Nathan received a $2,000 cash scholarship from FFRF for his winning essay in FFRF’s contest for college students.
I’m an atheist. I became one in much the same way others have. My parents weren’t religious. I lived in the Deep South and experienced right-wing Christian evangelism like a Native American greeting the conquistadors. I question the legitimacy of all authority. I remain an atheist, and I’m an advocate of atheism on my college campus for a wholly different reason: I’m happier.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the De-claration of Independence that every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Religion is a threat to each of those rights. It threatens the rights of those who do not believe, and it threatens the rights of those who do.
Indisputably, religion has taken the lives of millions throughout history. Though all other theistic religions have infringed on the rights of humanity, the Abrahamic religions are certainly the worst modern offenders. The litany of sorrows is long and includes human sacrifice, purging of heretics, Sharia law, the Crusades, Protestant Reformation, Spanish Inquisition and witch burnings, which set the stage for the Holocaust, genocides in Bosnia and Sudan, Islamist terrorism and the continuing genocide in Palestine.
All of these conflicts, while complicated by other issues such as land ownership, rights to autonomy, etc., were and are fundamentally founded on religion. Moreover, the religious institutions which perpetrated these crimes have lied to evade responsibility. The results are collective guilt, hate and insecurity of entire peoples.
Similarly, religion systematically denies liberty. It has tried to control every aspect of peoples’ lives, from the right to earn a living to what clothing people wear. Christians denied European Jews the right to own land, to freely choose professions and confined them to ghettos for centuries. When Jews became successful years later because of those hardships, that success was used to justify further hatred.
God was created by humans to explain the inexplicable.
Today, Muslims in Saudi Arabia perpetuate centuries-old inequality and injustice in the name of Allah, using brutal penalties such as stoning and decapitation to enforce their demented laws. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom), hypocritically sought to tax and ban head-scarves in addition to deporting Muslim immigrants.
In the U.S., freedom of knowledge is being attacked by creationists on school boards and from the pulpit, a continuation of their 150-year-old fight against Darwin’s scientific findings. Atheists in public schools are discriminated against by administrators, teachers and students, are kicked off sports teams and prevented from forming school clubs. All of these examples of physical constraints are compounded by restrictions on the mind. When “God” is always a factor in thought, the mind is not free to explore the boundlessness of the universe.
No one can pursue happiness while living in constant fear. Religion, by its nature and its dual assault on life and liberty, is founded on the growth and sustenance of fear. God was created by humans to explain the inexplicable. For centuries, the apparatuses of fearmongering have extended into all realms of life. The fear of not knowing, of being ostracized, of being judged and of imaginary hellfire depress the creativity and appreciation of life for every person who believes in the god of Abraham. Their violent reactions to anyone who would even question the legitimacy of the most trivial belief clarify how insecure they are. Undoubtedly, a lack of personal fulfillment is propagated by religious institutions throughout the world.
While it is clear that religion is a source of misery in the world, it is important to recognize the alternative. Atheism threatens the life of no one. Atheism protects freedom and is a catalyst to fulfillment. I am not required to wear certain clothing and abide by arbitrary rules, nor do I help to impose such rules on anyone else. I, like many other atheists, do what I can to preserve the separation of church and state, protecting everyone’s right to believe what they will.
My life has also become increasingly fulfilling without a belief in a god. I can appreciate the intricacies and beauty of languages without thinking of them as a punishment for building a tower to reach the heavens. Standing on the rocky beach of Lake Superior, listening to waves crashing against boulders and the wind moving swiftly through the blooming trees, I can simply be overcome with awe at the forces of nature, operating in subtle harmony.
There is no need to attribute that stunning order to a higher power. It is the higher power. Freed from the cage of God, I can live life and touch nature for the sake of life, for the sake of that raw experience, untempered by limitation.
Nathan writes: “I am 19 and live in Houghton, Mich., but I lived in Winterswijk, the Netherlands, in 2009-10 and in Natchitoches and Monroe, La., for nine years. I will be a sophomore at Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., where I’m majoring in phil-osophy, psychology and German literature. Aside from my major interests, I’m interested in physics, biology and history.”