Churchill of the International Humanist & Ethical Union was interviewed on BBC World News about the Freethought Report, which showed the extent of discriminatiuon against atheists worldwide. The first report...
Contrary to what Christian leaders have been claiming for a long time, the “real meaning of Christmas” isn’t their nativity story. A midwinter festival has been celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years (it’s pre-Christian in origin). The Romans had a festival called Saturnalia, which the BBC website details – Did the Romans invent Christmas? The answer is, no, they didn’t; the early church high-jacked the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when it became clear that no one was going to stop having a good time at around this time of year.
Originally a one-day feast at the end of autumn, Saturnalia gradually moved to later and later dates, with longer celebrations, throughout the Roman period.
By the time of Christian conversion it was running into and incorporating a number of festivals. These included the Opalia – the festival day for Saturn’s consort Ops – on the 19 December and the Sigillaria- the day of present-giving – on the 23 December. The 25 December was dies natalis solis invicti – the birthday of the ‘invincible’ Roman sun-god Sol.
Cancelling Saturnalia was unthinkable, so Christian Rome converted it to a Christian holy day instead.
American atheists have a lot of invective aimed at them by ignorant Christian fundamentalists. One extreme example, this week, was in response to the school massacre in Connecticut; a Tennessee Baptist pastor told his congregation that the number of mass shooting were escalating because of schools were government “mind-control centers” that taught “junk about evolution” and “how to be a homo,” and that “humanism” in schools taught Lanza (the shooter) that he was God and “he can just go blow away anybody he wants.” He wasn’t alone in blaming atheists and atheism for the massacre. Former US Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said that the shooting was a result of having “systematically removed God from our schools” (ignoring the fact that America is constitutionally secular).
It’s great that many Americans, even those who are religious, find the statements of Huckabee and company objectionable, but it’s unfortunate that the objections focus on the wrong issue. Rather than argue about whether God is jealous and vindictive or loving and compassionate (or at least in addition to that argument), Americans should be calling out fundamentalists for depicting nonbelievers as agents of evil.
Today is Human Rights Day. Tomorrow we’ll be hosting a celebration at the university, with guests including the Mayor of Ipswich, focussing on Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Click here for more information. Today, the International Humanist and Ethical Union has issued a report on worldwide discrimination against the non-religious. It details those countries where freedom of speech is impossible because it is considered a crime to criticise religion, or even to be non-religious or to adopt the wrong religion. If you care about this, please join us at the university tomorrow, and share this post. The IHEU says,
The International Humanist and Ethical Union has produced the first report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious has been published to mark Human Rights Day, Monday 10 December.
New York photographer Chris Johnson has found subscribers to publish a book of portraits of happy atheists, to dispel the myth “that our lives are devoid of joy and happiness because we are not religious.” It looks interesting, but the sample list of subjects gives the impression that the book could be male-dominated. Maybe the gender balance will be 50/50?
Julian Baggini is co-founder of The Philosophers’ Magazine and author of ‘Atheisn: A Very Short Introduction’ (OUP). His series ‘Heathen’s Progress‘ that began last year in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section is worth reading. The latest part, ‘Yes, life without God can be bleak. Atheism is about facing up to that‘ firmly removes any comfort blanket you might be clinging to, and is bracingly honest. It ends:
I think it’s time we atheists ‘fessed up and admitted that life without God can sometimes be pretty grim. Appropriating the label “heathen” is part of this. Heathens are unredeemed outcasts from heaven who roam the planet without hope of surviving the deaths of their bodies. They may have values but they are not secured by any divine source. Yet we embrace this because we think it represents the truth. And so we don’t just get on and enjoy life, we embark on our own intellectual pilgrimages, trying to make some progress in a universe on which no meaning has been writ. The journey can be wonderful but it can also be arduous and it may end horribly. But there is no other way, and anyone who urges you to follow a path that they promise leads to a bright future is either gravely mistaken or a charlatan.
Found on Facebook – source unknown.
Click here to read Baroness Warsi’s speech to the Vatican today, in full. You might want to pour yourself a stiff drink first. You’ll need it.
Europe needs to become more confident in its Christianity.
Let us be honest –
Too often there is a suspicion of faith in our continent, where signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings, where states won’t fund faith schools, and where faith is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded.
There are many atheists and self-styled humanists who are so anti-religious that they don’t want to know anything about it. When they talk about Islam, say, it becomes evident that they know very little about Muslims, and have probably never knowingly spoken to one. As far as they’re concerned, Islam is a threat, and that’s all there is to it.
When it comes to our quality of life, what matters is how people behave, not what they believe. This applies to atheists and humanists too, some of whom could do with lessons in manners. There are times when this sort of attitude leads atheists to do very silly things, like Richard Dawkins’ response to the Haitian earthquake. To demonstrate that humanists are caring people, he set up a separate fund from all the well-established disaster relief funds. A lot of atheists won’t donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) because some of the organisations involved have a religious ethos and they imagine that the money might be used for proselytising, instead of food, shelter and welfare. Dawkins’ fund, which was promoted by the BHA, was channelled through PayPal, an American money transfer system, which meant that British donors couldn’t take advantage of the Gift Aid scheme, so their donations were worth less than they would have been through DEC. This was inexcusable, considering that there are British disaster relief charities without a religious ethos, and that donors could have gone direct to any of them. Humanists are supposed to be rational people, but this wasn’t very rational.
“Pastor” Michael Stahl from Florida, who doesn’t actually have a church and probably assumed the title himself, is clearly a very ignorant and prejudiced man. A year ago he wrote in his blog that he was going to start a grassroots organization to keep a database of atheists called “The Christian National Registry of Atheists.” He wrote,
I mean, think about it. There are already National Registrys [sic] for convicted sex offenders, ex-convicts, terrorist cells, hate groups like the KKK, skinheads, radical Islamists, etc… This type of ‘National Registry’ would merely be for information purposes.
When Mr Stahl’s great idea came to light a few days ago, it naturally annoyed a lot of people, mainly atheists like us, who’d never considered any similarity with sex offenders or terrorists. Mr Stahl seems to have neglected to make a list of all the Catholic sex offenders, but perhaps he thinks that the Pope’s right, and we should just ignore them.
Anyhow, the Thinking Atheist thought that this was a good opportunity to point out what a great list this might be.