Meet a Member: Pat Dunlap

Name: Patricia “Pat” (Riley) Dunlap.

Where I live: Tall Timbers, Md., near the mouth of the Potomac River. I grew up in colonial Williamsburg, Va., near the Powder Magazine and the shoemaker and silversmith shops. As a Navy wife, I’ve lived along most of the nation’s coastal areas.

Where and when I was born: Norfolk, Va., 1943.

Family: Husband, Steve, 69; son, Steve, 43, and daughter-in-law, Stephanie; daughter, Tricia, 42; son, Matthew, 39; four grandchildren, Annie, 20, Joseph, 13, Hank, 9, and Carter, 7.

Education: B.A. in philosophy from the College of William and Mary; M.A. in American history from George Mason University; D.A. in history and teaching history in higher education from George Mason University. 

After being asked to teach a course in the history of science at the college level, I delved into the evolution of science from ancient Babylon to the present and found it fascinating. I’m particularly intrigued by biological evolution and cosmology.

I’m also very politically involved as the president of my county’s League of Women Voters. I also worked with the Virginia Obama for President campaign. Virginia went blue for the first time since 1964. My efforts on behalf of the League and the Obama campaign taught me a great deal about the current state of politics in the U.S.

Finally, I travel whenever possible. I’ve been to most of Europe, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and most of North America. Travel is the second-most enlightening experience after formal education.  Seeing ourselves from another’s perspective is eye-opening, as is the obvious contrast among nations and cultures.

Occupation: Retired program manager, publication editor and marketing director. I’ve taught college-level history courses part time since 1987, and I continue to do so at various colleges, often online. I’m the author of Riding Astride: The Frontier in Women’s History (Arden Press, 1995).

Military service: My husband is a retired U.S. Navy captain. We’ve been married for 46 years.

How I got where I am today: My husband’s job brought him to St. Mary’s County, and I came with him as I always have. We built a nice, small home on the water and purchased a boat which we keep at a slip behind our house.

Where I’m headed: We’re planning a camera safari in Africa for 2011, so that’s where I’m headed geographically. Intellectually, I intend to keep teaching as long as I’m able to do so, and I would like to find a way to establish an FFRF chapter or something like it in southern Maryland (Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties).

Person in history I admire: Thomas Jefferson was a deist — which is as close to atheist as one could be before Charles Darwin and Edwin Hubble — a scholar, and a servant of the people of the emerging American republic.

A quotation I like: “Skepticism is the highest duty, and blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” (Thomas Huxley)

These are a few of my favorite things: My husband, children and grandchildren; college students who ask questions and seek truth; travel, boating and understanding why things are the way they are.

These are not: Blind ignorance and refusal to explore recently introduced ideas and concepts.

My doubts about religion started: Religion has raised questions for me since I was in seventh or eighth grade. I began to read books on classical Greek and Roman mythology and, at some point, asked my mother why these ancient belief systems were called myths when they weren’t any more silly than Christianity.  Why, I asked, is it less likely that many gods exist than that one does? Why can’t gods act much like humans do instead of being some sorts of spirits beyond our reach and understanding? I honestly don’t remember her response, but I continued to attend church and eventually reared my children to do the same.

In my 30s, I began to read mythology again, including the many great works of Joseph Campbell. The similarities between Judeo-Christian mythology and preceding religions (e.g., Zoroastrianism and Mithraism) were startling. Believers of many of these ancient dogmas based their faith on heroes born of virgins who overcame death. They each had fascinating creation myths and hierarchies of god and godlike creatures.
That led me to the works of people like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. The nearly complete lack of rational thought in their concepts was nearly as alarming as the insistence that the faithful discard reason in favor of faith and obedience. So, religion is mythology and nothing more. That made me an agnostic, since it’s possible that mythology has a basis in fact.

My explorations into cosmology pushed me that extra mile. We’ve widened our knowledge base about the universe from our solar system to a knowledge base that includes a theory of origin called the Big Bang, thousands of galaxies and increasingly rapid expansion of the universe. Hubble has sent back billions of photographs, and nowhere is there any sign of heaven (the biblical heaven is just beyond the reaches of Earth), god, angels, cherubim, or any of the other minions of the spirit world.

In other words, there’s no actual evidence that any of this nonsense is true. I’m an atheist, and I’m far more comfortable in the truth of that statement than I ever was as a Christian.

Why I’m a freethinker: Because to be anything else is to deny the realities of factual information backed by physical evidence.

Ways I promote freethought: I try to get the FFRF newspaper into as many hands as possible. I’ve shared it with friends and relatives, deliberately left it in public places such as restaurants, airports and trains, and sent particularly pertinent articles to people online. I also forward the best of Annie Laurie’s “Freethought of the Day” to a reasonably wide audience.

Freedom From Religion Foundation