About

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She completed her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa and postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington. She subsequently joined the staff of Seattle Children’s Hospital and ran Children’s Behavior and Learning Clinic in Bellevue, Washington, before moving to a private clinic.  Eventually it became clear that social and political trends were undermining what she was trying to accomplish as a mental health practitioner:  to have there be a little less pain and a little more delight in the world.  She closed her practice to take on some of those bigger issues.

As a writer Valerie tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues and contraceptive technologies that she thinks are upstream game changers for a broad range of challenges that humanity faces.

Valerie is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, and Deas and Other Imaginings: 10 Spiritual Folktales for Children. She currently writes for the Alternet, and occasionally for Huffington Post and Truthout. Her articles are popular at Salon.com, ExChristian.net and IEET.org.   Until the closure of SCAN TV in 2011, she hosted a monthly series, “Christianity in the Public Square” on Moral Politics Television in Seattle. Her YouTube Channel, AwayPoint offers resources for recovering Evangelicals and others who want to better understand the psychology of biblical Christian belief.

Tarico is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core. She is a founder of WisdomCommons.org, an interactive site that allows users to find and discuss information about virtues that emerge repeatedly across secular and religious wisdom traditions.  A related series of parenting articles, “Character Corner” can be found at The Community of Mindful Parents. A complete set of her articles is available here at AwayPoint.wordpress.com.

40 Responses to About

  1. Away Point:
    My newspaper column about fading religion my interest you and your readers:

    A huge news story, barely noticed

    (The Charleston Gazette – Nov. 9, 2010)

    By James A. Haught
    Philosopher-historian Will Durant called it “the basic event of modern times.” He didn’t mean the world wars, or the end of colonialism, or the rise of electronics. He was talking about the decline of religion in Western democracies.
    The great mentor saw subsiding faith as the most profound occurrence of the past century — a shift of Western civilization, rather like former transitions away from the age of kings, the era of slavery and such epochs.
    Since World War II, worship has dwindled starkly in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and other advanced democracies. In those busy places, only 5 or 10 percent of adults now attend church. Secular society scurries along heedlessly.
    Pope Benedict XVI protested: “Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner unknown before now to humanity, excludes God from the public conscience.” Columnist George Will called the Vatican “109 acres of faith in a European sea of unbelief.”
    America seems an exception. This country has 350,000 churches whose members donate $100 billion per year. The United States teems with booming megachurches, gigantic sales of “Rapture” books, fundamentalist attacks on evolution, hundred-million-dollar TV ministries, talking-in-tongues Pentecostals, the white evangelical “religious right” attached to the Republican Party, and the like.
    But quietly, under the radar, much of America slowly is following the path previously taken by Europe. Little noticed, secularism keeps climbing in the United States. Here’s the evidence:
    | Rising “nones.” Various polls find a strong increase in the number of Americans — especially the young — who answer “none” when asked their religion. In 1990, this group had climbed to 8 percent, and by 2008, it had doubled to 15 percent — plus another 5 percent who answer “don’t know.” This implies that around 45 million U.S. adults today lack church affiliation. In Hawaii, more than half say they have no church connection.
    | Mainline losses. America’s traditional Protestant churches — “tall steeple” denominations with seminary-trained clergy — once dominated U.S. culture. They were the essence of America. But their membership is collapsing. Over the past half-century, while the U.S. population doubled, United Methodists fell from 11 million to 7.9 million, Episcopalians dropped from 3.4 million to 2 million, the Presbyterian Church USA sank from 4.1 million to 2.2 million, etc. The religious journal First Things — noting that mainline faiths dwindled from 50 percent of the adult U.S. population to a mere 8 percent — lamented that “the Great Church of America has come to an end.” A researcher at the Ashbrook think-tank dubbed it “Flatline Protestantism.”
    | Catholic losses. Although Hispanic immigration resupplies U.S. Catholicism with replacements, many former adherents have drifted from the giant church. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 20 million Americans have quit Catholicism — thus one-tenth of U.S. adults now are ex-Catholics.
    | Fading taboos. A half-century ago, church-backed laws had power in America. In the 1950s, it was a crime to look at the equivalent of a Playboy magazine or R-rated movie — or for stores to open on the Sabbath — or to buy a cocktail or lottery ticket — or to sell birth-control devices in some states — or to be homosexual — or to terminate a pregnancy — or to read a sexy novel — or for an unwed couple to share a bedroom. Now all those morality laws have fallen, one after another. Currently, state after state is legalizing gay marriage, despite church outrage.
    Sociologists are fascinated by America’s secular shift. Dr. Robert Putnam of Harvard, author of “Bowling Alone,” found as many as 40 percent of young Americans answering “none” to faith surveys. “It’s a huge change, a stunning development,” he said. “That is the future of America.” He joined Dr. David Campbell of Notre Dame in writing a new book, “American Grace,” that outlines the trend. Putnam’s Social Capital site sums up: “Young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate.”
    Oddly, males outnumber females among the churchless. “The ratio of 60 males to 40 females is a remarkable result,” the 2008 ARIS poll reported. “These gender patterns correspond with many earlier findings that show women to be more religious than men.”
    Growing secularism has political implications. The Republican Party may suffer as the white evangelical “religious right” shrinks. In contrast, burgeoning “nones” tend to vote Democratic. Sociologist Ruy Teixeira says the steady rise of the unaffiliated, plus swelling minorities, means that “by the 2016 election (or 2020 at the outside) the United States will have ceased to be a white Christian nation. Looking even farther down the road, white Christians will be only around 35 percent of the population by 2040, and conservative white Christians, who have been such a critical part of the Republican base, will be only about a third of that — a minority within a minority.”
    Gradually, decade by decade, religion is moving from the advanced First World to the less-developed Third World. Faith retains enormous power in Muslim lands. Pentecostalism is booming in Africa and South America. Yet the West steadily turns more secular.
    Arguably, it’s one of the biggest news stories during our lives — although most of us are too busy to notice. Durant may have been correct when he wrote that it is the basic event of modern times.
    (Haught, editor of The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s largest newspaper, can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at haught@wvgazette.com. This essay is adapted from his ninth book, Fading Faith: The Rise of the Secular Age.)

  2. http://dechristianated.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/harvard-university-evolution-of-religion/

    NO POST :FOR VALERIE

    Valerie I had an OS reinstall and lost your email. I wanted you to see this pdf of my favorite evolutionary biologist on the Evolution of Religion hypothesis.

    Regards
    Bryan Edmondson
    aka Hanson Anderson

  3. George Bryce says:

    Dear Dr. Tarico:

    Can you recommend any books or published articles that explain the biological, psychological or social/cultural reasons why (many) humans have faith (in a god, in particular)? Maybe another way to ask my question: Is faith some form of biologically-based or sociological-grounded form of psycho-pathology that we now need to get beyond (even if it did serve some useful purpose thousands of years ago)?

    Thanks for your consideration.

    GKB

    • I find Pascal Boyer’s book, Religion Explained, to be tremendously helpful in understanding how religion fits the structure of the human brain — why we are vulnerable to religious thinking. Another (much quicker and more accessible (though less rigorous) look at religion from a psychological standpoint is Andy Thompson’s lecture, Why We Believe in Gods: http://watchdocumentary.com/watch/why-we-believe-in-gods-andy-thomson-lecture-video_741aa4d3e.html.

    • LLZ says:

      Dear GKB,
      I see that you wrote this question over two years ago. You wanted to know if there is something written that addresses man’s need to have faith in a god. Have you ever heard of CS Lewis? He wrote a book called Mere Christianity. He was a self-proclaimed atheist as well as an Oxford professor. His pilgrimage to faith in God and Christianity is spell-binding and makes total sense. I encourage you to read it.
      Sincerely,
      LLZ

    • LLZ says:

      Dear GKB,
      I was captivated with CS Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. He was an Oxford professor and a self-proclaimed atheist who found his way to faith in God.
      LLZ

  4. dan bloom says:

    Valerie, the biggest problem with Xianity which you still seem unwilling to confront is that the entire Gospels were written by a church that wanted to push hatred on Jews, women, gays and anyone else who wasn’t a church father or brother. You inherited a 2000 year old sick puppy and nothing can save it except to jettison it completely and start all over again. You know this, yet you still cling to your faith. WHY? Valerie, there is no God or gods and Jesus was a fake false messiah prophet and the Hebrews had it all wrong, too. If you really want to heal the world, grow up and face reality. First, tell me which untruth of Xianity is the one you are most wiliing to admit to and tell the world? Dish! (danny in his wireless cave in Taiwan, Tufts 1971) . SMILE

  5. Dr Tarico,

    I just read your piece on Alternet — excellent. Mental illness is my thing, if one can have a thing like mental illness, and I’ve written a book about the experiences my ex-husband and I had when he became severely mentally ill (we lived in Seattle at the time, and resources were . . . not there.) I apologize for mentioning this here, but I’m currently marketing the book and looking at every outlet — I’m an accountant, with extensive hands-on experience in dealing with mental illness, and for years I’ve been advocating for mental health. If you should get a chance, please take a look at http://www.anuncommonfriendship.com, or on Amazon for Monique Colver.

  6. Debra B. says:

    I just read an article written by you that was posted on Facebook by the Christian Left about the mindset of evangelicals and their tactics in pushing Christianity on non-believers. I found it very enlightening, and disturbing, frankly. I have become more and more disenchanted with conservative Christianity in the past 5 years, even though I was raised in evangelical churches and continued to attend them into adulthood, raising my children in the faith as well. After examining my own faith many times over, I have come to love Jesus Christ more than ever–finding Him alive and well apart from the confines of The Church! I read His words, and my soul is lifted; I see Him in every face, and realize that His love is indeed boundless! My question is this: In this corrupt and defiled world (and the church is part of that), what am I supposed to do with the “Great Commission”? I’m not willing to just ignore it. Is it that I should try to BE the Jesus I know, and allow the Spirit to speak in my place? I would appreciate your input.

    • Hi Debra -
      I think your question turns on another question. What is knowable and what can we know about the Bible and the person of Jesus? Only then can one ask, what does it mean to share the Good News in the 21st Century? Linguistic and archeological studies, and the most scrupulous methods of historians reveal the Bible to be a document with human handprints all over it for those who who know where and how to look. Christian theologian Thomas Stark’s book, The Human Faces of God, gives an accessible window into how scholars can know this–what their methods are and how one can center a strong, loving Christian faith despite some traditional conservative beliefs being in doubt. A small book called, “On Being Certain” by Robert Burton offers an interesting window into how our minds work and what we can and cannot know. I personally think that when people place dogma or biblical texts over Love, then they are actually engaged in the worship of texts or tradition. Some modernist Christians call this bibliolatry. Starting with the question about what is knowable and known–understanding our own limitations and also our own history can feel complicated and humbling. I think in that context the way that St. Francis interpreted the Great Commission is at least a good beginning place: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

  7. Debra B. says:

    Hello, Valerie. Thank you so much for the answer! I will look into the books you mentioned; they sound interesting. I will think more on the concept of “knowing what is knowable”; it does cause one to wonder about scriptures that have been passed through the hands of so many different translators. I can know this: God has respect for my individuality, and even for my opinion. He and I don’t always agree, but if I ask for illumination, He will give it–freely and without condemnation or disdain! Such is your response, as it matches up with the comments of a friend who recently said, “I try to live in love, which means simply to care for each other, listen to and respect each other, as we hope others will care for us. Not hurting each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, working together for the common good as much as possible. It isn’t ‘all about me’; it’s about all of us.” God cares about my journey in finding answers. Please know you (and St. Francis!) had a hand in it! Debra.

  8. Ryan says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Just wanted to ask, do you no longer believe in any god(s) now?

    • Hi Ryan-
      I think that the term “God” can be defined so abstractly that all any of us can do is to say, “I have no way of knowing the answer to that question.” That said, we can feel confident that the gods humans have defined and worshiped over the millennia are man-made, a product of our how we project our own psyches and cultures onto the unknown. Even those that don’t have human bodies have human minds. Pascal Boyer’s book, Religion Explained, describes interesting research in which you can see that even people who claim to worship the abstract God of theologians actually worship person-gods. To worship the god of most Christians is actually an act of self-worship.

  9. Ryan says:

    Hi again Valerie,

    I also just wanted to take the time to respectfully ask,

    why does the link to your book (Trusting Doubt) link to The Oracle Institute?

    The image of the pentagram on their website triggered some questions in me.

    What are your thoughts on Wicca and Paganism?

    I read the Mission Statement on the Oracle website. It seems to maintain a collective focus on “Advocating for Enlightenment and a Vanguard for Spiritual Evolution”.

    This sounds (and I’m sorry if I’m assuming falsely) to be very religious.

    I’ve been exposed to loaded language like this before in religious and spiritual discourse and in my experience often websites that give vague and abstract answers to their purpose and motivation are very often new age in different clothing.

    Again, I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood this.

    From what I’ve read of your articles (by the way I find them valuable and very interesting) I still don’t understand why your book is linked and promoted on a website that seems to directly plug and promotes new age spirituality, with integrations that seem to include a mish-mash of deism, neo-pagan symbols and shared words from the American founding fathers. Using language like hearth, commune and abstract labels such as “god is light” I have to honestly conclude that this is just new age. I don’t understand, this seems worlds apart from what your articles on psychology reflect. When you touch on critical thinking in your articles how do you reconcile this website to your articles? How are these new age labels any more tangible than right wing Christianity?

