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An eventful 7th World Atheist Conference was held on January 5-7, 2009 at Vijayawada, India. The conference was organized by IHEU member organization Atheist Centre. We have just received a full report of the conference.

“Atheism is a global force. The march towards a post religious society has begun. The bonds of religion are loosened. People are getting out of the shackles of superstition. The spread of education, awareness and enlightenment made people realize that they are the masters. God is human imagination. The spread of science and scientific outlook heralded the Modern era. Atheism is a way of life. It touches all aspects of life. Theism is imaginary god-centered whereas as atheism is based of reality and it is human-centered. Welfare of the human being is the measure of every thing. Atheism is always progressive. It is not enough if religion and State is separated. Religion and education must be separated. Religion and culture must be separated”, stated Mrs. Mythri, Chairperson of Atheist Centre in her welcome address at the Seventh World Atheist Conference at Vijayawada on January 5, 2009.

Dr. Vijayam, Executive Director of Atheist Centre elaborated on the theme of the Conference, ‘The March of Atheism’. He stated that, “Atheism and Humanism came to the fore with the dawn of nation states and the demand for separation of state and the church. The March of Atheism is clear and evident. The emergence of secular state and constitutional guarantees for the freedom of conscience was a step further. But it is not enough, if the constitutions guarantee freedom of religion. What we need today is freedom from religion and its exploitation. The persecution of atheism or discrimination of atheists in any form is incompatible with democracy. Democracies must strengthen the secular ramparts we guard.”

In his Presidential Address, Mr. Levi Fragell, Former President IHEU & Norwegian Humanist Leader highlighted that, “India’s philosophical and cultural background suggests stronger potential for a radical humanism here than what can be found elsewhere. In fact India has an agnostic and atheistic philosophical tradition, hundred and thousands of years before other parts of the world. Stating that religions exploit the masses through falsification of facts and claiming that they have the truth thereby spread ignorance and blind faith through fear.”

Dr. P.M. Bhargava, Former Vice Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, Govt. of India and Founder Director, CCMB, in his inaugural address stressed that “Future is important for those who believe in science. But people who believe in religion like to cling on to the past and defend their blind faith vehemently with emotion, wherein there is no place for reason. Religious institutions have always hampered scientific research. Taking the case of cloning and stem cell research, it received strong opposition from the church. The scientific progress is dynamic and is not static like that of religions which harp on age old belief systems. Hence there is a great need to strengthen scientific outlook among the younger generations and also to promote popular science.”

A 200 page Conference Souvenir containing articles written by eminent atheists, humanists, rationalists and free thinkers was released by Mr. Jim Herrick, Editor, Humanist , U.K. Dr. K. Veeramani, Chancellor, Periyar Maniammai University & President , Dravidar Kazgham, Tamil Nadu released a book on Saraswathi Gora and her life, published in Telugu. The inauguration session also included a welcome dance by Dr. Demos Gora. The flags of the countries whose representatives were present in the conference was unveiled as a mark of the beginning of the three day 7th World Atheist Conference. The inaugural session concluded with Vote of Thanks by Mr. Vikas Gora.

In the afternoon session, Dr. Veeramani highlighted that, “Periyar’s movement to create social awareness and to promote rationalism has created a generation of thinkers and rational human beings. What is important is to challenge age old belief structures which are detrimental to the society and those that dampen the secular fabric of the society. God is only a human imagination. Religions exploit the ignorance of the masses and cash on it. Education is the key and the spirit of inquiry can be strengthened through investing in the future generations.”

Mr. Sam Ayache from France shared the French Free thought Movement. He stated that, “France is one of those countries where there is a separation of religion and state. The 1905 Law of the Separation between the Churches and State in France is still existent. This law promotes secularism, which means the absolute freedom of conscience for all citizens and the State has no right to interfere in the beliefs or the absence of beliefs of the citizens. No public funding for religious purposes are used.”

Atheist activists and social change workers from across India shared their views on the necessity of atheism and the importance of a post religious society, in the world wherein sectarian differences and religious divide is turning violent and claiming the lives of the innocent.

In order to encourage younger generations, a unique programme was conducted with children who displayed on play cards, the contribution of 70 eminent scientists, atheists, humanists, rationalists and free thinkers. Children from the project areas of Arthik Samata Mandal and Vasavya Mahila Mandali were involved in this lively and enthusiastic programme of paying a tribute to the outstanding heroes worldwide for their great contribution in the onward march of atheism, humanism and science.

The evening ended with Dr. Narendra Naik, Leader Anti-Miracle Campaign revealing the tricks performed by babas and godmen/women that fool the masses in the name of miracles.

