Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bobby Kirkhart, matriarch of atheism in Los Angeles, dies at age 78

Some people find God in nature. Bobbie Kirkhart found atheism.

The free thought activist’s anti-epiphany occurred on a deserted beach in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 1973, when she was pregnant with her first child.

She wanted to know exactly where she stood before God before becoming a mom and vowed that she would not go astray until her beliefs became clear.

It took six hours, but in the end she came to the conclusion that the God she had grown up with, believing, would not allow so much suffering to flourish in the world, and therefore could not exist.

“I got off the beach as an atheist,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2009.

Over the next 40 years, Kirkhart will become the matriarch of the Los Angeles atheist community, serving as president of the Atheist Alliance International, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to educating the public about atheism, and Atheists United, which fosters the separation of government and religion and is dedicated to creating an atheist community in Southern California. …

She lectured internationally on freedom of thought, supported student atheist groups and an atheist summer camp for children, and mentored dozens of movement leaders before dying on Sunday at 78 o’clock at her home in Echo Park.

“She has been one of the few female leaders in the country in the past 40 years and has pioneered not only as an institutional leader, but also in networking,” said Evan Clark, CEO of Atheists United. “She was an international figure of free thought.”

One of Kirkhart’s most proud accomplishments was to provide atheists with a sense of community and belonging, which is more common in religious environments.

Bobby Kirkhart, center, “wanted people without faith to have a community in which she grew up as a Methodist,” her daughter said.

(Monica Wagoner)

“She wanted people without faith to have a community in which she grew up as a Methodist,” said her daughter Monica Wagoner. “Her legacy is community.”

Kirkhart regularly opened her six-bedroom Victorian home, known as the Heretic House, at no charge for fundraising, retreats, holiday parties, convalescence meetings, and choral practices. In addition, it actually served as a bed and breakfast for everyone who needed accommodation.

Clarke said that even during the worst of the pandemic, Heretic House held up to 10 events a month.

“She was serious about atheism, but she really lacked heart,” said Wagoner, who also considers himself an atheist. “Just because we don’t believe in the soul doesn’t mean we don’t have an emotional life to nourish.”

Kirkhart was born on April 16, 1943 in Enid, Oklahoma, and raised in a religious family. She grew up loving the church – community, music – and even worked as a Sunday school teacher.

Her faith in God was shaken after she graduated from college and began a career as a social worker in the Department of Children and Family Affairs in South Los Angeles in 1965. She was dismayed to learn that some of the families she served had donated money. their church, even when they struggled to feed their children.

“My clients were black and Hispanic women who were the most zealous servants of God, and my God left them to their fate at best,” she said in a 2009 interview.

She thought about other religions, but found that they did not make sense to her either.

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Atheist organizations were harder to find before the dawn of the Internet, and only after she divorced her first husband, a Los Angeles historian. William MasonIn 1982, Kirkhart began attending the Sunday morning meetings of the newly formed Atheists United.

In those early days, she kept her atheistic activities away from her daughter.

“I was with my dad on Sunday morning and she didn’t want to burden me with it,” Wagoner said.

In the end, Wagoner figured it out. After hearing her mom use the word atheist, she asked if they were like that.

“She said, ‘Oh honey, I’m so tired of being nobody. I’m glad we’re doing something, ”Wagoner said.

Kirkhart met her second husband, Harvey Tippit, through Atheists United, and they married in 1997. After her second marriage, Kirkhart had more financial resources than ever before. She grew up in poverty and as a single mother struggled financially.

“The main thing was that now she could help people in a different way,” Wagoner said.

Kirkhart and Tippit have traveled the world, including travel to Borneo and the Galapagos Islands. Kirkhart also spoke with atheist and humanist groups in Canada, Germany, France, Nigeria, India, and Cameroon. She was a speaker at the First Godless Americans March in Washington, D.C. in 2002 and served on the advisory board of Humanist Assn. Nepal and aboard Camp Quest.

Tippit died in 2006 and Kirkhart bought Heretic House three years later in Angelino Heights. She immediately suggested the place as a public space for music performances, book clubs, Atheists United meetings, and allows people on the move to stay with her for weeks and months if needed.

“She grew up surrounded by a lot of religious influence, and she always considered the success of the religious model to be insufficient for atheists,” said Jari Schutzer, leader of the Voice of Reason choir. who rehearsed at Heretic House. “She received this home with the full intention of creating a community. This gave her a physical platform to say, “This is what I mean.”

As her health deteriorated over the past decade, Kirkhart gave up her work in the international atheist scene and instead focused on the local community through her work with Atheists United.

The organization she joined in 1982 now has 200 membership dues and hosts drug and alcohol recovery groups, a hiking club, Voices of Reason choir, and participates in community service such as food distribution and vaccinations.

“We run nearly 30 events a month,” Clark said.

Although she was an outspoken atheist, Wagoner does not remember her mother having any special enemies.

“She was non-contentious,” Wagoner said.

From Kirkhart’s point of view, it doesn’t matter what a person believes. Her problem was the influence of religious institutions and her beliefs that hurt people.

In a speech to the Secular Students Union in 2013, Kirkhart said that an atheist’s devotion to freedom of thought must be equal to or greater than a religious person’s devotion to God.

She believed that as long as a large part of the nation believed in “magic,” science would be under attack that would shorten lives and create ecological disaster.

She believed that the work of atheists is to save humanity.

“Our job is to provide an alternative to show that a life without faith can be and usually is fulfilling and productive,” she told students. “Our task is no less than to save the world from superstitious self-destruction.”

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