Tag Archives: atheism

The Cost of Being an Atheist: BBC Africa’s Documentary About Mubarak Bala

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

On August 9, 2020, HumanistFreedoms.com published our first article about Mubarak Bala. At that time, we featured Wole Soyinka’s all-too-prophetic condemnation of the Nigerian government’s treatment of Bala:

When I accepted the International Humanist Award at the World Humanist Congress in 2014, I spoke of the conflict between Humanists and Religionists; one of enlightenment versus the chains of enslavement. Your arbitrary incommunicado detention over the last 100 days is the cruel reality of this conflict. All too often these chains of enslavement lead directly to the gallows or a prison cell.

On April 5, 2022 – the Kano High State Court sentence Bala to 24 years imprisonment following a guilty plea to 18 charges blasphemy and public incitement. As the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala is a prisoner of religious tyranny.

BBC Africa has recently published a documentary titled “The Cost of Being an Atheist” which carries a terrible reminder of just how correct Wole Soyinka’s words were. Too often and far too readily, tyrants curtail free speech with arbitrary actions which lead to prison cells and worse.

Mubarak Bala is a chemical process engineer. A husband. A father. He and his family deserve better than this. They don’t just deserve better – they had a fundamental right to better.

And so does every living person, regardless of the country they live in or the beliefs or non-beliefs that they may have. That’s why the freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of religion (including freedom from religion) are called Fundamental Freedoms.

Citations and References

  1. https://humanists.international/2020/08/wole-soyinka-sends-message-of-solidarity-to-mubarak-bala/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/aug/06/wole-soyinka-protests-imprisonment-of-nigerian-humanist-mubarak-bala
  3. https://freemubarakbala.org/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wole_Soyinka

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Humanists International

DRL FY20 IRF: Promoting and Defending Freedom(s) Inclusive of Humanism

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on the US Department of State Website.

DRL FY20 IRF Promoting and Defending Religious Freedom Inclusive of Atheist, Humanist, Non-Practicing and Non-Affiliated Individuals

FUNDING OPPORTUNITY ANNOUNCEMENT

BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR

APRIL 21, 2021

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces an open competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that support Religious Freedom globally.

“Religious freedom” refers to the right set out in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the freedom to adopt a religion or beliefs, change your beliefs, practice and teach your beliefs (which may include through publications, public and private speech, and the display of religious attire or symbols), gather in community with others to worship and observe your beliefs, and teach your beliefs to your children. It also states that no one shall be subject to coercion that would impair one’s freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his/her choice. Proposed programming must be responsive to restrictions on religious freedom, and must be in line with the U.S. Government’s religious freedom, democracy, governance, and human rights goals.

Helpful resources for applicants include the annual country-specific International Religious Freedom Reports https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ and annual country-specific Human Rights Reports https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

Applicants will be responsible for ensuring program activities and products are implemented in accordance with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.

DRL’s goal is to ensure everyone enjoys religious freedom, including the freedom to dissent from religious belief and to not practice or adhere to a religion. By not adhering to a predominant religious tradition, many individuals face discrimination in employment, housing, in civil and criminal proceedings, and other areas especially in the context of intersectional identities. DRL’s objective is to combat discrimination, harassment and abuses against atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities by strengthening networks among these communities and providing organizational training and resources.

Activities should take place in 2-3 countries selected within one of the following regions: South/Central Asia- countries within the SCA region as defined by the State Department; or the Middle East/North Africa (excluding Libya, Syria, and Yemen)- countries within the NEA region as defined by the State Department. Proposals are discouraged from including countries where ongoing conflict or violence would negatively affect beneficiary safety or quality of program oversight and must be accompanied by a strong justification in the proposal narrative should any such countries be included. By addressing and combatting discrimination towards those who are non-affiliated, non-practicing, or of no belief will increase the levels of religious freedom enjoyed by all people.

