“The appearance of atheists, a growing wariness of religious controls on society, as well as the continuing lure of jihad and ultraconservatism signal a breakdown in the conformity and consensus that has marked the Saudi religious field in the recent past,” Caryle Murphy writes at GlobalPost. “It is becoming a more heterogenous and polarized faith scene.”
The perception that atheism is no longer a taboo subject — at least two Gulf-produced television talk shows recently discussed it — may explain why the government has made talk of atheism a terrorist offense. The March 7 decree from the Ministry of Interior prohibited, among other things, “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
The number of people willing to admit to friends to being atheist or to declare themselves atheist online, usually under aliases, is certainly not big enough to be a movement or threaten the government. A 2012 poll by WIN-Gallup International of about 500 Saudis found that 5 percent described themselves as “convinced atheist.” This was well below the global average of 13 percent.
But the greater willingness to privately admit to being atheist reflects a general disillusionment with religion and what one Saudi called “a growing notion” that religion is being misused by authorities to control the population. This disillusionment is seen in a number of ways, ranging from ignoring clerical pronouncements to challenging and even mocking religious leaders on social media.
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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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