Godless Croats!

They exist, which is very good news in a country that is 85% Catholic…and the reality of a Croatian atheist community was acknowledged in a major newspaper (google translation, for those of us who don’t know the language).

The Enlightenment is busting out all over, it’s good to see.

Never mind the horrible Google translation, here’s a cleaner translation by Nives Skunca:

When they see us, maybe others will want to ‘come out of the closet’ — joked Neven Barković, journalist and managing editor of T-portal [Croatian news portal] while our photographer took shots of him in front of the Tesla monument in Zagreb, in the company of the actress and author Jelena Veljača and the painter Bane Milenković .

The three of them belong to a new generation of Croatian atheist who, together with the philosopher Dr. Pavel Gregorić, molecular biologist Dr. Boris Lenhard, and physicist Dr. Dejan Vinković, agreed to speak publicly about their atheism.

It is not popular to declare oneself as an atheist (person who does not believe in God) in Croatia, and people who do often get labeled as ìcommunistsî and “persecutors of all things Croatian and Catholic”. According to the last census in 2001, about five percent of Croatian citizens identified themselves as atheists or agnostics (people who think that God’s existence can be neither proved nor disproved), and 95 percent considered themselves as believers. We asked our interlocutors whether it is undesirable to be an atheist in Croatia today.

– Yes, it is undesirable to be an atheist in a country where religious groups are financed from the state budget, not from the donations of the followers. It is undesirable to be an atheist if you are a parent of a school-child, torn between the wish to spare your child of religious indoctrination and the wish to spare them of social rejection and wandering the hallways because suitable alternative classes are not offered – said Pavel Gregorić (38), who recognized he was an atheist in high school, when he understood the meaning of the word. – I’ve never had a religious phase in my life and never had the need to flirt with faith — pointed out Gregorić.

Boris Lenhard (38) also never had a serious religious stage in his life, nor did he attend catechism classes. – Out of self-educational interest, in one period of my life I started to study world religions, their doctrines and historical development.

It was then that I was forced to realize that any theology, which I naively considered a philosophical discipline, is in fact an attorney-style defense of irrational ideas for which, as in any other defenses of that kind, the goal is not to find out the truth, but to defend their ‘clients’, often in the face of facts — Lenhard said, stressing that theology is no stranger to prevarication, obscurantism and dishonest manipulation. – When you realize that the doctrines and interpretations of each religion are utterly arbitrary and that they were modified throughout history to preserve the authority of their umbrella organization, the most plausible explanation is that they were created and maintained by people, for the goals that are not nearly as noble as they want to make them look – said Lenhard.

Unlike Lenhard and Gregorić, Neven Barković (32) went through a five-year long religious phase. – It was during high school, but my religious phase was neither Christian nor Catholic, but some kind of a semi-eastern mixture. After letting go of this belief, I never returned to religion. In fact, I realized that I definitely do not need the ‘God hypothesis’ as I have no good reason to believe that he really exists – said Barković.

Bane Milenković (47) liked going to church in his early childhood.

– My great-grandmother took me to church regularly. For me as a small boy, the neighborhood church looked fantastic, surreal. However, growing up led me in another direction from the church and then I realized that I do not need it, with respect to my inner code – recalled Milenković. Dejan Vinković (38) admitted that in the eighties, during the entire primary school, he attended the church catechism classes. — But, obviously, it did not have too much of an influence on me – said Vinković.

Jelena Veljača (29) was raised in the atheistic spirit, but in early puberty went through inner examination of the faith issue.

– When I was 12, it was wartime and the Croats were returning to the Church, as the Church was returning among the Croats. The school was dominated by the atmosphere in which we were divided into those who attend the catechism class and those ‘poor ones’ who do not, with whom there is something clearly wrong. I had questioned myself then whether something was wrong with me – Jelena remembered, referring also to the widespread view that the children of communists are atheists, and the children of the faithful are believers. – My parents are middle class and apolitical. Both are engineers and ‘naturalists’ and it shaped my atheist upbringing – said Jelena Veljača.

Pavel Gregorić said that his paternal grandfather was a founding member of the Croatian Communist Party and the mother’s father the Secretary of the Local Party Committee and the Mayor of Zagreb. – But there were no Marx’s images in the house, no quotations of Lenin, no partisan songs. I do not remember any kind of ideological indoctrination in the house, but interest in sciences and arts was fostered – Gregorić said, adding that the thesis “of the children of believers and Communists” has certain foundation.

– As a rule, children of Roman Catholics are Roman Catholics, of Muslims are Muslim, and of Hinduists are Hindu, and atheists are generally children who come from families of secular values. This just shows the extent to which being religious is a matter of mere coincidence, depending on the kind of family you were born into and the environmental influences you were exposed to early on – said Gregorić.

