Honorable Mentions — FFRF College Essay Contest

The Freedom From Religion Foundation bestowed $2,900 in cash scholarships to college student essayists this year. 

Below are excerpts of 11 “honorable mention” college winners, who each received a $100 scholarship. The topic and guidelines for next year’s contest will be announced in February 2006.

Religion, A Pandemic of the Mind

By Zachary Josef Abramovitz

Religion is, by far, the most depraved and outrageously malefic institution ever contrived by the human mind. Its undeniable power to distort veritable truths, alter people’s perception of reality, and control peoples’ minds has transformed it over the centuries into a kind of disease that is as virulent as the worst of plagues. Unfortunately, it is everywhere–in our education system, in our government and politics, in our societal functions and in our conceptions of morality. With a church on nearly every street corner and the symbols of faith dominating our skylines, the presence of religion taints and can be felt at every level of society. However, though there is no widespread vaccine to put an end to this devastating pandemic of the mind, there is a treatment that one can undergo in order to eradicate the pathogens of religion from one’s body and protect one’s mind against potential harm: it is the cure of freethought.

“I am going to be a sophomore at the University of Kansas in the fall of 2005. Spending my freshman year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a music performance major, I found the academic quality of the institution limited and subsequently sought a larger university environment. In the following years, I plan to pursue a double major in the areas of English with an emphasis in creative writing and philosophy. In my spare time, I enjoy reading poetry and fiction, writing, listening to jazz, and practicing my bass clarinet and tenor saxophone.”

The Triumph of Humankind

By Jonathan Bruce

Having studied history for the past three years, I have already had my fill of religious hypocrisy and misinformation. My brain is filled to the brim with persecution of innocent people simply because an invisible best friend of some prominent leader told him that they were not quite human. From the Egyptians to the Americans, history is packed wall-to-wall with people killing people for no other reason than their god spelled his name differently.

The fact is, God cannot and does not exist in the capacity that humanity has given him. In a desperate attempt to justify killing and persecution mankind made a god in their own image. One who is cruel and vengeful. One who hates and has no qualms punishing the innocent just to get back at those who wronged him. And, despite his supposed limitless power, he has fear.

He feared people would not worship him. He feared idols that were not his own. He feared the loss of the holy lands. He feared his eventual descent into obscurity by the very same people who would no longer need him.

I could not accept God as a savior. I could not accept him as a father figure. I have a father. I love my father, because he is always there for me. God never came down and took care of me. My family and friends did, and those who I have called friend never saw it as a religious duty to make sure I was okay–they saw it as a basic human duty–a thing that separates us from something less than an animal.

That is why I do not believe in God.

Because I look around and I see the tragedy of mankind. I see war, terror, fear, death, loathing, pain, loss, and grieving that this world constantly inflicts upon itself in a lust for power and wealth, and all the while invoking the name of God. I see this and I know that no heavenly father awaits us to welcome us into his choir of angels.

“I am a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. My intended majors are history and film, with a minor in French. I grew up in a very open household in Mukwonago, Wisc., where topics of religion and politics were freely approached and, more importantly, never pressed upon those who disagreed. In high school, I wrote a book dealing with Christian terrorists taking a school hostage. Meeting with about as much critical success as the phonebook (as in ‘nobody reads it,’ not ‘everyone has it’), I have since moved on to writing stage and screenplays. Much of my work deals with basic human morality and the contradictions inherent in many people’s ideologies. Directing these plays in a small conservative town takes a lot of tact to get the message through without causing a tremendous backlash. I hope one day to make films of my work. When I am not directing or working at my local coffee house, I am writing or reading.”

From Devout to Dissident

By Tierry Domond

I was born in a small village in the southeastern part of a third-world country where religion is prevalent, as is often the case in poverty-stricken countries. My parents and siblings were and still are fervent practitioners. I spent the early years of my life attending church service regularly with my parents on Sundays. I can still recall my poor, gullible parents instilling in me the religious values the church was disseminating. I couldn’t help but think how much they, along with many other families, must have been misled about many things the church was propagating. I guess they did not have a choice but to accept the teachings of the clergy, especially when they did not know any better. It is really unfair and appalling how the church takes advantage of human beings by using their illiteracy to impose its supremacy.

I was always intrigued by the fact that I had to follow rites, the rationale of which I completely ignored. But amid all this confusion, my biggest discomfort stems from the theories that a merciful God, much preached by the church, is constantly predisposed to hit me with his mighty hand even for the most banal deeds. I could not reconcile the contradictory notions of a merciful and dictatorial God at the same time.

