Second place: Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest by Casira Copes

Agnostic ‘hearts’ aggressive atheist

FFRF awarded Casira $2,000.

By Casira Copes

I attended a high school that had a fairly diverse student population. My favorite class was media publications, and it was comprised of only a few students. Among those students were a few Christians, one Mormon, some agnostics and one person I often thought of as the aggressive atheist.

He was known for being particularly passionate and relentless when it came to religious debate. He was never rude, but he argued with a conviction I had never witnessed before. I grew up in a Christian home, going to church with my grandmother most Sundays. I slept with a bible next to my bed, and somewhere in my jewelry box, there was a cross on a chain.

I knew what my opinions were supposed to be regarding religion. But rather than engaging this person in debate, I spent a lot of time watching him debate others.

Watching, I realized several things. The first was that we had a lot in common regarding our views on the nature of the bible and the role of religion in society. I also noticed that he had the qualities of a very good friend. He was honest, valued communication and, most important, he was open-minded. Yet too often he was called “heathen.” Too often he was told he would “burn in hell” because he questioned what many people accept blindly.
The more time I spent with him, the more unjust treatment I witnessed. As our friendship grew, so did my fear. For the first time in my life, I was really beginning to reevaluate my beliefs. He was the first person to ask me what I thought about the universe, as opposed to telling me what I should think.

In church, I was afraid to ask questions. I was afraid to admit that I couldn’t feel the Holy Spirit and that the idea of being baptized felt dishonest to me. I was afraid to ask why certain things that I knew to be facts didn’t quite line up with the chronology of the bible. Soon I was afraid of facing the kind of vilification I saw my friend go through.
Becoming his friend led to a lot of internal conflict. I had strayed from the beliefs of my family, most importantly my grandmother. She is the most loyal, loving and generous person I have in my life. The bible gives her comfort when she needs it, and the thought of Jesus watching over her makes her feel safe. I would never want to take those feelings away from her. Introducing her to the aggressive atheist was one of the most stressful moments of my life.

But she has since welcomed him into our lives with as much love and respect as she would any family member. Her treatment of him was so different from how he was treated by other religious people. It made me stop and wonder why atheists are treated like the natural enemy of religion.

I don’t know if there is a higher power. I don’t think it is possible to know. I suppose that makes me agnostic. But I am sure that if a deity of some sort created this vast universe, Earth is nothing more than a marble that rolled under its couch. It doesn’t care what we wear, eat or do on Sunday.

It is our responsibility to make the world we live in a good one. Regardless of beliefs, every person has the freedom to choose how he or she will treat others. I do not know of any religious text that would condemn the choice to be kind and compassionate. It is up to us, not a god, to maintain our morality for ourselves.

I have seen firsthand that people with drastically different religious ideologies can love and admire each other. The vast array of beliefs and opinions is what makes humanity wonderful. It is what makes communication engaging and worthwhile. It gives color to what would otherwise be a very monochromatic world.

I met the aggressive atheist five years ago. He is my very best friend in the world. The qualities I saw all those years ago, the honesty and open-mindedness that drew him into so many debates, have made him my most trusted ally and closest confidant.

I came across as Christian when I met him. Now I realize I could have been Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish or anything in the world and he would not have denied me his friendship. If I had denied him friendship, based on his atheism, I would have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

Casira Copes, 20, Elkton, Md., is a third-year student at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology, where she’s pursuing majors in advertising and public relations and graphic design. “I have always admired the aesthetic quality of media design. My ultimate goal is to graduate two years from now with two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s and then pursue a career as a graphic designer.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation