The global picture
The global landscape of religion and beliefThe latest data from the Pew Research Centre appear to show that the world’s population is becoming more religious. Although the number of people describing themselves as non-religious is predicted to rise, the proportion of the whole is expected to decline. However, these headline figures mask a more interesting story. People are not necessarily choosing to become religious. Religiosity is rising largely due to high population growth in parts of the world with more limited access to a broad and balanced education and where freedom of religion or belief is often restricted. Where people have a choice, they are turning away from religion.
There may therefore be many more non-religious people than the data suggests as not everyone feels safe to reveal their non-religious identity, and with improved access to education, communication, and economic development, we may see a different story take place. The Human Development Index ranks countries according to a number of indicators of societal health such as life expectancy, adult literacy rate, per capita income, and educational attainment. There is a close correlation between how high up a country appears on the index and the size of a country’s non-religious population.‘[There is] now no nation in the Western world, including former Eastern Europe and Central and South America, in which measures of religiosity per capita are not in decline.’Callum Brown, Becoming Atheist
Humanism around the world
- Humanists International is the umbrella organisation for humanist organisations around the world. As of March 2019 it is made up of over 170 member organisations from 75 different countries.
- The largest humanist organisation in the world is the Norwegian Humanist Association, with 90,000 members.
- The three countries with the highest numbers of Humanist International member organisations are the UK, India, and the US.
- As of March 2019 the newest member organisations of Humanists International are from Sri Lanka, Zambia, Botswana, and Liberia.
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Freedom of religion and beliefThe United Nations Declaration of Human Rights guarantees human beings freedom of belief and freedom of expression. Humanists believe these freedoms are important for both society as a whole and for individuals. Freedom of expression is essential for progress. Breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding become possible when individuals are able to challenge the consensus and promote new ideas. These freedoms are also necessary to enable all people to live flourishing lives, free from persecution.However, in many parts of the world people are denied these rights. In 71 countries blasphemy is a crime; in 7 it is punishable by death. In 18 countries one can be punished for rejecting or leaving the state religion (apostasy); in 12 of them the punishment is death.
Humanist campaigningCampaigning by humanist organisations around the world will typically focus on promoting secularism and human rights. They will seek to remove religious privilege where it exists and work to ensure the separation of religion and state. This will include campaigning for the human right to freedom of religion and belief, and against the existence of blasphemy and apostasy laws.However, humanist organisations are also involved in a wide number of projects aimed at improving equality and opportunity. These include humanitarian work, providing education services, supporting the rights of women and LGBT people, and campaigning against harmful traditional practices.
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