Penn Gillette once said that human progress is a bit like the stock market. It can be hard to notice a trend in a short time interval, but when you stand back and look at the entire history of the market, you can’t fail to notice it always rises over time. I think the same is true for the secularist movement, among others.
I sometimes speak of the slow, inevitable march of progress. There are two key points of clarification in how I mean that. The first is that I know nothing is truly inevitable in the philosophical sense of predestination. The apparent inevitability is dependent on a few assumptions which could change. The second is that this sentiment makes me optimistic. That is not my view at all. To start with, I wish it were not so very slow. Apart from that, I am merely trying to characterize the behavior of a system which is called western civilization. It really does seem to improve over time with respect to equality and justice for ever larger numbers of people. This is absolutely not to say that we don’t face serious challenges in those areas, or that society can’t regress. It certainly can. But by and large, we don’t contend with problems from 100 years ago (when women could not vote) and problems from 500 years ago aren’t even readily comprehensible to most westerners (if and how shall people be tried for witchcraft?)
And with these, the world changes ever so slightly
So let’s recap this highly notable week in atheism. Starting with Wolf Blitzer, who was trying to generate some human interest schlock while interviewing a friend of Skeptic Ink’s own, Damion:
This has had a good deal of coverage among the atheosphere so I will not belabor the story, but I will offer some key observations. I like that this was (I think) not staged. Even if it were staged, I still appreciate that it wasn’t framed with a sensationalistic lead-in like “How can a mere atheist deal with tragedy?” or the like. Instead it’s just a random snapshot of an ordinary American who just happens to be an atheist (and a sympathetic figure for viewers as a victim of a natural disaster). Better still, the woman comes off as warm, brave, and kind— even toward those who do pray.
Click here to help her and other members of the Oklahoma atheists affected by the recent disaster.
Rights beat rites
US State Department: . . .freedom to believe–including the freedom not to believe–is a universal human right.
The quote comes from the newly published International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. This is just terrific support and acknowledgement for non-believers world-wide. There is even a section on blasphemy laws which reads,
The use of blasphemy and apostasy laws continued to be a significant problem, as was the continued proliferation of such laws around the world. Such laws often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a discriminatory manner.
The report then goes on to list specific nations that are guilty of such practices. The right of conscience, sometimes called religious freedom, is now accepted and promoted by the federal government. This is not merely the observation of the first amendment of the Constitution, but the acknowledgement that the rights of the atheist and those of a Christian (or Buddhist or Satanist) are literally the same rights. This is something the Christian Right used to actively deny, an effort that is now consigned to history’s rubbish bin.
Pope Francis says atheists can be good without God
Breaking with millenia of condemnation of the non-believers and assertions that groveling for spiritual Scooby-snacks from clergy were the only way to moral rectitude and post-life fun time, the new Pope shocked the world:
“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
The reaction among atheists is mixed; some are nonetheless irritated by the idea that a Pope has anything to say about the moral character of atheists. I find that response extremely myopic. The Pope influences many millions of people and he is now telling them to respect atheists who do good works. This is huge and hugely positive, whether or not it is perfect (there is, after all, still a magic-hat festooned man claiming communion with spirits). Read more here.