First-place high school essay – Herbert Bushong Award: Into the minds of babes: Benjamin Todd

Benjamin received a $2,000 cash scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his first-place entry in the 2010 High School Essay Competition for seniors who are college-bound this fall.

Foundation Lifetime Member Herbert Bushong (seated), endower of the FFRF High School Essay Competition, with this year’s Herbert Bushong Scholar, Benjamin Todd, who placed first in the contest, and FFRF member Nick Lee, president of FACT, a freethought group in San Antonio.

There exists incalculable evidence that religion is dangerous. Christianity has had a particularly historic career in that regard, and among its many claims to fame are the Crusades, the Inquisition and the conquest of the New World. Big events with tens of thousands of victims, these principal calamities are joined by many minor episodes.

Their greatest commonality is that none has occurred in the last few centuries. Does that mean the harm of religion has faded? Not at all. Every day, Christianity does its dirty work, spewing its bile into the minds of millions across the world. The time of Crusades may be over, but the individual is still as threatened and damaged today as a thousand years ago. Through insidious Christian teachings, millions of Americans are turned against the ideas which are best for them — be they about science, diversity or open-mindedness.

I have personally witnessed a number of such corruptions. As a child at a religious private school, I was exposed to more than my share of prejudice. I vividly remember my third-grade English teacher going off on a long rant against nonbelievers.  As I was only 9 and had always been taught respect for my elders, I believed every word. The pinnacle of that particular lesson was an anecdote about one of the biggest threats to Christianity: a “postmodernist,” who was apparently seen on a train talking to himself and “conversing with demons.”

I remember being in awe of the mental picture. Little did I know at the time that we were being hoodwinked into hatred of a philosophical movement far removed from religion. But to children with no prior knowledge, it was solid fact. We couldn’t see it as am attempt to cement in our young minds a hatred for postmodernism. It was not a singular occurrence. My English teacher had many similar lessons against Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, atheists and any religious sect that didn’t sync exactly with his beliefs.

My early life was fraught with negative religious teachings. One of my Sunday school teachers would regularly ask students how often they prayed. When I was asked, I said that I only prayed every couple of days at most. She was appalled. I remember being brought literally to tears as she rained judgment down upon me. Apparently, if I did not pray at least twice a day every day, I was doomed to burn in the fires of hell forever.

For an 8-year-old, that’s a lot to stomach, and it ran entirely counter to what I’d learned previously. It was emotionally crushing. Being scolded and reduced to tears in front of your friends doesn’t boost self-confidence. I was devastated.

Eventually, after a long talk with my parents, the damage was somewhat mitigated, and I learned to ignore my teacher’s degrading commentary. I was convinced that I wasn’t doomed to a fiery hell because I didn’t care to gossip with the big guy in the sky, but it left a lasting impression on me. The fact that someone would be so willing to humiliate a small child over such a petty issue was eye-opening.

Christianity has a history of breaking down self-esteem. The bible is full of degrading teachings. The Ten Commandments are an excellent example: 10 rules that must never ever be broken unless you want to risk severance from God and an eternity spent in hell. When these ideas are hammered into children’s minds, it leads to serious issues. What child hasn’t coveted his neighbor’s video games, or lied about washing his hands, or stuck out his tongue at his parents?  Suddenly, he realizes all these actions are horribly, morally wrong, and he is buried in guilt for a thousand unknown sins.

I have a friend who’s a very devoted Christian, but for a time early in her teen years, she was under the delusion that she was the “anti-Christ.” She found out that a number of things she had done her entire life were apparently sins. Understandably, she was devastated when she was informed that her harmless actions would likely result in eternal damnation. She’s since realized that she’s “merely human” and not the anti-Christ, but the scars of crushed self-esteem are still evident and easily traced to religion.

Religion’s greatest victim is science. Always an enemy of advancement and education of the placid masses, Christianity has of late had a resurgence against scientific discovery, manifested vividly by the Religious Right. Religion fights science at every level, from the teaching of evolution to stem cell research. Because of its crusades, fewer children are shown the irrefutable evidence behind evolution and thus do not grow up to study the natural sciences. In fact, because the crusade works against science as a whole, a large number of students waste their potential in the “ministry” instead of a scientific field. Is it any wonder that America is producing too few scientists?

It’s plain to see that religion plays a damaging role in society.

It’s an insidious parasite, gnawing constantly at any steps which threaten its power. Its naturally divisive nature is devastating to the cause of diversity and open-mindedness, and its teachings keep commoners in their place, begging the clergy for forgiveness for simply being human.

Most damaging of all, Christianity has placed itself squarely in the way of scientific discovery, corrupting youthful potential and retarding advancement.  Imagine a world without religion: fewer barriers between fellow humans, people being taught to be proud of who they are instead of ashamed, and scientific advancement free from arbitrary limitation.

Instead, because of religion, we have a world where war and strife are caused by conflicting irrational beliefs, people have guilt thrust upon them over the pettiest actions, and research grinds to a halt under the yoke of old-fashioned tradition. If one needs greater proof of the harm of religion, look for peace in the Middle East, universal equality for women or great advancements in stem cell research.

Can’t find them? You have religion to thank.

Benjamin Todd, San Antonio, Texas, was home-schooled throughout high school and graduated in May. He will attend the University of Richmond in Virginia this fall and study business administration with a concentration in finance. He enjoys historical miniature war gaming, mathematics and history-related nonfiction.

Freedom From Religion Foundation