Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on May 16, 2008

We had our forth social event of 2008 at Candy and Jule s home in West Seattle.  We had a nice turnout with approximately 33 guests to hear our guest speaker Valerie Tarico.  Thanks so much to Candy and Jule for opening up their home.


Craig Salins from Washington Public Campaigns Craig announced two important events in WPC s continuing efforts to obtain publicly funded elections in Washington State.  First is the King County Council's Town Hall meeting, on the topic of public financing, Monday May 19th, 6:30 pm, at Shoreline Conference Center.  Second is the WPC annual awards banquet on June 21st (sadly, the same evening as our next inSPIRe social, so no excuses for staying at home this Saturday evening!).  Craig and his team have done, and are doing, amazing work.  With some luck and a lot of work, we may have publicly funded City of Seattle elections by the end of 2008!  Please see to learn more and to join in the efforts!

JP Patches and Gertrude Statue in Fremont Jack Tomkinson of Urban Sparks ( announced the fundraising efforts for JP Patches and Gertrude statue in Fremont.  Sales for Patches Pavers (commemorative bricks) are closing on Monday May 19.  If you want to buy a paver for the plaza around the JP Patches and Gertrude Statue in Fremont, act now.  You may buy them at    Two line pavers for $100 (no logo) and three line pavers for $125 (no logo).

inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson for our next meeting, June 4th.  To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to


Keynote Speaker:  Valerie Tarico.

Dr. Valerie Tarico is author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth.  She hosts Christianity in the Public Square, a monthly series on Moral Politics Television.  Raised in a staunch fundamentalist family, Dr. Tarico attended Wheaton College, where the Billy Graham Center houses a museum dedicated to the history of American Evangelicalism.  She obtained a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa before completing postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington.  Now a psychotherapist in Seattle, Dr. Tarico calls upon her scientific training, professional experience, and background as a born-again Evangelical as she examines crucial questions about faith, facts, and compassion.  If you d like more information about this topic, Valerie Tarico s essays can be found at  Her book, The Dark Side, is available to our members at the discounted price of $15 or 2 for $25.  If you would like a copy, please let Dave Gamrath know, and Dave can bring them to our next inSPIRe gathering. 

Information about direct political consequences of Christian fundamentalism can be found at   The Christian denomination that is providing the most clear, public and vocal alternatives to fundamentalism is the United Church of Christ (Barak Obama s denomination).   

First, a call to action.  For fending off fundamentalist incursions into government policy and tax expenditures, the most effective organizations in the country are:;  (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), and (Freedom From Religion Foundation).  Please join or donate as you can.

Valerie has asked us all to join her new site and to tell others about it as a means to help counter the power of fundamentalism.   What do you care about most deeply?  What or who inspires you?  What snippets of insight would you like to share with the world or the next generation?  Fundamentalist Christians believe that others literally have no basis for morality and that when Jesus takes them away in the Rapture, the world will descend into brutality and anarchy.  This belief creates a dangerous fear and dehumanizing of outsiders.  The Wisdom Commons and similar tools allow us to begin countering this perception.  By talking about ourselves and what matters to us, we can help to demonstrate that human ethical impulse is deep and broad.  This helps to break down the kinds of fearful, reactive tribalism that so often lead to violence.  The Wisdom Commons is interactive website that seeks to elevate our shared moral core, the deep ethical intuitions that transcend boundaries of culture and religion.  It is organized around a set of virtues that human beings generally agree are important like generosity, compassion and courage. As a user or member, you can search or input quotes, proverbs, meditations, stories, and essays from many traditions. Simply by clicking you can save favorite bits into a personal wisdom page.  As we add features, you will be able also to join a deeper dialogue about ethics and about the specific virtues featured on the site. It will be easy to receive inspiring quotes at your email or website, to print a simple poster of a proverb or even to create a gift book of poems and stories you find most powerful. The aim is to make it easier to share some of our most deeply held values with each other.

Valerie began the discussion by describing her evangelical upbringing and how it leads to her activism today.  At age 7, Valerie became born again .  As a young child raised in an evangelical environment, Valerie often had thoughts and fears of being deeply sinful, and repeatedly went through the process of accepting Jesus to insure she would be going to heaven.  Valerie spoke of frequently being in fear during her young life, and the commonness of this with young children in this environment.  An example of this was that of coming home and having her family being gone, and instantly fearing they had been whisked up to heaven in the rapture and that she would never see them again.  This is just one of many examples she described of the trauma she struggled with as a child.

Valerie was actively involved with the I found it! campaign and served as an evangelical counselor, recruiting kids as young as five years of age.  This was typical efforts to indoctrinate very young kids into the evangelical belief system began at a very early age.  After high school, Valerie then attended Billy Graham s Wheaton College, an evangelical school. 

As a young adult, Valerie became conflicted regarding her Christian beliefs.  She struggled with questions such as why did God help Valerie to get an A on a test in school, but at the same time let so many people starve around the world?   After time, she began to move away from the strict evangelical teachings.  She joined liturgical churches instead, which were much less threatening.  When Valerie moved to Seattle, she began her work helping children who were very ill, some of them terminally ill.  Associates in this work often tried to justify the terrible state of these poor children as part of God s grand plan and tried to justify that their suffering must be necessary as part of God s wishes.  In time, Valerie walked away from her prior strong evangelical beliefs, and put that part of her life to rest.

Then, George W. Bush was elected, and Valerie became very concerned when she saw the president making policies out of evangelical theories.  She saw evangelicals all around her breaking our culture s unspoken rule of don t ask / don t tell in regards to one s religious beliefs.  The only vocal people on religious beliefs were the evangelicals trying to recruit new members as well as to bend public thinking and public policy their way.  This made the public conversation regarding religion highly one-sided, and Valerie began the activism against evangelicalism that she is involved with today. 

