Meet a militant atheist: R. Kelly Wagner

Name: R. Kelly Wagner (the R stands for Rebecca Ann, or possibly for Robot if one happens to be an Asimov fan).

Where I live: Columbia, Md.

Where and when I was born: In Chicago, 50-“mumble” years ago, raised on Long Island around Levittown.

Family: Oh heavens, too many siblings to mention, most of whom are Catholic. The one person I would like to mention would be my late husband, Steve Harsch, who was also an FFRF member until his death in 2010. No kids, lots of pets.

Education: B.S. in accounting, Northeastern University, 1978; MBA with concentration in federal income taxation, St. Edwards University, 1988. I’ve also taken coursework toward advanced degrees in dispute resolution, actuarial science and educational technology. My CPA license is currently on inactive status.

I’m a lifelong reader. I’m always learning something new. I take knitting and quilting classes, too.

Occupation: Before I retired, I worked as a CPA doing taxes in the 1980s, then spent 15 years as a financial analyst for the Texas Department of Insurance, doing solvency monitoring of property-casualty companies, which was a lot more fun than it sounds to most people. I taught introductory computer science courses at St. Edward’s University in Austin for six years.

How I got where I am today: Let’s not start too early, but let’s go with getting diagnosed with congestive heart failure in December 2002 and my husband and I deciding to move someplace closer to my family, with better medical care and more culture in 2005. Maryland suited our politics much better than Texas ever did (though Steve was born there and I lived there for 24 years), and it’s a lot easier to be an atheist here than it ever was in Texas. As for all the stuff prior to that, I’d say the short answer is whim and random turns of fate!

Where I’m headed: Various attempts to improve my heart failure via surgery haven’t worked out, so mostly I’m spinning my wheels rather than headed anywhere.

Person in history I admire and why: Has Isaac Asimov been dead long enough [1992] to count as history? And do I even need to explain why?

A quotation I like: “Do not let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you must, with the same weapons of reason that today arm you against the present.” (Marcus Aurelius)

These are a few of my favorite things: Luxury knitting yarns, small pets (especially guinea pigs), playing the saxophone in community bands, sleeping in till noon on Sundays, autumn leaves, public libraries, the hope for universal health care and the Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, a great example of science and reason).

These are not: The guy at the supermarket who tried to tell me about Jesus last week; slow progress on new treatments for chronic illnesses; long waiting lists at the library for books I want to read right now; people who brag about being bad at math; people who “don’t believe in” vaccinations (and people who don’t believe in paying for public schools and libraries and recreation centers, but then it sounds as though I dislike all libertarians, and I’ve met a few that I do like).

My doubts about religion started: When I was 15. My family was Catholic, and I was depressed, and the oppressiveness of a god who would deliberately inflict depression on someone, and a religion that considers women second-class, started to weigh on me.

Why I’m a freethinker: Getting rid of organized religion was a start on lifting my depression; getting rid of the idea of gods who can do good things for human lives but arbitrarily, capriciously, and cruelly choose not to, really gave me a boost. Life is so much easier to explain, and so much less cruel, once we know that evil is the acts of humans only, and that prayers don’t fix it, only good works by other humans do.

It’s like free speech: The answer to speech you don’t like is more free speech; the answer to religion is more freethought.

Ways I promote freethought: I fill in “militant atheist” as my religion on forms that ask. I openly discuss my atheist views with anyone who asks. I wear my “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist” T-shirt, and I’m working on a piece of music for concert band that will be called “Freethinkers’ March.” When it’s done and I get one of my community bands to play it, you’ll get a recording of it and rights to it — next spring, with any luck!

Freedom From Religion Foundation