This is more about "journalism" and "framing" than it is about belief, or the lack thereof. I don't really care about that subject, except as I have an interest in anything touching on religion and broad statements about citizens of nations regarding religious belief (or the lack thereof).
So here's the Slate headline: "A Christopher Hitchens dream: Atheism on the rise in Egypt." And here's what the article says:
Is Egypt going through a crisis of faith? During my recent visit to Egypt, I met so many non-believers that it was almost tempting to think that atheism has become the country’s fastest-growing “religion.” In addition, atheists are becoming more confident, assertive and outspoken.Except this is also what the article says:
This conflicts with the mainstream Western view of Arab/Islamic religiosity and fanaticism in which such a confession of faithlessness should have led to a fatwa against me and even my death. But, as I pointed out in my piece, non-believers have always been an integral component of Egyptian society and, after being driven more underground in recent years, atheists have recently been making their presence felt.Yes, it does conflict with "the mainstream Western view of Arab/Islamic religiosity and fanaticism," but maybe that's because that "mainstream Western view" is so stupid, huh? If "non-believers have always been an integral component of Egyptian society," then is this a rise, or a return to normal? The content of the article argues it's the latter:
“I reckon the reasons behind the rise in the number of atheists in Egypt are the Muslim Brotherhood and other faith merchants, because people uncovered their lies,” Bassem, an old friend of mine, opined in a Cairo club where we had just watched the World Cup’s curse of the Pharaohs’ afflict Egypt on the soccer pitch yet again.According to the anecdotal evidence of this article (and birds of a feather flock together, so is it any surprise the author's friends are more likely to be atheists than not?), there has been in Egypt a reaction to the extreme attitudes of the Muslim Brotherhood, lately in power politically in Egypt but now not just discarded but outlawed. I suspect we are seeing the same thing in America, which may be one reason John Kasich has put his finger in the wind and detected a change in the direction of the breeze. The Tea Party has never been less popular and Ted Cruz's ridiculous broadsides are not really endearing him or his "base" to the public at large. Polling evidence so far, in fact, is that we are sick of them, and we want to be free, like Kasich, to be compassionate again.
As I mulled over his point, I was struck that, by pure coincidence, the friends who had gathered round the table were almost all non-believers of one stripe or another.
“I’ve heard many people talking about the rise in the number of atheists and I also heard some Egyptian thinkers say it on talk shows, so I assumed that the lies of the Salafis and the Brotherhood’s leaders were behind this,” Bassem elaborated.
I may be overstating the case in America (Kasich may well be an outlier), but I think what's going on in Egypt is not Christopher Hitchens' vision of the millenium, but simply a return to what was once status quo. Consider the observation that "the friends who had gathered round [sic] the table were almost all non-believers of one stripe or another." I'm familiar with the complaints of atheists that it's hard to be an atheist in America; but I've never bought into it. I grew up a non-Southern Baptist in Southern Baptist East Texas. I might as well have been an atheist, there would have been no difference in the attitudes toward me by my SB peers (well, some of them. Not my friends, some of whom were/are SB, but then isn't that always the way with friends?). Is it really that hard to be a non-believer in America? I don't believe it (sorry).
Maybe it's hard to be an atheist, but that's only because atheists seem determined to berate and demean believers. Might as well say it's hard to be an asshole in polite society.
There's a certain skip in logic, in other words, which says my experience is the experience of the world, or the explanation for the world. No doubt Diab's Egyptian friends are non-believers; what surprise is that? That they are freer to express themselves in Egyptian society is a good thing; but it seems only to indicate a return to the pre-Muslim Brotherhood state of society; also a good thing.
But I have to say, if I got this article as an essay in a Freshman English class, I'd rip it to shreds without ever letting the student know I was an ordained Christian minister. I wouldn't need to. The thesis the first paragraph states isn't supported by anything in the rest of the essay. It's a very poor example of composition, and an even poorer example of reasoning.