If you are an atheist and say so fairly loudly, you probably will not have as many friends as if you attended a big church. You could have a lot of friends, but they might be seeable only at conventions and meetups. And some of the people in your local group or meetup might be persons you would not care to interact with for any known purpose.
When I met Helen, she had just quit attending the Episcopal Church. We discussed religion and, when she said she believed in god but was not so sure about the Jesus part, I knew she was almost there. I had been a non believer for some time. Did not take her long. She soon became an atheist and proud of it, by dog.
When I suggested the idea that became Camp Quest, Helen took to it like a piranha to the Amazon. She was totally dedicated to Camp Quest and worked seemingly nonstop on it for ten years. She authorized expending thousands of dollars of our own money to keep it going. Our barn was full of the products of our adventure and imagination. After ten years, she and I retired to put our vision into younger hands. And we have been satisfied beyond all expectations at what they have done.
We attended the conventions of all major freethought organizations, and we spread the word of Camp Quest in every way possible—by talks, letters, telephone calls, and by being generally pushy. We recruited unpaid staff by telling the target about this new summer camp for the children of un-belief and by asking them “Do you have something more important to do this summer?” Lots of very good people signed up for this abuse. Some have now started CQs in their own states. A number of former campers are now on staff. As Helen put it, Camp Quest has reached critical mass. We had lots of friends, but none of them were our neighbors.
I once said to her that if she was to be remembered at all, it would not be because of twenty five years of work as a physician. It would be because she was a founder of Camp Quest.
Her last public appearance was with me at a talk at a Unitarian Church. I had horrified some of the attendees by, inter alia, using the A word, which they appear not to like. When I condemned the attempt to teach Creation in place of, or together with, Evolution in the public schools, one fellow in the back asked what was wrong with giving the children “both sides.” Helen was on her feet, oxygen line removed, to tell this fellow just why—that Evolution underpinned all of the life sciences, that it was not a guess, but a fact. The audience was stunned. People are supposed to be more willing to consider all everythings, many in the audience seemed to think. Helen did not. She thought that the substitute for teaching Evolution was ignorance.
If you go to the Answers in Genesis website, and put Helen Kagin into the search engine, you should be able to find all sorts of awful things being said about her. Didn’t bother her a bit. She was proud of it. When she discovered that the great nonsense, the Creation Museum, was to be built in rural Kentucky farmland about ten miles from our house, Helen got going. She, and an equally horrified female veterinarian actually went door to door to tell people just why the project was nonsense and that the architects thereof were attempting to violate the zoning laws. And the governing body of the County rejected Answers in Genesis’s request to rezone and let them do as they wished was defeated. The credit for this goes largely to Helen. To be sure, they did eventually build somewhere else, as you probably unhappily know, but it is not in our back yard and we did not oppose that effort. We are in fact in favor of free speech. But we are also in favor of following the law.
Helen Kagin, my wife and best friend, died two years ago today, February 17, 2010, at 6:55 pm. She was 76 years old.
Today is also the death day of Giordano Bruno, who was murdered by the Christian Inquisition. He was burned alive on February 17, in the year 1600, Common Era. Helen’s death was far more gentle.
Not a day passes in which I do not think of her. I have been painfully widowed for two years.
Here are a few photos from her remarkable life.
Readers are invited to submit more.