Sources

Nothing Can Stop The Spread Of Latin American Atheism

Not even the first Latin American Pope! Studies show fewer Catholics in Latin America, and more people identifying as atheist or secular. Now non-believers are fighting for a true separation of church of state.

She is her own woman.
She is her own woman.
Víctor Herrero

-Analysis-

SANTIAGO The specter of atheism is haunting this most Christian of regions, Latin America. From Mexico to Argentina, dozens of voices and groups of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics are demanding to be heard and calling for more secular structures in their countries.

Most don't seek to convert the religious but instead to ensure that their own rights are respected in countries where separation of church and state isn't often a flimsy legal concept.

These activists want "respect for diversity," says Argentine engineer Fernando Esteban Lozada, Latin America spokesman for the International Association of Free Thought.

Four years ago, Lozada, who has organized four annual national atheism congresses in Argentina, took legal action against the Jesuit-run El Salvador University, or USAL, in Buenos Aires, for discrimination "based on religion." USAL's charter calls for a "struggle against atheism." It was drafted in 1974 by the country's then-ranking Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis.

Argentina's National Institute Against Discrimination (INADI), which is part of the Justice Ministry, ruled in Lozada's favor, though USAL has yet to eliminate the contested principle. Discrimination in education, traditionally a bastion of Latin America's Catholic Church, is a chief concern for atheists and agnostics. In Chile, almost half of Catholic schools require baptism certificates of prospective students and parents' church wedding certificates for admission — and these are not private schools, but institutions receiving state subsidies.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's socialist government is expected to reform this system — against Church opposition. Meanwhile, the Chile Atheist Society has published its list of truly secular schools for the spring term that begins in March.

Author and political analyst Cristóbal Bellolio says it is "important to have an organized and visible atheist community paying attention to the debate." He says that, until recently, television channels never invited dissenting non-religious voices to debates on morality or religion, based on the opinion that "only the representatives of churches are valid speakers."

While most Latin American countries implemented the separation of church and state decades ago, public rituals that irritate non-believers persist in some. In Peru and Chile, mass is celebrated at national festivities.

These are presided over by the archbishops of Lima and Santiago, and attended by state dignitaries. And many government buildings are still decorated for Christmas.

Leaning toward Uruguay

There are currently 60 million Latin Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic, according to a November 2014 Pew Research Center poll. That's 8% of all Latin Americans, though non-believers are more numerous in some countries in percentage terms: 11% in Argentina, 16% in Chile, 18% in the Dominican Republic, and 37% in the continent's most secular country, Uruguay.

Other studies — in Chile, for example — suggest growing numbers of non-believers and shrinking numbers of Catholics.

Indeed, the declining number of Catholics is one factor that has helped non-believer growth in the past 15 years. In 1970, 92% of Latin Americans identified as Catholic. Pew's poll shows this has fallen to 69%. While people may have been less honest in their declarations in 1970, the scandals of recent years, namely over child abuse and corruption in the Church, have no doubt driver some former Catholics to Protestant denominations or away from religion altogether.

Fear is certainly a factor in declarations of faith: A Gallup poll has shown that 5% of Saudi Arabians said they were atheist or agnostic, but could not say so in public. At the other extreme, in a liberal setting such as Sweden, official religion has been declining for decades now.

Holding on to his bible. Photo: Sociedad Atea Chile

The website adherents.com, which gathers global statistics on religion, currently counts all Christians at 2.1 billion or just over a third of the world's population. They are followed by Muslims, numbering 1.5 billion, then atheists and non-believers, numbering 1.1 billion, or 16% of the world's population. These are then followed by Hindus and Buddhists.

In 2011, Northwestern University scientists developed a mathematical "forecast" of religious tendencies in coming decades. The result of the study, "Modeling the Decline of Religious Affiliation," showed that those describing themselves as non-religious were the fastest-growing minority. The study concluded that religion could disappear in societies where it was perceived as not useful enough.

A changing Francis?

Atheists can be perceived as immoral, or even wicked. "They call us satanical and see us as amoral people," Mónica Moreno Rubio, an organizer of the First Atheist Congress in Mexico, told a local agency.

Most non-believers base their ideas on universal humanism and empirical scientific methods, and associations around the world have begun campaigns to clarify some of their positions.

"Don't worry for those of us who are good without believing in god," the Mexican Atheists Association slogan goes. "Worry for those who need to believe in god to be good."

Studies on atheists around the world show that they are on average more educated, more tolerant and more liberal — and surprisingly, know more about religion than the average believer. That could partly explain Latin America's growing atheist movement.

"I have the impression we are waking from a state of lethargy in matters like abortion, same-sex marriage and religious influence in schools," Bellolio says.

Many Catholics hope perhaps that the Argentine Pope's enormous popularity will reverse the flight of believers. Yet a good image appears not to sway non-believers. "I don't think Francis is enough to revert the decline of Catholicism in Latin America, but it could stop the bleeding," Bellolio says.

Lozada says, "Bergoglio shed his skin to return as Francis, leaving behind his sins, his violence, intolerance and explicit authoritarian character." He recalls a speech the now-Pope gave as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, on USAL's 20th anniversary. "Fighting atheism is to fight the negation of all transcendence, and affirm the presence in our history of the Living, the only Living One," he said then. "Fighting atheism in its various forms is to affirm transcendence."

Lozada admits the Pope is good with the media, but thinks his effect will pass. "At the end of the day, the Church's doctrine remains the same and is against all that has been won in human rights."

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

A dove from Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida tough enough to lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam, Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

In September 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years.

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

Daisuke Kondo / Economic Observer

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."


— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Fumigation is used as a precautionary measure against the spread of dengue disease in New Delhi, India, where more than 1,000 cases have been reported — Photo: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! - info@worldcrunch.com

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