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Why I Wrote a Book about Leaving Religion

By Karen Garst ~

Given the fact that I was born in 1950 in North Dakota, it is not surprising that I was raised as a Lutheran. There was one Catholic church in town, one very small Jewish synagogue, and the rest of the churches were Protestant. I knew what church every one of my friends went to, even as early as first grade. A cute boy walked me home from school that year and I sought out my father’s advice that very night. “Can a Lutheran marry a Catholic?” I asked my Dad in all seriousness. While he didn’t say no, he said marriage was sometimes difficult and sharing a faith helped. P. S. Both my sister and I married lapsed Catholics.

I attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota and was surprised at what I learned in my first religion class. The professor talked about the different oral strains of the Old Testament and how they were named after different words for God over time. He also talked about the exile in Babylon as a historically verifiable event. In other classes, I wrote a paper about gays (highly supportive) and kept a journal in a class on Catholicism. This was not what I had heard at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bismarck.

Graduate school took me away from church – no moorings of family or friends who attended. I was also exposed to a variety of different political views, which certainly helped shaped my view of the world.

It really wasn’t until I read Bishop John Shelby Spong’s book, Resurrection: Myth of Reality, that I led go of the last belief I had in religion. And I would have left it there, raising our son in a secular environment, not seeking out any atheists groups, sleeping in on Sundays except for one small thing.

In June of 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The five Catholic men who wrote the decision exempted Hobby Lobby, a craft store, from providing certain forms of birth control to its employees because of its religious views. Because of a previous court decision in Citizens’ United where the court established that a corporation was a person, it could now conclude that this person had religious rights. I was incensed. How long had we fought for women’s reproductive rights? Why were we still fighting for them?

I decided to act. I assembled 22 amazing women who tell their stories of leaving religion in a book entitled Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion. Each one is unique. They are of all different ages, ethnicity, country of origin and faiths within the Judeo-Christian framework. It has been a lot of hard work. To be an author today means creating a blog (, a Facebook page and YouTube channel (Faithless Feminist), and getting on Twitter (@karen_garst).

During this two year effort (the book was published on October 1, 2016 by Pitchstone Publishing), I have connected through social media to an incredible number of smart men and women who had similar experiences to the women in my book. I have been welcomed with open arms in the secular community and everyone has provided some help.

The reason I wrote the book is because we all need models. Remember the little African-American boy meeting President Obama? How much will his life change because he now sees that he can be anything he wants. Unfortunately, there are not as many atheist women writers as men. More women, a smaller percentage in the secular statistics, need to speak up and join my authors in telling their stories.

This site is an excellent vehicle for that and I applaud its creators.