Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg

On this date in 1975, columnist and author Michelle Goldberg was born to Carolyn and Gerald Goldberg in Buffalo, N.Y. Her mother was a community college math professor and her father was assistant managing editor of the Buffalo News.

From her early teens she was active in the abortion rights cause, accompanying her pregnant 13-year-old friend to a clinic when Goldberg was also 13. At the time, she later said, it was a given among her classmates that “If you became pregnant, you either had an abortion or you killed yourself.” Classmates chipped in their lunch money to help pay for the abortion. (Buffalo News, March 17, 1996)

She continued her activism at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “I had never been political before this issue, but I was so enraged that they wanted to push their fundamentalist Christianity on women’s and girls’ lives that I couldn’t not stand up.” (Ibid.) She received a B.A. from SUNY, then earned an M.S. from the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism.

She started writing for San Francisco’s alt weeklies and Salon.com, moving to New York City to work full-time for Salon. She followed that with freelancing and as a correspondent or contributor to The American Prospect, The Daily Beast, The Nation and Slate. The New York Times hired her as an opinion columnist in 2017.

She also wrote “The Diasporist” column in Tablet Magazine, an online outlet about Jewish life and identity. She wrote in her introductory column that she would not be writing about Judaism but strongly identified as a Jew, “not politically, but the Jewish culture that I like to claim as my heritage.” (Tablet, Nov. 11, 2010)

Goldberg is the author of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism” (2006), “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World” (2009) and “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West” (2015). Devi, born in 1899, lived to be 102. Goldberg described Devi’s book “Yoga for Americans” as having “a chipper, secular practicality perfectly calibrated for Eisenhower’s America.”

In “Kingdom Coming” she wrote: “I’m a secular Jew and an ardent urbanite … terrified by America’s increasing hostility to the cosmopolitan values I cherish. Traveling the country and talking to people about their beliefs, I was quiet about my own [lack of belief], but I told the truth when asked.”

Goldberg spoke about Christian nationalism at FFRF’s national conventions in 2006 and 2017 and has been a guest on its TV talk show “Freethought Matters” and on Freethought Radio. Video of her 2017 convention speech is here.

She has written that she was militantly atheist when younger but came to see how faith can at times make people better — people like Bill Moyers and some in the Catholic Worker movement. “To me the problem is not faith; it’s fundamentalism, and certainty, and this arrogance that you have some kind of hotline to the divine.” (Undated interview in Artvoice, an alternative publication in Buffalo)

There’s still plenty for her not to like: “Viewed through a contemporary, secular lens, a community built around a charismatic founder and dedicated to the lionization of suffering and the annihilation of female selfhood doesn’t seem blessed and ethereal. It seems sinister.” (“Was Mother Teresa a cult leader?” The New York Times, May 21, 2021)

She recalled attending a homeschooling textbook fair in Denver, “filled with every kind of instruction manual or graduate course textbook on topics ranging from creationism to astrophysics. I felt like I was a character in a Kafka novel who wandered into an entire library of lies.” (The Humanist, Aug. 22, 2007)

In a January 2024 New York Times column headlined “Trumpism Is Devouring the Evangelical Movement,” she wrote it would take a miracle like former President Trump losing in the Iowa caucuses to “make me reconsider my own lifelong atheism.”

She and her husband Matthew Ipcar live as of this writing in Brooklyn, N.Y., and have a son and daughter born two years apart when she was in her late 30s.

Freedom From Religion Foundation