A sorrowful loss

We've lost one of the lively voices of freethought.

HELEN KAGIN died early this evening following complications from cancer surgery. She was 76.

Kagin was a heroine and activist in the Atheist movement. Along with her husband, attorney Edwin Kagin, she co-founded Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of nonbelievers, which has grown into an international outreach. She and Edwin were frequent guests at various conventions, and belonged to several freethought groups.

In 2005, Helen and Edwin were named "Atheists of the Year" at the National Convention of American Atheists. Helen was active in the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She worked closely with Edwin and others organizing countless demonstrations and meetings, including the Rally for Reason which attracted hundreds of pro-science supporters who peacefully protested outside the opening of the Creation "Museum" in Petersburg, KY.

She was an outstanding wife, mother, friend to so many; and Helen also had an illustrious career as an anesthesiologist

We will miss her infectious laughter, her wonderful friendship and stalwart support for the cause of Reason and state-church separation.

Helen Kagin will be cremated. Edwin Kagin asks that expressions of sympathy in the form of donations be used to send kids to Camp Quest. There will be further announcements, including details of a Memorial event.

I stayed at Helen and Edwin's house when the 300 students of SSA made their assault on the Creation "Museum", and they were both wonderful people—I feel a little bit of Edwin's pain now.

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Never knew them personally but my sympathies to her husband. The loss of a life partner is never easy.

Very sad. My condolences to Edwin.

By aratina cage o… (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

I haven't seen many Atheist obituaries. Even for local atheists it seems it's always the most religious family members who write the obit. This is a good one, if that is what it is, touching without a single mention of God. Even touting her atheist creds. My heart goes out to her family. To be honest this is not an easy time for us who believe this event marks the end.

If I want to have my own obit to truly reflect my beliefs and be without religion, I should consider writing my own.

I'm sure there will be several idiots out there who are certain that this is God's punishment. Sigh!


#3 KKBundy

I'm sure there will be several idiots out there who are certain that this is God's punishment. Sigh!

But surely they would have to be crazy to think that the death of someone at 76 while having an operation for cancer ...?

Ah! I may have answered my own question!

My condolences to her family.

I feel sad that I do not really remember of hearing about Helen Kagin before.

My condolences to her family. Sounds like she will be missed, but will live in the memories of those who knew her.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink


To be honest this is not an easy time for us who believe this event marks the end.

As sad as bereavement is, imagine how much worse it would be to bear if you believed that your loved one was now being punished eternally. For me, atheism makes bereavement (and the thought of my own death) easier: my parents are just gone, not burning in hell for offending a capricious deity.

I'm giving a donation to the Smokey Mountain Camp Quest in Helen's honor. I just bought a new telescope so I'm giving them my old one.

By creating trons (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink


Well if you were religious, you would never entertain the possibility that your parents are burning in hell, etc. Everyone you know and like gets to go to heaven and you will all be together again in the afterlife. Only people you don't like go to hell. Simple, appealing, illogical.

My condolences to Ms. Kagin's family.

Sorry to hear that such a wonderful person is no longer around.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink


Well if you were religious, you would never entertain the possibility that your parents are burning in hell, etc. Everyone you know and like gets to go to heaven and you will all be together again in the afterlife. Only people you don't like go to hell. Simple, appealing, illogical.

But you only need to observe the behaviour of the family of a dying Christian to realise that they're not that confident. The same goes for the person dying, who frequently appears to be none too pleased about their forthcoming eternal reward.

From Society without God by Phil Zuckerman:

For example, how do they think about and cope with death? It is widely accepted that religion exists because humans need some way to deal with the impending fact of their own demise. That is, everyone is more or less afraid to die (or so the theory goes), and so people turn to religion for comfort and some sort of psychological balm in the face of death. This may certainly be the case for many people - but not everyone, and certainly not for millions of Danes and Swedes. Many Scandinavians are able to live their lives perfectly well without any great fear of, or worry about, the Grim Reaper. I interviewed so many people over the course of my stay who did not fear death - didn't even give it much thought - and were able to live their lives contentedly, being more or less comfortable with the fact that at some point in the near or distant future they will cease to exist. Along these lines, one of the most interesting individuals that I interviewed was Anne, a 43-year-old hospice nurse from Aarhus. I was completely surprised when she told me that in her many years of experience working with the dying, she found that it was generally the atheists who had an easier time calmly accepting their impending fate, while the Christians often had the hardest time facing death, often being wracked with worry and anxiety.

Ok, that's anecdotal, but I've heard it echoed by more than one hospital worker.

A local hero. The absence of her voice and presence will be difficult to adjust to.

In Sarah Vowel's marvellous book The Wordy Shipmates (and if you guys haven't discovered Sarah Vowell yet, all I can say is you have a wonderful experience ahead) she tells the story of a woman at the Massachusetts Bay Colony who became so worried about whether or not she was one of the Elect(remember these were Calvinists) that she couldn't stand the suspense any more and threw her baby down a well so she would know where she was going after death. Extreme example, and probably a case of post-partem depression, but I expect that a lot of believers, especially those who are really rigid in their beliefs, have similar fears. In fact, I suspect that that is why they are so vehement about it. They are scared.

Though I never met her she seems to be a lovely person that I wished I'd met. In her (and her husbands) honor, perhaps, atheists should be called Kaginists.

By jeff.westbrooks (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink


I hope you know I agree with you. I was engaging in smartassery. I would imagine the Xians have a harder time facing reality after all their comforting delusions. We (atheists) are more apt to be grounded in reality, so we can spend our time worrying about this life instead of the next. Not that I want to give this one up, yet, but when it comes, I won't be speculating about my future.

My condolences to everyone feeling the loss.

Also: PZ, the Camp Quest link is broken.

After reading this post, I admire her "Rally for Reason" to bring honest thought when the Hamster opened his creation "museum."

Helen Kagin, RIP.

By Roland J Branconnier (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

How sad. My condolences to the Kagin family. Camp Quest is a great legacy and I'll try to free up a bit of cash to donate.

The Kagins may be viewed in this video at their "Rally for Reason." Edwin appears at the beginning and Helen appears after about 4 minutes.

She says: They criticize anybody who doesn't believe in Him. Ken Ham says that a belief in evolution causes homosexuality, drug abuse, abortion, teen-age pregnancy, family breakups, on and on and it's all because of the influence of atheists. Now, we have a right to be a little outraged by that.

I agree.


I'm sorry to hear it.
my condolences to the family.
It's never a good thing to lose someone you care about.

Helen was an amazing woman and an inspiration to so many. She touched countless lives and in particular helped many, many children who do not believe find acceptance through Camp Quest. I feel very privileged to have known her and been close to her and I am very grateful for the tremendously positive impact she had on my life. Thank you for honoring her memory PZ. It was a delight to meet you at their house before that "museum" trip.

A hearty congratulations to Helen for living such a wonderful, good, and productive life. And deep sympathies to her loved ones who have lost her.

Camp Quest will continue to thrive. And every time when I encounter news about it, I will think, yeah, good, courageous, hard working rationalists make a difference.

By Michelle B (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

Thank you, Helen, for bringing some rationality into the world. You will be missed but you live on in our memory.

By 'Tis Himself, OM (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink

For those of you who want to honor Helen, Camp Quest Inc. has now set up the Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund. Go here to donate: http://www.camp-quest.org/

By heliodromos (not verified) on 19 Feb 2010 #permalink

So it goes.

My condolences to Edwin and congratulations to him for having spent part of his own life with such a woman as Helen.

By https://www.go… (not verified) on 21 Feb 2010 #permalink