The Beginnings of an Arab Enlightenment?

I've written recently about the vicious, dispiriting murders of human-rights advocates in Pakistan and Uganda. I'm an optimist by temperament, but stories like these are enough to drive me to the edge of despair. In my worst moments, it makes me wonder: is it possible for liberal, secular democracies to survive over the long term? Can free and enlightened nations ever endure, or are they nothing more than a momentary flicker in the dark?No republic can survive if its people don't value it, if … [Read more...]

Britain Defends the Enlightenment

Despite the ongoing schism of the Anglican church, which I wrote about in my last post, I'm happy to see that there's still plenty of good sense and reason in the U.K. One outstanding example is this story from last month, where the British Medical Association voted to stop funding homeopathy in public hospitals. (UK readers, do you know if is this a binding vote or just advisory?) There's been some trenchant commentary on the decision, like this column from Ed West:The most outspoken … [Read more...]

Happy Holidays! Atheism Is Growing!

As we ring in the new year, here's some news to give you a sense of optimism for 2010. This holiday season, we can add another piece of evidence to the growing pile which indicates that atheists are becoming more numerous and more successful:This Christmas season, 78% of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, a proportion that has been declining in recent decades. The major reason for this decline has been an increase in the percentage of Americans claiming no religious … [Read more...]

In Defense of Optimism

Among the writers who oppose the New Atheists, one common theme in their criticism is that we're too optimistic about the possibility of human progress. For example, take this essay by Terry Eagleton attacking Richard Dawkins, in which the sneering condescension drips from every word:It thus comes as no surprise that Dawkins turns out to be an old-fashioned Hegelian when it comes to global politics, believing in a zeitgeist (his own term) involving ever increasing progress, with just the … [Read more...]

Making Progress Toward a Secular America

The Fourth of July should be a time for patriotic Americans to reflect on the progress our country has made and to rededicate ourselves to the cause of making it better where work still needs to be done. We can find material for both of those avenues in this article by Katrina van den Heuvel in the Nation, Rediscovering Secular America (HT: DC Secularism Examiner). It's a heartening glimpse into the political progress that freethinkers are making, including at least two news items I didn't know. … [Read more...]

Hold and Build

Although there's been plenty of good news for atheists in recent weeks, stories that showcase our growing influence and assertiveness, this is no time for us to become complacent. We still have significant work to do to shore up the foundations of our movement, as this Times op-ed by Charles M. Blow explains:...a study entitled "Faith in Flux" issued this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life questioned nearly 3,000 people and found that most children raised unaffiliated with a … [Read more...]

Dreams of a Better World

As I've written in the past, I'm an optimist when it comes to human progress: I'm confident that we can overcome the problems that beset us. This isn't to say that I think our triumph is inevitable, or even that optimism is the only possible position for a rational person to take. There are plenty of reasons to despair, for those who seek them out. Nevertheless, I think there's one major, counterbalancing reason for hope, and that reason is this.Simply stated, our greatest dangers are not … [Read more...]

The 2008 ARIS: Atheist State of the Nation

As you've surely heard by now, the landmark 2008 American Religious Identification Survey has just been released. The ARIS is an enormous study that questioned over 50,000 respondents to assemble a broad picture of religious belief and disbelief in the United States, building on previous surveys from 1990 and 2001.The 2001 results showed that nonbelievers had made incredible gains, rising from 8% to just over 14% of the U.S. population in just ten years - a genuine demographic boom. The new … [Read more...]

A Reflection on Hope

Last year, around the time I inaugurated my Poetry Sunday series, I contacted Prof. Philip Appleman to ask for permission to reprint some of his work which I'd seen in Freethought Today. He graciously assented to my request, and even said a few kind words about "The Gods", my own brief foray into free verse, which I had the brashness to ask for his opinion on.He called my poem "hopeful," which was an honor to me, but there was one other thing he said which I've been dwelling on - that he was … [Read more...]

On Atheism and Hope

Pope Benedict has released the second encyclical of his papacy, a 75-page missive titled "Spe Salvi" (Latin for "in hope we are saved"). As was widely reported, this statement attacks atheism and calls people to convert to Roman Catholicism as the only hope for humankind. (Here's the text of the statement itself, if anyone's interested.) In this post, I'm going to offer some comments in response.The major theme of the encyclical is that only belief in a god - actually, in the Roman Catholic … [Read more...]


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