The Atheist Alliance and International Atheism
Speech given at the conference "Leading culture Humanism and Enlightenment" on October 3, 2005 in Cologne
It is great to be back. The first conference I attended as president of the Atheist Alliance International was in Speyer in 2002. Since that time, the AAI has grown in size and in scope, and our challenges met can bring us some satisfaction, while the challenges now looming serve to keep us from resting on our laurels.
In the past three years, the world has changed greatly or not at all. In the United States, our president, once born again is now elected again. You folk in this room did a wonderful job in keeping God out of the European Constitution, and two other very secular European countries made the text of that constitution irrelevant. We have seen the gods blamed for unprecedented natural disasters, and we have seen them thanked for sparing a single life in the midst of horrible death and suffering.
I think we get the best of these religious interpretations of tragedy in the United States. There is a minor television personality, named Star Jones, who assured her fans that the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean last January was delayed until she left the area, where she had spent her honeymoon. Several ministers know that the American Gulf Coast suffered the wrath of God because of the sins of its citizens, with a few finding the entire disaster to be the fault of one lesbian comedian who claims New Orleans as her home town. It is a nice thing about living in the USA; things are so easy to understand.
Things are more complicated in Cameroon, where Cameroon Freethought Association founder Alex Mbom is in hiding, hoping to escape to Nigeria. He has been arrested and held without explanation, but more recently was beaten and robbed of his freethought materials. AAI is trying to facilitate his escape.
It is more complicated in India, where our guide, a Muslim, apologized for the long line at security. "The Seiks caused all these problems," he explained. "Religion is a good thing, except for the Seiks. They make the trouble." I didn't tell him how many people I know who would say that of the Muslims.
We were in India for the Fifth World Atheist Conference, sponsored by the Atheist Centre of India, an institution that has been fighting "all these problems" caused by the Seiks, the Muslims, the Hindu, the Christians, and yes, even sometimes the Buddhists, for half a century. I was pleased to take a check from AAI to help with their Tsunami relief. I hope we will be able to resume regular support for their good work in the near future, but this year, the needs of other groups made regular support of one group impossible.
I was pleased also to take 6,000 condoms on behalf of AAI when we went to the Tai Solarin conference in Nigeria. The day we arrived, the local Bishop warned the populace that condoms are not effective. The Nigerian Humanist Movement is doing a wonderful job of fighting for rationality in a country where Christians and Muslims are systematically killing each other. These tenacious rationalists of the NHM are more effective now, as - thanks in large part to one generous donor - we were able to send them the money to buy their own computer.
Still, life is complicated there for the sixteen-year-old girl who sought my advice. "My father does not understand me," she said. I thought of teenagers I knew, of curfews and unkempt boyfriends, of the arguments that adolescents are supposed to have with their parents. "He does not understand that I do not want to be a Muslim," she continued, and my thoughts shifted to a dismal life of female subservience.
I do hope you will think of these people, these situations, and give to our International Aid fund. Most of our organizations and most of our work are in the United States, and although I'm sure you agree with me that there is much work to do there, Europeans understandably feel that Americans can fund our own struggle. I wish you could send us information, however. Most Americans live in ignorance of the rest of the developed world and are quite surprised to find that human evolution from lower animals is not a controversial idea here in Germany. I have a fantasy that someday European missionaries will come to the US and preach evolution on the street corners of our cities, handing out condoms to all who need them. But until that day comes, I will be most gratified if our European groups contribute to our International Fund, where the money will go to the people and organizations I have talked about today.
Standing up for a world of reason is a struggle everywhere, and it is a different struggle all over the world, only in the details. The battle is for human minds, but unlike the religionists, we do not seek ownership of the thoughts of humankind; we fight that someday each individual will have the right, the responsibility of his own conscience, and that all of us can sing with pride that German song, "Die Gedanken sind frei."
I hope you will sing it with me next June in Iceland, when the first official international conference of AAI is held, appropriately, where the continents of Europe and North America meet. If you haven't been to Iceland, you must go. The earth is on fire there, and so are the people in Europe and North America, burning with pride at the relative freedoms we enjoy and with passion for the greater freedoms we insist the world will someday enjoy.