    I’m really interested to read your thoughts on this.

    Kind regards, Ryan

    • Hi Ryan -
      Thank you for taking the time to ask. Oracle is a small publisher seeking to advance a wide range of challenges to traditional tribal orthodoxies. These challenges may include critiques of old ways of thinking as well as suggestions of alternatives. They are open to ideas that I myself find lacking in evidence and that fall broadly under the New Age umbrella. To the publisher, the pentacle represents the centering point between the world’s five major religious traditions. Like you, I tend to think that people are likely to misperceive it as a symbol of the pagan tradition specifically.

      As a critique of Evangelicalism specifically and orthodox Christianity more broadly, my book was on mission for them even though it doesn’t embrace New Age ideas. And as an author, it was on mission for me to have a publisher. :) The team at Oracle has been tireless and generous in their support of Trusting Doubt.

      I will say, too, that I think that if we are going to get rid of old ideas and institutions that aren’t working any more we need to replace them with something better. We can’t merely expose tired old religions based on book worship. We need to channel humanity’s moral, communitarian, and spiritual impulses (and I use the term broadly) and build rituals and institutions that are compatible with what we now know about ourselves and our planet. Else we simply leave a void that weird cults, fundamentalists and secular ideologues are only too glad to fill. I myself tend to look to some of the recent experiments at, for example, the Harvard Humanist chaplaincy and the Foundation Beyond Belief, in the hopes that this can happy in a way that is rigorously accountable to evidence and science as well as compassion.

  10. Ryan says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Thankyou for taking the time to write back. Your response helps puts things into perspective :)

    I appreciate that finding a publisher who is both flexible and generous is important. I also understand that because they are a publisher of yours you are in a very different position. However, out of interest I’ve been reading more from Oracle and I feel it’s important to outline a few things.

    Some of their pages misrepresent other religions to make them more compatible to their own views (http://www.theoracleinstitute.org/compare) the website also quote mines from people who were traditionally considered deist. This gives weight to concepts that they would probably not agree with. That’s the great thing about quotemining though: if the person is dead or unaware your quoting them then they can’t contest or correct them :) I would argue that the language Oracle uses is misleading (whether this is intentional or not ).

    Oracle seeems to essentailly do what many evangelicals and other religious movements are accused of doing: cherrypick from many applied disciplines (including psychology) to build a case from sources that many of these very sources would not actually support.

    Oracle starts with their premise and then mine through the evidence, selecting what is useful and needed to build their case while ignoring any evidence that would debunk it.

    I give them the benefit of the doubt however. From what I’ve seen I also assume the writers of the Oracle website are kind, caring and compassionate people. Like many communities built on religious concepts, I assume these people have good intensions :)

    However this doesn’t negate from the fact what they choose to convey on their website is misleading. Even if their intensions are well meaning.
    What are your thoughts?

    Kind regards, Ryan

    • Yes. I mean any kind of brief writing for a popular audience inevitably cherry picks and oversimplifies–especially the kind of writing I do, which has a strong point of view. I struggle with that regularly as a writer. The best one can hope for is that the center of gravity is on, and that the writing leaves the reader with a more informed, accurate or nuanced approximation of reality than they came with. But I think you are saying something more than that. I think what makes you uncomfortable is that synthesizing the traditions requires distorting them and making claims that cannot be substantiated. Is that right?

      • Ryan says:

        Yes, this distortion does frustrate me.

        I generally think that faiths should be considered accepted through their primary sources. Otherwise this mixing just confuses and misrepresents. It detracts from learning what faiths actually teach.

        I don’t really agree when a belief is taken and twisted to say something entirely different from what the primary source states. In these cases it seems that a faith is watered down to say only what a person wants to hear, rather than what a faith teaches.

        This seems to me like a sort of abstract fuzz that just confuses and distracts. A sort of pick and mix that asks nothing of them while stroking their ego by insisting that the focus in all on them. I think faiths should be accepted for what they teach, not warped to what we want them to teach.

        Ryan :)

  11. Ryan says:

    sorry again for the typos :)

  12. Ryan says:

    so to summarise, I believe faiths should be accepted or rejected based on what the primary sources teach, not what we want them to teach.

