“Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
“Atheism” is defined in terms of theism, and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God. Hence, it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists. The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy (at least), atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods). (Further discussions here.)
However, this article is more about the debate on atheists than on atheism itself. According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, broad estimates of those who lack belief in a god range from 500 to 750 million people worldwide (Source). According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera’s review on atheism, there are 450-500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide – 7% of the world’s population (Source). This makes atheists one of the biggest minorities in many nations and a significant one in most others. However, unlike most religious minorities, atheists are conspicuously ignored in public and political discourse. Their existence is often denied, looked down upon, or outright rejected – as misguided people, mentally ill or simply immoral citizens.
This very stigma against atheism leads to atheists being ignored in matters concerning the very idea of society, nation or humanity in general. The only significant incident when a major world leader acknowledged the existence of atheists in their country was when Barack Obama mentioned that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers” – provoking a significant backlash. In the 2020 US Presidential elections, the only candidate that even touched the matter of atheism being a religious minority in the US was Andrew Yang – and that too in the usual manner – “I know a lot of X (people). A lot of my friends are X. Hence, I’m sensitive to whatever problems X’s face.” (Let us be honest, that is what every one of us does.) Even in the very controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, introduced by the Government of India, atheists were ignored as ‘presecuted religious minorities’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. (Since we all know that atheists have it very easy there.) Atheists were not even considered significant enough to offend (in the eyes of our Supreme Leader).
According to Pew Research Center, about a quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies as of 2014. Most Islamic countries have harsh prison sentences, sometimes even death sentences for blasphemy or for even being an atheist. Many advanced democracies have some vaguely defined blasphemy laws, where talking about religious figures might often land one up in prison or with a fine. However, the biggest surprises come from the two most major democracies – India and the United States.
Section 295A in The Indian Penal Code is often called the Blasphemy Law. The text goes as follows:
“Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
“Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”
The wording of this law can basically land anyone in prison for talking about anything that might ‘offend’ religious people. A case was recently filed against comedian Munawar Faruqui where he got arrested over hurting Hindu feelings even before making said jokes. How is any of it in line with fundamental human rights?
The US goes a step further. While the freedom of speech is relatively well protected, the stigma against atheists still lingers in the archaic state laws. There are currently seven states that ban atheists from holding public office – even though that is fundamentally discrimination on the basis of religion. (Another Source – requires NYT subscription) In Maryland, atheists are still somehow banned from serving on the Jury, even though the Supreme Court overturned this law in the landmark case of Torcaso v. Watkins 1961.
This schmaltz was expressed by early enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke – both of whom influenced early American politicians. In his 1689 “Letter Concerning Toleration“, Locke argued that “those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.” In a sane world, this would count as hate speech – not something one bases one’s laws upon.
However, in real practical terms, the claim to a God or a Supreme Being is not technically based on evidence but fantasised arguments. This evidence-based approach of the theist vs atheist debate provokes the claimants to The Good Place, but somehow their hypocrisy towards universal forgiveness is almost always filled with atheists.
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
― Christopher Hitchens
Blasphemy Laws, outright denial of existence, consideration as amoral/immoral beings, barring from office, and even exclusion from religion- and minority-oriented laws make atheists the most prosecuted minority in the world. And it is time that we accept the reality of fellow humans before we plan on sucking up to the Fake Guy above us all.
It is rich to oppress, deny, dictate, tyrannise, torment, denigrate, demean and dehumanise people based on what fancy imaginary friend you and your forefathers believed in and then parade the morality you claim that schizophrenia brings along.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”