My evolution as a freethinker By Delaney Gold-Diamond

gold diamond 1stDelaney received $3,000 from FFRF for her winning essay.

By Delaney Gold-Diamond

The evolution of the human species has not culminated in a perfect society. It holds on to the vestigial structures of the past, such as religious orthodoxy. Yet humankind continues to grow, change and evolve.

Sometimes mutations randomly occur and our evolution begins to take a different course. We are moving forward and progressing into a society of freethinkers. And, just like evolution, it is a journey that will never end. 

My personal evolution as a freethinker mirrors this process. I did not have a sudden jolt of realization during young adulthood, like many freethinkers. I have grown and changed, taken some steps forward and some backward on this journey. But I can say that my atheist worldview has emerged as naturally and organically as the evolution of our species. 

When I was 5, my dad and I were driving past the Catholic church in the center of my small town. It was a Sunday, and many well-dressed people were milling around in front. My dad has told me the story of what happened that day many times. Our conversation went like this:

“Daddy, what is that building?”

“That is a church.” 

“What is a church?”

“A church is where people pray to God.”

“What is God?”

“Some people believe there is an all-powerful being who created the universe and all living things. They pray to this being they call God to ask for good things to happen and for bad things not to happen.”

After several seconds of awkward silence, my tiny voice piped up from the back seat, “Daddy, do you believe in God?” He said no, and with a huge sigh of relief I replied, 

“Good, because that is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” 

As with philosopher John Locke’s “tabula rasa,” I was a blank slate. No one had ever taught me to question the existence of a supreme being, nor had I ever had any kind of religious experience. While many seem to think that it is naturally human to believe in a higher power, my experience proves that logic and reason are instinctual. Because I never had any religious indoctrination, I was born a freethinker. 

Many of my peers were not so fortunate. While I was allowed to develop my own moral guidelines from reason and rationality, their families subjected them to religious indoctrination.

In first grade, I got into a fight with a boy during recess. He told me I was going to hell because I did not believe in God. I told him that I could not go to hell because it was an imaginary place. He ran off crying, and I knew I had won that debate.  

In fact, debate became my passion. Once in high school, for my first foray into the world of competitive public speaking, I chose (perhaps naively) a controversial topic, advocating for a constitutional amendment to remove the words “In God We Trust” from coins and currency. I still remember the stunned looks on the judges’ faces. I may not have won many tournaments that season, but that was a matter of secondary importance. I believed in my cause.

Ever since, I have been a devil’s advocate (pun intended) in every English, history and government class I have taken, standing up for freethought whenever necessary. I religiously cross out “In God We Trust” on every dollar bill that passes through my hands and refuse to say those two very particular, unconstitutional words in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Evolution is ongoing, never a finished process. I will continue to evolve as a freethinker, just as society will continue to evolve and become more enlightened. I believe in our nation and one day I hope to run for office as an out-of-the-closet atheist, dedicated to the separation of church and state, as our founders intended.

My achievements prove that religion and spirituality are not necessary to lead a successful, moral life. My childhood demonstrates that atheism and freethought are as natural as evolution itself.


Delaney writes: “I’m 18 and I’ve lived my entire life in Sonoma, Calif. This fall I will be moving 2,000 miles away to attend the University of Chicago to pursue a major in law, letters and society or political science. I plan on attending law school after I obtain my undergraduate degree. While at Sonoma Valley High School, I served as captain of the speech and debate and mock trial teams. I’m a “special distinction” member of the National Forensics League and a member of the Secular Student Alliance.” 

Freedom From Religion Foundation