Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

The atheists who gathered at the “Gods & Politics” conference earlier this month in Copenhagen adopted the following Declaration on Religion in Public Life:

* We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
* We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.
* We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.
* We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.
* We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.
* We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
* We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law – laws which all governments should respect and enforce. We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.
* We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
* We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation.
* We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths. We oppose state funding for faith schools.
* We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.

Adopted by the conference, Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.

To the first statement, I would add explicitly that no religious belief (including atheism), however sacred it may sound to its practitioners, should be allowed that fosters hate, contempt, and destruction vis-a-vis another religious tradition or belief-system.
It is ironic, indeed sad, that these basic principles, most of which belong to nineteenth century enlightened thought, need to be reiterated by a group of atheists in the twenty-first century, provoking debates and name-calling. This just goes to show that in history, steps forward do not mean that there will be no slippage to times past and even to darker ages.
I am also inclined to think that many enlightened religious people today would resonate with most of what has been declared in Copenhagen. But there is no telling what the future holds.

June 30, 2010

On the Concept of Soul

Soul defines the totality of the elements that constitute the uniqueness of an individual.
Clearly, this is not a physical packet but a concept with metaphysical significance/existence.
The most eminent philosophers, thinkers, and saints (let alone time honored scriptures) have held different and divergent views on what a soul is.
Those who speak and write on souls and furnish details on the entry and exit of the soul in and from human bodies or into heaven or wherever else usually base their information on scriptural authorities and/or intelligent speculation, and not on any so-called scientific evidence.
This does not diminish the importance of the soul-idea which has played many useful/useless roles in human culture. Indeed, the idea of soul (in its various versions) has served millions of people over the ages in cultural, religious, and emotional (bereavement) contexts.  That is why it is important in human culture. This is a historical fact, and does not prove or disprove the existence of a soul as described and prescribed in Hindu, Christian, or Islamic scriptures, for example.
I personally have no inkling of what soul is, where and how it exists, etc. I respect those who know better and much more on this subject.
My own immediate concerns and interests are in whether and in what ways I can be of any use to living people right now, irrespective of whether or what kinds of soul they have.
I do remember with love and respect the departed members of my family (parents, siblings, uncles, aunts) one day every year (my version of All Souls Day) though I am utterly ignorant of their soul-status, if any. I do this primarily because it gives me some solace, but also  to acknowledge my ignorance of something that may have cosmic significance, but which does not interest me a great deal now.

June 10, 2010