06 May 2015

Atheism trending - even in the Arab world

Several years ago I bookmarked an article in The Telegraph which highlighted the rising number of atheists and Muslims in the United States.  Citing a Washington Post article, the author noted "how washed out and feeble Catholicism and mainline Protestantism have become."
So 40 per cent of people in Boston have no religion at all, and it's more than half in many counties. As for the 47 per cent of Bostonians who are Catholic "participants" – well, there isn't much participation going on come Sunday morning. We're talking about 17 per cent Mass attendance these days... not even the Deist Jefferson would have been pleased to know that, in 2013, America's fastest-growing religious allegiance is "None" – that is, agnosticism shading into atheism... Let's put this simply: America is secularising just like Europe...
I never posted the information at the time, but will do so now as a companion piece for an article in The New Republic about the rise of atheism in the Arab world.
While Arab states downplay the atheists among their citizens, the West is culpable in its inability to even conceive of an Arab atheist. In Western media, the question is not if Arabs are religious, but rather to what extent their (assumed) religiosity can harm the West...

Large numbers of individuals are tilting away from the rote religiosity Westerners reflexively associate with the Arab world. In 2012, a wide-ranging WIN/Gallup International poll found that 5 percent of Saudi citizens—more than a million people—self-identify as “convinced atheists,” the same percentage as in the United States. Nineteen percent of Saudis—almost six million people—think of themselves as “not a religious person.” (In Italy, the figure is 15 percent.) These numbers are even more striking considering that many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Yemen, uphold the sharia rule punishing apostasy with death...

Despite such draconian measures, the percentage of people who express some measure of religious doubt is higher in the Arab world (22 percent) than in South Asia (17 percent) and Latin America (16 percent). And that 22 percent is only an average; the percentage goes higher in some Arab countries, from 24 percent in Tunisia up to 37 percent in Lebanon...

Despite the risks and the social and political challenges they’re facing, all the atheist activists I interviewed said they were confident that the future of the Arab world belongs to secularism. Willoughby told me that “atheism is spreading like wildfire” in the Middle East. Brian Whitaker views it as “the symptom of a much bigger thing, which is the battle against oppression.” The booming Arab underground music scene is another example of the irresistible impetus for change that is quietly transforming the Middle East and North Africa. A full cultural revolution will probably take some time. Speaking about his country, Abdel-Samad said, “I think secularism is a certainty, not just a possibility, for Egypt’s future. All that remains unclear is what price the country will pay first. History tells me blood.”
Much more at the link.


  1. "Let's put this simply: America is secularising just like Europe..."

    And it can't happen quickly enough to suit me.


    1. Agreed, I think the world will be a better place without religion.

  2. I am one of those people who have sat on the fence. I can't say I was an atheist at one time because that in itself is a belief; but, I was a heck of a doubter. Even now, the doubt is there but I am a believer. Mine is different in that I don't think any religion holds the key. All religions are political factions. I just think there is something more than this world. Or at least I hope.

    1. "I can't say I was an atheist at one time because that in itself is a belief"

      No. It's not. It is, by definition, absence of a belief in any deity. This is a common misconception put forth by religious people. Probably because they can't comprehend not having a belief in something.

    2. Ann, you are describing agnosticism.

  3. Secularism isn't exactly about atheism, it's about protecting religions from the state and the state from religions. More secularism, isn't better in fact it is often worse.

    Actually Governments should oversee and regulate religion, after all they regulate most things concerning the public interest, like infrastructure, transportation, education. Whereas religion shouldn't inform legislation, beyond the mystical convictions of the individual.

    Monotheistic religions are authoritarian and thus at their root anti-democratic, ironically they remain the only remaining influential grassroots movement. We and especially the Arab world need other such immediate political brotherhoods (something like unions, fraternities, voluntary associations or whatever) to create good change.


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