Priest’s JFK sermon turned her from church

Name: Cheryl Kolbe.

Where I live: Portland, Ore.

Where and when I was born: Boston in 1946.

Family: I’ve been married for 43 years to Ed, and we have two daughters. Lisa lives in Orange, Calif., with her daughter, Jaylee, whom she adopted when she was 11. Sarah lives in England with Nick, her longtime partner.

Education: B.A. in mathematics from the University of New Hampshire. Informal Education: No degree in motherhood, but it certainly presents a wonderful list of opportunities for learning.

Occupation: I retired in 2004 from Portland Community College, where I was Student Systems Support manager with responsibility to implement software for Enrollment Services. 

How I got where I am today: I feel like I was born a doubter, but until I was well into adulthood, religion was just there and I didn’t think about it too much. I was raised Catholic, and the last time I went to the Catholic Church was when President Kennedy was shot. The priest chewed us all out for coming to church then but not in recent weeks. That seemed to miss the point and that was the end of my being Catholic.

We raised our daughters in the Unitarian Church and heard many interesting speakers. I didn’t feel the need to really think about if I believed in religion per se or in the existence of God. The kicker for me followed a book club discussion in 2009 of the very Christian novel titled The Shack. Except for me, the entire group was Christian and the discussion was very religious and all about how Christianity is truly what life is all about.

I left feeling that my opinions and beliefs were completely discounted by the group. Driving home, I spotted one of FFRF’s billboards, joined the group and the rest is history.

Where I’m headed: By being open about being an atheist, I hope to help to alter the negative opinions some people have of atheists. 

Person in history I admire and why: Katharine Hepburn. She was an independent woman long before it was fashionable. She was extremely talented and willing to be her own person. I love her statement “I’m an atheist and that’s it.” It inspires me to be more upfront about who I am. 

A quotation I like: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.” (Martin Niemöller)

These are a few of my favorite things: Cross-country skiing, hiking, kayaking, cooking, gardening, reading.

These are not: People telling me that Jesus is going to choose me someday, barking dogs, manipulative behavior.

My doubts about religion started: When I was about 12 years old. My older sister was dating a guy who was Jewish, and my mother said, “Well, he’s a really nice guy, but you wouldn’t want to marry him because he is Jewish.” I so clearly remember thinking that yes, you would need to talk about what you would do on Hanukah and on Christmas, but aren’t there bigger issues in building a marriage than religion? I think I just didn’t buy into the idea of one true religion. 

Instead of “thank God” or “God bless you,” I’m more likely to simply express happiness — glad you feel better today, or so happy it is such a beautiful day. Gesundheit is what I am likely to say when someone sneezes. 

Why I’m a freethinker: I’m a very analytical person. Evolution makes complete sense to me, and I can’t make sense of the concept of religion and of God. I’m far more comfortable with being responsible for my own well-being and making decisions based on logic and reasoning.

Life goes so much better when I make choices based on the options available to me rather than to wish or pray for other options. 

Ways I promote freethought: I have been looking for ways to promote freethought that go beyond being an FFRF Lifetime Member. After the 2012 conference, I felt that there was enough energy in the Portland area to create a local chapter here. In February, we were approved, and I hope to lead this group to actively promote the goals of FFRF. Although Portland is an area which is generally quite accepting of nonbelievers, there is still much that can be done. 

I wish you’d have asked me: Why I think FFRF is such an impressive organization. Is it because it’s filled with extremely talented people and they run an organization that ranks 4 out of 4 on Charity Navigator? Or is it because they have an inspiring conference and they produce a fantastic newspaper? Or is it because they are so successful in supporting separation of church and state?

FFRF is certainly all of these things. But what impresses me the most is that they maintain respect for everyone’s personal and political beliefs, and at the same time remain very clear and consistent about their mission.

Freedom From Religion Foundation