Kristine Klopp is the Assistant State Director of American Atheists Alabama. Here we talk about her work, life, and view.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you?
Kristine Klopp: I was born in Canada and raised secular. We did not go to church, we did not pray, and religion was not a part of our lives.
I suppose at an early age there was an underlying assumption that we all believed in God, and may have made casual references about ‘him’, but that was the extent of religion in my early life.
Well, that, and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ every morning in my public school. I chose to attend a Catholic high school, as it was a new school with a good academic reputation. That decision changed my life and my identity forever.
Jacobsen: How were religion and faith influential on you if at all?
Klopp: It was while I attended that Catholic school that I realized I did not buy into any of it, and that was the first time I realized I was an atheist.
The more I learned about and experienced religion, the more distaste I felt about it. I was still living in Canada at this point, so religion did not affect my life. Then I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and the culture shock set in.
Jacobsen: How does religion around the world, and in your locale in Alabama, appear to receive special privileges in the upbringing the young?
Klopp: Religion demands and receives special privileges in everything it touches. It starts with newborns; religious daycare centers do not have to follow the same state regulations and licensing requirements the public daycare facilities must follow, despite receiving federal and state subsidies.
A five-year-old boy died in August 2017 in the care of a religious daycare in my city; his body found within a mile from my home due to negligent screening and no background check of a worker with a criminal record.
I wonder just how many children have been hurt by the lack of regulations and licensing in these facilities. As of this past summer, Christianity is working to wiggle their way into Alabama schools with “In God We Trust” displays.
What was once considered a violation of separation of church and state is now acceptable after the US determined “In God We Trust” to be our ‘national motto’.
Jacobsen: How did you find and become more deeply involved in American Atheists Alabama?
Klopp: I became aware of American Atheists when I became a member of the North Alabama Freethought Association (NAFA) while living in Huntsville. Through that group, I began to attend American Atheists conventions and connected with the message AA delivered.
I moved to Mobile and worked with others to develop Mobile Atheist Community. I was recommended as an Assistant State Director, and have held this position for a little over a year.
Jacobsen: Does an open voicing of non-religious opinions impact social and familial relationships for the individual in Alabama?
Klopp: Greatly. Unfortunately, Alabama is one of the most conservative and religious states in the US. Mobile Atheist Community has a public facebook page, but we also have a private group.
Many of our members have not and cannot ‘come out’ as an atheist to their employer or their family for fear of backlash. We encourage people to ‘come out’ when they can (the more known atheists, the more ‘normal’ atheism is), but we also understand people’s concern and fear.
Some of our members have lost relationships with family, and I have known some atheists that have lost their jobs by ‘coming out’.
Our group serves as an outlet for our members to tell stories, ask advice, post humorous memes, and find support from each other. My goal is that we will make the world a little better in the process.
Religion is so entrenched in the deep south ‘Bible Belt’, that it surrounds us when we are at work, with family, with friends, driving down the road (billboards), listening to the local radio stations, watching the local news, in our mail, and churches are everywhere we look.
The good news is that the statistics are on our side! Our numbers are growing, and the younger generation is comprised of a higher number of atheists than any other generation. This gives us hope that we will see positive changes in our lifetime.
Jacobsen: What books have been influential in personal philosophical life for you? What about films or documentaries?
Klopp: My major in my undergrad studies was Psychology, and those books were highly influential for me. One of my classes was ‘Motivation’ and it focused on how humans behave based on evolution and primitive drives.
That class may have started my love of evolution. As a typical atheist, I am working through my library of Dawkins and Hitchens (among others) books. Religulous was the first documentary about religion that I watched, and it may have influenced me to embrace my atheism and see the ridiculousness that is religion.
Jacobsen: If you reflect on some of the concerning developments in fundamentalist religions in the US, what trouble you? Who troubles you?
Klopp: Most troubling for me might be public school systems educating our children about creationism rather than actual science and evolution. Another major concern is politicians using religion to influence their decisions about policies and laws affecting everybody in this country.
There are too many individuals to list, but the Republican party has proudly put religion before the constitution time after time. And, of course, our current president encourages such violations of church and state.
Jacobsen: How has religion been a force for good in history? How has it been a force for evil in history?
Klopp: I don’t feel that religion has been a force for good in history in any way, and I believe it has been the root cause for hate, divisiveness, destruction, and war. My father (a non-practicing Christian), argues that religion is vital for some people to do the right things.
My argument is that a person will or will not do ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things regardless of their religion, especially when their religion tells them if they pray and ask for forgiveness for their sins, they will get a pass and go to heaven.
I also point out the mass numbers of priest (and other church leader) pedophiles that the church covers up. My argument is that without religion, people would face the reality that this is the only life we have; that we need to enjoy it, and not take it for granted.
Jacobsen: What are some of the provisions for the community through American Atheists Alabama? How can folks become involved with the wider non-religious community, e.g., donations, volunteering time and skills, providing professional networks, and so on?
Klopp: American Atheists has created a list of affiliate groups in each city so that people can find local groups near them by going to the www.americanatheists.org website. They welcome any donations!
AA has also created a program for us Assistant Directors and Directors to implement in our local areas. We offer activism, community service, education and social events. There is enough variety to provide something for everybody to get involved!
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Kristine.
Klopp: Thank you, Scott!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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