College Essay — Honorable Mention Faith is not the answer: Patricia Cepeda

This essay received an Honorable Mention in FFRF’s 2009 College Essay Competition and a prize of $250, including $50 donated by Dean and Dorea Schramm.

I reject religion because I believe it to be about the control of humankind. It is a human-made construct sold to the masses by those who seek power. There is no time in history when this has not held true and, in fact, the use of religion to garner power and control has multiplied with the growth of the world’s population.

Although I have never considered myself a very religious person, I used to believe that religion was good for people, that it constituted the moral fiber that held our society together. I no longer believe that, and in fact, would argue that quite the opposite is true.

I come from a very large extended family and, because my mother considered herself an open-minded person, I was lucky enough to be exposed to many different religions. I say lucky because while growing up I was allowed to experience different belief systems firsthand, which ultimately made it possible for me to question, and eventually be released from, my own bonds of religion.

Although my mother still clings to her religion, she has never opposed my questioning those around me. Thus, I was able to ask the nuns at school why the pope lived in a palace when this clearly went against the teachings of their greatest prophet, Jesus Christ, and the word of God. I wanted to know why there are so many in the world who call themselves Buddhists and yet practice just a fraction of what their religion teaches.
Instead of leading to answers, every religious experience I sought led to more questions about the incongruities of what was being taught, why it was being taught and how it wasn’t actually being put into practice in any meaningful way. I had believed that religion was necessary, and so as I grew from youth to adult I went from one belief system to another (and not all of them Christian) in search of some concrete truth.

I found over and over that you could only question so much before you were directed to a male figurehead who would give you the “faith” talk. Those of you who used to have religion in your lives know what this means. “Faith” is the answer to anything a religious person can’t, won’t or doesn’t want to address.

Actually, there are few people in any faith that I’ve been exposed to who have studied their own religion sufficiently enough to mount any defense with facts either scientific or historical. Myths and lies are taught and, being obedient children and not wanting to risk being socially ostracized, most of us conform, believe and give up the natural inquisitiveness of a child where religion is concerned.

I am originally from the West Coast, where it is considered bad manners to ask someone about their religious standing. However, I have lived in the South for the past seven years, and it is here that I have truly learned about the exclusionary nature of “the church” in the name of religion. Strangers here have no compunction about asking what church you attend and, in fact, this is where many business deals are brokered and jobs won or lost. Nowhere in the U.S. is the strength of the Christian church and its religious dogma more apparent than here.

Because I believe the bible to be written by men, about men and for men, and because I am not a man, I cannot believe that this book is the final word on how I should live my life. Why is this book of greater authority than the Koran or the teachings of the Buddha? To actually ask those questions here in the South, though, is to brand yourself un-American. It evokes sympathy for your children, who do not join in the pagan rituals that pass for Christian holidays. It jeopardizes your chances of getting a job, of getting a promotion, of doing business at all. You must step lightly and choose your words carefully because religious prejudice is alive and well.

Politicians are respected for regular church attendance and their defense of keeping the word “God” on our money and in our Pledge of Allegiance. I personally cannot think of a bigger waste of a politician’s time, especially when one considers the real problems in the world, such as infant mortality, world hunger, lack of access to clean water — the list goes on and on.

Disease, not a cure

Ultimately, I have concluded that religion mimics disease. It is pervasive and all-encompassing, crossing racial, economic and social boundaries. Historically, religion has incited war and murder in all its various forms.

Religion is divisive, although its message is to love others. But its love is selective and certainly not unconditional.

One of the longest wars in the name of religion, the Crusades, was really about land acquisition. Christians took up arms against Muslims and other “pagans” because religious leaders said that was what God wanted. Where was their proof?

There is a cure for this malady called religion. It’s called education — not the education offered by the churches or their followers but an independent search for the truth using historical facts. Those who study the foundations of religion in a purely academic way discover that none of them are built on facts. They’re no more real than a fairy tale. Alas, as it is with some who are afflicted with disease, there are some who will resist what medical advice is offered or refuse treatment. Education leads to the truth but, for those that are afraid of a future where much is unknown, the truth is more than they can handle.

Religion is the greatest example of hypocrisy on Earth. A cornerstone of the Muslim faith is jihad, wherein it is considered a religious duty to struggle in the ways of God. And yet, who dictates what the ways of God are, for was not the prophet Mohammad just a man? How do the leaders of any religion hold themselves up as knowing more than their followers? I fail to understand how this is not interpreted as vanity, one of the very things they preach against.

Moreover, religion discourages thinking for oneself and minimizes all of creation with oversimplified explanations. That which has yet to be proven becomes something to be rationalized or feared. Religion as it is practiced by the masses teaches skepticism for science and ultimately evolves around the vanity of humankind and its desire for power.

Each religion and each church claims to know the true word of God. I find it the ultimate in egotism that one man, one church or one religion claims to know the only truth at the exclusion of others. Therefore, I may be in the minority on the planet Earth, but I refuse to follow anyone blindly.

There is no research to prove that religion makes one a better person. People lie, cheat, steal, fornicate and murder, and still they attend church or identify themselves as religious. People will minimize or justify their behaviors when they are not in keeping with the teachings of their faith. And yet, if you were to take a poll of churchgoers, most of them would insist that they believe their religion to be successful in making the world a better place.

I find it utterly exploitative when churches attempt to recruit followers in prisons and jails. There are over a billion nonbelievers in the world, and there is no greater incidence of crime or deviant behavior among those who claim no religion. When I decided that I no longer believed in religion, I didn’t suddenly throw off my cloak of morality and decide to wreak havoc on the Earth and its inhabitants.

On the contrary, I still believe that right is right and wrong is wrong, but I no longer allow any religion to sanction me to minimize my personal responsibility. I find it almost laughable that one’s decision to do what is right should be driven by fear and that a concern for others, empathy, charitable acts and good will are only a result of my drive to have an afterlife.

I say it is OK to live for today, and I resent the implication that to be without religion is to be immoral. Our belief systems do not have to include a deity, religious writings or leaders if we simply agree with Thomas Paine, who said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren and to do good is my religion.”

My vision of a better world is one where we realize that the answer to life’s unanswered questions is not faith but rather the pursuit of knowledge in all its splendor.

Patricia Cepeda writes: “I will be attending the University of North Florida in August 2009. I will be in my first year of study for a master’s degree in public health. I have worked for various social services programs over the past 15 years from Alaska to New York. My goal is to work in health education and write grants that promote programs for the uninsured. I am a voracious reader of all types of fiction and enjoy soccer when the weather is mild. I have two children who I am raising to think for themselves and a husband who walks the line between agnosticism and atheism.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation