Freethought Today · Vol. 22 No. 7 September 2005

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Third Place Winner -- FFRF College Essay Contest

Why I Am Free From Religion

By Seth Coster

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Seth Coster

I am an atheist. I choose to seek reason over blind faith, and logic and science explain the most about the world to me. My family has an interesting religious background, which may be why I have not gotten involved with religion during my life. However, as I grow older, it is easy for me to see the reasons why it is better to stay uninvolved in religion, and I grow increasingly thankful that I have stayed out of it.

My father and mother both grew up as Christians. In fact, my grandmother on my father's side of the family was a pastor, and would force her ten children, including my father, to go to church sometimes up to six times in a week. My father was (and still is) incredibly well read when it comes to the bible, and he even went to nationals in Bible Quiz as a young man. My mother's religious upbringing was a little more low-key, but the ideas were driven home nonetheless.

My father went on to attend college and planned on going into medical school. He attended Evangel College, which was a heavily religious school. He even had a friend who was expelled for swearing within earshot of a teacher. He eventually became a general surgeon, and he now works at Grinnell Regional Medical Center, where he has worked to become nationally known as an expert in the field of gastric bypass surgeries. Somewhere along the line, though, he realized something. He once told me that when he was first practicing his surgery, he came to realize that when someone was in the operating room, "God" was not there. It was up to him to save that person's life, and him alone. The more people he saw die and the more people he saved, the more it was driven home how utterly nonsensical all of that religious jargon was.

I was born when my father was first getting into his medical career, and he and my mother decided not to drive any sort of faith-based ideas into my head. They applied this same method to my older brother, who is one year older, and my younger brother, who was born two years after I was. They decided that if we joined a certain religion later in life, that would be our choice, and therefore they did not try to lead us down a specific path.

I can recall getting into arguments with children in elementary school about the importance of the bible and the origins of the world. I tried to explain things like evolution and the big bang, which are, of course, scientific theories that have very logical and reasonable evidence behind them. All I would hear in return were a bunch of stories that sounded no more real than the odd children's stories we were reading at the time, such as Little Red Riding Hood.

My perspective on religion really came into full swing in fifth grade, when my father moved out of the house. It was strange to my brothers and me, because our parents never fought and were always nice, courteous, and thoughtful toward each other. He moved into a very small apartment, where we went every Wednesday and every other weekend to spend time with him. We never really questioned his reasons for leaving, because we trusted that he would tell us in time and that it was the best thing for everyone.

One day, a few months after he left the house, he sat us all down for dinner. We all had fun, as usual, joking around and making light conversation. Once the dinner was over, my brothers and I were about to go watch cartoons or play some computer game, but our father told us to wait. He had something to talk to us about.

It was then that l learned about homosexuality. My father explained that the reason he had to leave was because he was gay, and that he had been that way his whole life. He had always denied it and tried to hide it, but eventually the pressure became too great and he fell into a deep depression and was on the verge of suicide.

For some reason, his announcement never really bothered me as it would some people. After all, he was the same man he had always been, except now he was really himself. In all honesty, I was happy for him, and I was proud of what he did. We asked him some questions about what it was like, and how hard it was growing up as a gay child. He explained to us that up until college, he knew there was something different about him, and he thought he knew what it was. However, the preaching he received in church told him that gay people were horrible monsters that defy God's word, and that they all will burn in hell for their sins. He thought, "Well that can't be me, I'm a nice person who follows the bible and never disobeys God!" So, of course, he could not have been a homosexual. As time passed, though, he came to realize the truth, and this assisted him in giving up religion.

I soon found myself in high school, and religion chased me everywhere I went. Nearly everyone around me was a Christian, and all of my friends were as well. With similarity to my elementary years, I would always get into debates and arguments with them about the meaning of life, death, and the history of the universe. I took the logical, sense-making approach, while their main argument was "the Bible says so." There were all kinds of clubs and groups in our school, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which many of my friends were in. I was invited to come to these sorts of gatherings many times, but I refused.

Being an atheist in high school did not impede my studies, friendships, or activities, however. I went to State in swimming, was the president of the art club, was the student body president, was captain of the swimming and cross-country teams, and I was involved in all sorts of drama activities, music, and film production.

My junior year, I met a very cute Greek girl whom I began dating as soon as I possibly could. I did not realize this at the time, but she was a very religious person and held high regard for her church and her faith. We often get into conversations about our own perspectives on life and religion, and I frequently get asked unanswerable questions, such as, "If there is no heaven, then what happens after you die?" To which I respond, "You don't know that, and neither do I. Neither of us has died before." However, our situation is worse than simple disagreements about the meaning of life and death.

We have been dating for several years now, and have even discussed the prospect of marriage in our future. Because I am not baptized and not Christian, though, she cannot marry me; her church forbids it. If she were to do so, she would be unable to participate in many activities in her church and would no longer be a full member. In my mind, an organization that prevents people from being with someone they love is a very shallow organization.

She is also somehow convinced that because I am an atheist, I can simply be a chameleon, and adapt to any religion I please. This is not true. Many people do not understand that being an atheist is not like being a simple blank slate; it is a belief of its own. It is the belief that life is what it is, and there is not much more than what meets the eye. It is a realist approach, and it makes the most sense to those of us who take a sensible view of life.

"I graduated from Grinnell High School in Grinnell, Iowa, where I participated in many activities. One of the best things I became involved in during high school was making movies. This is a pastime that I continue today and hope to possibly make a career of some day. My most recent film, called Fantastic Friends, held two showings at our local theater downtown and sold so many tickets that we had people sitting on the floor and in the aisles. I am pursue ing this career by getting a degree in film production at the University of Southern California. And, of course, I am an atheist. I sincerely hope that I represent this small minority to which I belong with the best image possible, and I am proud of what I believe in."


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