Expected Program Outcomes include but are not limited to:

  • Increased availability of mechanisms for members of minorities and marginalized groups – particularly atheists and nonbelievers – to advocate with community leaders and local and regional government officials regarding their religious freedom concerns;
  • Increased capacity among members of atheist and heterodox individuals to form or join networks or organizations, implement advocacy campaigns, and to engage with the public on issues of tolerance and acceptance of all regardless of faith;
  • Increased awareness and understanding among relevant government officials and law enforcement of the value and importance of human rights, peace, mutual respect, tolerance, and inclusion for all, irrespective of one’s religion or beliefs;
  • Increased awareness among citizens at the community level of concepts and implications of religious pluralism, mutual respect and inclusion for all, regardless of religion or belief;
  • Increased community-level interfaith or advocacy interactions inclusive of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals (particularly those who are pressured, mandated and/or coerced into religious participation that is contrary to their personal non-belief system or philosophy);
  • Legal sector actors and/or local government officials are respectful and attentive towards the needs and interests of these individuals.

Program activities could include, but are not limited to:

  • Creating or strengthening networks of advocates for the diverse communities of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities in target countries.
  • Strengthening the capacity of organizations representing diverse communities of atheist, humanist, non-practicing and non-affiliated individuals of all religious communities to advocate for their rights to political, legal, and societal leaders. Capacity building activities may include improving management structure, public engagement skills, legal rights advocacy, digital security, physical security, psychosocial support and coalition building techniques for these groups regardless of faith affiliation;
  • Expanding or creating opportunities for dialogue, coalition building, and joint action between faith and non-faith organizations in support of freedom of religion and belief. This can include but is not limited to public fora, town halls, journalism, public outreach/education, media campaigns, small grants, and other work;
  • Increasing capacity for monitoring and documenting religious freedom abuses or discrimination against individuals because of non-belief or on the basis of frequency/nature of an individual’s religious observance/practices- particularly those who are pressured, mandated, or coerced into religious participation that is contrary to their personal non-belief system or philosophy. Documentation can include: incident reports to support justice sector action, aggregate reports for legal or policy change advocacy, or quantitative reports for advocacy with international or multinational human rights bodies or agencies.

For all programs, projects should aim to have impact that leads to reforms and should have the potential for sustainability beyond DRL resources. DRL’s preference is to avoid duplicating past efforts by supporting new and creative approaches. This does not exclude from consideration projects that improve upon or expand existing successful projects in a new and complementary way. Programs should seek to include groups that can bring perspectives based on their religion (including non-belief), gender, disability, race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation and gender identity. Programs should be demand-driven and locally led to the extent possible. DRL also requires all of its programming to be non-discriminatory and expects implementers to include strategies for integration of individuals/organizations regardless of religion, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.

Competitive proposals may also include a summary budget and budget narrative for 12 additional months following the proposed period of performance, indicated above. This information should indicate what objective(s) and/or activities could be accomplished with additional time and/or funds beyond the proposed period of performance.

Where appropriate, competitive proposals may include:

  • Opportunities for beneficiaries to apply their new knowledge and skills in practical efforts;
  • Solicitation of feedback and suggestions from beneficiaries when developing activities in order to strengthen the sustainability of programs and participant ownership of project outcomes;
  • Input from participants on sustainability plans and systematic review of the plans throughout the life of the project, with adjustments made as necessary;
  • Inclusion of vulnerable populations;
  • Joint identification and definition of key concepts with relevant stakeholders and stakeholder input into project activities;
  • Systematic follow up with beneficiaries at specific intervals after the completion of activities to track how beneficiaries are retaining new knowledge as well as applying their new skills.

Activities that are not typically allowed include, but are not limited to:

  • The provision of humanitarian assistance;
  • English language instruction;
  • Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware;
  • Purely academic exchanges or fellowships;
  • External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six months;
  • Off-shore activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary per security concerns;
  • Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;
  • Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives;
  • Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of targeted countries.

More available on the US Department of State’s website (link at the top of this article).

Atheism, Irreligious and Anarchist: A Cadre Education Perspective

In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following article was located on CounterCurrents.org on June 17, 2022.

By: T. Vijayendra

T. Vijayendra (1943- ) was born in Mysore, grew in Indore and went to IIT Kharagpur to get a B. Tech. in Electronics (1966). After a year’s stint at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, he got drawn into the whirlwind times of the late 60s. Since then, he has always been some kind of political-social activist. His brief for himself is the education of Left wing cadres and so he almost exclusively publishes in the Left wing journal Frontier, published from Kolkata. For the last nine years, he has been active in the field of ‘Peak Oil’ and is a founder member of Peak Oil India and Ecologise. Since 2015 he has been involved in Ecologise! Camps and in 2016 he initiated Ecologise Hyderabad. He divides his time between an organic farm at the foothills of Western Ghats, watching birds, writing fiction and Hyderabad. He has published a book dealing with resource depletions, three books of essays, two collections of short stories, a novella and an autobiography. Vijayendra has been a ‘dedicated’ cyclist all his life, meaning, he neither took a driving licence nor did he ever drive a fossil fuel based vehicle. Email: t.vijayendra@gmail.com.

