In the United States today, most of us atheists are apostates from a family religion and grew up surrounded by religious role models. But atheists need roles models too. One of the big difficulties in leaving the religion of your family and community is in facing a (seeming) void of good role models who share your worldview. You may know of people who wrote some books, or interact with people online from a few states away, but not know atheistic people who live anywhere near you. For the atheist community this problem has been eased somewhat with the help of internet communications. First we could find other who think like us over the internet, and now many of us are using sites like Meetup.com to establish communities of people who we can actually know face-to-face.
Today I went to a memorial service for one great atheist role model we lost earlier this year. I’d never known Helen Kagin closely, but our paths did intersect. She played a key role in organizing the Rally for Reason protest at the opening of the “Creation Museum.” This was a big deal to me because, as you know if you read my blog often, evolution education is one of my big issues. I can’t help seeing the subversion of children’s education (which is what this sham of a museum does) as any less than a great travesty that must be addressed and exposed to ridicule.
(As a side note, my participation at the rally also landed me a picture on the cover of American Atheist Journal a few months later. I was not featured, but I was sitting right next to Nicole Smalkowski, who was facing discrimination in her school in Oklahoma for not reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” with her basketball team before games.)
My going to this event had the side effect of getting me back into regular involvement with the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers Meetup. (I had gone a bit “apatheist” and had stopped going for a while.) I met a few atheists from Louisville at the group and found out that they had coordinated to come to the rally. Getting back into active involvement with other local atheists has had a wonderful effect on my life, including giving me the unforeseen opportunity to help organize group activities. Meeting with other atheists has been life-changing. If you grew up with a very narrow and biased view of atheists, that bias can still affect you and can affect your view of yourself even after you’ve been one yourself for several years. Interaction with other atheists has taught me a lot about how to live well as one.
I found the memorial to be very touching and inspiring. It was interesting that one of the major voices at the memorial was a close friend of Edwin and Helen Kagan, and also a Christian minister. I see in this a good deal of hope for how atheists (even activist atheists) and Christians can be friendly without glossing over our disagreements. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this minister belongs to a rather liberal denomination. I do think I’ve mentioned that liberal Christians can be really cool sometimes.
A brief interaction with Helen Kagin affected my life in ways that she will never know. She is gone, but her legacy will live on for a long, long time. My story doesn’t even scratch the surface…To learn more about Helen Kagin, go to http://www.edwinkagin.com/Helen.htm.