“Why atheism?” This was the entire email. Short as it was, I spent some time mulling it over, not the answer so much as the question.
Philosophically, of course, the question makes no sense. I don't need to justify my nonbelief in the existence of gods any more than I need to explain why I don't believe that there is an alligator at the center of the earth. It is belief which requires justification.
But I think this criticism misses the mark. I guessed that this writer, like most with the same question, wasn't really asking why I don't believe, but was more puzzled that I choose to be open about my atheism and active in the freethought movement. And I guess the reason, though not my atheism, has been there since I was a child.
My life has always centered on a search for the truth. It seems obvious to me that truth is the foundation of morality, the basis of effectiveness, and the essence of any good art. I believe there is no more important work than truth-telling, whether one does it as a writer, a scientist, or a teacher. At one time, I thought the truth was in the Bible, and I was dedicated to spreading that word.
I sometimes think that if I were five years younger, I would have become a Methodist minister. There were only a handful women trailblazers going into seminary when I finished college, and they had no reason to think they would ever be assigned a church. Getting through college had been enough of a battle to last me for some time. I've often wondered how much longer it might have taken me, how much more difficult it might have been, to realize that there are no gods, if had become a minister of the so-called gospel. It is inevitable that I would have figured it out. "Gospel" means good news, and I guess my goals haven't changed much: Today I devote much of my life to spreading the really good news that every person has a right and a responsibility to obey his own conscience.
Why atheism? Because I love the truth, and even though the simple reality that we have only this life to live, with no gods to protect us or disgrace us, is only one small piece of truth, it is the piece that is missing in so much of the world where religion directs people to commit acts ranging from the brutal to the inane.
I never ask people to think as I do about the gods; indeed, we may be informed by others in our search for truth, but we should not blindly follow atheist leaders any more than religious leaders. I do ask each person to doggedly search for the truth, wherever that search leads, using as a guide her own conscience.
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Bobbie Kirkhart grew up a very religious child in a devout liberal Protestant family in Enid, Oklahoma. At the University of Oklahoma, she majored in journalism and taught a Sunday school class. During this time, she had her first national publication, and article titled “I Protest: A Santa Claus God,” which was in the Christian Herald.
After college, she became a social worker in South Central Los Angeles, serving mostly black and Latina single mothers. In that experience, she saw that her god, if such existed, treated his most loyal servants with contempt. That observation eventually caused her to reevaluate her belief in an omnipotent, omni benevolent god. As she studied other god ideas, the only thing which she found reflected the world as she saw it was atheism. She was not active in freethought until many years later. She joined Atheists United in 1983 and has been an energetic worker in that and other freethought causes since.
Bobbie is vice president of the Atheist Alliance America. She serves on the board of the Camp Quest and of Atheists United. She is on the advisory boards of the Humanist Association of Nepal. She is a past president of the Atheist Alliance International.
In addition to her regular President’s Messages in The Rational Alternative and in Secular Nation, her work has been printed in Free Inquiry, American Atheist, La Raison and HUMAN magazines, as well as the Humanist Network News. She is a contributing author in three books: Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion; The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America and Everything You Know about God Is Wrong (the Book).
Her television appearances include, OhDrama!, Faith under Fire, Midday Sunday, STUN, and in Food for Thought.
She has been a guest on several radio programs, including KPCC’s The Patt Morrison Show, National Public Radio’s To the Point, Minnesota Public Radio's All Things Considered, the nationally syndicated America Live, BBC news, KCRW’s Which Way LA? KRLA’s The Spiritual Seeker, and The Walsh Report.
She has spoken to freethought groups throughout the United States, and has addressed atheists and humanists in Canada, Germany, France, India, Ireland, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Bobbie is an advocate of Positive Atheism, the philosophy that atheism is a positive value which frees humankind to pursue our better instincts.
She is a widow, with one daughter, also an atheist married to an atheist. She has two grandsons.