Fifth place: Two white dresses, one freethinking mind – By Bethany Wasilik

FFRF awarded Bethany $500.

I wore the first white dress when I was 7. It was my First Communion, and I knew almost nothing about the Catholic Church except that my mom brought me there every Sunday. I felt pretty in my little white gloves and shoes, but I hated the taste of the wine I was forced to drink. I still believed in Santa. I still believed in the Tooth Fairy. And I still believed in God.

I wore the second white dress when I was 17. It was my confirmation, and I knew way too much about the Catholic Church, but still my mom said it was good for me. For a year, I’d fought with her, told her I didn’t want to do this. Poor stupid lost sheep. Hush now, and Jesus will hook you by the neck, yank you back into this mindless herd. Just a phase. Maybe try praying about it?

I wanted to tear myself out of that white dress, hurdle over the pews, and run straight out the church’s double doors. I felt like a cornered wild animal; I was desperate to escape the rituals and bigotry.

But I didn’t run away. I submitted, and a part of me died that day as I was paraded down the aisle and presented to an old man who laid his hands on my head and pronounced me a child of a god I no longer believed in.

It’s been difficult to have two things which I feel so differently about be so tightly interwoven in my life. Family is the most important thing in the world to me. I’ve been lucky to have such close and loving family relationships, including with my mother. But twisted into my family is a religious tradition that I cannot accept as my own. To reject it openly would destroy my mother. To stay silent and resign myself to attend weekly services is slowly destroying me.

My mom still thinks I’m a Christian. I feel foolish for wondering if she’d love me less if she knew the truth, but I wonder nonetheless. I’ve been reading about other faiths and non-faiths in secret. I’ve tried meditation. I’ve researched interfaith clubs and secular organizations at the college I’m attending in the fall and am counting down the Sundays until I leave home and am free from that weekly reminder of how alone religion makes me feel.

On the outside, I’m still trapped. But since making the decision to let go of my religious upbringing, my mind has been freer than ever. My religious neutrality has allowed me to appreciate diverse religious beliefs with a humanist zeal and to connect with Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists in a much more meaningful way. I recognize that there is value in religion for many people, and I respect that. I just don’t happen to be one of them, and I hope that my decision to be a nonbeliever will be equally respected.

Bethany Wasilik, 18, graduated from Hermitage High School in her hometown of Richmond, Va. She will be attending the College of William and Mary, and is interested in biology, health and neuroscience.

Freedom From Religion Foundation