Karen Kilbane
Sep 26 · 5 min read

I was raised in a big extended Irish Catholic family and culture. St. Joseph was my parish, or as we called it, St. Joe’s.

I had trouble since a little girl believing there is a God, believing Jesus was born of a virgin, believing Jesus walked on water and multiplied the loaves and fishes, etc. I WANTED to believe all of it, with all my heart I wanted to believe, to surrender completely to the whole enchilada and participate fully the way my relatives did.

I spent most of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood reading and thinking and attempting to spin biblical information into something I could actually believe in. Then at age 40, I had a surprise 4th child with Down syndrome. To help her and the children with special needs I would eventually teach, I had to break all concepts down to their simplest parts. My daughter and students with special needs don’t automatically make inferences about cause and effect like their neurotypical peers. In breaking concepts down to their simplest parts to explain to my daughter and students, I began to understand the nature of information differently than ever before. I began to look for more specificity and clarity in the definitions, theories, and concepts I had always assumed correct.

The end result of studying the world around me with new eyes focused on more of the details than ever before, I began to see power dynamics differently than ever before.

Children with special needs often have no power, no voice, no ability to advocate for themselves. And children with special needs have an army of specialists in the schools supervising them and making sure they comply.

At age 50, I realized, every psychological definition and theory of personality, emotion, behavior, and child development were written in terms of how well each individual can comply with authority. Authority based power dynamics are the only thing we have ever known as humans thus far and these dynamics are encoded into every religious, spiritual, and psychological concept available to us.

Around age 48 I started to break down the psychological information I had always taken on faith as accurate into its simplest parts the way I had been doing for my daughter. I was dumbstruck at how lame and non evidenced based the foundational concepts of psychology turned out to be.

At age 50, I realized, every psychological definition and theory of personality, emotion, behavior, and child development were written in terms of how well each individual can comply with authority. I realized then and there my sense of self and value as a human being was completely wrapped up in how important people like God, my boss, my parents, etc. perceived me. I never developed a way to understand myself from the perspective of myself as my own authority. And I was actively teaching my 4 children and 50 some students the same.

Authority based power dynamics are the only dynamic we have ever known as humans thus far in our history and these dynamics are encoded into every religious, spiritual, and psychological concept available to us.So I began to research the brain and found the brain has one way of making sense of information. It assimilates all internal and external information it is receiving in a moment and generates a prediction for what to do next in relation to that information. This is what the brain is doing constantly and continuously. It never stops. You were forced as a kid to make sense of information with your brain in only the ways your authorities expected you to. Your entire personality was usurped and you had to wire your brain up backward. Did you want to watch an R rated movie in town as a teen? You couldn’t reason through this or any other question in terms of how it would make sense to you. You could only think it through in terms of how it would make sense to your authorities. This happened to all of us, but fundamentalist kids have stricter boundaries from their authorities. Eventually we all lose our ability to exist from our own perspectives. The perspective or our authorities, be they human authorities or biblical scholars or biblical dogma, begin to feel personal to us. But our personal perspective is and never was personal.

I realized at age 50 the only reason for religion to exist is to allow those who want power and resources to be able to hoard the power and the resources. Authorities get to make predictions in the ways that make sense to them and they get to force other people to make those same kinds of predictions.

At age 50 I became an atheist and the sense of freedom I feel is probably 100 times the freedom you feel from escaping your fundamentalist background. I have regained my life back. My life is now personal to me. I am not existing from someone else’s brain or dogma. Furthermore, I can now protect my daughter from authorities who want to usurp her ability to exist from her personal perspective.

Each and every person in the world has a completely unique manner of thinking. In a real sense, we all speak a different brain and thought language from one another. Religion and psychology punish those who think way outside the box because those people will upset the authority based systems in place.

In my attempts to break down religious information I came up with this. If you were God and had all the power in the universe to do whatever you wanted, however you wanted, would you decide to violate the reproductive freedom of a poor, illiterate, powerless, 13 year old girl to bear you a son and then make the choice to have him suffer one of the most tortuous and violent deaths possible for a human to endure? Is this really the best way to show one’s love for humanity? I now see it as a gross and masochistic choice, not evidence of love and care for all humans. Would you create a planet that has constant weather disasters and animals that violently kill each other for survival? I get how evolution would work that way, but not at all why a compassionate, loving God would work that way.

Would you demand people worship you, constantly admire you, fawn all over you, see you as a king in charge of a kingdom?

I believe creating the conditions for equal rights for all depends upon breaking down the authority based dogmas written into our psychological theories and doing away with the notion of there being a divine king in charge of everything.

I am sorry you had to grow up the way you did. My childhood was not anything like yours. I had much more freedom. But in one sense my childhood was exactly like yours. My right to a personal life was usurped and my freedom to exist from my own brain was usurped. I am so relieved to have escaped the prison my brain was trapped in.

Karen Kilbane

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My students with special needs have led me to develop a hypothesis for a brain-compatible theory of personality. Reach me at karenkilbane1234@gmail.com