This article examines the strong correlation that currently exists between high levels of secularity in a given society positive societal well-being. By looking at the most and least theistic nations on earth, as well as the most and least theistic states in the United States, and by taking into consideration a wide array of indicators of societal well-being, the correlation is clear: the most secular societies on earth with the highest rates of non-belief fare much better, on average, than the most religious, strongly-believing societies. While understanding that correlation does not equal causation, this article still maintains that theism is clearly not the societal panacea many claim it to be, nor is atheism a source of societal degradation.
Richard P. Cimino and Christopher Smith
This article examines the increased coverage of atheism by newspapers, especially elite newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also looks at the role of the culture wars and church–state controversies in the coverage of atheism by analyzing the reporting and themes found in more conservative media coverage. The role played by the Internet in the atheist movement and its relationship with the mainstream press are discussed, along with the competition and cooperation between the print and electronic media in creating a public image for atheism. Textual analysis of the Times’ coverage of atheism in the 1960s and the 2000s and of the Washington Post from 1989 to 2013 reveals several trends in the media treatment of atheism. Finally, the article considers the atheists’ use of social media to create an alternative ethos and discourse by studying secularist websites, blogs, and YouTube sites.
The most significant contemporary challenges to humanism do not come from critics who relegate it to anti-religiousness or exclusively immanent concerns, but from those who critique humanitarianism and human rights as the most powerful humanist discourses of our time. These critics bring two important insights: they identify humanism as both religious and secular in character, and they point to it as an enacted rather than merely an intellectual disposition. The critics in question, however, sustain a narrow, Western centric understanding of what humanism is. This chapter seeks to destabilize that view but also to move beyond the mere “critique of critics” (Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique) to gesture toward the particularity and plurality of humanist traditions as platforms for ethical and political practices—humanitarianism and human rights included.
Cor van der Weele and Henk van den Belt
The chapter argues that in human relations with technology, assumptions about ourselves are just as crucial as assumptions about technology. Neither the optimistic traditional humanist belief in human freedom and autonomy, nor the pessimistic view that humans are necessarily anthropocentric, will do for building sound relations with technology. The chapter develops this argument through three debates. First, Heidegger’s antihumanism, in which humans do not have any agency in their relations with technology, may not be convincing, yet lack of control is still a relevant theme. Second, the section on evolutionary humanism (turning to transhumanism and AI) shows that humans now often look vulnerable rather than masterful in their relations with technology. Third, Anthropocene debates tend to rest on bleak views of human beings, so that hard-to-control technologies may then seem to be our only hope. The chapter argues for a need to develop more detailed insights into how we function by facing and exploring our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well our under-recognized abilities for responsibility. This may open perspectives on more modest and entangled forms of agency, more humane technologies, and more de-centered relations with nature.
Atheism, humanism, and naturalism are three expressions of nontheism. They are “ideal types,” abstractions from the empirical messiness of the phenomena they describe. These types represent three levels of complexity and depth. Humanism sublates atheism, that is, transforms and lifts it higher. In turn, naturalism sublates (aufheben) humanism. At its best, naturalism assumes a pragmatic form. After an arguing for a serial relationship of increasing sophistication and intensification among atheism, humanism, and naturalism, the chapter culminates with an overview of George Santayana’s pragmatic religious naturalism. The thesis of the chapter is that Santayana provides the most sophisticated and capacious account of anti-supernaturalism and nontheism as a religious orientation.
This chapter addresses secular humanism in Europe and the way it is “lived” by and within its major institutions and organizations. It examines how national and international secular humanist bodies founded after World War II took up, cultivated, and transformed free-religious, free-thought, ethical, atheist, and rationalist roots from nineteenth century Europe and adjusted them to changing social, cultural, and political environments. Giving examples from some selected national contexts, the development of a nonreligious Humanism in Europe exemplifies what Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt call “Multiple Secularities”: different local or national trajectories produced a variety of cultures of secularity and, thus, different understandings of secular humanism. Apart from this cultural historization, the chapter reconstructs two transnational, ideal types of secular humanism, the social practice type, and the secularist pressure group type. These types share similar worldviews and values, but have to be distinguished in terms of organizational forms, practices, and especially policy.
This article introduces the aims and activities of atheist, humanist and rationalist groups with a focus on the lived experiences of atheists in present-day India. At the same time it discusses the scope of the Oxford Handbook of Atheism’s understanding of ‘atheism’ with respect to India. It argues that the focus on the belief in God and gods can be misleading in the context of Hindu religious traditions. Against this background it is a topical question whether contemporary atheist groups in India are merely a global expression of post-Enlightenment Europe or whether their roots reach further back into Indian history, probably even, as claimed by atheist representatives, back to Vedic times (the materialist traditions referred to as Lokāyata or Cārvāka). As a possible answer to this question this article employs an illustrative analogy between ‘modern atheism’ and ‘linear perspective’ in painting.
What does it mean to be an atheist in Japan and what do the Japanese understand to be the difference between being non-religious and being atheist? When and under what conditions do such questions become relevant for the Japanese to consider? In order to answer such questions, one must go back to a time and place where the Japanese begin to consider atheism as a cultural concept. This work explores the topic of intellectual atheism as both product and agent of sweeping cultural changes in a rapidly modernizing Meiji Era Japan. It considers the influences of various social forces upon traditional modes of living and thinking as well as the response of these forces to challenges presented by modernization and by the enduring aspects of traditional Japanese life. The essay addresses these historic events through the lens of the agents of these social forces and examines their influence and legacies with regard to various aspects and institutions of Japanese life including politics, education, research, economics, and religious traditions in modern Japan.
Ryan T. Cragun, Joseph H. Hammer, and Jesse M. Smith
This essay provides an overview of what is known about atheists in North America. It begins with estimates of the total number of atheists in North America, including Central America, Caribbean nations, Mexico, Canada, and the US. Demographic characteristics of atheists in Canada, Mexico, and the US based on the World Values Survey are also examined. What life is like for atheists in the US, including the discrimination they experience and the issues they must address in developing an atheist identity in a predominantly religious country, are also detailed. The essay concludes with suggestions for future research.
If Soviet atheism is a variety of secularism, it more resembles eliminationist movements viewing religions as obstacles to the political integration of citizens into the state. Before World War II, the Bolshevik government issued decrees to disentangle the state from the church. Later, Khrushchev emphasized atheism and closed churches as part of a general populist, mobilizational approach to promoting communist values. By the 1970s, religious practices were not precluded but were assigned a marginal space outside of public engagement. The post-Soviet era has seen self-reported religiosity increase, while self-reported atheism has diminished, although remaining significant. Russia’s 1997 law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations requires a denomination to exist in a region for fifteen years to enjoy the full legal and tax status. Today, Russia differentiates between “good” religions that help to promote particular moral visions and “bad” religions that create social strife, promote violence, and endanger public health.
A particular affinity between Western Europe and atheism is commonly perceived. This essay outlines the ways in which especially histories of atheism and secularization have described and assumed this affinity, and argues that a tradition of empirical research is needed in order to understand and establish it. This essay also introduces some pioneering quantitative and qualitative contributions towards such a tradition. This research illuminates three aspects of Western European atheism: (i) its notable but also varying pervasiveness in individual countries; (ii) its significant cultural and social sides; and (iii) the extent to which these aspects of Western European atheism are unique to Western Europe and intrinsically Western European in that sense. This essay argues that, ultimately, Western European atheisms can only be understood by comparison with other atheisms from around the world. It calls therefore for the development of a global, comparative programme of research.