Fourth place: High school essay contest – Making my community better without God by Aliyah Davis

FFRF awarded Aliyah $750.

By Aliyah Davis

For 13 years, I have recited the Girl Scout promise at every troop meeting, camp visit, and special event I have ever attended. There is a line that reads: “On my honor, I will try to serve God. . .” In the handbook, the asterisk notes that “God” can be replaced by what the girl is comfortable saying, since Girl Scouts is a multicultural organization.
As a young child, I would say God out of memorization, without any connection to religion and beliefs I had yet to establish. Over time, I thought about the meaning behind the words. Who is God and why must I serve him?

When I was 10, I told my mother and her friend that the bible was nothing more than another book on a shelf. They both thought I was “simply confused.” Soon after the incident, my mom insisted that I take a bible study class at church. The instructor made me read lines from the book, none of which I understood. Apparently, I would “be a better person” after reading God’s words. I asked, “Who is God and why should he be the judge of whether or not I’m a good person? Is he even real?”

The church staff was flabbergasted, as if no other person had questioned the existence of anything they ever believed. I never received a valid answer. As I left the church, an older woman grabbed me and said, “Once you accept God for who he is, you will be forgiven.” This was the most ridiculous thing I had encountered in my life. Why should I be deemed a bad person for not having faith in a religion, specifically Christianity? At that time, I declared myself an atheist.

The best thing Girl Scouts taught me was to treat others how I would want to be treated. I have consistently gone out of my way to make others feel appreciated, welcome and loved, no matter who they are, with hopes that they would return the favor to me. But not because God is watching or that is what Jesus would do. I was nice so people would respect me for the acts of kindness I displayed.

At school I was a teacher’s pet and class favorite. I was often praised for how well I interacted with other students. The interactions I had with my peers fueled a love for serving my community, not God. This was the most direct method to make the world, in which I live, a better place and to make me a better person.

One of my best volunteer experiences was at a Salvation Army homeless shelter. I was apprehensive about going because I knew it was a faith-based organization. I was a part of a group who helped serve dinner to shelter residents. I learned that the majority were ex-criminals who were on their way to get “better.”

Despite going through the Salvation Army program, some become repeat offenders and go through the program multiple times. I learned that religion does not stop people from making the same bad decisions twice. Doing the right thing is a personal choice.
As an atheist living in Georgia in the bible belt of America, I have found it hard to be openly accepted in society. I know the difference between right and wrong and my atheism has nothing to do with it. Personally, I find joy in volunteering. It’s my way of giving back to my community and serving others.

I’m not angry with the world; I love what it has to offer. I think showing a willingness to help anyone in need counters what theists choose to believe about nonbelievers. The stereotypes will always exist, but being an active member of your community helps ease what others think atheists represent.

Aliyah Davis, 17, graduated from Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga. She will be attending Georgia State University in Atlanta. “I intend on majoring in environmental studies or marketing. I have strong interests in preserving the environment for later generations.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation