A week ago, the The 2010 Global Atheist Convention took place in Melbourne. Famous atheist’ intellectuals and writers like Richard Dawkins and Anthony Grayling attended and spoke. Billed as the largest gathering of atheists in the world, it heralded the rise of atheism in the 21st century. Indeed, it can be safely said that the number of atheists in the world is growing though the percentages are higher in the developed world, forcing one to draw the conclusion that atheism and a decline in religiosity are linked to material well-being. For example, in Australia, 19% of the people said they had "no religion" in a 2006 census.
Atheism is such a growing force that atheists are now being accused of atheist fundamentalism and evangelical atheism. How true are these charges? Are atheists now proselytizing on the lines of organized religions, shoving their non-belief down sensitive throats of believers? I don’t know. Guess how many people attended the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne last week? 2,500. That’s right. Just 2,500. And that was the largest gathering of atheists in the world! Heck, I know of small town congregations of believers (Hindus, Christians and Muslims) which gather more people than that.
Why is it that atheists are almost never evangelical? Why don’t they go around trying to convert people to their faith (or lack of it)? Atheism must be distinguished from agnosticism. The former denotes certainty that there is no God while the latter is an uncaring attitude towards God and religion. Agnostics by the very nature of their I-don’t-care-if God-exists attitude, cannot be expected to be particularly interested in spreading their dogma. However, atheists passionately believe that there is no God and that religion, organised religion, is the root cause of most evil. Why aren’t atheists ardently promoting atheism in the same manner as the religious? Surely the Global Atheism Convention ought to have attracted more than 2,500 people! Just to put things in context, every year around 7,000 people pack into St Peter's Basilica in Rome for the Christmas Eve mass. Around 2 million people travel to Mecca during every Hajj season. In 2001, around 60 million attended the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (also called Prayag), making it the largest religious gathering in the world. In 2007, 18 million gathered in Allahabad for yet another Kumbh Mela. A couple of months ago in January 2010, there was a Kumbh Mela at Haridwar and this CNN report erroneously says that another 60 million was expected. In reality around 5.5 million people attended it. It just can’t be denied that, especially in the developing world, the believers outnumber the atheists by many times.
I once blogged about how religious people are usually much more charitable than atheists. It is not only in charity that the believers outdo the atheists. Even when it comes to propagation of belief, atheists come a very distant second. A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting of atheists in London one Saturday afternoon when I had absolutely nothing else to do. Around 20 of us sat in a conference room and discussed atheism. At that point in time, I was genuinely feeling atheist (my feelings frequently range from atheism to agnosticism to mild belief in God). One by one, we talked about how we came to be atheists and what ought to be done to spread atheism. This was a regular gathering of atheists and many of them knew each other. Some like me, where attending for the first time. One of the organizers explained how we could spread the non-faith by distributing pamphlets and talking to other people, in a manner not much different from religious missionaries. After an hour, I had had enough. I was bored. Period. Thirty minutes later, there was a coffee break and I just walked out. I didn’t disagree with a word of what was being said in that room. I was just bored. I won’t deny that I would like a larger component of the world’s population to be atheists or agnostics. I do believe that religion is the root cause of much evil. However, I didn’t and even now can’t bring myself to propagate atheism.