Atheist confab in Ireland comes as Europe confronts religion in public life
The first World Atheist Convention this weekend in Dublin comes at a time when Islam, the pope, and blasphemy are front and center in Europe.
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It’s not just Islam that worries secularists. For the delegates at the World Atheist Conference the question of separation of church and state has taken on new urgency.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite the relatively small numbers, the conference includes high-profile figures such as outspoken US atheist and biology professor PZ Myers, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who has become a kind of figurehead for nonbelievers worldwide, and Iranian human rights activist Maryam Namazie, a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
Mr. Myers says Europeans’ sense of their politics as wholly secular is inaccurate. “You guys aren’t secular, or at least you aren’t secular enough – there’s all kinds of tensions between religion and society.”
Myers notes that despite constitutional separation of church and state, the US remains more religious than Europe, but says this itself holds lessons for Europeans hoping to protect and expand secularism in society.
“America is much less secular than any country in Europe. The one thing that can be learned from the US is that you have to be watchful [for the encroachment of religion into politics].”
The most recent pan-European statistics reveal a secular Europe, but not quite a nonbelieving one.
Social values, Science, and Technology, a 2005 survey conducted by the European Union’s statistical agency Eurostat, found that 52 percent of Europeans were believers.
Figures vary widely from country to county – 95 percent of Maltese citizens professing a belief in God whereas 38 percent of Britons professed belief. The highest percentage of atheists was found in France at 33 percent, and the lowest number of believers in Norway, a non-EU country, at 32 percent. The survey also found a new tendency it called “the development of a new kind of religion characterized by the belief that there is some sort of spirit or life force."