Copenhagen Conference in progress

Dan Barker

Dan Barker in the royal courtyard in Copenhagen Dan Barker in the royal courtyard in Copenhagen

The first day of the European "Gods & Politics" Atheist Conference in Copenhagen was energizing! All the events happened in the Dronnigasalen (The Queen's Hall) at the "Black Diamond" Royal Library next to parliament . . . which meant that the podium from which we spoke had a crown on it, with a little cross on top. No one seemed to mind, since the cross was not saying a thing.

Right off the bat, Roy Brown called for the conference to produce something like a "Copenhagen Resolution," so now everybody is taking notes for what might end up in that document. (Stay tuned.) Roy gave a sweeping overview of religion's influence in Europe: the concordats with the Vatican, the influence of money, the power of the "Holy See," religious indoctrination in the public schools, and the rising influence of Islam, with the growing need to strengthen critical thinking and humanist ethics.

Gregory Paul gave us LOADS of statistics . . . many original to his own studies . . . about the state of belief and nonbelief. He challenged whether religion is universal and whether it is good. Religion, he concludes, is easy to change . . . maybe not within an individual, but within a society. It is no innate. Look what happened in Europe. The single most important thing that can change the world and diminish religion: "Universal Health Care."

My talk was about FFRF's "National Day of Prayer" victory. "When all is said and done," I remarked, "usually more is said than done." So let's do something! Democracy by itself is no guarantee of freedom. (What if a country contains a majority of theocrats? They can use democracy to destroy democracy.) We need democracy tempered by a governing document that guarantees hard-wired freedoms and rights and limits the power of government to influence religion.

Philosopher A. C. Grayling had some great lines: "Faith is an intellectual crime." "Science is simply applied intelligence." "Bernie Madoff's big mistake was promising returns in this life." He related a funny story about a woman at a conference dealing with Islam's influence in the West who, when told that the reason women should cover themselves is because Muslim men are sexually tempted at the sight of their faces and bodies, said "Maybe a better solution is to keep Muslim men indoors until they can learn how to control themselves."

P.Z. Myers is always funny and straight to the heart of the matter, with lots of science and disdain for irrationality. He asks his students to "be an atheist for [at least] an hour, during my class," and when they leave they can go back to whatever view they choose to hold. Atheists need to speak out, he said, because atheism is the only view that is true to science."Besides," he said, "religion is just plain goofy."

Last night we went over to the PH Caféen for some "Godless entertainment," including hilarious British stand-up comic Robin Ince. My favorite line from his routine: "Descarte's 'I think therefore I am' is wrong. A lot of people don't think, yet they are." Rasmo Fynbo and his group "Carbon Traders" performed a variety of music, including the powerful freethought song "End of Faith," written by Fynbo. It was a blast being in that room full of atheists from all over the world, laughing and enjoying life.

Looking forward to more of the same today . . . and especially to the "Copenhagen Resolution" (or whatever we end up calling it) at the end of the conference.

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