College essay honorable mention: Embracing complexity of thought: By Manon van Mil

By Manon van Mil

I read a lot. I read the news. I have read Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. I even read into the patriarchal structure of Catholicism. And when I read, my vocabulary grows so that I can call the problems I notice by name: racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and unsound arguments, willful ignorance, corruption, conspiracy.

It took me longer to realize that dogmatic thinking comes in shapes and sizes other than organized religion, and that confirmation bias is real, big and scary. For example, I am studying to become an educator, so I was interested to learn that teachers’ expectations of students significantly and importantly impact their achievement. Being aware of confirmation bias means that we nonbelievers must mind our thinking in order to call ourselves freethinkers; otherwise, we support our theories on the same shaky grounds as religious folk compiling so-called evidence of the supernatural.

Furthermore, a worldview that is responsive to diversity and complexity must be shaped by one’s consideration of evidence.

I graduated high school devoutly atheist, but not yet a freethinker, a reaction to my circumstances in a Catholic institution instead of a thoughtful response. When well-intentioned, well-read folks argued for religion, I shut down their arguments with more strength than flexibility. Thankfully, I have learned how to challenge others’ dogmatism and my own.

Although I did not consciously decide to become a freethinker, I choose to be proud of that identity every day. It is an honest, open-minded way of honing a worldview that affords many benefits and costs me nothing — least of all my curiosity.
Manon, 24, grew up in Ontario and attends Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She is an avid reader, writer, knitter and powerlifter, and is also passionate about popular education and cognitive science.

Freedom From Religion Foundation