Second Day, the 6th January:

The second day of the World Atheist Conference covered various aspects related to atheism, humanism, secular social work and the role of youth.

Mr. Roy Brown, Past President IHEU, Switzerland in his Presidential Address for the session, highlighted that, “Every religion claims to have a monopoly of truth and a monopoly of virtue. One problem we have in confronting the certainties of religion is that the transcendental really does exist. Don’t look so surprised! It exists in our imagination. Gods, fairies, unicorns, ghosts and angels may all be creatures of the imagination but we have no certain logical way of demonstrating that they are purely imaginary. The best we can do is to point out in the light of our new-found scientific knowledge the vanishingly small probability that the supernatural world really exists. But while we offer only probability, religion offers absolute certainty. We must recognise that the March of Atheism is not an end in itself but a step on the way to understanding ourselves, the world, and our place within it; a step on the road to caring for others as we care for ourselves; and a step towards the ultimate goal of Humanism and enlightenment.

Dr. Ms. Chandana Chakravarthy, an eminent scientist of CCMB, Hyderabad highlighted 14 differences between science and religion. She highlighted that no questioning is possible in religion. One needs to surrender and suspend ones critical thinking abilities. Science promotes the right to question and that is how it has progressed. Godmen and God women claim to have all the answers. Scientists accept between what they know and what they don’t. Science and religion cannot be put onto a same platform. Religion has godmen. Science does not accept any high priest or authority who cannot be questioned. Miracles are the essence of religion. In science, magic is possible. No miracle has ever happened. All godmen are third rate magicians. Religion is based on revelation. Truth was revealed to some “chosen people” in the world. Religion is static and once it is found it cannot be changed. Science evolves based on new knowledge. It is dynamic and changes according to time and progresses by disproving. Religious truths represent the opinion of the religious leaders and they never change according to the time. In science, there is no absolute truth and it is just a consensus arrived at by the knowledgeable people at that point of time. The knowledge stands to the test of time. All truths in science can be repeated and verified and validated by time.

Ms. Kristine Mele, Secretary General of the Norwegian Humanist Association, highlighted the importance of humanism and the need to promote spirit of inquiry and questioning. She stated that in Europe in particular, many people are shedding their religions and are moving towards a post religious society and this is the key to its progress. She gave examples of how religion, in particular Christianity has exploited the people, claiming that it has the truth. However, people have started to believe in themselves and it made the progress of humanism much quicker, in particular Norway. She stated that humanism is a life stance wherein critical thinking and scientific temper find prominence.

Ms. Nau Gora, Secretary, Arthik Samata Mandal, highlighted the importance of Secular Social Work and how it addresses the root causes of poverty with no sectarian, religious or parochial considerations. She said that secular social work approach looks at citizen driven development and not faith driven development. Hence, people are center of the development process and not any divine power.

Mr. Innaiah, Director, Center for Inquiry, Hyderabad maintained that, “Children are registered as religious people, but they do not know what religion is and they do not know what ignorance, superstitions and blind beliefs are. The parents are perpetuating the young minds with religion. We need a society wherein child grows freely.”

Giving an international picture of Atheists in Germany, Dr. Walter Neussel, German Freethinker stated that in Germany 1/3rd of population are atheists are not members of any church or do not belief in god. However the voice of the religious leaders has been very aggressive. He stressed that in India, there is space for all people and faiths.

Mr. Eve Green, Former Editor, Norwegian Freethinker highlighted the historical growth of humanism and the challenges it faced from the religious authorities. He however harped that humanism could withstand the stringent opposition from religious quarters and has become an alternative life stance in major populations in Norway.

Dr. Indla Rama Subba Reddy, eminent psychiatrist stated that, “psychiatry views religion as a neurosis. Neurosis is a type of psychological disorder, where they do not have mental confidence and hence depend on god and supernatural power. Religion acts like a tonic and they are called neurotics. This acts like a boost and gives confidence. To become a person atheist and rationalist, one needs lot of mental energy and capacity. An atheist believes in human effort in dealing with problems. He gave a historical overview of the psychiatry in the world and how it challenged religion and other paranormal claims.

Mr. Kiran Nanavathi from Gujarat stated the importance in promoting secularism so as to avoid any religious and caste wars. He highlighted the need for integrating secularism with education so as to create further awareness among the masses.

The afternoon session was focused on Youth, Atheism and Humanism. Ms. Barbara Blust from Germany highlighted how atheists and humanists were challenged in the Christian dominant Germany. However the progress of atheism, she stated, was because of the growing distrust among people on the religious extremism and religious claims of truth. She gave her personal story of how she became and atheist.