India is going through a lot of communal tensions for the last few years. As a response to it some secular persons have been, among other things, organising ‘Inter – Faith Meetings’. Recently in Hyderabad we have been having such meetings. Many religious leaders came. I was asked to represent the Atheists. In the meeting I declared myself ‘atheist, irreligious and anarchist’. These three concepts are related and I believe they can play a small but significant role in reducing these tensions in our country.

The tone of this article is neither theoretical nor polemical. It is in the tradition of ‘cadre education’. This is so because neither in the mainstream nor in normal ‘secular or left wing media’ these trends are adequately represented. Often they are represented in a negative way. In this article I will begin with removing some misconceptions about them and then expound the positive role they can play in the current situation.

Atheism

Most people have not met atheists. They may well imagine atheists as an incarnation of devil with horns on their heads. The religious people denounce them as godless or those who do not fear God. They imply that atheists have no morals or ethics and they can do anything including immoral things.

As a matter fact the oldest Atheist Society was called ‘Ethical Society’ and the international organisation is called IHEU – International Humanists and Ethical Union!

The Ethical movement is an outgrowth of secular moral traditions in the 19th century, principally in Europe and the United States. At the international level, Ethical Culture and secular humanist groups have always organized jointly; the American Ethical Union and British Ethical Union were founding members of Humanists International, whose original name “International Humanist and Ethical Union” reflected the movement’s unity.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_movement)

Humanists International (known as the International Humanist and Ethical Union, or IHEU, from 1952–2019) is an international non-governmental organisation championing secularism and human rights, motivated by secular humanist values. Founded in Amsterdam in 1952, it is an umbrella organisation made up of more than 160 secular humanist, atheist, rationalist, sceptic, free thought and Ethical Culture organisations from over 80 countries. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanists_International).

Atheism in Ancient India

According to popular belief, atheism is a modern invention: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,” Friedrich Nietzsche declared in 1882. Supposedly, it was the modern European mind that invented the criticism of religions and religiosity.

But what if it was the other way around? What if philosophical skepticism, rational arguments, and non-religiosity came first, while religions developed later? What if irreligiousity was suppressed by medieval religious minds, before this worldview was resurrected in the modern era? In the beginning was … atheism?

The Indian school that rejected supernaturalism was originally named Lokāyata, which can be translated as prevalent (ayata) among the people (loka) – in addition to meaning “this-worldliness”, “worldly”. Since the last half of the first millennium CE, the term Cārvāka or Charvaka, has also been used for these atheist, skeptical, naturalist, and materialist traditions.

-The untold history of India’s vital atheist philosophy by Dag Herbjørnsrud (https://blog.apaonline.org/2020/06/16/the-untold-history-of-indias-vital-atheist-philosophy/)

Atheism Today in India

Of India’s 1.4 billion people, fewer than 33,000 are self-declared atheists. (https://religionnews.com/2022/05/17/in-india-hindu-nationalists-embolden-challenges-to-atheism/). These are census figure. ‘The religion data from 2011 Census of India was released in August 2015. It revealed that about 2,870,000 people had stated no religion in their response, about 0.27% of the nation’s population. However, the number included atheists, rationalists and also those who believed in a higher power.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_India). Obviously they do not include Jains and Buddhists because in the census they do not declare themselves as atheists. If we include them the number will be much higher. Most of these atheists do not go about talking about atheism. Most Indians don’t even know that the Jains and Buddhists are atheists. It is only when atheism is combined with irreligiousity that it becomes a social issue and attracts the hostility of current Hindutva lobby.

Irreligiousness

All atheists are not irreligious. As we have said above, Jains and Buddhists are atheist and are religious. Today for all practical purposes Jains are indistinguishable from Hindus. There is a lot of inter marriage between Jains and Hindus. Other atheists also by and large do not wear their atheism on their sleeves.

However there are atheist organisations which promote rationalism and scientific temper. They conduct programmes in public, schools and colleges to spread the scientific temper and expose the frauds of false god men. They expose the ‘miracles’ performed by these false god men and show that they are nothing but tricks performed by magicians. In villages they protect widows who are falsely accused as witches and who allegedly cause death of infants. Their journals carry articles by atheists who are important scientists and philosophers (like Bertrand Russell). After independence to till 1990s, their activities went quietly because Nehru personally and Indian Constitution supported spread of scientific temper. Even some government departments like Department of Science and Technology actively promoted rationalism.

All this has changed drastically in the last decades. The Hindutva lobby has been propagating glories of ancient India through all kinds of unscientific readings of the past. Rationalists are regularly harassed, jailed and some time even murdered. The cases of murders of four rationalists — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh are well known.

(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/dabholkar-pansare-kalburgi-lankesh-murder-cases-digging-out-weapons-million-rupee-question/articleshow/70301389.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)

 Anarchism

Not all atheists and irreligious people are anarchists nor are all anarchists irreligious and atheists. Before going any further, let me give a definition of anarchists: Briefly: 1. Anarchists are opposed to all authority, 2. Anarchists believe in self management within a local community on the basis of ‘a free association of free people’, 3. The Anarchist community will federate with other communities also on the basis of ‘a free association of free people’.

As in the case of atheists, there are a lot of misconceptions about anarchists. Since they are anti authoritarian, the image is that of a young man with long hair, unkempt dirty clothes, who doesn’t listen to any one, who does what he likes, in short he is an anarchist! It is true that many anarchists in the past and today have long hair, but rest of it is just an image. They forget the second point about self management within a local community. In general anarchists are gentle, low profile people, often good gardeners or have some good artistic manual skills. A large number of poets, authors, artists, theatre persons, philosophers, educationists, musicians etc. have been anarchists. The reason is obvious. Creativity needs freedom and hence anti authoritarian philosophy attracts these people.

At a social level, many poor and working people have been oppressed by authority. During medieval periods every mainstream authoritarian religion had a corresponding rebel group. Islam has Sufis, Christians have Quakers and a large number of smaller groups and Hinduism has Bhakti movement, particularly ‘Nirgun Bhakti’ movement where all the saints have been from artisan castes. As a matter of fact the philosophy of these Nirgunias and Sikhs was very close to the Sufis and most of the conversions to Islam have been from these castes.

However the mainstream revolutionary anarchist movement in modern times does combine atheism, irreligiousness with anarchism. The great anarchists have been: Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin. Anarchism as a movement was largely in France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal and in Latin America, though there are anarchists in all developed countries. They were a major force in Spanish Civil war and are still a major force in Mexico.

In the last twenty years global climate emergency and the response to it, that of, transition towns and the Russian Eco villages are very much in the Anarchist tradition.

Concluding Remarks

Humans have been around 3 lakh years. Until recently, that is until 9000 years ago, they lived in self managed small communities. Concepts of God, religion and state/governments etc have come since then. So 97% of the time humans did not know God, religion or state. Thus they were ‘atheists, irreligious and anarchist’ people! What happened in between and in recent times?

Man has the capacity to modify nature much more than any other species. Around 9000 years ago this capacity of Man became significant and man began to ‘exploit’ nature. Through a complex social process exploitation within the species also began and thus emerged what Frederick Engels described as ‘Origin of Family, Private Property and State’. There has been rebellion also among human species from the beginning.

This exploitation of man by man reached a very high level in the last 300 years and at the same time rebellion and revolution also reached high levels. In the latter half of the 20th century exploitation of nature also reached very high level. Rachael Carson’s book, ‘Silent Spring’ was the first important book of this kind. Since then in the last 20 years it has become clear that all this has become unsustainable and we are on the verge of collapse. ‘The only way to achieve a sustainable and just world is via a Transition Towns movement. The required sustainable social form must be based on mostly small, highly self-sufficient and self-governing, cooperative local communities, willingly embracing far simpler lifestyles and systems. (Detailed in ‘The Simpler Way’, 2019.) The Simper Way would be liberation from the consumer-capitalist rat race, enabling a far higher quality of life. It would not involve reduction in modern technology.’ (Ted Trainer, ‘Can we Strengthen the Transition towns Movement?’ Unpublished, personal communication.)

In this situation the theories of atheism, irreligiousness and anarchism have a big role to play.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Feature Image Courtesy: https://countercurrents.org/2022/06/atheist-irreligious-and-anarchist/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.