Category Archives: Atheist

The Institute of Ideas think-tank has accused fellow secularists of engaging in a “New Atheist witch-hunt” over the Pope’s upcoming British visit

The Institute of Ideas think-tank has accused fellow secularists of engaging in a “New Atheist witch-hunt” over the Pope’s upcoming British visit. They say that the tenor of the criticism of the pontiff and the Catholic Church “is in stark contrast to their own professed views on tolerance.”

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13091

Holocaust Memorial Day – rescuers

“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

Holocaust Memorial Day – the assualt on atheism

The assault on atheism

From early on in the Nazi Party’s history atheism was clearly marked for elimination given its relationship to socialism and communism – the ideological competitors of National Socialism.

“And now Staatspräsident Bolz says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity. If many wish today to take threatened Christianity under their protection, where, I would ask, was Christianity for them in these fourteen years when they went arm in arm with atheism? No, never and at no time was greater internal damage done to Christianity than in these fourteen years when a party, theoretically Christian, sat with those who denied God in one and the same Government.”

(Adolf Hitler, in a speech delivered at Stuttgart, February 15, 1933) Continue reading

Holocaust Memorial Day – the religious context

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

Hope for non-believers – many American Christians believe atheists will get into heaven

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life carried out a survey of 3,000 Americans in 2008 about whether people thought beliefs other than their own can lead to ‘eternal life’.

The survey was designed as a follow-up to their 2007 Religious Landscape Survey which reported that 70 per cent Americans who claim a religious affiliation saying that many religions can lead to eternal life. (This earlier survey by the BBC found that 51 per cent of Americans agreed that ‘My God (Beliefs) is the only true God (Beliefs)’ compared with 31 per cent of people in the UK who agreed with the same statement)

The 2008 survey asked those who say many religions can lead to eternal life whether or not they think a series of specific religions (including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism) can lead to eternal life, as well as whether they thought atheists or people who have no religious faith can achieve eternal life.

The survey found that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions can lead to eternal life – strong majorities believe that both Christian and non-Christian faiths can.

Although a majority who say that many religions can lead to eternal life believe that people with no religious faith also can achieve eternal salvation (56 per cent), far fewer (42 per cent) say this about atheists.

White evangelical Protestants are least likely to believe various non-Christian religions can lead to eternal life although the numbers are still significant – nearly three-quarters (72%) of evangelicals who say many religions can lead to salvation name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so.

Actions or beliefs?

Respondents expressed a variety of views on how people can achieve eternal life. When asked to describe in their own words what determines whether a person will attain eternal life, nearly 30 per cent said that a person’s actions are most important. 30 per cent said that belief is the key factor in achieving everlasting life. 10 per cent referred to a combination of belief and actions as necessary for eternal life, and almost as many (8 per cent) cite some other factor as most important. In addition, 14 per cent indicated they are unsure of what leads to eternal life, and another 7 per cent volunteer they do not believe in eternal life.

White evangelicals looked mainly to faith as the key to salvation, while white Catholics tend to look to actions.

Unsurprisingly those people who believed there were many ways to salvation were more likely to say actions are more important than beliefs.

The survey doesn’t appear to control for factors like ethnicity, age or religous practice though – it could for example be that White evangelicals are more narrowminded in their outlook because they are more devout rather than any core doctrinal reasons.

What do these results tells us? That there are huge numbers of people open to the idea that other beliefs (including non religious ones) are legitimate and valuable and that co-operation between different belief groups can be built on far more than a grudging pragmatism but on some form of real respect.

Also that the opportunities for co-operation are not equal and some religious groups will be more ammenable than others. But amenable there are and across all traditions offering hope that none of us are as feared, despised or condemned for our beliefs quite as much as louder voices might have us believe.

Holocaust Memorial Day – the relevance to atheists

Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews in a systematic, state-sponsored campaign of persecution and extermination now known as the Holocaust. It persecuted, incarcerated and murdered millions of its own citizens, and those of the countries it invaded, on the basis of skin colour; disability; sexual orientation; ethnicity; religious belief or political affiliation.

The Holocaust was a defining event of the twentieth century and is part of both our history and our contemporary life:

  • Refugees fled here from Nazi persecution.
  • Britain was engaged in a war to defeat Nazi occupation and oppression.
  • UK soldiers liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
  • Survivors and refugees who rebuilt their lives here have made major contributions to present day UK society. [Including Sigmund Freud]
  • Britain played a lead role in developing the international conventions protecting universal human rights after WW2.

Atheists fought in the allied forces, were rescuers and were among the survivors and refugees that rebuilt their lives in the UK, for example Sigmund Freud:

“In March 1938, the Nazis invaded Austria and put Freud and his family in mortal danger. Freud managed to escape from Vienna with the help of the wealthy Princess Marie Bonaparte, whom he adored, and of the government of the United States of America, which he relentlessly disliked. President Roosevelt even took a measure of interest in Freud’s case, but that did not change Freud’s mind about the rogue republic at all. America is enormous, he liked to say, but it is an enormous mistake.

Before leaving Vienna, Freud gave the Nazis a parting gift. They had made it clear to him that his emigration was contingent on signing a statement saying that he had not been molested in any way and that he had been able to continue with his scientific work. Freud signed, but then added a coda of his own devising: “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”

Edmundson Mark (2007) ‘Defender of the Faith?’ in the New York Times, 9 September 2007

Australian research finds religious youth more likely to volunteer

Andrew Singleton of Monash University, Australia previews some findings from The Spirit of Generation Y his study of spirituality among 1216 young Australians which revealed that religion is strongly associated with many positive life outcomes.

We found that one in five 13-to-24 year olds are actively religious, while about one in six could be described as atheists. The rest are religiously or spiritually disengaged but tend to either secular indifference or a superficial interest in the New Age.

…The religiously active are more likely to have positive civic attitudes, display high levels of social concern and be actively involved in community service. Active Christians, for example, do much more hours of volunteer work per month than secular youth. On a measure of the extent to which a person holds positive human values — favouring an ethical life, justice for all and having an orientation to the common good — we also found the religiously active to be streets ahead.

These findings make sense when we consider that regular attendees at religious services are encouraged to lead altruistic and ethical lives and given ample opportunities to partake in community service.

What about the young atheists? Most secular-minded youth are more self-oriented because there is no widely understood or shared ethical alternative paradigm on which to model their lives. Despite recent commentary about “generation Y” being community-minded, our evidence suggests that the prevailing ethos of the past decade — individualism and consumerism — afflicts young people in spades. And the secular humanists and rationalists do not seem to be putting up a credible, earthly alternative way of life.

Christian Today reports further that the study found 71% of Gen Y are not involved in any kind of community service in a typical month – whether fundraising, office work, signing a petition, collecting for a charity or coaching a sporting team. The study found that 77% of those whose spirituality type is Secular and 51% of Active Christians are not engaged in community activities in any way and do nothing for others apart from close family and friends.

However, a significant proportion of Gen Y go against that trend. They demonstrate strong community values and are actively involved in their communities in ways that assist the marginalised and disadvantaged. Some do hard-edge volunteer work that requires both initiative and courage. This type of service takes them outside their comfort zone and provides them with new skills and confidence.

Those who engage in voluntary work are likely to have a strong commitment to community values and be actively involved their faith. Active Christians and those New Agers who were brought up Christian demonstrate high levels of community involvement and altruism.

Spirituality type is also correlated with generosity: although 25% of Seculars and 8% of Active Christians give nothing to charity in a year, those Active Christians who do donate are generous in their giving.