Through personal research, I understand that religion owes its existence to people’s longing to believe and belong, which often suppresses any regard for objectivity and reason. Besides, humankind constantly needs to find answers to questions about good and evil, the origin, the meaning and the end of life, etc. People think that religion holds the answers to those questions. However, religion has failed tremendously in its attempt to answer them.

Today I am free from the bondage of religion because I let reason prevail over faith. I believe religious faith can be deleterious to human beings, because it involves surrendering reason to an absurd blind faith in some hypothetical supreme power over which one has no control.

“I am currently attending Chaffey Community College as a freshman, majoring in Communications.”

How Curiosity Cured Me of Christianity

By Matthew Eckwahl

I was raised and educated in a virtual womb of fundamentalist sentimentality, sheltered from the “secular” and “worldly” influences that would seek to “deceive” this lamb of the Lord. My education or indoctrination commenced within a miniscule church school of roughly 60 people. Later, my class size diminished to an even smaller number: one. Yes, I was home schooled. The curriculum was definitely not concerned with facts and current research. Assuring parents of their “unashamedly Christian” and traditional approach to education, they promised to “lead” boys and girls onto the path of righteousness. Of course, the literal truth of the “Word of God” (the bible) and countless bigoted views, such as the wickedness of all other perspectives and life style choices, were also meant to be deeply ingrained. So, how did I manage to escape from this pre-destined path of fanaticism?

I am neither a resentful nor a reactionary rebel. I have been an atheist for over five years and was previously a befuddled skeptic. I sincerely hold no malice against the people who foisted their views upon me, for that is what their beliefs dictated. Many were exceptionally kind and generous individuals. Yet, I must dispense with the pleasantries. Fundamentalists harbor a dangerous virus of the mind, a meme (idea) which has wrought many terrible consequences. It is an archaic view that should have remained in the past.

While some nonbelievers report feeling depressed at arriving at this “hard truth,” I was thrilled at the intellectual freedom it offered. Finally I was able to unreservedly follow evidence and reason to whatever conclusion it proposed. Bigoted perspectives could be abandoned without adieu. Looking back at the beliefs my family and I held, I feel like a foreigner gazing upon strangely alien ground.

Fundamentalism has continued far past the day when it should gracefully disappear from the American vista. It inhibits thinking, increases intolerance, and impedes existence. I, for one, will not be disappointed to see it go. In this land where religions wax and wane, when will this unsightly giant topple?

“I have completed my sophomore year at the University of Michigan-Flint, pursuing a major in Biotechnology and a minor in Chemistry. I am an insatiable reader of almost any subject area. I adore animals and participate in many activities with my cherished canine. I enjoy discussing philosophy and politics. In addition, religion’s historical role and the psyche of the true believer also fascinate me.”

Achieving Freedom from Religion: Resisting the Masses

By Spencer Everingham

Unlike some of my humanist peers, who spent years examining the arguments of experts before formulating an answer to the question of life-after-death, I achieved freedom from religion by means of early life experience. While growing up in the church, I compared the behavior of religious people–especially those in “authority”–to my ideals of how people should behave. In my view, many religionists fell short of consistently behaving humanely toward each other. The perception of this incongruity between expected and realized behavior, coupled with a scientific mind that was coping with being homosexual in a heterosexual environment, divested me of any reliance on the fantasy of the supernatural by my late teens.

My earliest memory, relating to religion, was of being made to attend an outdoor revival on the lawn of the family church in Los Gatos, Calif., at the age of eight. Already feeling the growing pains of being the “gay one,” I succumbed to the badgering of the preacher and “accepted Jesus” into my life. As a result, I felt unencumbered, for about one day, by whatever emotional baggage an eight-year-old boy could possess. Yet, when this emotional high quickly passed, I did not revive it and did not feel the slightest twinge of guilt for this lack of interest–despite the haranguing of the revival preacher to get me to maintain the “relationship.”

My mother, despite two divorces, burdened my brother and me with a semi-strict Christian upbringing during our formative years. We were not allowed to trick-or-treat on Halloween because the holiday belonged to Satan. We could not watch R-rated movies. Most importantly, I could not possess or express the gay aspect of my identity.

My newly-found survival impetus manifested itself as an enhanced effort to excel academically as I progressed through my middle-school years. Reading library books and learning from school texts were activities that provided an escapist opportunity for me, and the intellectual fruits of my labors belonged solely to me. While I excelled in all of my classes, I discovered an affinity for math and science, because these subjects provided provable explanations for many aspects of the natural world–they did not require belief in a deity or in a post-life existence of the heavenly variety. For me, this maturing scientific understanding of our environment further undermined any remaining need for an imaginary, all-powerful friend.

