Religiously Unaffiliated on the Rise in Brazil

Religion in Brazil

Image credit: Pew Forum

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project recently published a report mapping the religious landscape of Brazil. The study showed how Catholicism in the country is on the decline, while Protestantism is gaining traction. But the study also found that, like many countries, the unaffiliated’s slice of the pie is getting larger.

Finally, the number of Brazilians with no religious affiliation, including agnostics and atheists, also has been growing. In 1970, fewer than 1 million Brazilians had no religious affiliation. By 2000, that figure had jumped to 12 million (7%). In the most recent decade, the unaffiliated continued to expand, topping 15 million (8%) in Brazil’s 2010 census.

Of course, being an open atheist in Brazil still isn’t easy. According to a June 2013 article in NewsDaily, many Brazilian atheists don’t feel welcome in their home country, which hosts the largest population of Catholics in the world (125 million – even if they are on the decline).

“You have to be brave to say you are atheist. So there are still a lot of atheists in the closet,” said Daniel Sottomaior, president of the Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, which is fighting prejudice and discrimination against people who do not believe in God.

Sottomaior, a 41-year-old civil engineer who lives in Sao Paulo and has received anonymous death threats, says that in Brazil — which will host a major Catholic festival called World Youth Day on July 22-28 in Rio and the pope’s first overseas visit — “atheists are likened to criminals.”

As the nonreligious population of Brazil and other countries continues to grow, it’s important that atheists everywhere show solidarity. Follow Sottomaior on Twitter (@ateus_atentos) and let him know that you support the work he is doing with the Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics.

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Reasonfest Reflections

I attended Reasonfest 2013 at Kansas University in Lawrence this weekend. This conference was my first official atheism/skepticism/secularism conference. (I have spoken at regional Skepticamp events and on debate and interfaith panels, but this was my first ever event with big names of the atheist movement all congregating in one place.) I made the nine-hour drive with the president of Colorado State University’s Leaders in Free Thought, Stephanie Kaiser, and we stayed with Keiv Spare and Nevin Godfrey of KU’s Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (we owe many thanks to Keiv and Nevin).

The conference fit my expectations almost perfectly. The seats were populated (though not densely) by enthusiastic secularists, eager to hear from their favorite Internet atheists. The biggest names at the event were Matt Dillahunty (The Atheist Experience), Greta Christina (Greta Christina’s Blog), JT Eberhard (WWJTD), and Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist). Those familiar with the movement also would likely recognize Keith Lowell Jensen (comedian), Nate Phelps (son of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps), Dave Muscato (American Atheists), Jerry DeWitt (Hope After Faith), and David Fizgerald (author/activist).

Some of the speeches and events were very well done and entertaining. The theme of the conference was “Modern Morality,” and some of the speakers incorporated secular ethical decision-making into their talks. Greta Christina, for example, gave her popular “Atheism and Sexuality” talk, in which she explores how atheists can make moral decisions about sex without relying upon religious morality found in holy books. Seth Andrews focused his talk on religious indoctrination of children, and the not-so-subtle changes churches are undertaking to attract the youngest generation. Matt Dillahunty and JT Eberhard participated in a debate with Mark Miravalle and his son Dr. John-Mark in which the two sides tried to establish whether atheists or theists had the better grasp of the necessities for morality.

However, some of the talks were underwhelming. For some odd reason, the conference started with Fred Heeren, a Christian who claimed a desire to stop the Christian attack on science. For such a proponent of science, however, Heeren was astoundingly dense when it came to turning the microscope on his own beliefs. Obviously frustrated with Heeren’s intellectual dishonesty, Eberhard questioned how Heeren could simultaneously be committed to scientific advancement and belief in the miracles of Jesus. Heeren’s answer: without a scientifically consistent universe, we wouldn’t be able to identify Jesus’ miracles as that. What the hell?

The bigger problem I had with the conference was its tendency to turn into a real-life version of /r/atheism on Reddit. Though the popular subreddit provides a platform for atheists across the world to voice their opinions, rarely does anyone float a real solution. At Reasonfest, we heard from many speakers who were eager to criticize religion (which does need to keep happening), but I wanted to hear more about how atheists could work to see the changes we want.

Dave Muscato was perhaps the best at giving practical ways atheists could make a difference. As the PR guy for American Atheists, Muscato revealed his approach to publicity, issues management, and media relations for one of the most recognizable atheist organizations in the country. He also hosted a workshop for debating, at which he imparted his knowledge of tactics and what is known as “amygdala hijacking.” Everything Muscato said was profoundly useful.

Most atheists – especially the ones dedicated enough to attend a conference – are well aware of the harm of religion. We’ve seen the detrimental impact it has on politics, science, and equality. Sure, it’s funny when we rattle off the absurdities of religion; but when the laughter ends, I want to know where we go from here.

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Unable to Achieve an Islamic World, Iran Aims a Bit Lower

There seems to be a lot of weird coming out of Iran lately. Just a couple days ago, they announced that Iranian scientists developed a time machine (that they weren’t making public for fear of the Chinese stealing their technology). Yesterday, they announced that they had developed an “Islamic Google Earth“:

The system will be an “Islamic Google Earth,” according to Mohammad Hassan Nami, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology. It will go by the moniker “Basir,” which means “spectator” in Farsi, and it reportedly will be ready for launch in the next four months.

Google Earth merely feigns providing a service, Nami said, but is actually used by security and intelligence organizations to obtain information from foreign countries.

What exactly will be different about the “Islamic” 3D map, Nami didn’t say.

What better way to make it perfectly clear how differently you see the world?

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Professionals Praying

For business news, Inc.com is usually a pretty reliable source of good information and insight. Kevin Daum’s recent article about “The Power of Prayer for Business” was quite the exception.

