Honorable mentions — high school

The great burrito religious debate

By Sierra Buehlman Barbeau

“Could God microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn’t eat it?”

“God can do anything!”

“But then he’d be able to eat the burrito, right?”

Of the six of us in this study hall discussion, Audrey was agnostic, Cody a Lutheran from the Lutheran school, and Maria a Latina Catholic. Julia, who raised the burrito question, is a semi-Lutheran and “coming out of the closet” lesbian. Lastly, there was Will, the atheist who didn’t know the term existed.

“What’d you say you were?” Will asked me.

“Atheist,” I said. “I don’t believe in God.”

“Me neither,” said Will. “None of it makes sense to me.”

“I don’t understand,” said Maria. “How do you think the universe was made?” She was doing math homework and copying answers from the back of the book.

“The big bang,” said I.

“Now that’s what doesn’t make any sense,” Maria said. “What created the big bang?”

“Physics,” I said. “What created God?”

“That’s a question for the pastor,” Cody said.

“There are so many questions in religion,” said Audrey. “There are so many different takes on everything. What’s the difference between Catholics and other Christians?”

“Catholics worship more saints,” Maria said.

“Are you cheating out of your math book?” asked Julia. “Isn’t that a sin?”

“It’s OK. I’ll confess it on Sunday!” Maria said.

“I have a question,” I said. “What’s the difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

“They’re all the same thing!” Julia said. “Like how the cake, frosting, and filling are all different, but they’re all part of the same Ho-Ho!”

“So why are you Catholic, Maria?” asked Will.

“God brought us here to America from Mexico and helped us be strong,” she said. “He helped me to learn English and made me smart so I could do well in school.” I wondered how she could give God credit for her intelligence and bravery.

“Why are you Lutheran, Cody?” I asked.

He was quiet for a moment, the fun and laughter leaving his eyes. “It’s a long story. God brought my mom home safe from Iraq, he protected me when my first stepdad beat me with a baseball bat, and he’s given me courage to move on.”

“Aren’t those terrible things for a God to do?” I muttered.

Cody: “God sends us misfortunes to make us stronger for greater sadness in the future. I wouldn’t be able to get through life without him. I almost killed myself earlier this year.”

Amid the silence at that moment, I was glad to be an atheist. This “good” God let your mom go to Iraq and your first stepdad beat you, I thought. That’s a monster, a heartless God who’s hurting you, not protecting you. God shouldn’t make you go through that.

I’m glad and proud that I see that and don’t have to tell myself that my troubles stem from a “loving” god making me stronger. I don’t have unanswered questions about how god came to exist. I know that my successes and faults are my own, and that life’s troubles happen to everyone, not because god wants me to learn a lesson.

We left study hall that day laughing about the burrito question. The debate had made us a tight group of friends.

Sierra Buehlman Barbeau, Waterloo, Wis., will attend the University of WisconsinMadison to study astronomy and physics. Sierra loves languages and music and plays trombone and other instruments.

Freethinker vs. hard-core Catholic

By Kayla Fischl

The article we were discussing in our Theory of Knowledge class at 7:30

a.m. was about a woman who was raped while walking her dog. Her neighbors found her with the dog at her side and called an ambulance. The rapist was later apprehended, but the woman became pregnant due to the rape. She chose to have an abortion.

“That is so wrong! Why would she murder an innocent child?” asked a very religious classmate. “God loves all his children, and she murdered one of them!” the girl cried.

The whole class agreed. I felt like I was in some kind of twilight zone, or maybe I was being punked. I’m not one to make speeches or voice my thoughts, but this was more than I could stand. I stood up and explained how she was violated in the most heinous way and had her life put in jeopardy by a man who left her for dead on the curb.

She didn’t want to live with the constant reminder of the horrible crime. I was appalled that someone could say what she did was wrong. The girl and I went back and forth before the teacher stopped what was starting to look like a heated argument. He asked the class what they thought. Unbelievably, they still sided with her. I sat down and was quiet for the rest of the period.

I had an epiphany right there in class. I was not wrong. I was very right.

What the woman did was exactly what I would have done. I was baptized Catholic but never seriously practiced it. I always rejected the idea of religion because I knew that 90% of the people who say they’re devout Catholics are hypocrites, sinning every day and then confessing just so they can do the same thing the next day.

I can honestly say this was the day I became a proud agnostic. Freethought, and having opinions that make sense, are beautiful things. It didn’t matter whether the whole class agreed with me or no one did. If I had to stand alone to voice my opinions on right and wrong, then I was going to do it.

It was this day, in Theory of Knowledge class, that really changed my life for the better.

Kayla Fischl, Cape Coral, Fla., will be attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, which has campuses in Los Angeles and New York, to study musical theatre. In grades 1012, she was a Keep Cape Coral Clean volunteer. In grades 912, she acted with Alliance for the Arts and Cultural Park Theatre.

Jane was plainly wrong

By Samuel Z. Luke

My road to atheism has been a long one, with no single, great moment of realization. But the debate over the existence of God is something I’ve contemplated since I was young. My parents believed in God because my grandparents had raised them to believe. They took me to church because their parents had taken them. It was simply “what was done.”

Luckily, my parents also encouraged me to think for myself, and my father’s journey to atheism opened the door for me. I was being exposed to both church doctrine and freethought through my father and the books and articles he had.

As a high school junior, I was in the middle of reading Christopher Hitch-ens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, an incredible book that I am still attempting to understand fully. I’d set it down on an empty desk behind me, where a girl I’ll call Jane and some other classmates saw it.

I liked Jane and still do. She’s kind, intelligent and not at all judgmental, I thought then. That’s why I was surprised to hear her say, when the conversation turned to the book, “I just don’t think books like that should be allowed to be printed at all.”

I didn’t say a word, just turned around and picked up my book. I was amazed at first, but as I thought about it, the amazement dissipated. I know some people are close-minded and quick to pass judgment about religion. Jane’s comment made the point that in a country built on freedom, in a time filled with people striving for equality, millions of people can and do suddenly reverse and skew their thinking anytime religion is involved.

Right behind me was a very sweet and forward-thinking girl who was ready to throw free speech in the dirt because she didn’t agree with a book discounting her religion. I was suddenly very proud that I was not like that.

I think for myself and formulate my own ideas about everything in my life, based as much as I can on reason and fact and not on tradition or ancient books. I’m barely out of high school, but I hope to go on to learn much, much more about everything I possibly can.

I’m extremely proud of my determination to reason out my life on my own, and Jane’s comments remind me how lucky I am to be able to think as freely as I do.

Samuel Zachary Luke, Dunkirk, Md., will attend Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C., to pursue a B.A. in English with a creative writing focus. He worked for three years in the theater department’s sets and technical areas and was also stage manager.


Morally good with no god

By Emily Schick

“How can you have morals if you don’t believe in God?” A friend of a friend’s question catches me off-guard in the gym right before a game of lunchtime basketball.

I hardly know this guy, but do know he claims to be a devout Christian, which is common in my small Minnesota community. It’s obvious he’s throwing down a public challenge with this question, and people are waiting to hear my answer.

I look at my inquisitor and feel my face flush. He looks smug, like he’s scored a victory by taking a shot at one of the few atheists in our school. I don’t hide my nonbelief. I talk about my views in the cafeteria, even as people sometimes look at me sideways and exclude me from some of their in-groups.

I understand why most people crave unconditional love, but why turn to a mute, faceless god? Couldn’t a teddy bear suffice? At least you can hold a teddy bear. I’m also not one to shout, “God is a load of crap,” so I pause before answering,

I realize I’m angry. I’ve never been angry over religion before. Disgusted, exhausted and troubled, but not angry. I must look angry too, because a friend says, “Come on, let’s play some basketball.” I can let the moment pass and not stand up for what I believe. No one will say anything. It would be easier on my friends if I’d say nothing, but I can’t. That’s the moment I make up my mind to be more than a casual nonbeliever. Just because I don’t believe in god doesn’t mean I don’t believe in anything.

I’m not angry at my challenger for needing something to have faith in. I’m furious at being attacked because I choose to rely on something more than just an irrational, damaging myth that should have been shed long ago. I believe in logic, reason and fact. I don’t need a god to guide me or to be a good person. I use my head. I’m rational, logical and moral. I was 13 when I stopped believing in a god. I actually remember the day I made that decision because I felt nothing but emptiness where god was supposed to be.

My anger subsides as I think of the words I need to say.

