Fourth place: High school essay contest, freethinkers of color by Lily Zhang

A sure way to nurture freethought

FFRF awarded Lily $750.

By Lily Zhang

Where I live, churchgoers constitute an exclusive social group. Their photo albums of fundraisers and Christmas Mass are a signature component of my Facebook feed. They eat lunch at the same cafeteria tables and are members of the same circles at school. No matter how successfully we collaborate on an assignment or how loudly our jokes make each other laugh, the underlying fundamental conflict about faith prevents us from reaching the truest level of friendship.

The two sides of our conversations — musing what to do in college, our goals there, our forecasts for the future, our purposes in life and what everything means — are based on bedrocks of opposing ideologies. And unlike ethnicity or sexuality, the relevance of faith or a lack thereof to personal relationships is something none of us is willing to reconcile for the other.

After a while, that barrier bars me from fundamentally relating to the religious people around me. And because believers outnumber nonbelievers, I am an outsider.

My peers are amiable about it, but my lack of faith is perceived as dangerous by the majority of the community. Minorities have always lived in fear of the majority. The nagging feeling that their type is not welcome partially explains why they often appeal to a higher power: maybe for the faith, but mostly to be accepted and receive implicit permission to continue living quietly in a foreign land.

To make freethought more attractive would be equivalent to marketing it through brochures and solicitation, which would negate the “free.” I believe that fully aware nonbelief is an ideology that is reached through one’s own observations and rational thinking. So let people nurture their own sense of freethinking.

Thinking for oneself but deviating from the norm in doing so requires an assertiveness that many minorities lack. Education liberates the mind from the confines of outdated tradition, and not having to constantly worry about getting bread on the table or justifying one’s living here frees the mind to cultivate intellect and reinvestigate one’s faith.

Thus, elevating minorities to the socioeconomic positions of majorities would indirectly albeit surely promote the freethought movement within these communities. To liberate minorities from the disadvantages of being outnumbered is a sure way to nurture freethought.

I confidently present myself as an atheist because — simply put — there is no evidence of any deity’s existence. The vague and conditional arguments of many a religion fail to convince me, not only in their lack of substance but in the lack of a concrete answer to this question: If there were a God, what fathomable reason would he have to coquettishly hide from us behind the curtain?

Science and rational thinking have the power to explain the world around us and have provided answers infinitely more substantial than those that religions offer. All of our conditions could be improved by concentrating our efforts on our own capabilities rather than those of a nonexistent higher power, capabilities that can only broaden with practice and time.

Lily Zhang, 17, graduated from Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md. She is pursuing a double major in finance and mathematics at the University of Maryland-College Park. Her interests include music, gardening and physics.

Freedom From Religion Foundation