International Atheist Conference in Reykjavik Iceland June 24 & 25, 2006
Bobbie Kirkhart’s speech:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth
the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Science, and the darkness he called Religion
We are here on a day that has no darkness to celebrate the pure light of reason and to look thoughtfully at the darkness of superstition.
Is this darkness simply the absence of light, of knowledge? No, it is the illusion that a fiction can represent a higher truth, that truth itself need not be related to facts. The churches, synagogues, Mosques, and Temples can be likened to darkened theaters showing mediocre movies to audiences unaware that there’s a beautiful day and a world of adventure outside.
The people sitting in the dark are not all watching the same movie, and in different countries different movies are popular. But if the themes vary, they remain the themes of fiction: love, community, tradition, patriotism, duty, charity. Some of the messages are in themselves harmful, but most are good, and the damage done is the damage that occurs when people mistake fiction for truth.
We spend too much energy criticizing the movie, often with the same result as the Catholic church criticizing the Da Vinci Code, thus giving legitimacy to a work of silly fiction by suggesting that it is something to fear. We must be clear that the gods are not to be feared.
The real danger is the darkness of the theater, a black-walled room designed to focus all attention, to project all light, on the contrived action of the screen, the illusion of an unapproachable vision.
It is our job to bring the light of day to that dark world. It is a difficult task, as the people in the theater think the movie is their life, and the light of reason threatens to take away all pleasure and meaning. They know that in bright light the images on the screen would fade into nothingness.
The Atheist Alliance is a vital tool in this light brigade assault on the darkness of ignorance. We are certainly not the single solution—there is no single solution—and we enthusiastically appreciate and cooperate with other organizations and individuals who share our pursuit, but our unique contribution is invaluable, as we are the only international positive atheist organization. We must remain explicitly, uncompromisingly, unabashedly atheist and incorrigibly positive.
Perhaps the major value of our internationalist nature is that it can help us remember to amplify the light rather than criticize the various god stories. The specific problems are not the same around the world. In Iceland, you are struggling to be included in the distribution of tax money that the religions get for so-called education of their children. In Nigeria, they are trying to bring reason where Christians and Muslims are killing each other; in the United States, we are battling with people who have college degrees and believe that the evolution of human beings is a giant hoax. Bit the single problem is that people have chosen religion over reason, and we must expose them to the light of reason.
These geographical differences reflect culture more often than they reflect the religious sect. Religion, with no basis in reality, adapts itself to the people it attracts. Remember when a Pole became Pope, and we had for the first time in centuries a pope threatening to lead an army? This illustrated the difference between modern Catholicism in northern and southern Europe.
Our reality-based worldview is not as adaptable, which may seem like a weakness, but the beauty of it is that cultures and religions can adapt to it, and if they wish to survive, they eventually do so. This means that if humanity survives, we will prevail. Unfortunately, it also means that if we do not prevail, humanity will not survive.
In Genesis, man was forced to abandon the Tower of Babel, a building so high that it threatened to invade God’s territory. Today people who live and work in skyscrapers do not even think about the irony when they claim that stem-cell research invades God’s territory. God’s laws, like man’s laws, are often broken, but nature’s laws are not.
We observe throughout history that bad laws will be broken until they have been forgotten, but it is a slow process as culture and dogma interact to keep the theater of myth darkened, we see that different regions of the world may accept the light of reason on different terms, or reject it by means varying from primitive censorship to post-modern preaching of contradictory and equal truths. No such veil of darkness is unique to one region, nor is any absent in one part of the world.
We must learn from each other’s experience, and we all have a lot to learn, but I think we in the US have more to learn than the rest of you. In the United States, people simply do not know that other developed countries teach science without controversy and that information about reproductive rights is easy to obtain.
I have a personal fantasy of European freethought missionaries on American street corners handing out condoms and preaching evolution.
That may not be realistic, but we do share information in a variety of ways, formally and informally. We are especially proud of our three publications: Secular Nation, a quarterly magazine which carries the news of the world, the one secular nation we form, unconstrained by political boundaries; The Freethought Directory, available on searchable CD Rom, which attempts to list all freethought organizations in the world; and The Journal of Higher Criticism, the only academic journal in English devoted to the higher questions of Biblical research, such as whether Jesus lived.
We learn from watching each other, as we have all learned, I’m sure, from the fine example of the Atheist Centre in India to work more on becoming a positive influence in the larger community. Thanks to a generous donor, the AAI gives a cash award for such community cooperation by a freethought group. It is available internationally, and it is open to member all freethought organizations, whether they are members of AAI or not.
As we must share information, we must share resources. Among my proudest moments as president of AAI, was when I took 6,000 condoms to Nigeria, on bPMalf of the organization. Recently, our support of Alex Mbom in exile gave him the opportunity to create a network of francophone African freethinkers, a valuable organization we referred a desperate man to just this week.
Our International fund has helped the Atheist Centre, as it has funded these other projects. Members of IBKA responded to my talk there last year with spontaneous cash gifts, but I don’t believe any other group outside the US has contributed to the fine work of this Fund. Please go back to your local organization and ask that a contribution be put in your budget.
Not all of our special funding is reserved for developing nations. We exist to help your local group, to help you act locally, as well as to help you think globally.
The Crisis an? Opportunity Fund is growing each year, so that it may be ready to help member groups facing exceptional circumstances.
We offer small start-up funds to people wanting to found an organization where there is no freethought group.
We started with a Biblical quote, so I’d like to end with one. It is our task this weekend, at this first official AAI International conference, become more effective at spreading the light of reason, so that someday we can say to the whole world, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”