Our respondents reacted to the statement of Pope Benedict XVI on atheism as “the mystery of evil.”

– I do not understand how someone who advocates tolerance can have such a myopic attitude towards atheism, because it inevitably leads to confrontation with the atheists who must defend themselves against such charges – said Vinković. Lenhard is of similar opinion – These statements only show what kind of intolerant public figures we are expected to tolerate. A person who thinks of atheism as evil has seriously disturbed criteria and priorities for someone who allegedly brings people peace and goodwill – said Lenhard.

Neven Barković was even harsher. – The Pope is the last one with a moral right to talk about atheism as evil. Based on judicial bodies around the world, it is already very well known that the Catholic Church participated in the organized protection of hundreds of pedophiles from the rule of law. On the other hand, many atheists are often humanitarians. The fact that we do not have some magical beliefs does not mean that we do not have firm moral and humanistic convictions – said Braković.

Jelena Veljača feels similarly.

– Why does the Church think that atheists cannot be moral, honest and spiritual people? On the other hand, horrible things like child rape and the Crusades occurred under the aegis of religion. And what exactly does it mean to be a believer? Is it being a member of a parish, or someone living by the principles of Jesus or Mohammed? – asked Veljača.

Bane Milenković, however, believes that the Church should not view atheists and believers as “black and white.”

– I think that being a believer and living in harmony with the faith is an extremely honest, generous and spiritual act. Also, the ultimate spiritual person may be a non-believer not going to church, but in many situations, behaving better, and be more tolerant and humane in accordance with their own code. This code does not have to be instilled by the priests. Religious freedom includes the liberty to state that you are an atheist. Religious freedom must exist, just like the freedom from religion – said Milenković.

Our respondents agree with the view that catechism classes do not belong in state schools, but in the Church. — The state is not in the Church, but the Church is in the state – considers Milenković. Barković, however, points out that Croatia is a secular state. – Our Constitution states that the Church is separate from the state. The Constitution is our most important document, more important than the Bible – stated Barković. Gregorić agrees and adds that religious education is not the type of content suitable for schools. – What is taught in catechism is largely contrary to what is taught in history, geography and biology, and the method of teaching in catechism is in its very nature opposite to the way other subjects should be taught, encouraging students to question and think independently – explained Gregorić.

Jelena Veljača believes that instead of religious instruction, schools should teach religious culture. – If someone wants to educate a child in a religious direction, they should do it in the church where it belongs — said Veljača.

Lenhard believes that children of parents who are not believers are under pressure to attend religious class, as not to differ from the others. – In the secular, civil state this should not happen – said Lenhard. Dejan Vinković, however, thinks that religious education is a legal issue and a political hot potato. – There is a definite problem in adjusting the current way of conducting catechism classes in schools and secular ideas, but it is an issue that will ultimately have to be resolved in the Constitutional Court. The issue of funding religious classes will have to be settled, because it makes no sense for all citizens to pay taxes for that purpose, instead of just those that are officially declared as believers – said Vinković.

Is atheism a new religion?

It is often heard in the discussions that atheism is a new religion.

– It’s similar to claiming that I am an addict because I do not do drugs. Atheism simply means that you do not need to introduce God into the description of the world you live in. I have no need to introduce the elves and dragons, does that mean that I am a believer in characters from fairy tales? – said Vinković.

Lenhard shares his opinion. – When you do not tell a bedtime story to a child, is this a type of bedtime story? Or, to paraphrase A. Grayling, if atheism is a religion, than not collecting stamps is a hobby. The absence of belief is not belief, and religion cannot be based on it. My attitude is not to believe that there is no God but, on the basis of everything I know, that I do not believe that there is one, be it a Christian or any of the thousands of other deities that different people claim or used to claim to exist – said Lenhard.

Gregorić emphasizes that religion is based on a belief in one or more supernatural beings, on revelation, on the authority of the privileged interpreters of revelation, on rituals. – In atheism, there is none of that. However, one could mischievously say that atheism is based on the belief that there is no God, the revelation is Dawkinsís book The God Delusion, the privileged interpreters are Hitchens and Harris, and the rituals consist of attending atheis conventions and taking rides with atheist buses, so that atheism is a religion. But this is a caricature in which few atheists will recognize themselves – he explained.

Atheism would like to establish a belief on proof or hard evidence. Not only do we lack solid evidence that supernatural beings exist – Lord, Allah, Vishnu or the Tooth-Fairy – but we have pretty good evidence that they do not exist. There is no atheist who would not be ready to become a theist if presented with solid evidence that God exists – concluded Gregorić.