Gregory Paul reports on the recently released results of the Religion III survey (an incredibly unwieldy publication format) conducted by the International Social Survey Programme. Although caution is warranted in interpreting the results, belief in a god appears to be in precipitous decline in a number of countries since the last survey in 2008. Although it's premature to say, pace Paul, that "...atheists are the majority in Western Europe"--far from, in fact, at least according to a strict definition of god belief versus lack of belief--it's not too soon too soon to ask what happens when atheism does reach a certain level of popular support. What does this mean for atheist activism?
Another way to put that question is, 'If either through a process of reason or cultural imitation, religion no longer compels belief or participation, and therefore the central plank of atheist activism, religious criticism, loses its primary reason for being, to what ends should activist atheism strive?'
It's not uncommon to hear a response to that question, and it goes something like, 'Once we achieve a secular society, our work is done.' Of course, this begs questions like what we mean by secularism, or 'our work', or why we think that atheism should be the organizing principle around which groups are formed and sustained. Nevertheless, it's not uncommon to hear the 'secularism is the goal' claim, or ever more narrowly, 'atheism is the goal.' You might refer to this view as the Strong Atheism Activist camp, which I'll characterize here as centering on the belief that if we could only lessen the influence of religion (a concept of such broad scope and fraught with ambiguity I hesitate to even juxtapose it with its alleged antitheses) or even get rid of it, the world would see a marked improvement along a number of fronts.
What evidence do we have though for atheism in particular being a cause of or instrumental in producing better social outcomes? Atheism is certainly not sufficient nor likely necessary to improve human well-being. Is there any significant disagreement about this point? (I ask that slightly more as an open question, less as rhetorical challenge.) What seems much more likely is that a whole basket of things correlated in larger and smaller degrees with atheism is at work is and will be driving the conditions of a better world.
So, what does increasing global atheism mean for the Strong Atheism Activism camp, if such a thing even exists? A broader vision is necessary of the kind of society we want to live in, with its emergence explained in terms beyond that of 'atheism will get us there, or atheism is a precondition of a substantial conception of human well-being.' Leaving that discussion aside for now, you may find the following table of interest.
The 2012 edition of the Global Peace Index is now out. This is the sixth edition of the report produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace ("Quantifying Peace and it Benefits").
In global country rankings the US slouches in at 88, neighbored by China (89) and Equatorial Guinea (87), with Iceland in first place. The report observes an overall improvement in world peace, following two consecutive years of decline.
Of special interest (p.29) is a table correlating the GPI indicators (23 in all) and the overall GPI score--statistics like political terror, violent crime, political instability, etc. The top three indicators with the highest correlations to the GPI are the Political Terror Scale (.82), the level of organized internal conflict (.82), and access to small arms (.71).
The world could potentially make a significant stride forward in peace if it were to gain better control over the small arms trade. Indeed, as a UK government official says, the arms trade 'has become the greatest threat to development, beyond disease and disaster.'
But will this reality be compelling enough to override the abject political reality in the US, the world's largest arms merchant?
It will thus be interesting to see the news coming out of The UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, held from July 2-27, 2012 in NY.
On June 6 The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released its flagship publication, the Global Environmental Outlook 5. The press version having the summary title 'World Remains on Unsustainable Track Despite Hundreds of Internationally Agreed Goals and Objectives.' The full report is available here.
If you're not familiar with the global environmental picture, becoming familiar with the literature may be an awakening to you on the order of your path from religious faith to skepticism and non-belief.
As this report and many other studies make abundantly clear , we're dealing with a very complex, difficult and increasingly urgent environmental crisis of planetary scale.
For all the statements in the GEO-5 like "Little or no progress has been achieve in preventing, reducing or controlling pollution of the marine environment," the report is not a uniform litany of doom. The bright spots though are few, and the optimism the report is able to muster is hitched to the rickety wagon of hope that if we act now we can do much good.
In some quarters a proposed solution to our environmental crisis is ending the belief in limitless material abundance and its attendant ideology of endless economic growth.  'Degrowth' flies in the face of the dominant paradigm of free market and libertarian fundamentalism and therefore compounds considerably the challenge of dealing with this problem in the most intelligent way. A further major hurdle is that we're facing a problem that requires large numbers of people everywhere to take responsibility for their own education about the planet on which they depend, but we have a planet on which many people expect to be told what to do and think.
 Global Environmental Outlook 2000
 Hooper, D., Adair, E.C., et al. (May 2, 2012). A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11118.html
 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
 International Programme on the State of the Ocean. (June 12, 2011). Multiple Ocean Stresses Threaten "Globally Significant" Marine Extinction. Retrieved from http://www.stateoftheocean.org/ipso-2011-workshop-summary.cfm
 The latest issue of Futures: the journal of policy, planning and futures studies, focuses on 'degrowth.'
Thousands of social change agents from government, NGOs, the private sector and more will be converging on Brazil June 20-22 for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development with the hope of generating agreement and momentum to green the global economy and eradicate poverty. More than a convergence of individuals, this conference, like others before it, signals a growing convergence of knowledge about the systemic interconnectedness of large-scale human challenges. Economic activity, human development and the environment have profound and complex relationships with each other that we continue to learn about. Or, at least some of us. Could it be that the combo of panicked scientific illiteracy and ideological anti-science we see so often in the US will turn out to be one of the most globally destabilizing forces doing harm to the cause of global human development?
"This (conference) is a once in a generation opportunity," says U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
May 24 the State Department released its 2011 Human Rights Report, which found widespread discrimination and mistreatment of LGBT people. As we know too well, the human rights reality for LGBT people in the US is also far from perfect, although progress is unmistakable.
"There is a compelling need to define and proclaim a new global ethics for humankind.
It is dramatically clear today that our earth is made up of interdependent nation-states and that whatever happens on one part of the planet affects all the rest. Whenever human rights are violated, all of humanity suffers. The basic premise of this global ethics is that each of us has a responsibility to the world community at large." - So reads the Preamble to A Declaration of Interdependence: A New Global Ethics.
Today we see more clearly than ever what must be done. We can't use 'lack of awareness' as an excuse in a world rendered more transparent by the information-rich internet.
A transgender man beaten on the streets of Los Angeles, a lesbian subjected to 'corrective rape' in South Africa, the executions of gay men in Iran--these are present day barbarities, violations of human dignity that, if we're to build a world worth living in, we must end. Let us never be silent.
 Kurtz, Paul. (Ed.), (1989). Building a World Community: Humanism in the Twenty-First Century. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Globally, there are 61 million primary school-age girls and boys excluded from education, which means that 10% of those eligible to attend school cannot.
"This figure has been falling, especially since 2000, when the international community reinforced commitments to achieve universal primary education.
Yet despite this progress, the pace of change appears to be slowing. "Between 2000 and 2005, we saw a dramatic reduction in the number of children excluded from primary education. But since then, the rate of change has slowed down considerably," states Hendrik van der Pol, Director of the UIS. "At this rate, we will not achieve universal primary education by 2015. So it is time to raise the alarm among governments and international agencies globally."
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