College essay honorable mention: The reality of believing the imaginary: By Syd Gettier

By Syd Gettier

My questioning of organized religion started relatively young and was likely a response to my deeply religious grandmother.

My grandmother and her friends believe that there are certain people who are “seers,” meaning that they can see and communicate the wishes of angels. My grandmother claims to speak in tongues.

When we were children, we periodically helped my grandmother empty and then refill dozens of water jugs with which she lined her basement stairs. I always assumed that it was preparation for a hurricane or some other sort of natural disaster, but my father later told me that she did this to be ready for the apocalypse when Jesus Christ inevitably decided to wreak havoc upon the sinners and nonbelievers. Even as a middle schooler, these things seemed pretty wacky to me. After all, I had witnessed a group of adults elatedly bathing in a nonexistent fountain in my grandmother’s living room because their god compelled them to do so.

Now, as a college student, I major in psychology and have taken a few sociology and philosophy classes. I like to think about cognition and what motivates people to behave in the ways they do. From this perspective, I am able to understand religion’s appeal. It is in our nature to want answers.

Religion is, above all, a social tool and humans crave social interaction. I can see the appeal that religious groups offer to those who are young and impressionable, or those of any age who are looking for a place to belong. The desire for human connection is one of the most powerful psychological drives known to humankind, and when you consider the continued popularity of organized religion from this perspective, maybe it isn’t so difficult to understand why otherwise intelligent people are willing to jump into imaginary fountains.

Syd, 21, lives in Darlington, Md., and attends Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. She is interested in social justice issues such as gender equality, LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Freedom From Religion Foundation