I freed myself of religion largely because of emotional experience. I could not accept a worldview in which people treat others, especially those not in the group, with cruelty and disdain. I could not abide a religion whose “authoritative” proponents badger vulnerable people into joining the flock and demand million-dollar paychecks. Finally, I refused to accept a cosmology that denies the realities of our temporary existence and our natural environment. I left all deities behind years ago, and I have no regret shedding such primitive baggage.

“I am pursuing a graduate degree in computer science at Arizona State University as a returning, adult student. I continue to be active as the secretary for the Greater Phoenix Humanist Society and am interning at Intel in the field of user-interface design. While much of my time is spent on the computer, I also enjoy swimming, diving, tennis, science-fiction movies, and petting Optimus the Cat.”

Learning to Not Believe

By Ashley Helaudais

I am an atheist, but I wasn’t raised as one, and didn’t even know what one was until my sophomore year in high school. I was raised as a Catholic; I attended Sunday school until I was 12, and went to church every so often during that time. What I remember best about Sunday school and church is learning about the crucifixion. My teacher didn’t skimp on the gory details: telling us how he had to carry the cross, how they nailed him to it, and about the crown of thorns and other tortures.

Catholic guilt kept me believing for a while, and when that failed the fear of going to hell worked even better.

I spent two years trying to find a religion that I could believe and like. As I read about various religions, I had a sudden burst of clarity. I realized that I simply don’t believe in any deities, not God, not Allah, not Brahman, not even Hecate or the other Wiccan goddesses/gods.

Religions tend to treat people like children and I am not a child. I can’t let somebody, or especially some book, tell me how to live my life. I prefer to look at life like Nietzsche; I can rule myself. I embrace my own “will to power,” and I think for myself. If I do something bad or stupid it is myself or the law I have to answer to, not a divine parent figure. Religion seems to remove much of one’s freedom of thought, and like my other freedoms, I am loathe to part with it.

“I will soon transfer away from my sheltered hometown, and Sussex County Community College, where I earned my Associate of Arts in Communications and Journalism. I will enter Temple University, in Philadelphia, as a junior, double majoring in Journalism and Film. I wrote for my school paper at SCCC, and hope to continue doing so at Temple, at the same time pursuing an interest in political reporting. I also enjoy photography, reading, and writing short stories.

A Trump Card Never More

By Ryan Kaminski

My mind was twirling in confusion when my mother played the “religion card” to condemn me, her son, because I loved men. It was at that precise moment I understood the ultimate utilitarian value of religion, and realized I could not afford to let it dominate my life. My mother, who probably could not tell me what half of the bible allegedly demonized high school students preparing for college for being homosexual, would have to accept I am who I am.

After diving into works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Michael Foucault, and Judith Butler, I quickly began losing the admiration and unquestioned respect I was taught to have for religion. I learned how some of history’s most powerful and intellectual thinkers conceptualized religion as a depressing, baseless characteristic of a “herd mentality” and how it simply existed as a tool to exert something called “disciplinary power.” Where religion had asserted a dogmatic and unsupported critique of my most basic human instincts, these incredible philosophers helped in providing firm, logical, and understandable evidence that there was nothing inherently wrong with me at all, just the pervasive, heavily fallacious, and unsubstantiated system that was religion.

Amazingly, as time went on, my mother has become more accepting of the reality that her son is gay. It seems that true-life experience, rather than vaguely defined and endlessly re-interpreted scripture, has proven most effective. I believe my mother, like so many others, used religion as a trump card to hide and ignore her own deeply bigoted and uninformed views. In other words, in the absence of any really practical or legitimately proven objection to my lifestyle, she used religion to “take the deck” and effectively close all discussion. While my mother eventually came to understand the huge implications of her actions, it troubles me, especially as one interested in politics and law, that more and more trumps are being “played” not only in my family, but also across the United States.

“I am an undergraduate college sophomore starting a new year at the University of Chicago, having transferred from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I plan to double-major in Politics and Public Policy Studies. My interests, both pre-college and during college, have focused on domestic and international policy debate, public speaking, and organizations supporting international issues and relations such as Model United Nations and the United Nations Children’s Fund. I am also very interested in environmentalism and have attempted to educate others regarding the benefits of conservation, preservation, and veganism, through volunteering as well as personal discussions. In the future I see myself as either a civil-rights attorney or working for an international organization concerned with international law and/or human rights.”