Before picking up a basketball, I turn to him and say quite calmly, “I have morals, but not because a fictitious god tells me what they are supposed to be. I don’t need a supreme being ready to smite me to make me do the right thing. And I don’t need the fear of hell to make me a good person.”

Emily Schick graduated from Byron High School, Byron, Minn., and will attend the University of MinnesotaDuluth this fall to study psychology and biology. She founded the BHS GoGreen Club (with some resistance from school administration), eventually raising $5,000 to put solar panels on the school roof. Emily was active in student council, pep and concert bands, drama, clarinet, choir and peer tutoring.

Secular morals: A plea

By Benjamin Sudbrink

Too often, atheism is shown as some sort of rejection of morality, a statement of desire to “sin” without repercussions. Apart from completely missing the point of atheism, this gross simplification serves to damage the secular morality from which every functional, rational society derives its laws.

I have had countless arguments with theists who have stated that atheism allows the nonbeliever to act with impunity, to take whatever liberties they choose with their actions, because no supernal force dictates a code for them to live by. This is false.

There is, in fact, an inherent weakness in the appeal to a higher power. I challenge any theist to give me an example of a god who disagreed with its followers on some important issue, and made its opinions known. Because no one can prove they are communicating directly with a higher power, assuming one exists at all, anything the higher power is purported to say will necessarily agree with the person invoking the higher power, making the supposed statements of the higher power functionally useless.

Instead of saying “God says,” the theist is really saying “I say, but God backs me up.” This is the major weakness in the theistic claim; morality really comes from the person, and any invocation of a deity is simply employing an ecclesiastical smoke screen.

The time has come for what Richard Dawkins calls a social consciousness-raising. We must expose the carefully hidden weaknesses and glaring flaws at the heart of the religious beast, and we must show them not just to nonbelievers but to everyone. We must show this vileness to the average believer, who probably has not actually read the book they claim is the source of every aspect of their moral code, who has no idea that Jesus sanctions the murder of those who do not agree with him (Luke 19:22-27), who doesn’t even know it’s there to find, because their preacher never told them about it, and they felt no need to read it.

It’s time to show people how to escape the chains of religion. We can show them that life without their imagined god would not dissolve into madness, and that life is not empty without a celestial monster lording over your every move. We must disseminate knowledge through every sort of media. We must continue the work of Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett in dragging religion into the 21st century, and we must promote our secular morals as an alternative.

We must show that morals built from the self, and from the community, can evolve. Moral strictures handed down on glorified paving stones become stagnant and, because of the magisterium built up around them, refuse quite spectacularly to shift with the times. Secular morals derived from society change with that society.

Religious leaders fear this change. It loosens their grip on the minds and pocketbooks of their brainwashed flocks, because there is nothing with which to threaten them. This very change is what gives a secular moral system its strength and makes it inherently superior to any religious system.

Benjamin Sudbrink, Silver Spring, Md., will attend St. Mary’s College of Maryland to major in philosophy. He participated in high school debate and founded the Society of Rational Inquiry, an afterschool club which held studentled presentations and discussions. He enjoys painting, sculpting, writing and making music.

For the love of dinosaurs!

By Megan Wickens

I learned at a very early age that religion is not my cup of tea. My family only attended church for a few years of my life, but it was enough for me to know that nobody has any concrete evidence of a higher power.

Ironically, one attempt to save my soul from eternal hell led me to become a freethinker and reject religion. A friend had invited me to a children’s sermon at her church. The topic was dinosaurs, my favorite. I already knew that I wanted to be a scientist. But this sermon had me gritting my teeth, clenching my fists and concentrating all my energy on not getting up and screaming at the top of my 7-year-old lungs.

The sermon wasn’t about dinosaurs. It was an hour of a preacher telling us that dinosaurs never, ever existed! He said that there was no proof, and anytime anyone said that dinosaurs existed, we should ask them if they can give us proof. “You fool!” I thought. “There’s a ton of proof for dinosaurs! What there is no proof for is your stupid faith!”

That was my last religious service.

The only things we can truly believe in are those that can be observed. We can make conclusions based on observations. In my experience, religion has no basis in fact.

Megan Wickens, Livonia, Mich., will attend Albion College, Albion, Mich., where she will major in biology with a concentration in environmental science. Her interests are cross country and track, playing violin and working as a community service volunteer.

Freedom From Religion Foundation