College essay honorable mention: I’m an atheist at a Catholic university: By Cheyenne Barger

By Cheyenne Barger

When I was a child, raised in conservative rural Pennsylvania, my mother taught me the basics of Wicca. I was raised to be attuned to nature, celebrating holidays based upon the turn of the seasons and believing in two gods. These beliefs did not sit well with my predominantly Christian classmates, and, in second grade, my best friend told me that she would never speak to me again because I wasn’t Christian. This was my first negative experience with religion, and was the first event marking my progression to atheism.

As I got older and learned more about how scientists believe life as we know it came to be, my belief in gods and infallible creation diminished. By ninth grade, I had completely abandoned any belief in gods. However, I rarely spoke of my nonbelief, fearing more reactions like the one I received in second grade.

Despite being an atheist, I decided to attend a private Catholic university, determining that the opportunities it could give me as a biology major overrode my trepidation about being in a religious environment. Interestingly enough, while at this university, my atheism flourished. I was surrounded by people who seemed genuinely interested in my nonbelief. I had many intellectually stimulating conversations with my Catholic classmates, my resident ministers, and other religious people about how my views differed from theirs, and how they were at times quite similar. In one of my classes, we discussed “new atheism,” and I was introduced to the ideas of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. These conversations and my research into these famous atheists helped develop my convictions, and I feel they have made me a better atheist.

Cheyenne, 19, is from Parker, Pa., and attends Gannon University, where she is a member of the Secular Student Alliance. She enjoys writing short stories, playing fantasy video games, and restoring furniture.

Freedom From Religion Foundation