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Bobbie Kirkhart, who fostered atheist group, dies at 78

(RNS) — Bobbie Kirkhart was identified for being an atheist, however the proprietor and host of Heretic Home in Los Angeles, who died at age 78 on Oct. 31, was a pioneer who championed atheism not as merely nonbelief however a drive in its personal proper and a critique of faith’s sway over society.

Greater than denying claims of religion, Kirkhart might usually be heard singing from one of many dozen hymnals she owned, generally with a phrase or two modified to render theistic verses into godless goodwill. Heretic Home was a middle for atheist and free-thought teams, and visitors who got here for a dialogue may keep on for months.

“Bobbie was my hero,” mentioned Darrel Ray, president and founding father of Recovering From Faith. “Her early efforts within the secular world set the stage for we who now observe in her footsteps. Individuals who don’t even know who she was will reap the advantages of her life and efforts for years to return.” 

Kirkhart had served as president of each the Atheist Alliance Worldwide and Atheists United, served on the board of Camp Quest and the advisory board for Humanist Affiliation of Nepal and helped type the Secular Coalition for America. She spoke to teams all through the U.S. and in Canada, Germany, France, India, Eire, Nigeria and Cameroon. In 2013, she obtained the Freethought Spine Award from the Secular Pupil Alliance. 

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However most significantly, she took time to get to know many people.

“I referred to as her a mentor,” mentioned Evan Clark, govt director of Atheists United, who met Kirkhart in 2009 whereas heading the Secular Pupil Alliance at California Lutheran University, the one spiritual college within the nation with an atheist membership on the time. “However what I’ve been discovering out this previous week is what number of different individuals have referred to as her mentor. She’s recommended or supported or guided dozens, if not a whole lot of leaders.

“The factor that stands out most is that she was 100% devoted to collaboration and the bigger beliefs of the trigger, which is spiritual fairness, separation of church and state and selling atheist values,” Clark mentioned. 

Heretic Home is a Victorian house in Angelino Heights, Los Angeles, that has been internet hosting atheists since 2009. RNS photograph by Heather Morrison

Kevin Bolling, govt director of Secular Pupil Alliance, remembers the day he knocked on the door of Heretic Home for the primary time. 

“She involves the door and she or he’s like, ‘Subsequent time simply are available. The door is normally unlocked.’ Which was true,” Bolling mentioned. “Her door was normally open in the course of Los Angeles. However that’s simply the best way Bobbie was.”

The one requirement was to signal the visitor ebook, which was full of the names of all who had visited. 

Kirkhart realized that faith has the good benefit of providing group to its adherents, and she or he got down to give atheists a group of their very own. “We have now much less alternative for group, for sources with one another than individuals within the church buildings,” she instructed Faith Information Service in 2019.

Kirkhart grew up in a religious liberal Protestant household in Enid, Oklahoma. She attended church companies, potlucks and even taught Sunday college whereas attending the College of Oklahoma, the place she majored in journalism.

“My happiest occasions within the church I believe as a toddler had been household nights and the potlucks,” she instructed RNS. “That has nothing to do with being spiritual or irreligious; it has to do with needing to be with different individuals.”

In 2009, Kirkhart purchased a Victorian in Angelino Heights for the specific goal of internet hosting different atheists — “sort of just like the previous church fellowship corridor,” however with out the sanctuary, she mentioned. She named it Heretic Home. 

The Voices of Reason choir practices in Heretic House, a house in Los Angeles dedicated to hosting and promoting Atheist events or groups, on April 22, 2018. RNS photo by Heather Adams

The Voices of Purpose choir practices in Heretic Home, a home in Los Angeles devoted to internet hosting and selling atheist occasions or teams, on April 22, 2018. RNS photograph by Heather Morrison

When Christine Jones got here to Los Angeles in 2015, she was going by way of a breakup and profession change. Throughout a time of a lot turmoil, Jones turned to Kirkhart and Heretic Home, hoping to hire a room.

“And he or she goes, ‘Nicely, I don’t hire my rooms out however you possibly can definitely keep,’” Jones recalled. “Which is completely Bobbie. … My story is typical.” 

Jones remembers sitting down within the evenings on the piano Kirkhart owned to play music for the 2 of them to take pleasure in. Then they’d simply discuss, with Kirkhart generally displaying her deep data of atheist historical past.

“It was pure to be there along with her, spending evenings along with her and speaking and studying as a lot as I might about secular activism in Los Angeles and past,” Jones mentioned. 

However Kirkhart was additionally very direct, even when it got here to Santa Claus.

Daughter Monica Waggoner remembers her mom telling her early on that Santa wasn’t actual. “It was sort of a supply of pressure as a result of I wished to consider in Santa Claus,” she mentioned, laughing. “She saved attempting to elucidate it’s not actual.”

As Waggoner grew older, she appreciated what these moments taught her. “I’ve valued a lot in my life these alternatives to not simply settle for the default, however actually take into consideration what you consider,” she mentioned. 

Kirkhart first started asking questions on her religion in highschool, however, as everybody she knew was spiritual, there have been few solutions that glad her. When her father acquired most cancers, she discovered herself wanting to hope however didn’t consider a god would hearken to her prayers.

Bobbie Kirkhart in Los Angeles in 2019. RNS photo by Heather Morrison

Bobbie Kirkhart at Heretic Home in Los Angeles in 2019. RNS photograph by Heather Morrison

She occurred to be on trip in Mazatlan, Mexico, on the time. “I went to the seashore within the morning and mentioned I’m going to know what I consider once I come house,” Kirkhart recounted. She wrestled with all her ideas, beliefs and emotions for six hours.

“Then I got here again an atheist,” she mentioned.

Kirkhart by no means discouraged her daughter to discover faith, mentioned Waggoner, who remembers going to church along with her mom’s household.

“It was World Communion Day. So, in a short time, whereas we’re sitting there within the pews, she’s whispering a proof to me of what Communion is, what it represents to those individuals and requested me if I need to go up and do it,” she mentioned. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t assume I would like this.’”

Heretic Home has been handed right down to Kirkhart’s grandchildren, and the household plans to proceed operating it as an area for atheists and freethinkers. Buddies reject the sorts of platitudes usually supplied after a demise — Kirkhart received’t be “wanting down on them,” they are saying — however she’ll absolutely be remembered.

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“Bobbie at all times appreciated to remind us that people don’t ‘cross’ or ‘go to a greater place’ however merely die and attain the tip of a journey we name life,” Clark wrote in an e mail.

“To rephrase a line Bobbie as soon as wrote about one other former Atheists United President after their demise, ‘She didn’t have, nor want for, a soul, and she or he doesn’t now stay in heaven. She lives within the hearts of many associates, and she or he resides within the heart of Atheists United, the group she labored so laborious to construct.’” 

Constructing that sort of group, Waggoner mentioned, was at all times her mom’s aim.

“It’s apparent she succeeded,” she mentioned. 

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