FFRF awarded Samantha $300 for her essay.
A lot of people wonder how someone like me, who was raised in a very religious household, could go from attending church every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday to atheism. When people ask why I’m an atheist, I always answer, “Because I am educated and exercise my free will.”
As a child, I idolized my mother. Believing in Jesus was one of those things she did blindly, so I gladly followed her example through childhood and early adolescence. Saying I am a disappointment to my mother would be an understatement. She still prays for me every night to become a Christian. Every morning I wake up as the daughter who will never again buy into the fallacy of religion.
As a child, I did not reject religion but had a hard time differentiating between the Disney fairy tales and the Sunday school stories. My sister and I grew up hearing, “God is always watching.” I grew up believing in impending doom if I was sinful. As an adolescent, I began to question my faith but didn’t tell my mother. She meant a lot to me and still does, and I craved her approval.
She told me when I was 13 to start a confirmation program to become an official church member. She made it quite clear it was not optional, so I went to confirmation class every week for two years. I abhorred going. By 14, I was full of uncertainty. I learned about evolution in school and doubted my faith even more. I was very confused about losing my “faith” and did not know where to turn next.
A week before confirmation, I confessed my doubts to my mother. She was disconcerted and told me I would still be confirmed and then could make my decision. I remember sitting through the ceremony looking around and seeing my family, all there for me, but I did not want to be there. I stopped attending church. I went occasionally but not enough to pacify my mother.
In my senior year I had an amazing professor who had us memorize a definition for critical thinking: “Focused, organized thinking about such things as the logical relationship among ideas, the soundness of evidence, and the difference between fact and opinion.” I remember sitting in church — one of the rare instances when I went — trying to be a critical thinker. I listened to the sermon and heard no truth.
I looked around and saw how blindly comforted everyone was by the pastor’s harangue. The ideas were not logical. The only evidence was the bible. The gospels were not even written until after Jesus’ death, so how accurate could they be? I realized the bible was based on opinion and belief, not fact. That was the exact moment I decided I was an atheist.
Let’s abandon religion
I am an atheist because I choose to reject any form of God. I hope the religions practiced today soon will have no more value than Greek mythology. Some people who devote their lives to religion only inflict harm on the world. Westboro Baptist Pastor Fred Phelps is one. He and nine of his 13 children work to make homosexuals’ lives miserable, all in the name of God.
To progress as a country and a culture, we need to abandon religion. The Kaiser Commission puts the number of Americans without health insurance at 50 million. Unemployment is above 9%. Our serious problems can’t be fixed by blindly following a god. We need educated, open-minded individuals willing to take responsibility for their actions.
My journey with religion has taken a toll on my relationship with my mother. On the surface we are happy, but she will never look at me the same way again. I choose to exercise my freedom of, and from, religion, which is guaranteed to us in this country. My mother always tells me she cannot imagine living a day without God, but unlike my mother, I accept that I was created by nature and that one day, like every other living thing, I will die.
Our biggest issue as humans is an awareness of our own mortality. As a culture we spend so much time worrying about death and attempting to prolong life as long as possible. Those who are religious spend a good deal of time ensuring their access to heaven or an eternal paradise and oftentimes ignore the beauty here on earth.
I am not the girl my mother prayed for. I am a girl who will stand up against the norm of her family, friends and culture and be a nonbeliever. I am a girl who accepts death without the need of a glorious afterlife. I do not fear death because I do not fear the choices I have made in life. I live my life without the need of satisfying a god, so I can truly live.
I am a girl who is an openly proclaimed atheist. I have become a woman who can love and accept myself without the approval of the one I need it from the most, my mother.
Samantha Schrum, 19, is a sophomore at Butte College near her hometown of Paradise, Calif. She’s working toward a certificate in peace and global studies and intends to transfer to Humboldt State University before joining the Peace Corps.