Presentation by David Rand
President, Atheist Freethinkers
This is the English translation of the presentation of World Atheist Day 2019. A video of the event is also available.
Welcome to our celebration of the first ever World Atheist Day, March 23rd 2019. As atheists, we greatly need an annual day for the recognition of our atheism, especially considering how atheists are treated around the world. Here in Quebec and in Canada, our freedom of conscience is much better protected than in most countries, especially those countries where the regime is theocratic, either constitutionally or de facto. But even here, the rights of atheists are not fully recognized and are threatened by those religions which seek to impose themselves politically.
The idea for this day originates in several atheist organizations in which many ex-Muslims are involved. In particular, the organization Atheist Republic, a worldwide network of atheists founded by Armin Navabi of Iranian origin, and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), whose leader Maryam Namazie is also from Iran originally, participate in this movement for a World Atheist Day. Clearly, ex-Muslims constitute an important vector for the advancement of both atheism and secularism in the world. This is hardly surprising, given that apostasy is condemned in Islam. That religion, when applied literally and rigorously, is so repressive that any attempt to question it results either in brutal repression or a total break.
Children and Religion
My personal situation is that I grew up in a Christian family. We could say, therefore, that I am an ex-Christian and that I am an apostate of Christianity, but that is not entirely true. In reality, I was never truly a Christian; rather, my parents and family were Christian and that label was stuck on me without my having chosen it. In fact, this situation is the fate of children of believers in general, regardless of their religion: the religion of their milieu is imposed on them. Children who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. do not exist; there are only children of parents who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Religion should be reserved for adults. To indoctrinate children by imposing their parents’ religion on them is a violation of their freedom of conscience. It is unacceptable. This situation must end, but there is an enormous amount of work to be done in order to accomplish the task. That is why we, of Atheist Freethinkers, were proud to participate, last January 26th, in a day of protest against hereditary religion.
The Right to Non-Belief
We need to stop using the concept of freedom of religion without also mentioning freedom from religion. Freedom of belief should always be paired with freedom of non-belief. All of these freedoms are subsumed by freedom of conscience. This also includes freedom of apostasy, that is, the freedom to leave one’s religion, to abandon it, in order to adopt a different religion or no religion at all. We have the right to be atheists.
The reality is that we have not entirely won the right to be atheist, not even in this country. Many people fear atheism. This irrational fear, this absurd antipathy towards atheism and towards atheists, is called atheophobia. Yes, I know, you are probably tired of hearing about things whose name ends in “-phobia.” This suffix means a fear which is irrational and unjustified. Thus, the expression “Islamophobia” is fraudulent, as there are excellent reasons to fear, or at least mistrust, a religion, and in particular Islam, and especially its political variant Islamism. But anti-atheist prejudice, on the other hand, cannot be justified. It is indeed a phobia.
Strictly speaking, atheophobia is the thesis that atheists are somehow morally inferior to religious believers or that atheism leads necessarily to moral degradation. Obviously, this thesis, founded on the theory that morality emanates from divine will, is completely worthless. Our human moral sense is the product of our biological and cultural evolution. Our morality is part of our heritage as a social species. To identify this heritage with the belief in a sort of cop-daddy-dictator in the sky is an outrageous lie, a shameless fraud which is at the centre of the tenets of every monotheism such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Atheism and Morality
The morality of these monotheisms is thus fundamentally a perversion of our natural human morality. God-belief cheapens morality, reducing it to mere rewards and punishments meted out by a cruel tyrant in the heavens.
These monotheisms exploit our moral heritage for their purposes of self-promotion. Monotheism is the totalitarianism of religion. In fact, each monotheism is a hoax, a scam operating in the domain of morality. Religious apologists claim to possess a particular and exclusive expertise in matters of morality, they claim to be guided by their supposed knowledge of the will of their god, but that expertise is completely fictional and false. Such apologists and religious leaders, these priests, popes, monks, rabbis, imams, etc. are instead incompetent in matters of morality.
The largest and most harmful of these scams on the planet, the one having the largest number of adherents, is Christianity. The current crisis in the Catholic Church concerning sexual abuse of children and nuns is a manifestation of that moral incompetence. However, the competition is fierce, and scam number two—Islam—is hot on its heels. Furthermore, this number two has the wind in its sails, enabled as it is by many non-Muslims, in particular a certain political “left” or so-called “left,” who adopt a complacent or even complicit attitude towards the political and fundamentalist variant of Islam which we call Islamism. By the way, this sanctimonious fake left is, I find, rather crypto-Christian.
You are no doubt familiar with the famous quotation from a character in a Dostoyevsky novel: “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” False. It is the opposite which is true. If one believes in god then anything and everything is permitted, because all that is required to justify one’s behaviour is to declare that it conforms to the will of one’s god, and that’s it. No-one can object because it is impossible to verify the will of god, because the will of god is completely unknown, or to put it frankly, fictional and arbitrary.
Neither should we say that we atheists can be good without god. That is like saying that even women can be intelligent—a rather insulting statement. Instead, we should say that even the religious, despite their belief in a fictional god, can be good persons, provided that they set aside their belief in everyday life, provided that they heed the advice of their own consciences rather than obey the decrees of the scammers who falsely claim to speak for god.
We atheists are not perfect, but at least we have one vice fewer than believers: our behaviour is not perturbed by irrational god-belief. When atheists behave well, they do not do so in order to win divine rewards or out of fear of divine punishment. They avoid this mercenary calculation and act instead according to their own judgment.
Atheophobia in the Broad Sense
I have spoken about atheophobia as a prejudice which associates atheism with immorality or amorality. That is the narrow definition of the term. But there exists another, more diffuse form of this prejudice, an atheophobia in the broad sense, which considers atheist activism to be a threat to others’ freedom of belief. This is false. In reality, religions themselves pose a greater threat to freedom of conscience in general, including freedom of belief. This prejudice can be found even in organizations which promote secularism and scepticism but who try to disguise the presence of large numbers of atheists within their ranks. This more general form of atheophobia is a modern, recycled version of the narrower form and it compromises efforts for secularism. The struggle for atheists’ rights is, or should be, front and centre in secular activism. After all, everyone is an atheist with respect to other people’s beliefs. Secular activists have a duty to encourage the visibility of atheists in society in order to protect everyone’s freedom of conscience. Doing the opposite—by attempting to silence or hide the atheist presence—is contrary to reason and to secularism.
Atheism and Secularism
One of the excuses frequently used in an attempt to rationalize this unacceptable atheophobia is to exaggerate the distinction between atheism and secularism. Of course these two terms are not synonyms, but there is nevertheless an important and obvious connection between them. The two concepts have in common the rejection of so-called “divine” authority, i.e. the refusal to recognize any authority external to the real world.
Just as atheists base their personal morality on purely real, human considerations, so the secular State functions according to similar considerations. While the atheist rejects any supernatural principles in his or her personal life, so the secular State excludes supernatural principles from its operations. This does not in any way imply that religious believers are excluded from public institutions. However, they must avoid any reference to supernatural considerations in legislative or administrative debates.
Persecution of Atheist in Many Countries
But let’s return to the current situation of atheists around the world. According a report from the IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) on freedom of thought in 2018, the ten worst countries for atheists and the non-religious are all dominated by Islam. It comes as no surprise that the worst of these is Saudi Arabia which classifies atheism and questioning Islam as forms of terrorism. Apostasy, that is, abandoning the religion Islam, is a crime in some twenty Muslim-majority countries and is punishable by death in several. Furthermore, anti-blasphemy laws can be used to persecute atheists, non-Muslims and even Muslims who do not conform to the orthodoxy of the majority.
It is clear from these observations that Islam, when it attains political power, is completely incompatible with freedom of conscience.
Speaking of blasphemy, you are no doubt aware that the Canadian law which criminalized so-called “blasphemous libel,” i.e. article 296 of the Criminal Code, has recently been repealed. Obviously this is excellent news. However, we cannot really celebrate too much, because other recent developments have created new and similar threats. Despite the fact that Motion M-103 which condemns so-called Islamophobia does not have force of law, it nevertheless stigmatizes and discourages any criticism of Islam. Even more disturbing is the report of the parliamentary committee which was given the mandate to study this question. That report blithely conflates race and religion, thus opening the door wide open to the religious abuse of anti-racism programs. Clearly, Islamophobia is the blasphemy of the 21st century.
Blasphemy, Apostasy, Atheism, Secularism
We see that the title of Mme Benhabib’s talk this evening is therefore of obvious relevance for our World Atheist Day. On that note, I pass the microphone to my colleague Pierre Thibault who will present tonight’s speaker.