Atheist Conference in Copenhagen

That Old Existential Feeling

Dan Barker

Photo by Dan Barker. Tivoli garden Photo by Dan Barker. Tivoli garden

Yesterday I arrived in Copenhagen for the "God & Politics" conference put on by the Danish Atheist Society and the Atheist Alliance International. My first visit to this country. After reading Phil Zuckerman's book, Society Without God, I was happy to know I am in a country where most people are nonreligious. On the ride into town, with P.Z. Myers and Mary, I asked the driver, whose name is Jasper, if he knows any church-goers, and he said yes, his grandmother goes to church sometimes. He thinks she might actually be a believer.

As soon as I landed I went to the "Black Diamond" national library, right by the parliament, for an interview by Laura Schnabel with the Christian Daily newspaper (Kristeligt Dagblad). They took some photos for a story about me that will run tomorrow (Saturday, June 19), although I won't be able to read what they wrote! (One of the photos has me standing in front of the circular lights in the ceiling of the library, making it look like I have a huge halo over my head . . . very funny! I hope they use that one.) She was very nice, admitted that very few Danes actually go to church. She asked me why the conference does not have any balance . . . why we did not invite any bishops or religious leaders . . . and I replied that besides the fact that I am a guest, not an organizer of the event, and so can't speak for the organization, I can't remember the last time any bishops or religious leaders invited us atheists to their pulpits for "balance." Christianity is old news, I told her. Atheism is different, refreshing. When she noted that we only have a few hundred people while the church has thousands, I reminded her that Christianity started with just 12.

After that I went to Tivoli, which is just 2 blocks from the Hotel Danmark where the conference guests are staying. Tivoli is a famous amusement park, lots of fun, a bit Disney-ish, but very Copenhagen. This morning I went down to the hotel restaurant for an early breakfast and met James Randi there, so we ate together, and he told me his grandfather was raised in this town. He had a GREAT story to tell about when his grandfather was a little boy here, but it is too long to relate here. He is recuperating from some surgery . . . heart bypass and other ailments . . . and he said he was on a strict diet, which basically means if it tastes good, spit it out . . . and if it tastes like cardboard, he can eat it. I asked him, since he is a magician, if he could make the Church disappear, and he said, "Yes, I can, but you can't afford it."

Everybody speaks excellent English here! I don't even have to open my mouth . . . they look at me and just know I'm American (is it that obvious?) and start talking English.

In the library I bought a book about Søren Kierkegaard, who lived and worked here in Copenhagen. I haven't read anything by him for 40 years, and maybe I'm missing something, but I am not impressed. It seems he was like the Christian pop psychologist or Oprah of his day. I'm all for "stepping into existence" and making those "either/or" choices, all that, but why do we have to reconcile existence with the "true Christian message"? Well, I need to do some more reading. If we strip out the religion, he was actually saying some profound things, though I wonder if the people who understand him are the ones who don't need to hear it, and the ones who need to hear it will never understand him . . . like, duh, you either live your life or you don't.

I'm looking forward to the conference, which starts in a couple hours at the Black Diamond. Dawkins, Randi, P.Z. Meyers, A. C. Grayling, Rebecca Goldstein, Taslima Nasrin . . . and me, talking about FFRF's National Day of Prayer victory . . . and many other stimulating talks. Is this a great (existential) life, or what?

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