(A Major National Debat—or a Major Universal Debate?)
Gérard Vignaux is a founding member of the Coordination Athée Francophone (CAF or Francophone Atheist Coordination).
A major national debate is underway in France and secularism is currently being debated in Quebec… Now is the time for atheists to make their voices heard, as they are so numerous—in France 63% are non religious while 29% are atheists, according to polls by WIN/Gallup International. The universalist atheist worldview can be found in Montreal, Paris, New-York, Brussels, Geneva, Berlin, Prague… or elsewhere.
We atheists have specific points of view based on our way of thinking and our ethics, points of view which go beyond mere politics. Let’s talk about some of those specifics!
We thus have the capacity to stimulate conversations, fertile in progressive ideas which enrich everyone. We would like to communicate the fruits of our reflection to the public in general
Here are some eloquent examples:
- The question of individual freedom is interpreted differently, depending on whether one is a believer or an atheist. Many religious people proselytize, whereas atheists prefer that public spaces be free of religious influence, especially when children are involved. How can individual freedom be interpreted as permitting the wearing of a niqab, a hijab or even a burqa, with the result that neutrality of public spaces is lost and religious conflict exacerbated? We atheists support the idea of a peaceful and neutral public space, with religion relegated to the private sphere.
- The evolution of morals is driven by the momentum of the non-religious: Judeo-Christian culture has imposed strict values and constraints on how sexuality, the family and home life are experienced. One man, one woman, for life was the foundational moral rule of Judeo-Christian mores. That rule is still defended by fundamentalists, but the rest of us have moved on.
- The emancipation of women and men, freedom for homosexuals, contraception, marriage for all, surrogate motherhood, the free education of children, liberal approaches to bioethics, freedom of choice at the end of one’s life, such as assisted suicide … all of these issues illustrate postures which are widely shared by atheists. All of these innovations are the work of the non-religious, sometimes in collaboration with progressive believers.
- The idea of transcendence has been blessed, celebrated and glorified in every way possible by monotheistic religions. We now recognize that most monarchs and dictators have used this principle as the basis their power, but today we question it. We denounce this transcendence, to which we prefer a contemporary immanence. We elaborate our own principles by ourselves and in ourselves, without reference to an illusory supreme being. This approach when practised in common encourages fraternity.
Monotheistic religions are fundamentally based on the pyramid model. One unique paternal god, who must be respected by believers regardless of their thoughts, desires or common sense.
The rejection of transcendence has certain implications for daily life. The end of paternalism leads to a new way of legislating. The model of an all-powerful sovereign or a billionnaire, ten thousand times richer than a middle-class citizen, is the incarnation of transcendence. Atheists raise their voices to denounce many rules and prohibitions which they deem to be obsolete. Transcendence must be rejected as incompatible with humanistic thought.
Rules protect individual freedoms, while at the same time preserving our right to follow whatever whim we may have, regardless of ancestral norms.
In this 21st century we indeed see many “crises of governance.” We support only those elected officials, politicians and political systems who show that they will no longer submit to any form of religious lobby.
The public purse must no longer be used to fund religious institutions, whether directly or indirectly. A large number of such cults disguise themselves as “cultural” institutions in order receive public financing fraudulently. Such a waste of public funds is unacceptable, both symbolically and in its violation of the 1905 law (French legislation establishing secularism) which instituted separation between Church and state.
We atheists would also like to express our support for universal principles which are especially important in this era when the malady of ideality generates only nihilism and depression.
Our values are real, they exist, despite the ravings of promoters of obsolete religious morality who accuse us non-believers of having no morals.
Secularism is universally promoted by all atheists worldwide as a fundamental principle, necessary to live in peace. The development of various religious fundamentalisms, and in particular the risks associated with Islamist terrorism, lead us to demand that secularism be strengthened in public spaces.
Transparency is a new value, important in the digital technologies and widely supported by all those who denounce the deceitfulness of religious behaviour. Duplicitous language, obsequiousness and pedophilia are no longer respectable behaviours in today’s world.
Cultural, scientific and artistic knowledge will always be important tools to counter the obscurantism and illusions in which some would like to emprison children and the naïve. Critical thinking skills can be developed in children from a very young age if they are educated freely and without indoctrination.
This presentation is of course not exhaustive, but it sheds light on the challenges which we think our societies must face. Our recently founded “Coordination Athée Francophone” is a new resource which we bring to this contemporary task.