Traveling the road to reason By Harrison Horwitz

horwitz 4thHarrison received a $750 scholarship from FFRF.

By Harrison Horwitz

This is the story of how I became a devoted atheist, an impassioned heretic and an optimistic realist.

My first encounter with religion came in early childhood. I was born to a single mother of Jewish heritage who was very proud of her faith and traditions. She was murdered when I was 5.

As a young boy, I was told that God worked for the greater good of humankind. In my innocence and naiveté, I could not conceive why God would take everything I had from me and leave me with absolutely nothing. It was then that I first had the notion that there is no higher power driving humanity toward good. Rather, we are truly left to our own devices.

I looked into the heart of religion and witnessed its dark, repressive side. Shortly after my mother’s death, I was adopted by my great uncle and moved to a rural, impoverished and devoutly religious town in central California. Caliente was a town of Republicans, guns and the good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the holy trinity.

What Caliente residents lacked in education, they made up for in their unchallenged faith in God and Jesus. Their clergy encouraged them to loathe homosexuals, look down on blacks and immigrants and treat women like personal property.

While my adoptive parents did not force religion on me, they certainly believed in a divine being. All great things that occurred were because “He made it so.” As I became more aware of the small-minded mentality of Caliente, I pieced together parts of the puzzle. I witnessed sleazy politicians using fear-based religious platforms to win elections, while ignorant and misguided people followed them as though they were The Second Coming.

When I moved back to Los Angeles, I saw the movie “Jesus Camp” in my sociology class. Most of the students were shocked to see religion being shoved down the throats of the young and impressionable, but I had already been through my own version of “Jesus Camp.”

My high school years put everything I encountered in my early life into perspective. In pursuit of a better education with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, I pegged religion for what it is: a tool for oppression that has controlled people for thousands of years.

Leaders who have the right mix of charisma, power and ego use religion to manipulate most of the population. That may sound harsh, but the suppression of hard truths has allowed the outdated institution of religion to run rampant.

I have questioned organized religion since middle school. Then, my resistance only went so far as to inquire, “How do you know there is a God?” or “How could that which goes against proven science be right?” 

Even when spoken from a sixth-grader’s mouth, these are dangerous questions for religion. Since then, my knowledge and understanding of religion’s grasp on society has grown exponentially. Now, I actively debate the topic in and out of the classroom. Fact-based science and creationism are incongruent. Religion has no place in the educational system.

My intention is not to sound contentious or judgmental. My beef is not with the children of “Jesus Camp” who were born into religion. My issue is with the institution of religion, the camp and its leaders, that prey on ignorant and vulnerable people.

Education should be based on rational thought and supported by facts, not on fables and bedtime stories. I dream of a world in which people want to discover answers, not one in which people pretend to already have them.


Harrison was born Nov. 19, 1996, in Los Angeles. After seven years he moved to Caliente for four years and then back to L.A. He’s attending the University of California-Berkeley to major in biology and minor in political science.

Freedom From Religion Foundation