Humanists, atheists drive for wider global impact

Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:18am GMT

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - When Switzerland goes to the polls to elect a new parliament later this month, voters in Zurich will for the first time in the country's history have the chance to cast their ballot for a slate of Freethinkers.

"We decided we had to stand up and tell our politicians that it's time they recognised that there are a lot of non-religious people in their electorate," says 42-year-old Andreas Kyriacou, who heads the list.

"We, and probably a lot of Swiss people who have never thought about humanism or atheism, are tired of the influence the churches and religion still exert in this country," he said in an interview with Reuters.

Kyriacou, a management consultant, was speaking at a "Denkfest," or "Think Festival," that the Swiss Freethinkers Association held in Zurich last month, attracting scientists, philosophers and even comedians from around the world.

The Swiss Freethinkers -- a term that covers atheists, agnostics, secularists, rationalists, sceptics and just plain critics of religion -- argue that the country's political parties and leaders run scared of religious voters.

"There is a group for Bible study in our parliament, but no cross-party humanist group, though we know many of the deputies are non-believers," he says. "On right and left, they prefer to keep their heads down."

And Kyriacou points to the failure of politicians to take a stand on social issues like assisted suicide and abortion, where the Catholic church in particular has strong views, and on the powerful place of religion in education in parts of the country.

His stance -- as measured by comments at other conferences around Europe over the summer -- reflects growing determination among humanists and atheists on all five continents to make themselves more visible and their influence felt.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.