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SSA Attends International Atheist Convention in Reykjavik, Iceland

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 12 - Secular Summer Fun.

To say we had an amazing time in Iceland would be a near-criminal understatement. How often is it, after all, that two poor American college students are given the opportunity to fly to a distant island, schmooze with international celebrities, and meet brilliant locals? It's a treatment normally reserved for the rich and famous. Yet, thanks to an immensely kind anonymous donor and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we were able to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful countryside, rich cultural history, and overwhelming hospitality of Iceland. We could not have been more awed.

We left the Midwest with scorching temperatures in the upper 90s and crossed the ocean to the land of the midnight sun, arriving in Reykjavik on a mildly chilly morning. We were five time zones apart, 50 degrees cooler, and a world away from home. Our tour guide met us at the airport and we immediately boarded a bus which carried us to a few of the wondrous beauties Iceland had in store for us. We journeyed to the rocky shore, walked on bridges past bubbling hot springs, jumped through lava fields covered with century-old moss, and dipped our hands into the Blue Lagoon. We climbed miniature mountains and wondered at layers of igneous rock, marveled at patches of brightly-colored flowers growing in otherwise barren grounds, and posed for pictures with stunning blue waterfalls as a backdrop. Even a god could not have created a more picturesque scene!

And that was all before dinner.

The conference itself was a sight to behold as a handful of us Americans found ourselves conversing with our Icelandic hosts about the similarities and differences between our countries. The struggles we face as a minority were vastly different but just as important to overcome in both places. We were shocked to learn how dominant the Lutheran church was in their country, but thrilled to hear there was a movement afoot to educate those who simply declared their Christian faith for social reasons. Even more exciting was the fact that this movement was being led primarily by students and young adults.

The presenters we heard throughout the weekend helped us understand the religious politics of the natives and wowed us with insight and calls to action. The attendees listened intently, enraptured by speeches encouraging us to leave and change the world.

We sat on the edges of our seats wondering how Julia Sweeney's monologue would end (would she finally lose her faith?!), while hoping it would continue all night. We clenched our fists as Annie Laurie Gaylor told us about the latest attempts to blur the line of separation between church and state. We listened attentively as Richard Dawkins elaborated on the abuses that religion brings upon children. We tapped our feet to the rhythm of Dan Barker's ditties. We felt like we were on top of the world… and we were! (Well, at least the northernmost capital of it).
Recently, Bri Kneisley and Hemant Mehta won a scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to attend the International Atheist Convention in Reykjavik, Iceland, courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. The picture shows Bri (left), Julia Sweeney and daughter Mulan (center), and Hemant (right).

When the conference was over we hung out with our new friends. We went to a museum and learned about Iceland's first settlers. We attempted to juggle next to the front door of the Parliament building. We threw bread around a nearby lake and watched as hundreds of birds raced to get a bite. Our last night there, our hosts took us on an early morning tour through a sculpture garden, complete with a stone carving entitled "Evolution," which depicted the transition from cow to Christian.

If that wasn't enough, we even got to eat authentic Icelandic cuisine! Where in the U.S. could you find fermented shark meat after midnight?

When we came back home, we were exhausted. It wasn't due to the jet lag, but rather because sleep had become less of a priority for us as we wanted to stay up to explore more of the city. The never-setting sun only furthered this desire. But, had we not slept a wink all week, we would have still left longing to have seen and done more in that fascinating country.

We wish to issue a special thanks to both our generous benefactor and to our gracious hosts, the former who made our trip possible and the latter who helped ensure it was unforgettable.

This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 12 - Secular Summer Fun.

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