Humanist groups are protesting religious education resources in Cyprus, which mischaracterize atheists as narrowly materialistic and immoral, and which recommend that young students should reject atheism.
The material, which is actively in use in schools, is provided by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) of Cyprus on an education website (see “Δ.Ε.23 Το φαινόμενοτης αθεϊας”, or “23 The phenomenon of Atheism”). The resources are provided for the use of teachers under the religious education curriculum.
For publicity purposes, the file is also available with a direct translation into English (.ppt file) by the Cyprus Humanist Association.
In the presentation file, atheism is described as a “spectacularly wrong” response to the fact that God does not appear to intervene against suffering (which the presentation instead explains as being because “God acts in obscurity and humiliation”).
Atheists are described as exhibiting “supreme ingratitude against God”, and are blamed for various evils: “Atheists seeking to fulfil spiritual emptiness are lead to wrong choices. Atheists deify the idols of materialism and individualism. Atheists act without moral inhibitions… «if there is no God, everything is allowed».”
The resources conclude that: “Atheists’ emptiness hardens the soul. Life has no meaning. … Existential stress- uncertainty- stress-despair-misery.” And finally, there is a direct appeal not to become atheists: “Let’s avoid atheism so we can stay away from their bad and sinful consequences.”
“Nothing more than hate speech”
In a statement, the Cyprus Humanist Association (CHA) responded that the resource “is nothing more than hate speech, discriminates against atheist students and parents, and misinforms about what atheism is”.
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Andrew Copson, said:
“It is unacceptable that children in schools should be presented with prejudices like this, as if it were objective fact. No belief group should be demonized and marginalized in this way and this material constitutes a dangerous prejudice against the non-religious.
“Furthermore, the reality is that across Europe young people are more likely to be non-religious, or skeptical of religious truth-claims, than any previous generation, so to tell them that without religion they can have no values is not just wrong, it has the potential to confuse young people and rob them of valid forms of meaning and value, such as that offered by humanist conceptions of the world.”
Recent research has identified a widespread “extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists” and found that many people “see belief in God as essential to morality“. However, despite these prejudices, there is plenty of evidence that on the topic of ‘ethical behaviour’ atheists tend to compare favourably to people identifying as religious, with research suggesting that religious children tend to be less altruistic and various findings suggesting that the non-religious “are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” as compared to the religious.
IHEU and its members campaigning together
The IHEU and CHA are making representations to protest the nature of the resources and to suggest alternative sources of information about atheism, religious criticism, and humanist thought.
The Cyprus Humanist Association became a member of the IHEU in 2017 and at their inaugural Annual General Meeting last weekend, the president of IHEU gave a welcome address in a video message, in which he said: “I hope that the Cyprus Humanist Association’s membership of IHEU heralds a new commitment to the internationalism that we stand for and that the world needs, and I look forward to you participating actively in our global movement, taking an interest and joining in our global work… I am delighted to welcome the Cyprus Humanist Association to the International Humanist and Ethical Union and into the worldwide humanist family. Congratulations on your first Annual General Meeting and I look forward to working with you and maybe visiting you in person in the future.”
Various IHEU Member Organizations in Europe are involved in education by providing guidance or resources. Humanists UK this week launched a new online course, “Understanding Humanism“, and provides resources for schools via understandinghumanism.org.uk.