Ms. Nichole and Mr. Martin from the Freethinkers Association of Germany, highlighted the importance of youth exchange programs, so that people from across the borders can experience cultural difference and appreciate them. It also helps youth to have a wider perspective towards life. They made a presentation of the youth exchange program between Atheist Centre and Freethinkers Association, Germany and the learnings.

Mr. Gurender Azad from Tarksheel Society, Punjab maintained the importance of atheism and humanism in giving a positive life stance.

Mr. Vikas Gora stressed on the need to invest in educating youth on secularism. He stated youth are a potential force in any society and highly vocal. Their energy should be constructively utilized. He gave examples of why most of the terrorists are from younger generation and how religions are exploiting youth. Hence, there is a great need to invest in educating the youth on peace, secularism and critical thinking, so that they could be harbingers of constructive change in the society.

Mr. Ravindranath, Science Trust, Kerala highlighted the importance of organ donation and in particular eye donation which need to encouraged through secular social work so that the lives of many of the blind can be changed.

Many other youth leaders spoke of the necessity to invest in youth and also how youth can be channelled towards strengthening a post religious society.

The evening cultural programme was performed by Dr. Demos Gora on the theme of “March of Atheism”. Atheist songs in classical style which were written by Gora were sung by Ms. Annapurna. Magician Vikram demonstrated the trick behind the psychic surgery.

Day three: January 7:

The final day of the Conference, culminated in participants sharing their views on the importance of atheism and its relevance. People shared their personal stories of how they became atheists and the relevance of atheism in the testing time when religions have been promoting violence, fundamentalism and ignorance among the masses.

“There is a great need to strengthen secular values in the society so as to build bondages of friendship between religions. They have always fought to declare that their faith is greater than the other. The younger generation needs to be exposed to scientific temper and critical thinking which will make them to think and act rationally. Millions have been killed in the name of religion and persecuted for being questioned and this shows the intolerance of religions towards questioning. Hence the only alternative is to promote atheism and humanism where there is scope to question and freedom to inquire”, stated Mr. Aswin Karia, who was the President of the morning session, Principal, Law College, Palanpur, Gujarat.

Mr. Babu Gogineni, Executive Director, IHEU highlighted the need to realize the Art. 51 A (h) of the Indian Constitution which maintains that it is the Fundamental Duty of every citizen of India to promote humanism, spirit of inquiry and reform. He lauded the Indian Constitution for being secular, but there is a need to move from word to action.

Mr. Rawat Vidhyabhushan, New Delhi, highlighted the need to address the rights of the poor and the marginalized sections of the community, who are always exploited by the religions. Humanism in action addresses the root causes of the problems and encourages people to take responsibility for resolving their concerns and not to be fatalistic. He further highlighted the need to strengthen secular organizations, so that a ripple effect can take place at the grassroots level for promoting humanism and atheism as a rational life stance.

Mr. Bernd, Freethinker, Germany maintained that many scientists swing between being rational in their laboratories and being irrational outside it. This he calls a fickle behavior. He suggests scientists to be good examples to the people and act rationally all the time.

Dr. KSS Sundar, Project Director, Samskar, Varni, Nizamabad shared as to how humanism in action through secular social work is helping the lives of scores of people in rural communities. He highlighted the importance of investing in young minds and to make them rational citizens of the world.
Afternoon Session:

Mr. Lavanam of Atheist Centre who is the President for the session, stated that a post religious society is the only alternative as the religious wars and hatred can never help in promoting peace. In a post religious society, human beings have the recognition and god becomes irrelevant.

Mr. V. Nehru, The Rationalist’s Forum, Tamil Nadu, highlighted the importance of utilizing the electronic media such as internet for promoting scientific temper. However, religions are using them to promote ignorance and blind beliefs. Government money is spent on government media channels to spread ignorance through programs supporting godmen and claims of having paranormal powers. This need to be challenged and atheists and humanists should further spread scientific temper and rationality through media and internet.

Mr. BN Sahu, Engineer, Orissa, feels that there is a possibility of a global government so that discrimination will wither and people will start thinking as universal citizens. Democracy will surely help in realizing their process and atheists and humanists have a major role to strengthen this process.

Many things have already been disproved like rebirth and other claims of the paranormal. We have to be united and fight against caste system and discrimination against women which is promoted by religions. Women should be equal partners in progress. We need to move from god-centred to human-centred universe, said Mr. Raghunath, Latur, Maharastra. Many other prominent atheists and rationalists from across India shared their views and the concerns about the growing fundamentalism and its impact on the society and its peace and tranquility.

