FFRF Students of Color Essay Contest First Place: Breaking the chains: By Lydia Mason

FFRF awarded Lydia $3,000

By Lydia Mason

Am I going to hell?

For much of my life, this question plagued me. Growing up in a hyper-religious household, I had always been told that only the true believers — the true Christians — would go to heaven. Everyone else would be damned to hell. My parents painted the world in black and white: the saved and the damned. To them, there was no question about the truth of their beliefs. God was the truth, and the truth would set you free.

Although I initially accepted Christianity without question as a child, as I got older, I realized my beliefs were not as clear-cut as I had thought. I recognized that my religious views were based on circular reasoning and logical fallacies rather than introspection and critical thinking. My religion had become a belief with atrophied logic and conviction supporting it. It was based not on understanding and faith, but on fear and ignorance. I was afraid of what I did not understand, still desperately swaddling myself in a comfort blanket of unsupported certainty. Therefore, instead of facing my fear and accepting that there are some things that I do not know the answers to, I doubled down on the things I was most unsure of, making fact out of my greatest uncertainties.

After careful deliberation, I eventually came to embrace ignorance as a mandatory aspect of the human experience. I challenged the core of my identity, the foundation of my family’s beliefs and my own — my religion. I was no longer the devout Baptist with invulnerable faith; I was the agnostic pariah with more questions than answers.

However, this intellectual liberation does not come without a price. Being a young, agnostic, LGBTQ+ African-American can leave you quickly feeling isolated within your own community. Because religion is such a large aspect of the black experience and black culture (likely due to the indoctrination of Christianity in black people as a tool for white supremacy during slavery), choosing not to partake in it can sometimes feel like you are losing a piece of your culture, your identity.

When you tell your family about your choice to embrace irreligion, it is seen as more than just a lifestyle choice, but more significantly as a betrayal of your history and your people.

While I will never bash those who are religious, I refuse to let the stigma against irreligion change my beliefs. By accepting the fact that I do not know if there is a god or an afterlife, I’ve become more enlightened. There is nothing more intellectually confining than forcing yourself to be sure of the unknown.
Being agnostic has allowed me to openly embrace the beauty and possibilities all the religions of the world have to offer, while also accepting that I don’t have all of the answers to life’s questions.

Lydia, 18, was the valedictorian at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky., with a 4.0 GPA. She works four jobs to help support her single-parent household and save for college. She has founded three social justice organizations and raised more than $70,000 for nonprofits. She hopes to become a lawyer and eventually a judge.

Freedom From Religion Foundation