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In Europe and U.S., Nonbelievers Are Increasingly Vocal

But the church has disproportionate power and influence in Parliament, she said. For example, she said, polls show that 80 percent of Britons want the terminally ill who are in pain to have the right to a medically assisted death, yet such proposals have been effectively killed by a handful of powerful bishops.

"We can't accept that religious faiths have a monopoly on ethics, morality and spirituality," Massey said. Now, she added, humanist and secularist groups are becoming "more confident and more powerful" and recognize that they represent the wishes of huge numbers of people.

While the faithful have traditionally met like-minded people at the local church, mosque or synagogue, it has long been difficult for those without religion to find each other. The expansion of the Internet has made it a vital way for nonbelievers to connect.

In retirement centers, restaurants, homes and public lectures and debates, nonbelievers are convening to talk about how to push back what they see as increasingly intrusive religion.

"Born Again Atheist," "Happy Heathen" and other anti-religious T-shirts and bumper stickers are increasingly seen on the streets. Groups such as the Skeptics in the Pub in London, which recently met to discuss this topic, "God: The Failed Hypothesis," are now finding that they need bigger rooms to accommodate those who find them online.

Wright, the teacher who recently declared himself a nonbeliever, is one of thousands of people who have joined dues-paying secular and humanist groups in Europe this year.

Sitting in his living room on a quiet cul-de-sac in this English town of 30,000, Wright said he now goes online every day to keep up with the latest atheist news.

"One has to step up and stem the rise of religious influence," said Wright, who is thinking of becoming a celebrant at humanist funerals. He said he recently went to the church funeral of his brother-in-law and couldn't bear the "vacuous prayers of the vicar," who, Wright said, "looked bored and couldn't wait to leave."

Now, instead of each morning silently reciting a favorite nighttime prayer, "Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers . . . " (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer), he spends the time just thinking about the day ahead.

He said his deceased mother, a Catholic, was comforted by her faith: "It kept her going through difficult times," particularly when his father left her when he and his sister were young.

"I really don't know how I will react if something really bad happens," he said. "But there is no going back. There is nothing to go back to."

Not believing in an afterlife, he said, "makes you think you have to make the most of this life. It's the now that matters. It also makes you feel a greater urgency of things that matter," such as halting global warming, and not just dismissing it as being "all in God's plan."

He called himself heartened that the National Secular Society, which he recently joined, is planning to open chapters at a dozen universities this fall. The rising presence of the nonreligious movement, he said, is "fantastic."

"It's a bit of opposition, isn't it?" he said. "Why should these religious groups hold so much sway?"


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