College essay honorable mention: Empathetic skepticism: By Camille Sanchez

As a child in a Filipino Catholic household, I unquestioningly accepted Catholicism as truth. I did not know there were other ways of living.

In fifth grade, I transferred from my Christian school to a public school, where I was exposed to people of different walks of life and different belief systems. As I made friends who were neutral toward religion, Catholicism became more and more unappealing. When I studied philosophy in high school, I began to confront my beliefs.

I learned that in contemporary times, religion is not so much a source of truth as it is a source of social interaction; religious ritual is identical with social ritual. This is especially true for Filipinos in America. The common sentiment is: If you are Filipino and you don’t go to church, what kind of Filipino are you?

However, I do not consider religion necessary to be a good person. I believe that religious morals are simply outward manifestations of something that is innate to people. Followers of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and many other religions strive for the same ideals — peace and love. And more often than not, these ideals are attained by relinquishing selfish desires, by serving others, by being empathetic and compassionate, and by living modestly rather than excessively.

Additionally, all the meaningful things I have done did not require religion; rather, they required empathy. I did not volunteer at homeless shelters because God called me to do so — I volunteered because I knew what it was like to be hungry. I did not create art dealing with topics of body image and mental health because of God — I created art because I knew what it was like to suffer alone and wanted to reach out to others. Sometimes, followers of religion forget to be empathetic and exert their subjective perspectives onto others without considering different perspectives.

Sometimes, followers are blinded by their religion’s teachings. At least I question — perhaps I suffer because of the uncertainty and insecurity, but that is better than to thoughtlessly accept whatever I am told.

Camille, 19, was born in Rockford, Ill., and attends Pomona College. She is interested in illustration, community service, social justice, blogging and writing about her thoughts.

Freedom From Religion Foundation