International Atheist Conference in Reykjavik Iceland June 24 & 25, 2006
August Berkshire’s speech:
Thank you. It’s great to be back in Iceland – this is my third time here. One of those visits was unexpected.
So, I’ll give you a tip. If you’re traveling from North America to Europe or vice versa, always take Icelandair. Their layover times are so short that you might miss your connecting flight. Then you’ll get to visit Iceland free for a day, courtesy of Icelandair.
Oh, I’m sorry – For my geographically challenged fellow Americans: Europe: that’s over to the right of here and down a bit.
Atheist Alliance International is comprised of over 50 member societies, about 40 in the U.S. and 10 outside the U.S.
AAI, which now stands for Atheist Alliance International, once stood for Atheist Alliance Incorporated when we began in 1991. In the beginning, AAI had only four member societies, three in the U.S. and the Atheist Centre in India. (By the way, the Atheist Centre won this year’s AAI Freidenker Award for outstanding contributions to international atheism.)
We went many years before we had our next member society outside the U.S. In the year 2000, Rachel and I drove from Minneapolis to Winnipeg, Canada, for a Humanist Association of Canada conference
Again – for my American friends – Canada: that’s just north of the United States. That’s not where the Hispanic immigrants are coming from, it’s where we’ll be going to if the Religious Right stays in power.
Think of it this way: In the words of comedian Robin Williams, the U.S. is not “One nation under God,” it’s “One nation under Canada.”
In any case, The Humanist Association of Canada ended up joining AAI, as did the Victoria Secular Humanist Association in British Columbia.
In 2001, IBKA of Germany joined AAI. In December of 2001, I flew to France, Germany, and Iceland. I helped to arrange an AAI tour to conferences in France and Germany to take place the following year, and stopped in to visit SAMT on my way back.
I experienced the wonderful warmth and hospitality of SAMT members, who even held a house party in my honor – either that, or they had planned the party all along and felt obligated to invite me. In any case, Hope and Karolina and the other SAMT members were wonderful hosts.
I also remember going out to dinner with Oskar. I told him I wanted some authentic Icelandic food. So, of course, we went to the Hard Rock Café.
Well, over the last five years or so we’ve also added member societies in Australia, Nigeria, Finland, Denmark, Russia, and Cameroon.
For my fellow Americans, I’m sorry, I simply don’t have the time to explain where all these countries are. You’ll find out soon enough anyway in the news, if any of these countries happen to have any oil.
Well, along the way, at my suggestion, we changed the “I” in AAI from “Incorporated” to “International.” And now we come to today, where AAI is a co-sponsor of its first truly international conference.
Most of the work and credit for this conference goes to the members of SAMT and the other Icelandic Freethought co-sponsors. But the groundwork was laid by the previous speaker, Bobbie Kirkhart.
In four and a half years she has visited almost every AAI member society and has kept the emphasis on internationalism alive. She started our AAI International Fund, which helps out member societies in poorer countries. She instituted the AAI Freidenker Award for international atheism.
It has been a great honor to serve under her as vice president for the past 2½ years and my great pleasure to call her a friend.
It’s also been a great pleasure to be here this weekend to meet so many old and new friends. Thank you for inviting us to speak today. I’m looking forward to a great conference.
Vice President, Atheist Alliance International