I have certainly witnessed on many occasions the following prayers by people I know:

• Praying to close that big deal.
• Praying to make payroll at the end of the month.
• Praying that your expensive new marketing campaign will work.
• Praying your employees will get it right this time.
• Praying your client won’t see the big mistake you made.
• Praying that something not so good happens to your competitors.

But real prayer is about focus and discipline, traits that have great relevance to daily business performance.

I know – Daum is trying to tell us what constitutes “real” prayer. Ironic, funny – but not fit for a serious business publication. But here’s the kicker – Daum encourages readers to “Be Thankful” and to “Be Humble,” but then floats this idea:

3. Be Hopeful

There is nothing wrong or selfish about asking the universe for good things to come your way. Prayer connects you with powerful forces to improve your life. But recognize that the universe is not Santa Claus. Ask for that which you are ready to be worthy and deserving.

So close, and yet so far. Prayer connects you with nothing but your own thoughts. And it seems like Daum is on the verge of recognizing this, but then he returns to this petty, self-important idea that the universe/God owes him something. Daum may feel he is worthy and deserving of some cosmic gift-giving, but the universe continues with indifference to his pleas and prayers.

Daum closes the article this way:

Just find 10 minutes a day by yourself to focus your soul and be at one with the universe.

Taking time each day to focus and center yourself is a good idea. But like virtually everything else in Daum’s vacuous article, it can be applied in a secular way. You don’t need to believe in nonsense to be humble, thankful, hopeful or mindful (and to be fair, Daum does acknowledge this). It just goes to show that the only good things ever produced by religion can be achieved in a completely secular way.

Dump the mystical fluff – it’s time to move forward.

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Sam Harris Responds to Critics

Sam Harris

Image credit: Wikipedia commons

Let me start by apologizing for my irregular posting as of late. This weekend I was at a conference in Albuquerque and had zero time for blogging; and as the semester (my final semester of college!) comes to a close, I’m finding myself with less and less time for blogging.

Be that as it may, I’m going to commit myself to making time to blog. I really love blogging (and communicating with you readers), so I can’t think of a worthy excuse for not engaging more consistently.

Today I mostly just want to direct you to read Sam Harris’ most recent blog post, which addresses the complaints of his critics. The post is outlandishly long, but necessarily so. Harris has been criticized for his views (or the views people attribute to him) on Islam, torture, war, airport profiling, and Buddhism – and he addresses each of these concerns comprehensively.

I have already formed my own opinion about his rebuttal, but I’m interested to hear how others have responded as well. Harris is undoubtedly an exceptional and entertaining writer, and I enjoy reading what he has to say whether or not I agree with it. He is a controversial figure in atheist discourse – this new post will do nothing to change that.

Please read what he has to say entirely, then leave your comments here if you so choose. I’m eager to hear the verdict.

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Blaspheming Islam and Muhammad

Three atheist bloggers have been arrested in Bangladesh because they “hurt the religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Muhammad.”

The arrest of the three, who were paraded in handcuffs at a news conference, followed pressure from Islamists who have organised a march from all over the country to the capital to demand the death penalty for atheist bloggers.

Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan said the three arrested men were among 84 “atheist bloggers” named in a list handed over by an Islamist group to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet.

“The arrests were made on primary information” and further investigation is underway, Khan said, adding the government would act toughly to prevent any attempt to upset “communal harmony” via the Internet.

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s blogosphere and on social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an atheist blogger was murdered.

Can we please stop pretending that Islam is a peaceful religion? I know – there are plenty of Muslims who aren’t calling for the death of these bloggers. But there are also tons of “moderate” Muslims who aren’t speaking out against those who wish to execute humans for speech; and it’s not as though this is a new phenomenon among Muslims.

Also, shame on the Bangladesh government for succumbing to the bullying of these extremists. Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states:

Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech, is guaranteed.

Though, perhaps the following caveat negates that right:

Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-

1. the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and
2. freedom of the press, are guaranteed.

Freedom of speech and expression (real freedom – not the type that can be revoked under the absurd banner of avoiding offense) is essential to a prosperous society. That’s why I’m glad I live in the United States, where I can say that I think Muhammad was a clown and a wretched human being, and that Islam is a pathetic and destructive philosophy.

Stop taking offense to blasphemy and start objecting to calls for violence against people who have done nothing wrong.

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Coming Out

Since the conception of this blog, I have kept my identity private. The primary reason for this choice was self-preservation; as a soon-to-be college graduate, I worried that publicly outing myself as an atheist could be detrimental in my job search. Most of my family and friends know that I’m a nonbeliever, but I worried that, based on the common discrimination against atheists, future employers may be wary of hiring an outspoken atheist such as myself.

Then something occurred to me: Why would I want to work for someone who cares that I don’t believe in gods? I hope to commit my working life to advancing causes in which I believe and promoting freedom throughout the world – there’s no way I would work for someone who wishes to stifle those goals.

I once had another blog in which I voiced similar opinions and displayed my name proudly. As the prospect of job searching loomed ever nearer, I eventually quit that blog in favor of creating this one for which I would blog anonymously. My first blog actually created a slightly tumultuous environment for me locally, where religious leaders got to know me and engaged in confrontation. Stepping away from it all and writing privately gave me a chance to focus on studying a little more intensely; but as I have narrowed my focus on what I want to make of my life, I have also found freedom in expressing who I am uninhibited.

Therefore, without any more delay, this is who I am (with the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation):

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If you are ready to come out as a nonbeliever (and I now realize the power of pride), I would encourage you to visit the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s website and create your own billboard.

Thanks for reading, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.

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