Atheist Centre 50+ Golden Jubilee (1940-1990)
International Conference on
"Future of Atheism -- Humanism"
Vijayawada, December 29-31, 1990
[OCR, HTML, editing, Cliff Walker]

Greetings from Atheists United, USA
Alexander Prairie
President, Atheists United

The members of Atheists United extend their best wishes and congratulations on the fiftieth anniversary of the Atheist Centre. Your influence as a positive force for peace and social progress has reached far beyond the borders of India and is a source of encouragement and pride for Atheists throughout the world. Through your knowledge of science, your application of reason, and by the quality of your commitment, compassion, and love; a climate of sanity and confidence now exists where superstition and fear once reigned preeminent. The vision of Gora, his work, and the magnitude of your efforts have established an oasis of humanitarian service and education which is an inspiration to enlightened people everywhere.

I was not born into Atheism. I was fortunate, however, to be nurtured in an environment where I was encouraged to freely explore the libraries and to pursue my fascination of science, history and art. As a child following my beloved grandfather to religious service, I could not help but be impressed by massive stone walls set with ornate stained glass windows and crowned by a great domed ceiling. There I was enthralled by deeply emotional music and solemn supplication. Yet even then, the inconsistencies of such tradition with everyday life were deeply troubling, while fundamental facts known to science -- as the cycle of day and night or the changing of the seasons -- were unexplained by the so-called "revelation" of the Judeo-Christian Testaments. Later. I came to realize that religion needs its trappings and facades -- the grand cathedrals, the ritual, the opulent works of art; for there is nothing of substance by which it can stand on its own. Religion beseeches nonexistent gods or demons, misleads its followers and adds nothing to enhance our understanding of ourselves or the universe, nor, despite individual acts of charity does it raise humanity from poverty and ignorance.

Conversely, science has probed the nucleus of the atom and looked out among the galaxies, extending the control of humankind over its destiny. The brilliance of Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein needs no hymns or temples, no high-priests or sacraments. The truth, elegance, and beauty of their discoveries are self-contained resting on a bedrock of research and rigorous, ongoing review. Through science, and the technology it has spawned, human life has been extended; pain can be minimized; many once deadly diseases can be prevented or cured; new sources of fiber, food and material have been developed; while the frontiers of understanding and experience are extended by electronic communication and modern transportation. Of course, such power must be used with maturity and wisdom, cannot be monopolized, and must be shared by people everywhere. But compared to the creativity of the unfettered human mind, what has religion ever given except promises on which it has never had to deliver?

A child is born with almost unlimited capacity; uncompromisingly curious; and unrestricted by mindless tradition, prejudice, and hatred. What wonderful possibilities might be realized if this child is loved, intelligently guided, and encouraged to develop to its full potential? Yet most of the world's children are denied these fundamental human rights! They are taught early that, for various reasons, some people should be considered superior to others, and some, not because they are dangerous criminals, should even be hated. These same children are also often told that the traditions of their parents are not to be questioned because such values have been accepted for generations. To reinforce these beliefs, they are placed in schools that perpetuate the same mythologies and that repress their uniqueness and natural wonder.

Is there any surprise that many of our once beautiful children become adults who engage in deceit, war, and terrorism? Is there any surprise that so many follow mindlessly, never challenging the demands placed upon them, their curiosity dulled, their wonder and creativity ground into the earth?

The real surprise is that some have managed to emerge from this wasteland, to regain at least a portion of their birthright, and to salvage some measure of joy and purpose! Possibly these fortunate ones have a little more strength or have somehow been exposed to a beneficial influence not recognized by their classmates. Perhaps it is an exceptional person, a book. or an idea they may have chanced upon. But the occurrences are all too few and the risks are all too great if this is all we can offer our children. It should be stressed, the children of the world are indeed our children!

If Atheism is to have meaning beyond mere intellectual satisfaction and if we are to show gratitude for our own opportunities as children, let our organizations join in reaching out to the children of the world. We must be the exceptional people. We must help to distribute the books and disseminate the ideas that will raise their expectations and capture their imaginations. Whether we succeed through the parents, the school, public policy, or the force of our enthusiasm, the future -- tyranny or freedom, progress or decline, prosperity or despair -- will soon be in their hands. Our goal must be to reach and enlighten the children.

Once again, our congratulations and best wishes on your success of fifty years.