Why I am Free From Religion

By Catherine Marr

The devastating effects religion has in the United States are immense. There are schoolteachers who cannot talk about homosexuality or healthy sexual lifestyles, because their dogma forces them to act against it. Institutions around the world have justified horrible actions such as rape, murder, and slavery because of their proponents’ belief in god. Religion has also perpetuated oppressive ideas and practices such as white supremacy, sexism, class oppression and homophobia because believers’ idea of god told them it was okay. This can no longer work as a valid reason, when everything logical negates these oppressive ideas.

My beliefs now are that, while the idea of god is silly, it is also very dangerous, and is often used as a system of control and domination. This can be seen from the legislation against gay marriage, to “intelligent design” theories being taught in science classes, to requiring prayer to be held in public schools.

“I am now 22 and will soon be starting at Arizona State University, where I will be majoring in Political Science. I will be entering as a junior and plan on joining student groups that focus on human rights issues as well as the Students for Atheism and Agnostics Club. After graduation, I would like to work for Planned Parenthood as a lobbyist and advocate for healthy sexuality. My interests are politics, reading, cooking and theory building. I hope to make a difference on campus and in my community as an atheist and political activist.

Religion beLIEves

By Bianca Lindblad

“I count religion but a childish toy, and hold there is no sin but ignorance.” Christopher Marlowe (156-93),The Jew of Malta, (c.1592), prologue

One would think that after such travesties as the Catholic Church’s protection of pedophilic clergymen and the continuing irrational condemnation of birth control and homosexuality, religion would be losing followers every day. It appears that most organized religions are struggling to keep up with rapidly changing public opinions about issues such as women’s evolving roles in society–but even so, perhaps religion isn’t losing much ground overall. In fact recent studies have shown about 95% of Americans profess a belief in God or a higher power and 60% reported religion to be very important in their lives.

Considering how far we’ve come as a society–scientifically, socially, and technologically–these numbers are truly astonishing. One has to wonder how many of those 60% are fundamentalists, and what that means for future generations. Is a strict, monotheistic country really conducive to freedom of speech, thought, or even other religions, let alone freedom from religion?

In 1711, Jonathan Swift wrote, “when a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Today, we do possess the bright potential for truth, justice and freedom, but these principles will never be bestowed upon those who continue to naively submit to the Machiavellian machinations of clergy and politicians; Lady Justice can afford to be blind, but “we, the people” cannot. Truth, justice, and freedom are only entrusted to those who assume the enlightening burden of thought–those who, in so doing, forge for themselves the swords to slay the fiendish dragons of archaic religious traditions.

“I am a Fashion Design major entering my sophomore year this fall at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Penn. I am passionate about horseback riding, creating art, singing, composing music and lyrics, and writing fantasy and horror stories. I am a lifelong avid reader, a Wiccan-turned-agnostic, and an incorrigible questioner of organized religion.”

Free Yourself: Reject Religion

By Vickie Salvo

We need to plan for a life, not the after-life. Life is essentially what we make of it while we are here. Only the gullible could believe that we are doomed if “He” is not happy with us and that we are set for life if “He” is. In actuality, savings and investments are better methods of being set for life. Most people who wind up successful did not expect any god to help them get to where they are . . . and neither do I.

Unfortunately for the theists, there are just too many logical conflicts with their theories. Their gods, for one, do ungodly things like bringing about natural disasters and diseases and even sinning themselves. Most worshippers are unable to explain why the creator of the world would permit anyone to bring evil or harm to others. Religion is just a simplistic explanation for the unknown. With the help of science, we can see that naturalistic explanations undercut the theory of divine creation by a rather large margin.

When overwhelming scientific and archaeological evidence disproves religious theories, it’s time to “wake-up” and be willing to change with the available evidence!

Instead of saying “Thank God,” we need to thank the Americans that believed in maintaining the separation of church and state so we could all make our own choices. We should thank our “heads of households” for putting food on our plates and roofs over our heads. We need to thank “the odds” for being on our side as tornadoes touch down but harm no one, or when we hit the big jackpot in Vegas. We need to thank Darwin and science for the help in making things so clear about how we all really came to be. And most of all, we need to thank our parents for creating us, not some unseen, unheard, unlikely force in the sky otherwise known as God to many.

Nobody should be waiting around for someone “up above” to make their life better while discounting their own ability to direct their own destiny.

“I am a disabled single mom. I attend my college courses online. I have senior (4th year) status. In January 2006, I will be graduating with my first college degree: an Associate’s in Accounting. By May of 2007, I will have earned my Bachelor’s in Accounting/Finance as well. I do plan to continue my educational experience straight through the MBA program. I am interested in entrepreneurship, investments, income tax, general accounting and providing personal and small business financial advising and other services.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation