Come on, atheists: we must show some faith in ourselves

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This week a 23-year-old Afghan man became the first person to be granted asylum in this country on the basis of his atheism – which, his lawyers argued, would have made life impossible in his country of birth, where religion permeates every aspect of life.

The Home Office declined to comment, beyond a statement that is both bland and inaccurate by omission: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on a case by case basis." (It should have read "a proud history that we've abandoned …", but never mind.)

Theresa May probably feared an onslaught of xenophobic remarks – "What could be more specious than a belief that is really the absence of belief, a luxury belief for cynics and intellectuals? What next? Asylum for French people who prefer Derrida to Foucault?" – but the critical comment barely came.

Instead, there was a generalised, muted acceptance, which makes perfect sense. If you accept the place of religious belief on the human rights agenda, then you have to allow atheism equal weight. It is as much a traducement of religious people to dismiss atheism as it is a denigration of atheists.

However, there's a lot of shifting sand around this principle – it is telling that this man is the first atheist to be offered asylum here, when he can't be the first ever to face persecution. Australia accepts the principle of atheism as a belief to be protected, while the United States doesn't. It's one of those things nations can cherry-pick from the fruit bowl of international law without feeling that their "civilised" status is compromised. It may be the only belief of that kind right there in the 1951 refugee convention, but with no back-up institution vulgar enough to insist upon it. That is part of our problem, us atheists: we don't organise.

Written By: Zoe Williams
continue to source article at theguardian.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. respect and sensitivity in proportion to how much they will complain if they don’t get it. Something to think about, heathens: maybe we are simply not complaining enough.

    that’s not game of one-upmanship I would want to play. the proportion of complaint has long since escalated to veiled threats from religious leaders who simply couldn’t guarantee some of the less understanding of their flock wouldn’t commit mass murder, or threaten to withdraw the support for a political cause.

    there are no seats in the house of lords set aside for non-believers. that won’t change by shouting.

    all this talk of organisation and complaining misses the point. under the question “what sort of well funded and historically powerful complaint organization do you belong to” we tick none. Complaints work for the religious who need a knee-jerk reaction to get what they want before anyone has a chance to think about the wider picture. we don’t, we need a thought out and properly debated action. it takes longer and it’s happening. slowly.

    The best thing the nones can do to keep on the right track is worry about the law. consider our position in the EU for example, which is currently under threat as conservatives rush to UKIP and our bum-faced popularity-glutton of a PM panders to them all, constantly voicing disagreements with aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights to act tough while promising a referendum that appeals to fear and greed.

    being right is enough in the long run. having the law on your side is the way forward. the job of concerned atheists is not to join the chorus of whingers but get rid of the politicians who suppot religious privalidge and are happy to let the country believe we’re all under attack from evil foreigners passing laws that are unbritish if it gets more of the lowest common denominator to cast an outrage vote in their favour.

    • In reply to #1 by SaganTheCat:

      respect and sensitivity in proportion to how much they will complain if they don’t get it. Something to think about, heathens: maybe we are simply not complaining enough.

      that’s not game of one-upmanship I would want to play. the proportion of complaint has long since escalated to veiled threats fr…

      While seats in the House of Lords are not “reserved” for atheists, and likely never will be, there is change. The following from Hansard, 25th July 2013:

      Lord Harrison: My Lords, today we speak up on behalf of the silent majority, for those of us who do not attend any place of worship, whether church, mosque or synagogue. It is a silent majority, whose full contribution to British society has perhaps been unsung for too long. In contrast, we find that religious voices are ever more present, and sometimes shrill, in the public square. However, because atheism is a philosophical viewpoint, arrived at individually and personally, we are not given to marching in the street chanting, “What do we want? Atheism! When do we want it? Now!”. As a humanist who senses that religion has neither rhyme nor reason, I believe that we should ensure that our needs and concerns are met and satisfied in that public square, as they are in the private armchair. For too long we have been silent, contemplative hermits in terms of our own cause.

      End quote.

  2. The thing is whether atheism is “really a belief” isn’t what is relevant, only whether the asylum seeker would be in danger upon returning home for the reason provided. The Derrida-Foucault comparison isn’t a good one; the French don’t suffer consequences for that. Of course, the fact that an argument isn’t valid doesn’t stop people making it, but happily on this occasion they didn’t.

  3. Athiests do not form a homogeneous group that can lobby for fairness. The rise of internet petitions however seems to have become an effective way for like minded people to influence politicians on certain issues. Perhaps politicians actually do not realise the sheer number of people who are not religious and who do not want their lives influenced by religion in any way. I’d suggest that RDF start some petitions to prime ministers and presidents on a some key irritations that religion causes for us.
    The numbers signing up might be very surprising!

    • In reply to #5 by Richard01:

      Athiests do not form a homogeneous group that can lobby for fairness. The rise of internet petitions however seems to have become an effective way for like minded people to influence politicians on certain issues. Perhaps politicians actually do not realise the sheer number of people who are not…

      Yes i’m behind that sort of idea! Where do i sign! Its tragic that our thoughts are not treated as a minority and therefore listened to!
      We should start standing up for our thoughts
      And tell these other countries to please F off! Or shut up! (Is that too hard on them?)

  4. Atheists are very often lumped in with secularists, although these concepts are nothing like the same.

    This secularism angle got only minor consideration in the article, yet it strikes me that her entire point is about a matter of secular policy: that the religious should not hog all the attention and leave the irreligious on the margins, relatively speaking. There’s your rallying point, right there. Since her whole thesis is a reaction to the issue that the religious get undue attention, i.e. that secularism is not respected, she is unwittingly distracting herself by focusing on atheism and then noting that it doesn’t have “organisation”. Of course it doesn’t, because the actual issues aren’t exclusively concerned with atheists; tolerant religious secularists, agnostics, ignostics, apatheists, and so on all have an interest in preventing religious privilege.

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