Anders Stjernholm is Chairman of the Atheistic Society and outspoken critic of religion and belief, or as he puts it “fervent anti-theist”. Anders is also a stand-up comedian who debuted in 2005 on Comedy Zoo in Copenhagen.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What’s the short of the long regarding coming into atheism for you?
I was raised as pretty standard Danish “culture christian”. My family used to be members of the state church, which is called folkekirken (people’s church), but we only attended church for ceremonies (we didn’t even attend on Christmas day).
In my early 20’s I started observing the effects of religion on society and on the individual. Adding up the score pretty obviously pointed towards the negative. Two of the most obvious effects were the stifling of free expression and critical thinking.
That interest initially found expression in my jokes – I do comedy as a stand-up comedian. Later, however, it brought me to start working for the Atheist Society (Ateistisk Selskab)
In your experience, what seems like the main reason for people becoming Atheists?
I think there are two main reasons:
1) The claim of divinity doesn’t bode well with the Danish youth, who are rather well-educated with a healthy dose of scepticism.
2) The use and personal association with the rituals provided by the church since the 70’s now have secular alternatives with increasing popularity. For instance, adulthood can be celebrated with a mini-camp on a humanistic platform with a ceremony in which young people present their newly acquired insights to their families, and new children are often given their name which is celebrated without clergy and temples.
What makes atheism seem more natural, and simply true, to you than other worldviews?
I see the methods of critical thinking and the value given to evidence and empiricism as the most successful “dogmatic” mindset. When these methods are applied to the claims that gods exist, that religion is advantageous for the individual or beneficial for society, etc., the answer is a rather clear “false”.
What is the best argument for atheism you have ever come across?
I see it as a collection of arguments that make a strong case for the unlikelihood of the religious claims on all levels of the debate. The validity of the scriptures, the effects of practicing your religion, the cultural influence of religion and, as of late, I have really come to acknowledge the psychological research on the cognitive reasons and expressions of religion.
You are the chairman of the Ateistisk Selskab (Atheistic Society/Danish Atheist Society). What tasks and responsibilities come with being the chairman?
My work focuses on communication – representing the arguments and opinions of the group – and also building the organisation.
What are some of the demographics of the organisation? How many members are in it? Who is most likely to be an Atheist and join the organisation?
We have just under 1000 members. Half live in Copenhagen, and most of the rest are concentrated around bigger cities. 85% are men – how we can appeal more to women is a challenge for the future.
Has the group taken up any activist causes? What were they? What was the outcome?
We have made the website www.udmeldelse.dk in which we have made it easier for Danes to cancel their membership of the state church. Most are registered as members by default – this happens when people are baptised and we know from surveys that a significant proportion of these members do not wish to be so. The website was launched in March 2016. We just learned that the website has resulted in a record number of members leaving the church last year: 25.000 people. We hope to improve on that number next year.
How can people get involved with Ateistisk Selskab?
Thank you for your time, Anders.