Some individuals discover God in nature. Bobbie Kirkhart discovered atheism.
The free-thought activist’s anti-epiphany occurred on a lonely seashore in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 1973 when she was pregnant together with her first youngster.
She wished to know precisely the place she stood on God earlier than she turned a mother, and vowed she wouldn’t stray from the sand till her beliefs had been clear.
It took six hours, however finally she concluded that the God she’d grown up believing in wouldn’t permit a lot struggling to flourish on the planet, and subsequently couldn’t exist.
“I got here off the seashore an atheist,” she instructed the Los Angeles Occasions in 2009.
Over the following 40 years, Kirkhart would turn out to be the matriarch of L.A.’s atheist group, serving as president of the Atheist Alliance Worldwide — a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to educating the general public about atheism, and Atheists United, which promotes the separation of presidency and faith and is devoted to creating an atheist group in Southern California.
She lectured internationally on free thought, supported scholar atheist teams and an atheist summer time camp for youngsters, and mentored dozens of leaders within the motion earlier than her loss of life Sunday at 78 at her house in Echo Park.
“She was one of many few nationwide feminine leaders for the previous 40 years and a trailblazer, not simply as an institutional chief, but additionally for constructing connections,” stated Evan Clark, government director of Atheists United. “She was a global determine without cost thought.”
Amongst Kirkhart’s proudest achievements was offering atheists the sense of group and belonging that’s extra usually present in spiritual settings.
“She wished individuals with out religion to have the group she remembers rising up with as a Methodist,” stated her daughter, Monica Waggoner. “Her legacy is the group.”
Kirkhart often opened her six-bedroom Victorian house, referred to as Heretic Home, freed from cost for fundraisers, board retreats, vacation events, restoration conferences and choir practices. It additionally served as a de facto mattress and breakfast for anybody from the motion in want of a spot to remain.
Even through the worst of the pandemic, Heretic Home hosted as many as 10 occasions a month, Clark stated.
“Atheism was one thing she was severe about, however what she felt was actually lacking was the center,” stated Waggoner, who additionally identifies as an atheist. “Simply because we don’t consider in a soul doesn’t imply we don’t have an emotional life that must be nourished.”
Kirkhart was born April 16, 1943, in Enid, Okla., and raised in a non secular household. She grew up loving church — the group, the music — and even labored as a Sunday college instructor.
Her perception in God started to falter after she graduated school and began a profession as a social employee for the Division of Youngsters and Household Companies in South Los Angeles in 1965. She was dismayed to study that among the households she served had been giving cash to their church, whilst they struggled to feed their youngsters.
“My purchasers had been Black and Latino ladies who had been God’s most fervent servants, and my God was at greatest leaving them to very merciless components,” she stated in a 2009 interview.
She thought-about different religions, however discovered they didn’t make sense to her both.
Atheist organizations had been tougher to seek out earlier than the daybreak of the web, and it wasn’t till after she divorced her first husband, L.A. historian William Mason, in 1982 that Kirkhart began attending Sunday morning conferences of the newly shaped Atheists United.
In these early days she stored her atheist actions away from her daughter.
“I used to be with my dad Sunday mornings, and he or she didn’t wish to burden me with that,” Waggoner stated.
Finally, Waggoner caught on. After overhearing her mother use the phrase atheist, she requested if that’s what they had been.
“She stated, ‘Oh, honey, I’m so bored with being nothing. I’m glad we’re one thing,’” Waggoner stated.
Kirkhart met her second husband, Harvey Tippit, via Atheists United and the 2 married in 1997. After her second marriage, Kirkhart had extra monetary sources than she’d ever had earlier than. She’d grown up poor and struggled financially as a single mother.
“Prime of thoughts was that now she might assist individuals otherwise,” Waggoner stated.
Kirkhart and Tippit traveled the world, together with journeys to Borneo and the Galapagos. Kirkhart additionally spoke to atheist and humanist teams in Canada, Germany, France, Nigeria, India and Cameroon. She was a platform speaker on the first Godless People March in Washington, D.C., in 2002, and sat on the advisory board of the Humanist Assn. of Nepal and on the board of Camp Quest, an atheist summer time camp.
Tippit died in 2006, and Kirkhart purchased Heretic Home three years later in Angelino Heights. Instantly she provided it up as a group house, internet hosting musical performances, e-book golf equipment, Atheists United conferences and permitting individuals within the motion to stick with her for weeks and months at a time if obligatory.
“She grew up with a variety of spiritual affect round her, and he or she’s at all times been somebody who sees the success of the spiritual mannequin as one thing the atheist doesn’t do sufficient,” stated Yari Schutzer, a pacesetter of the Voices of Cause choir, which rehearsed at Heretic Home. “She obtained that home with the total intention of making a group. It gave her a bodily platform to say, ‘That is what I imply.’”
As her well being declined within the final decade, Kirkhart stepped again from her work on the worldwide atheist scene and as a substitute targeted on the local people via her work with Atheists United.
The group she joined in 1982 now has 200 dues-paying members and hosts drug and alcohol restoration teams, a climbing membership, the Voices of Cause choir, and is concerned in group service like meals distribution and vaccine drives.
“We’re internet hosting virtually 30 occasions a month,” Clark stated.
Though she was an outspoken atheist, Waggoner doesn’t keep in mind her mom having any explicit enemies.
“She was nonconfrontational,” Waggoner stated.
From Kirkhart’s perspective, what a person believes will not be necessary. Her concern was with the affect spiritual establishments wield and her perception that has damage individuals.
In a speech to the Secular Pupil Alliance in 2013, Kirkhart stated that an atheist’s devotion to free thought must be equal to or better than a non secular individual’s devotion to God.
She believed that so long as nearly all of the nation believes in “magic,” there shall be an assault on science that shortens lives and creates environmental catastrophe.
The work of atheists, she believed, was at least to save lots of humanity.
“Our job is to offer an alternative choice to present that a lifetime of unbelief may be, and often is, fulfilling and productive,” she instructed the scholars. “Our job is at least to save lots of the world from superstitious self-destruction.”