Meet a Member: Betty J. Brogaard

Name: Betty J. Brogaard.

Where I live: Central Wisconsin.

Where and when I was born: Memphis, Tenn., March 9, 1937. And yes, I knew Elvis before he was The King. He was two years older, and we went to different public schools. The extent of our limited contact was at football games, where we would say “Hi Betty” and “Hi Elvis.” (I was very shy.)

Family: I have one unflinchingly Christian brother, a sister who’s unsure what she thinks about religion and numerous nieces, nephews and in-laws, many of whom have very little contact with me. I suspect this is because of my lack of religion. Fred, my much loved and very Christian husband of 43 years, died of a rare stomach cancer (linitis plastica) in 2008.

Education: B.A. from Ambassador College, Pasadena, Calif., with one required theology major and one elective major in communications. I took creative writing classes in the Seattle area after Fred and I forsook the Worldwide Church of God cult in the 1970s. I later learned more about the writing craft in critique groups.

Occupation: I retired at age 70 after 52 years of almost continuous office work in various places and fields of endeavor. One of the most interesting (and stressful) positions I held was administrative secretary to the two top men at Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God: Herbert W. Armstrong, college president and WCG “Apostle,” and Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert’s handsome evangelist son and the voice of “The World Tomorrow” radio broadcast.

I’m now a freelance, atheist writer with two published books: Dare to Think for Yourself  and The Homemade Atheist. Before opening my eyes to the “light” of unbelief, I wrote Christian magazine articles. I’m amazed that I could have believed (or tried very hard to believe) the things I penned.

Military service: None officially, but being in the “Armstrong Army” was very much like being in the military: unquestioning obedience to the ministry; the strict rules of dress, hair length, diet, curfew, etc.; and “thou shalt nots” such as holding hands on a date or, “heaven forbid,” a goodnight kiss.

How I got where I am today: By comparing religions, listening to freethinkers and reading thought-provoking material, as well as cultivating friendships with individuals in the Oshkosh Freethinkers group and at the FFRF conventions I’ve attended.

Where I’m headed: Perhaps I’ll complete a third book and have it published before the final chapter of my life comes to a close.

Person in history I admire: All the women in Women Without Superstition, edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor. Reading about their courage and wisdom helped release the last vestiges of legalistic chains around my mind that kept me ambivalent about the existence of a god for many years.

A quotation I like: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” (American physicist Steven Weinberg)

These are a few of my favorite things: Animals, books written by freethinkers, FFRF, humanism, music (classical, pop, some country western and some soft rock), a clean, orderly home and a neat lawn. I cherish my close friends, who are all nonjudgmental.

These are not: Cruelty of all types but especially to children, the helpless and animals; disasters created by human beings because of carelessness or lack of concern; politicians who use religion to garner votes; narrow-minded, self-righteous religionists; rap and hard-rock music.

How long I’ve been a freethinker: For years after leaving the Church of God and then as a longtime member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I sporadically and quietly struggled against my growing nonbelief out of fear that my marriage would fall apart and all my family and friends would forsake me. But publicly, I’ve been avidly “out of the closet” for at least 12 years.

Why I’m a freethinker: I have contentment and a large measure of happiness that I didn’t have as a believer because I strove so hard and failed to be “perfect” as the bible dictates. I now have the freedom to think for myself and apply or acknowledge what I learn or question without fearing the many things I don’t understand. I have learned that I can even change my mind without guilt or shame as I study, listen to others and reevaluate my position.

Best way I promote freethought: I strive to obey secular law, contribute what little I can to nonreligious charities and animal welfare agencies and be a good, helpful neighbor. I hope that my occasional speaking engagements and my books and articles also help. If you’re interested, please see the “Freedom to Reason” Web site that one of my freethinking friends created for me:

Freedom From Religion Foundation