Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion

By Karen L. Garst | 17 August 2016
Church and State

(Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

“All three Abrahamic religions are nasty, and women have borne the brunt of the nastiness throughout history. It still persists, and it is moving to listen to women of today telling their personal histories of the various ways in which religion has oppressed them, from childhood on. In their interestingly different ways their testimonies seem to add up to the same story, a story as old as the myth of Eve. I closed the book with uplifted admiration for all these women and for their courage in breaking their historic fetters.”
—Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins is referring to a new book entitled “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion” edited by Karen L. Garst, PhD. The book debuts October 1 but can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014. This decision said that because of its religious views, Hobby Lobby, a craft store, would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst stated. Because many of the books of the New Atheism are written by men, Garst wanted to add a focus on women and the role mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” More and more women atheists are speaking out. If women leave the churches, they will collapse.

What follows is an excerpt from one of the essays in the book.

“Unspoken Betrayal” by Michelle DeBord

I could hear the tightly packed snow crunching under the wheels of the new Chrysler as we rode down the freeway. It was as if my soul was being crunched under those wheels. The day was dark gray and dreary outside. I thought it was fitting for how I felt. As I peered out the window, it looked like an endless sea of dirty-white snow stretching over the horizon, the dark-gray skies colliding with it in the far distance. I knew the sun had to be up there somewhere, but it was obscured from my eyes. I imagined it was up there hiding behind the suffocating darkness all around it. It was appropriate weather to say goodbye to my sister, Shannon.

There were only a few other cars on the freeway. Maybe it was because everyone was part of the betrayal we were somehow lost in, an unspoken sin that was about to rip our family apart. I am sure it was because of the weather conditions, but somehow it fit the new feeling of loneliness I was smothered in. I felt that even if I had screamed at the top of my lungs for help, no one would have heard me. The worst part was that the two human beings I trusted the most sat in the front seat just an arm’s length away.

I watched my grandmother as she drove, her hair graying and short. I couldn’t remember her hairstyle ever changing since my first memory of her as a small child. That said a lot, considering I was now eleven years old. Her earrings appeared to be homemade beadwork, and I thought I remembered them as a gift she’d received from my sister the year before. She had on her famous red poinsettia sweatshirt that she wore far too long past the Christmas season. Everything about her appearance today would normally have triggered my feelings of love and admiration for her. Not today. Today she was gripping her fingers tightly on the steering wheel. Today she was my enemy.

My mother sat next to her in the passenger seat, her black, curly locks bouncing in sync with the car. I could only see a small part of the right side of her tear-stained face. She appeared to be staring out her window into an abyss. For the first time in my life, I saw her as a coward—no longer my heroine. She was no longer the sweet, safe, loving respite I depended on. She was just a shell of a human being. A puppet.

Next to me sat my thirteen-year-old idol and best friend, the only human on the face of the earth who understood and loved every part of who I was: my sister. I knew every detail of her appearance without having to look at her. She was wearing her favorite jeans, the stonewashed ones with the zippers and bows on the bottom of each leg. Her bright white socks were carefully scrunched up over the seams of her pants. She had on her shiny brown penny loafers, the ones I always borrowed to wear with my slacks. Her sweater, a gift from a leader in the church, was fuzzy gray with flowers bright in color. The turtleneck hugging her long, thin neck reached up past her light-brown bobbed hairstyle. She had ratted her bangs, like she did every morning, about three inches high off her head. Somehow she lucked out with an angelic face and our dad’s perfect nose. We shared the same brown eyes. Simply put, there sat an adoring package of love. A “handle with care” package. Something delicate and fragile.

I couldn’t look over at her that day. Not this dreadful day. I knew if I did, everything that was exploding just under the surface would come bursting out. I would be a screaming, sobbing mess. I feared one of those sobs that won’t stop, the kind that takes your breath away and leaves you whimpering like a baby. Instead I was sitting there, staring at my two new enemies. I was silently begging them to say something. Anything! I hoped for heaven’s sakes they would come to their senses and turn the car around!

