Meet a faithless feminist: Karen L. Garst

Name: Karen L. Garst.

Where I live: Sherwood, Ore.

Where and when I was born: Bismarck, N.D., in 1950.

Family: Husband, Ron; son, Sam; stepdaughters, Valerie and Amy; son-in-law, Ben; grandchildren, Arabelle and Elliott.

Education: B.A. in French, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.; M.A. in French literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, UW-Madison.

Occupation: Retired executive director of the Oregon State Bar.

How I got where I am today: I moved to Portland from Wisconsin to take a position in 1980 as field representative for the Oregon Federation of Teachers. I then served as executive director of the Oregon Community College Association before taking my last post at the State Bar.

Where I’m headed: I’m embarking on a new career as an author and I’m seeking a publisher for a book of essays by women about their journeys away from religion. I’ve started a new blog about women and religion and I’m accepting speaking engagements.

Person in history I admire: Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the 19th century, she fought for the abolition of slavery and was an atheist at a time when few women were and even fewer spoke out about it.

A quotation I like: “It is thought strange and particularly shocking by some persons for a woman to question the absolute correctness of the Bible. She is supposed to be able to go through this world with her eyes shut, and her mouth open wide enough to swallow Jonah and the Garden of Eden without making a wry face. It is usually recounted as one of her most beautiful traits of character that she has faith sufficient to float the Ark without inspecting the animals.” — Men, Women, and Gods and Other Lectures, 1885, by Helen H. Gardener, introduction By Robert G. Ingersoll (available for free at

These are a few of my favorite things: Friends and family, living on five acres surrounded by nature, a pension and Social Security, living in a country where women can strive to be anything they want.

These are not: People who resist learning something that might change their mind. In other words, they are closed to new information — “young Earth” creationists — seriously? I learned about evolution in 1963 and it was no big deal. How is it a big deal now?

My doubts about religion started: I was never a very gung-ho congregant. Being raised in a religion in Bismarck was what everybody did. It constituted my social life. I loved the music and rituals. I rarely attended church as a single person.

I really started to have doubts when I read the works of members of the Jesus Seminar [a group of about 150 critical scholars and laymen founded in 1985 by Robert Funk]. My final “hold on” was the resurrection. Then I read Bishop John Shelby Spong’s Resurrection: Myth or Reality and let the last piece go.

Before I die: I would like to provide an opportunity for women to realize what religion has done to subordinate them.

Ways I promote freethought: I belong to several secular groups, including FFRF, and made a presentation to the Humanists of Greater Portland on “From Goddess to God: The Elimination of the Female Divine.” I’m active on social media and promoting my book.

I wish you’d have asked me: What prompted me to write the book? I have been an atheist for two decades. I had never joined any secular groups. When SCOTUS issued its decision in Hobby Lobby in 2014, I felt I had to do something. Working in women’s groups in the 1970s, I thought we had secured access to birth control and abortion. We are now fighting the battle all over again. I want to make a difference.

The blog:; on Twitter: @karen_garst; on Facebook:

Freedom From Religion Foundation