    What is attempted on Oracle does just the opposite (and in a very real sense just confuses people) since it borrows so heavily from so many different faiths and traditions that directly and openly contradict each other through their primary sources. Despite their possible noble intensions for doing this, this is just as misinforming as me selecting certain statements from your articles and using them to say that you are actually a devout Muslim :) From what I’ve read you’ve never stated this, but unless I actually take what your primary sources outline at face value I could justify anything I wanted. This is the dilemma. I think a teaching should be accepted for what it teaches. Otherwise this kind of study just convolutes and actually misinforms our understanding of what faiths truly teach. They need to speak for themselves, to stand on their primary sources :)

  13. Ryan says:

    I know that wasn’t really a summary :) but I hope you understand what I mean.

  14. Ryan says:

    Sorry if those last two posts were a bit strong, I didn’t mean to have a aggressive tone. sorry if it came off like that.

  15. misslisted says:

    Hi,
    Wow, so glad to find you. My daughter is a junior at Holy Names in Seattle, and just returned from a retreat which was a fantastic experience for her and a direct challenge to her developing sense of personal faith, and her relationship to Catholicism. She came home and told me that most of the women and girls on the retreat were disillusioned with the church, to which I replied “of course they are!”. I was not born and raised Catholic, or even Christian for that matter, but found Catholicism in my mid-thirties and it became a stepping off point for my own spiritual development. I wanted my children to have such for themselves, a place to work from so to speak, as I felt it missing in my own childhood, though I’m grateful for that too! It’s been interesting. I no longer consider myself to be a Christian, and my time as such was brief, though I am passionate about the subject of “God”. Looking forward to reading…
    Thanks, Chris

    • Hi Chris -
      Welcome. I think of myself as a spiritual nontheist. That said, there are many thoughtful Catholics in Seattle who are pained by the direction the Church hierarchy has taken in the past thirty years or so, and especially of late. The Church is powerful, and that power gets used at different times for good and harm. Of late it seems like the men at the top are hellbent on harm. The recent death in Ireland of a young woman denied a lifesaving abortion because of Catholic directives is a reminder of how heartbreaking that harm can be. I so wish things had gone in a different direction, that the old institutional powers were laboring to reformulate our sense of the sacred and to create a better future instead of defending an indefensible set of Iron Age priorities.

      Tangentially, when my daughter was looking at schools I myself wanted to go to Holy Names. :)

  16. Brianna says:

    I just read your article on alternet (“What If Religious Fanaticism Killed Someone You Love?”). Thank you for writing it.

    • Thank you, Brianna. The recognition that traditional religion is killing people was what first got me out of the closet, if you will, as a non-theist. It was what got me to write my book, Trusting Doubt. When George Bush indicated that he had consulted his heavenly father about the Iraq war, and when my evangelical relatives supported both him and that war because they saw him as born-again spiritual kin, I felt like I had to do something. Perhaps together our voices will be heard.

  17. sgtlhunter says:

    Hi Valerie,
    I’m a big fan. Im reading “The End of Chritianity” by you, Loftus and others. Im really enjoying your work. Recently i heard an interview in which you mentioned that if anyone emailed you they could receive two different complete series on the psychology of religion. If you could forward them to me i would appreciate it. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    Sgtlhunter@hotmail.com

  18. Ryan says:

    Hi again Valerie, hope you are going well

    I just wanted to ask about your book Deas, what inspired you to write it?

    kind regards, Ryan

  19. Ryan says:

    also, when you say call yourself a spiritual nontheist whaqt do you mean by the word spiritual?

    • I mean simply that questions of meaning and morality are at the heart of what defines us as a species and what defines me as a person: What is real? What is good? How shall we live in community with each other? These are the questions that religion has tried to answer through mythos and proto-science and by sanctifying cultural scripts. I think we can now do better, and, in fact, I might argue that science does a better job than religion at answering even the prescriptive “should” questions once we simply agree that we are seeking wellbeing and harm-avoidance. But I think the quest is as old and enduring as our species.

  20. veraersilia says:

    THANKS FOR YR. ARTICLE ABOUT RELIGION IN MEDICINE. I will stay the hell away from Catholic-sponsored health organizations. I was raised a catholic and I know them all too well. BUT what about other religious organizations taking over other medical slices ? they ll have huge stones to grind. Is anything sacred any more ? not even our health? ( given that religion is NOT sacred!) are we reverting to dark ages practices ? IT IS ALARMING. Vera Mottino

  21. James Graham says:

    Fascinating to learn you’re so close. I live in P. Orchard. In fact I take my son out there to Bellevue to have an exam every year. :)

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