What do evangelicals believe?  Valerie gave a thorough description of many of their core beliefs, which include the literal perfection of the bible, the concept of original sin, that we will not be able to go to heaven unless we accept Jesus as our savior, that we have a perfect God in Jesus and that He died on the cross for us, etc. 

So, what are the implications of these beliefs?  Evangelicals get completely wrapped up in a very controlled environment.  These beliefs are amazingly powerful.  This sort of extreme-belief system doesn t necessarily lead to violence that we sometimes see today in the world by religious fanatics.  But the power of these beliefs is very effective at controlling people s behavior.  If one believes everything is absolutely true , this mindset can lead to a blind following and extreme behavior, which can sometimes be violent, etc.

Throughout the history of Christianity, our ancestors have always struggled with the true meaning of biblical passages.  We have always strived to weed out what is truly real vs. things that are only notional, etc.  As time has progressed, significant modification of the bible has occurred in this process.  Examples are the reformations.  In the Protestant Reformation, believers scraped away at the bible to get at what they believed were the true messages of Jesus.  This process was repeated many times. 

In the 20th century we became much more knowledgeable about our natural world through science, etc.  In the early 1900s, many more changes were made to people s understanding of the bible.  In the 1920s, fundamental believers issued a pamphlet on The Fundamentals of Christianity , striving to take Christian beliefs back to what they were in the 4th century.  Religious fundamentalism refers a "deep and totalistic commitment" to a belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of a holy book, absolute religious authority, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (fundamentals), away from doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.  The term fundamentalism was originally coined to describe a narrowly defined set of beliefs that developed into a movement within the US Protestant community in this early part of the 20th century.  Fundamentalists effectively equal Evangelicals, and they claim to speak for all Christians.  In reality, basically ALL public Christian speakers are Evangelicals.  Mainline denominations tend to be much more accepting.  We are currently in the throes of this reformation. 

Valerie then described where she believes we need to move in regards to evangelicalism, etc.  Many believe the bible is just a historical record of our spiritual growth.  Many believe that Jesus wasn t sacrificed for us, and that he wasn t uniquely divine.  But most who believe this are not vocal in their beliefs.  What we now need is a progressive reformation.  Before the age of the written word, moral and spiritual tradition was passed on in the spoken form.  With this, it could evolve as the times evolved.  It could keep pace with change.  With the written word, things were allowed to remain stagnant.  With the writing of the bible, the written word of our moral and spiritual beliefs from the Bronze Age was captured, and there it has stayed with fundamentalism.  With the bible we have moved to text worship . 

How can we challenge this?  A part of the answer lies with technology.  We can use today s technology to influence people and change their thinking.  We need to allow people to look at our co-creations and traditions, and ask the questions such as what is superstition?   What is sanctifying?  What is real?  We need a dialog around universal ethics. 

Valerie discussed, a website we can add timeless bits of wisdom and share this with our loved ones.  Valerie has been helping with the formation of this website.

Q What do you think about the Bishop John Spong?

A I love him!  John Shelby Spong is the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (based in Newark, New Jersey). He is a liberal theologian, biblical scholar, religion commentator and author. He promotes traditionally liberal causes, such as racial equality. He also calls for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief, away from theism and from the afterlife as reward or punishment for human behavior.

Q If you look at the statistics, mainline Christian religions are on the downswing and Fundamentalists are on the upswing.  Why is this?

A Part of it is that mainline churches are boring.  And they are old their typical worshipers are old.  The Fundamentalists tend to be younger and much more innovating to market themselves and to attract new membership.  They are not afraid to experiment to find out what works.  An example of this is the local Mark Driscoll.  He is entertaining.  He has a degree in Marketing, and this is what he is good at.  Also, Fundamentalism is edgy and violent , thus, with many young people it is also cool!  This whole issue is very complex and difficult to understand.

Q I have a similar background as you in that I had a very religious upbringing, and in the end I too could not buy into it.  Do you believe that humans are wired in a certain way that leads one to be a believer or to not be a believer?

A I don t believe that people are wired for believing, or that there is a God spot in the brain.  Life circumstances really come into play with this too.  A good site to visit is

Q What are the demographics of fundamentalism?  Is it big in Seattle?  Just in the Midwest?  Widespread?

A It is everywhere.  Many new members are the children of parents who are in the mainstream churches.

Q Is there a correlation between economics and believing?  Why is this movement so big in the USA and not in Europe?

A It is really hard to make this connection.

Q What do you believe will be the voting behavior of the Evangelicals in the upcoming November election?

A In recent times they have been burned.  They have tied themselves to the Republican party and are not happy.  Plus McCain is an old guy, thus not sexy to the younger voters.  But Evangelicals are still very strong, and they absolutely believe they have God s mandate to rule our country per the direction of the bible.

Audience comment I don t need to be born again.  God got it right the first time!

Q I personally find it hopeless to try and convert Evangelicals away from their religious beliefs.  What is your experience?

A I agree with you.  It usually is hopeless.  And it is hard to switch them to a different variation of Fundamentalism.  Fundamentalists hate different Fundamentalists!  They constantly pick and choose what parts of the bible they want to believe.

Q I m not hearing comments about inner-peace tonight.  In all the passionate talk here tonight, we re not discussing this.  Where is it?

A Sadly, good discussion regarding spirituality and inner peace frequently gets lost in the Fundamentalist message.

Q What do you think of what George Lakeoff wrote of in his book Don t Think of an Elephant?

A Lakeoff is right:  we vote our identity, not for our own economic benefits.


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry 

Many thanks to Valerie for her informative and important talk!


See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!


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Dave and our speaker, Dr. Valerie Tarico


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