Valedictory Function:

The Valedictory Function was presided by Dr. Vijayam who stated how atheism has progressed inspite of stringent opposition. Religion becomes irrelevant as the science and technology have progressed and unraveling the marvels of nature which was for long worshipped. The spirit of inquiry and critical thinking need to be integrated into the education system.

Mr. Jim Herrick, an eminent humanist writer was the Chief Guest of the Valedictory Function. He highlighted the historical growth of atheism and humanism internationally. Religions, he said are responsible for creating hatred among human beings as each one claims to have the truth. However, they do not allow human beings to question, but only promote blind beliefs. Blessed are those who do not question is the motto of religions. For ages, atheism and humanism have a strong rooting in India with Charvakas and Lokayats, right from the 6th Century BC. The 19th Century, he stated witnessed the pace in the march of atheism for many prominent figures such as Charles Bradlaugh, Robert Ingersoll have educated the masses on scientific temper and the spirit of inquiry. He stressed that no religion is suddenly rejected by any people; it is rather gradually outgrown. With the development of science and technology, many developments have revealed that sciences questions and uses a process to find answers, whereas religions do not question, but claim the answers based on age old texts. He brought to the fore the need to address fundamentalism and extremism, which are claiming innocent lives of millions of people.

The conference ended with a Conference Declaration which captured the voices of all the participants. It was presented by Mr. Vikas Gora.

7TH WORLD ATHEIST CONFERENCE 2009
CONFERENCE DECLARATION

We, the Atheists, Humanists, Rationalists and Freethinkers from around the world, gathering in Vijayawada, for the 7th World Atheist Conference, January 5-7, 2009, are concerned about the growing fundamentalism, religious obscurantism, marginalization of communities and the negative impact of human activity on the environment and development, and collectively raise our voice for addressing them.

The participants declare that:

  1. We affirm atheism and humanism as an alternative life stance (a way of life). There is no doubt that our values come from atheism and humanism.
  2. We recognize that critical thinking, scientific temper and free inquiry are essential for thought and development in the society.
  3. We uphold gender equality, an aspect still denied by several religions and the rights of children and minorities.
  4. We demand that legislations be based on common concerns, rather than religious beliefs, and we demand the separation of religion from politics, the state, the law and education.
  5. We stand for a secular state.
  6. We want miracle claims to be challenged and investigated as they militate against the modern scientific temper and knowledge.
  7. We recognize the importance of promoting secular values, so as to enhance tolerance, peace and harmony in society.
  8. We are concerned by the prospects for world environment and climate change and demand special attention to address them.
  9. We deplore violence in the name of god or religion.
  10. We are committed to promote democracy and human development.

Vijayawada, India, 7 January 2009

Wide media coverage:

The World Atheist Conference received wide attention in the electronic and print media. The All India Radio, Vijayawada broadcasted a curtain raiser on the progress of atheism world wide and on the significance of the Worldwide. Dr. Vijayam, convener of the World Atheist Conferencde was interviewed for 20 minutes in the prime time. All India Radio also broadcast a radio review of the three day proceedings of the Conference which was presented by Mrs. Nau Gora, Secretary Arthik Samatama Mandal. The print media covered daily about the proceedings. In addition to the Telugu press, the Hindu, the largest circulated English daily in South India, not only highlighted the proceedings, but also a half a page report “Taking home a slice of Vijayawada”, stating that “besides emerging richer by experience gained in brainstorming sessions of the World Atheist Conference in the city, the offshore humanist delegates will carry home the essence of Vijayawada”.

Thus through press and the media, the World Atheist Conference could reach wider circle of people. The Arch at the entrance of the Siddhartha Auditorium, the venue of the Conference in the heart of Vijayawada, welcomed the participants to the Seventh World Atheist Conference on the “March of Atheism” with the message stating that “Atheism is a positive way of life”, and “Positive atheism for a positive future.”

Appreciation of the efforts of Dr. Richard Dawkins:

The World Atheist Conference unanimously Adopted the following Resolution:

“We, the participants at the 7th World Atheist Conference meeting in Vijayawada, India from 5 to 7 January 2009, hereby record our appreciation to Professor Richard Dawkins for his steadfast and exemplary advocacy of science and reason and for the depth and clarity of his writing.

Through his work, Professor Dawkins has clearly demonstrated the centrality of evolution through natural selection to the development of life on Earth. He has made an outstanding contribution to the public understanding of science, has championed the supremacy of reason, and has defended science and the scientific world-view from their detractors.

We stand in awe at the revolution he has inspired in the public view of religion, making it possible for the first time in the modern era to openly discuss and promote Atheism as a rational and ethical philosophy in almost every part of the world.”

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