Third place: The Grimm truth – Max Sandler

I’ve enjoyed fantasy, fiction and fairy tales since I was young. The ability to enter into worlds without the horrors of our own can be a truly magical experience.

With the U.S. currently involved in three wars, negative regard of our country from much of the world, record budget deficits and high unemployment, wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where the biggest threat was a giant who might eat your cows?

While it’s nice to have an escape, we are taught from a young age that at some point we have to know when to stop pretending and take things seriously. This is my problem with religion: It seems like one gargantuan fairy tale.

People don’t like the plane of existence they find themselves on, so they have to delude themselves into thinking that this is only a test run. If they stay in line with their religion’s rules, they’ll be able to someday live in a fairy-tale land of winged creatures with harps. While that may be reassuring and sanity-saving, it’s not reality.

Whenever I get asked why I don’t believe in God, or any form of religion, for that matter, I try to explain my thinking to people in a nonoffensive way. Nevertheless, people often don’t take kindly to my logic. One time in particular sticks out. In my U.S. history class in my junior year of high school, we had reached the subject of communism and the Cold War. One girl raised her hand and started implying that the reason that the USSR failed was because it was not a capitalistic, Christian nation.

That contention, of course, frustrated me. I calmly responded that she couldn’t truthfully say that, since one of the world’s most economically successful nations right now, China, is one of the least religiously affiliated countries, according to recent surveys. She, obviously annoyed, said she didn’t care, and predicted that anybody who didn’t believe in God would ultimately fail.

I laughed in disbelief, saying, “Religion does not automatically make someone a good person. A lot of times, people don’t know how to ask if a person or country is morally good, so they ask if they’re religious instead. Some of the biggest atrocities, mass murdering and prejudgments come from religion, and I find it incredible that people constantly turn a blind eye to that.”

I had so much more to say, but I was cut off by the silence of my classmates and the glare of my professor. The girl sat down and was quiet for the rest of the class, and although I felt slightly awkward for causing a scene, I was happy I had voiced my opinion. I didn’t know what people thought, but it didn’t really matter to me.

Later that day, a boy came up to me and said, “Good job,” while I got a lot of head nods from others. Even more surprising, my teacher made a point of commenting, “Makes great contributions to class” on my progress report. I was proud to be an atheist in those moments, and I’m still proud to be one.

I enjoy the ability to form my own opinions and not to have had a cookie-cutter set of ideals set out for me at birth. I enjoy being accepting of different cultures, regardless of their beliefs.

Most of all, I enjoy not basing my life on a fairy tale and being able to make this life, my only shot, count.

Max Sandler graduated from Fairfield Warde High School, Fairfield, Conn., and will attend Keene State College, Keene, N.H., to pursue his interests in film and writing. Max was president of his school’s Human Relations Club. He likes horror films, karate and video games. Max received a $500 cash scholarship from FFRF.

Freedom From Religion Foundation