Hi fellow skeptics!
My name is Sol, and I'm a French Atheist. I have lived in England (Reading, Berkshire) for about 4 years, so I won't have any trouble understanding you :).
Today I want to tell you about religion in my country, France. First, let's start with the demographics. (figures for 2006 -- in bold, the figures regarding the non-religious)
- Catholicism: 51 % (16% less than 12 years before), which are made up of
- Practicing Catholics: 27 % of the French Population
- Agnostic Catholics (doubt the existence of God): 15 % of the French Population
- Atheistic Catholics (don't believe in God, but follow catholic traditions like baptism, Easter, etc.): 9 % of the French Population
- No Religion : 31 % (8% more than 12 years before)
- Other / No opinion / did not answer: 6 %
- Muslims: 4 %
- Other Christians (unspecified): 4 %
- Protestantism: 3 %
- Judaism: <1 %
- Buddhism: between 0% and 1%
That is, at least 40% of the French population are atheists. If you add up the agnostics and the 'did not answer'/'no opinion' (whatever that means), you can get as high as 61%. And, to be honest and from my own experience, I have never met a religious person of my age group, and very few religious people altogether. That is probably because my class, my personality, etc. make that I tend to hang out with irreligious people more, but still... I'm pretty sure that every single person in this forum who is living in the US has met several religious people in their lives lol :)
So yeah, France is a fairly secular country. It does feel nice not to be bothered by street preachers, door-to-door preachers (we do get a few Jehovah's Witness, TBH) not to have to go to church (socially speaking), not to have to hide the fact that you're an atheist (and actually, it's when you're religious that people are going to look at you like you're weird). I really don't envy the Americans among you for that. But yeah, a secular western society is more than possible : it is happening pretty much everywhere in Europe, so keep hoping and fighting !
Back on tracks. There is a problem in France, due to the very secular nature of the country. As is the case pretty much everywhere in the world, the statistics for Islam are on the rise. Religious Muslims have more children, a large portion of immigration into France comes from Muslim countries, etc.
And it isn't a problem in itself; I believe that anyone has the right to be as deluded as they want, as long as they don't force it on others, or do harm to others because of it or in its name. Personally, I'm not very reasonable either! I have been smoking for 15 years even though I know it's going to kill me, and even though the prospect of death terrifies me. That's just one example.
No, the problem is that we in France have been used to not criticizing specific religions, for several reasons:
- Judaism cannot be criticized, mainly because of the French collaboration with Nazi Germany during WW2, especially the Vichy government's helping Nazis deport Jews during the Holocaust. The scars that this part of History has left on France and its relationship to Judaism are very deep, and most people daren't say anything against Israel, for instance. Anti-Zionists are called anti-Semites. Actually, the mere fact that I'm stating these facts could make people call me antisemitic. (and to be honest, there are a lot of neo-Nazis, revisionists and anti-Semites amongst the anti-Zionists, so it's not safe to associate with them).
- As is the case all over the world, Islam is "protected" from criticism by the fear of retaliation. A lot of politicians, left- and right-wing, support the Muslims in this, and have stated that it is should be made illegal for anyone to depict the Prophet, for instance. Some judges have created outstanding, sharia-like jurisprudences in some court cases in France: for instance, a Muslim man has won his divorce trial because his wife wasn't a virgin, as she had told him she was, when she married him; as this is forbidden by the Sharia laws, she lost everything. The French law was very compliant.
In short, one cannot criticize Islam, lest he be called a racist.
- Christianity is the most common religion in France, but most people aren't practicing their religion and just call themselves Catholics for the sake of tradition. Most of my mates were baptized, when they were young, because "the grand-parents insisted", "for the ceremony with the family", or for such reasons.
Either way, it is a dying religion. But the ones who are still practicing Catholics are very hard-core indeed! The kind that blow abortion clinics up, and (threaten to) kill the doctors, etc. Yes, we do have a few nutters here too !
To sum up, France isn't a religious country, but the fact that France has very effectively separated politics and religion has had a side effect : we over-compensate!
It seems that because the State doesn't have anything to say about religion, no-one dares to express themselves and raise their voices against atrocities and barbarisms that are committed in the name of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, by fear of being called racist (if you criticize Islam), Nazi (if you criticize Judaism), or communist (if you criticize Christianity), etc. It seems that every time I try to state that my being an Atheist (and an Anti-Theist) means that not only I am opposed to Christianity, but also to Judaism and Islam, then I am called intolerant.
I thus wonder what is it I can do to help make French society a better place?
I guess I am intolerant then. There are things that one should not tolerate.
Just to pick you up on a point.
You state "As is the case all over the world, Islam is "protected" from criticism by the fear of retaliation. A lot of politicians, left- and right-wing, support the Muslims in this..."
I find that an interesting perspective considering the French laws banning the wearing of a Hijaab.
Now I wouldnt be on here if I thought that the status of women in some of the more backward muslim cultures was okay, but I feel that if a woman wants to wear a hijaab, a burkha or even a fluoro pink viking helmet if she so wishes then she should be able to.
Supporting the right of women to wear what they want ( one of the arguments for the law) by banning them from wearing what they want seems an illogical step to me.
Sorry for a rant but that move always annoyed me.
Yeah, that was one of the things the State actually did do against islam, and that's the thing: it wasn't FOR women's right (I mean, there are laws in France to ensure equality between men and women in parliament, and still most parties prefer paying the quite large fine than having an equal number of men and women in office...), but rather AGAINST Islam and Arabs. It was a political move to rally the far right voters before an election, and make sure that their most "hardcore" basis wouldn't leave them for the Extreme Right National Front.
In any case, I agree with you. It is a shame that women are forced to dress this way, or that they chose to do so in some cases. A law wasn't the solution though. Especially as the number of full-veil-wearing women in France is estimated to be about 500 people !! No, really, the only point of the law was to make a move towards the right-most parts of the political spectrum.
TL;DR: No need to apologise, I agree, the French government were being dicks on this one and many others.
Napoleon Bonaparte says ;
Quelle est votre chanson préférée? Dites-nous et il sera cotée sur le Punk Rock Anarchiste Français. Être membre aujourd'hui.