The tension in the car that horrible day was as thick as the gray fog outside. It felt as dark as a night with no moon. No one would speak of the purpose of this drive, but, oh, I wanted to. I wanted to shout that she wasn’t a bad child. That she was just acting like the teenager she was. Thirteen, she was only thirteen. I wanted to tell them that they needed to love her unconditionally. I wanted to scream horrible names at them, tell them that they were traitors and liars. Who cared if she’d had sex? Who cared if it was with our bishop’s son? Why couldn’t his parents send him away? Why was Grandma’s “good standing” more important than her love for my sister? Why wasn’t our mom fighting for her daughter? (Due to insurance issues, my mom had signed custody to my grandmother for what was supposed to be a year. But Grandma wouldn’t sign it back. My grandma then used it to hurt and control my mom.) I kept thinking, Yell, Mama, yell! Fight, please fight! Custody is just a piece of paper. Grandma has no right. God made you her Mama.

As we arrived at the airport, I wasn’t able to force them to hear my silent pleas for help. Everyone was already exiting the car, and it was too late. The trunk opened, and I could hear my grandma’s stern voice scolding my sister, telling her that she needed to stop crying and hurry up. I thought maybe if I didn’t get out of the car, then they wouldn’t go inside. Maybe that would be the only way I could save my sister from being forced onto the plane. That way she wouldn’t be abandoning her little sister. I wouldn’t have to lose her for life.

I was ordered out of the car. We waited silently inside the airport for Shannon’s turn to board the plane. I was tear soaked, the neck of my shirt wet and clinging to my skin. Still I could not make eye contact with my sister. I was too busy soaking in her smell, mannerisms, and love. The loud voice on the intercom interrupted my thoughts. It was now time for her to board the plane. At that moment, my heart took a picture. There she stood, crying out her last plea to not have to go. There stood the other half of my soul. She looked so helpless, and I knew I was defeated as well.

Our hug goodbye ended my ability to hold in my sorrow. We both were crying and pronouncing our love for each other through sobs. She boarded the plane. I could not watch her leave. When I heard the roaring engines of the plane as it prepared to go down the runway, I imagined my heart being anchored to the wheels. As it sped down the concrete to lift off, it ripped my heart right out of my chest and changed my life forever.

I could not decipher if the chill I felt in the car on the way home was from the cold weather outside or the dark, cold energies between the three of us. There were two things I knew for sure: not one word was spoken the entire ride home, and I now knew the feeling of the word hate. It was not my grandma I hated, although I was sure my love clouded my discernment on that—it was the Church I hated. I knew I never wanted to go back, to watch the bishop stand up in front of the ward and tell us that he believed in Jesus Christ. I never wanted to watch his fake reverence or hear his testimony of forgiveness, and I never wanted to stand by and keep his secrets.

Excerpted from Women Beyond Belief by Karen L. Garst. Copyright © Karen L. Garst, 2016. All rights reserved.

Karen L. Garst, PhD, is the former executive director of the Oregon Community College Association and Oregon State Bar. She writes at the Faithless Feminist.

Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook


  1. Religion, the product of man, is not responsible to man. It is responsible only to itself.. It has no duty to free the soul of man. It has only the duty to capture his soul. It has no duty to elevate him.. It has only the duty to frighten him, to cut off inquiry, to block his discovery of self, and to at last own him. Religion has too often become the debasing negative energy that demands that we praise religion and ignore man.

  2. Wishing great success for this book!

    As a lifelong student of mythology and in particular the work of mytho-archeologist Marija Gimbutas and her colleagues, it has been encouraging to literally see “unearthed” earlier paradigms in which women, and the processes of life that women represent, honored and sacred. The more one studies the origins and evolution of the patriarchal religions, the more amazing it is to see how the feminine was diabolized, removed, co-opted, silenced, and scapegoated in these religious traditions the west has inherited. And I truly believe that breaking with them is not only significant to individual women, but to the preservation of the future.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here