“Only a few Evangelicals, a few Catholics a few Orthodox, a few agnostics, and a few atheists (and not necessarily in that order) helped the Jewish people during their persecution.
Varian Fry, a bespectacled, frail, moody intellectual; a man who would seem to be a most unlikely candidate to stand against the Gestapo, succeeded in organising the escape of approximately fifteen hundred men and women from Nazi occupied France in 1940-41. A man who appeared to have no religious motivation, Fry explained to his mother that he stayed because it took courage and ‘courage us a quality I hadn’t previous been sure I possessed’. To his wife he wrote: ‘Now I think I can say that I possess an ordinary amount of courage’
Source: Rausch, David A. (2000) ‘Hard Questions Asked by the Holocaust’ in Rittner, Carol, Smith, Stephen D., Steinfeldt, Irena (eds) The Holocaust and the Christian World Continuum: New York
Primo Levi (1919-1987) was one of the most famous Survivors of the Holocaust. Levi, born in Turin, Italy and trained as a chemist, was arrested during the as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance and deported to Auschwitz in 1944. His experience in the death camp and his subsequent travels through Eastern Europe were the subject of powerful memoirs, fiction and poetry.
Although he came from families who had been observant Jews up to a generation or so before, they were no longer so and Levi was a life-long atheist. His only recollection of ever having any religious feelings was a brief period when he studied for his bar mitzvah, and tried to seek contact with God, “but when he sought that contact, he’d found nothing. Continue reading
In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Jewish population of Europe stood over nine million. The Nazi campaign to exclude and persecute Jews, and others, as “life unworthy of life” began. By war’s end, close to two out of every three Jews in Europe had been murdered in the Holocaust.
Although Jews were the primary victims of Nazi racism, others targeted for death included tens of thousands of Roma (Gypsies) and at least 200,000 mentally or physically disabled people (source:www.ushmm.org). As Nazi tyranny spread across Europe, millions of people were persecuted and murdered. More than three million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or died of starvation, disease or maltreatment. The Nazis killed tens of thousands of Polish intellectual and religious leaders; deported millions of Polish and persecuted and incarcerated homosexuals.
It is also important to acknowledge the experience of atheism and atheists under the Nazis, although we should be careful not to let this become our primary motive for remembering the Holocaust – the terrible events were a travesty for humanity in its entirety. Continue reading
The BBC recently reported that the Indian government has withdrawn a controversial report submitted to the Supreme Court which questioned the existence of the Hindu god Ram. The report was presented in connection with a case against the proposed Sethusamudram shipping canal project between India and Sri Lanka.
The report was withdrawn after huge protests by opposition parties. Protests that have since spilled over into roadbloacks, disruptions of train services and even two murders by Hindu activists when a bus was set alight near Bangalore.
The BBC reports that “Hindu hardliners say the project will destroy what they say is a bridge built by Ram and his army of monkeys. Scientists and archaeologists say the Ram Setu (Lord Ram’s bridge) – or Adam’s Bridge as it is sometimes called – is a natural formation of sand and stones. Continue reading
An old poll from December 2006 I’ve just come across conduced by Harris Poll and the Financial Times into the religious views and beliefs in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA. Key results for the UK (sample size 2090):
- Ony 35% believe in any form of God or any type of supreme being (only France was lower with 27%)
- 35% are agnostic and 17% atheist
- 7% Not sure; the largest percentage of all the countries
- 39% do not share the same religious beliefs as either of their parents; the largest percentage of all countries and the only country for which this is higher than those saying they have the same religious beliefs as both of their parents. Suggesting a strong generational shedding of belief.
- 70% people believe in the separation if church and state (although that isn’t defined) the lowest of all the countries. It is probably worth noting the different charcteristics of the different churches in question. It could be that Britain’s rather laid back churches are less intrusive as much as British people being less secular on principle.
- 56% people thought religion should be taught in state schools, 29% saying no. Only Italy was more in favour of religious teaching and less opposed.
- Only 23% thought the EU was predominantly Christian club – the lowest of the European countries and a testament ot the UK’s multifaith credentials?
- Only 10% would object to their child marrying someone of a different faith and 73% would not. France and Spain indicated a slightly higher level of tolerance, both with 7% and 74 respectively
- Worryingly the UK matched France with 39% believing that Islamic veils should be banned in all public places (higher than the other countries polled) but at 48% were ahead of France and Spain in feeling that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs. Taken together these suggest a particular anti-Muslim dimension to British secular thought.
The Sunday Times reports that 42% of 2,200 people taking part in a poll carried out by YouGov considered religion had a harmful effect. 17% thought the influence of religion was beneficial.
16% of those polled called themselves atheists; 28% believed in God; 26% believed in “something” but were not sure what; and 9% regarded themselves as agnostics.
43% said they never prayed, 31% hardly prayed, and 10% prayed every night.
When we asked which of the main religions was ‘most effective’ in getting its message across, 32% said Christianity and 10% cited Islam.
John Humphys writes in the Sunday Times offering a preview of his new book looking at religion. In short he “went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic – unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. It’s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but don’t blame its evils on religion.”
Humphrys describes himself as a devout sceptic but feels annoyed by the certainty of atheists whose arguments he summarises/ charactatures and counters thus:
1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.
This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.
2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.
Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.
3.They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.
Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards. Continue reading