FFRF awards $10,000 in partnership with Black Skeptics Los Angeles

FFRF is pleased to announce that it has awarded, in memory of Catherine Fahringer, $10,000 in scholarship money divided evenly among four students chosen by the Black Skeptics Los Angeles, an African-American atheist community-based group.

Black Skeptics

The scholarship is part of the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship program, which focuses on undocumented, foster care, homeless or LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to attend college.

Fahringer was a San Antonio (site of FFRF’s 2020 convention!) feminist and freethinking activist who ran a long-lived FFRF chapter and served on FFRF’s Executive Board for many years. She was especially interested in nurturing the next generation of freethinkers. She died in 2008.

Here are excerpts from the winners’ essays.

By Chinaza Onwubuemeli

Being a Catholic from Nigeria, where religion is taken strictly and seriously, I was taught to believe what the church said — and that only. I grew up in Nigeria, where love was preached to me all the time by family members, priests and church administrators. I was taught to not judge anyone. It’s even written in the bible. In Matthew 7:1-2, it says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Believing that, I tried to incorporate that doctrine into my daily life so that I could make it to heaven after death. Heaven was my ultimate goal in life, and I had to do everything in my power to make it there.

What I was taught wasn’t what I experienced. Priests constantly judged people based on their social class. Apparently, the more money you give to the church, the more guaranteed you are to make it to heaven. And if you don’t have money to give, well, give what you have, even if it’s the food meant for your family. Girls were judged based on their clothing. Girls wearing pants are sinners and have a special place in hell. I was a victim of that doctrine. I was made fun of for wearing trousers.

Sexual orientation is not a thing, according to doctrine. Either you are a female or a male — nothing in between. Even if you have an interest in communicating your sexual orientation, you will be shut down and be advised to pray the demon away.

Coming to America and living here for the last eight years has really changed my life. I have learned to respect people for who they are, regardless of anything. We are all human, and all desire and deserve the love that is preached every day. We are in this race together, in this human race, to love and accept people.

Though I currently live in America, I’m more passionate about bringing changes to my country, Nigeria, since we already have many advocates in America. In Nigeria, we have been really critical about ourselves in the name of religion, hurting and condemning each other, while still preaching love and judging no one. To be able to make a difference, I would want to go back after college and help in creating a nonprofit organization that will help the condemned people, be it the homosexual, the lower class, and so on, to help nurture their interests and their lives.

By Claire Shamiya

When I was 6, my mother would sit on my bed and hold a prayer book, I mean bible, to my face, begging me to memorize the Hail Mary.

When I was 9, my dad told me to pray for his business to go well. After all, inshallah in Arabic means “if God willing, it’ll happen.”

When I was 12, I went to a psychological chiropractor. He cracked my bones in every which way, and by the sound they made, he was able to tell me about my unconscious life. After snapping my elbow, he asserted, “When you were 3, you saw your mother praying with tears in her eyes and that is why you’re not religious.”

When I was 13, I would pray to God to make me happy. I would ask, “Why do I cry all the time? Why can’t I rest my mind? God, please, God, please, please help me.” I fell asleep to a tear-soaked pillow for two years.

When I was 15, I prayed for God to help me fall in love with a man. But tell me, why are women so beautiful to look at?

When you ask me why I’m not religious, these memories come to mind. They are painful, maybe even amusing — What is a psychological chiropractor anyway? — but they are vulnerably sincere.

However, the main reason I’ve stayed secular is because, at age 18, I refuse to assimilate into a religious culture that is against what I am for. I refuse to remain stagnant in times of moral crisis and I refuse to accept prayers when the state of our world can be controlled by our very own actions. Humanism is the most influential but the most difficult aspect of life to accept as it demands accountability.

When we are held accountable, social change is empowered, but when we hand the work over to a spiritual figure, how can we expect change? We can’t.

As I’m typing this essay, I’m ditching school. Not because of a lack of scholarly motivation, but because teachers found a hit list in the boy’s bathroom. What happens if I’m on it? What happens if my sisters or my friends are on it? Politicians are too focused on the numbers; I’m focused on the lives.

In AP Environmental, I learned that the place we call home is on fire. What does it matter if the stock market is gonna crash, or if we’re going to get free college education, or if your favorite football team is going to win?

They say LGBTQ don’t deserve the right to marriage. But when I ask, “Who told you that?” and they raise their bibles, animosity grows not for their god, but for the translators who associate God with hate.

And, no, prayers won’t solve any of these problems, but proper legislation, voting, education, accountability, an open-minded attitude and the will to help can.

By Kaitlyn Farnan

Kansas is a state known for such things as the “Wizard of Oz,” farming and altruism.

Although these all are generally thought of as positive references, even Kansas has that weird uncle. Topeka, Kan., is home to our lovely state Capitol, along with the nationally known religious group (or as I like to call them, a cult) the Westboro Baptist Church. I do not consider myself religious, but I understand religions that have a background promoting love and equality for everyone. Although the Westboro Baptists quote the bible by tongue, their actions directly target the innocent with cruel and evil intent. This group tormented people at my cousin’s college graduation, my high school graduation, and, even worse, funerals. The Westboro Baptists show up at deceased soldiers’ funerals and not only mock them, but they blame their deaths on the LGBTQ community. I do not understand how this group claiming to be “righteous” can scapegoat a community based on love, and go so far as to blame them for murder.

Although the previous example is quite extreme, the judgment upon people different than the norm is evident in most religions. Although I was raised Catholic, I am no longer practicing it for multiple reasons. I realized I would never fit in, no matter how hard they tried to promote diversity and inclusion. Being an Asian woman in a predominantly white man’s place, it is difficult to not feel excluded. The looks that old couples give me, like I came straight out of a petting zoo, and the all-white statues, are a continuous reminder that I do not belong.

Also, I discovered my sexuality during my early teens. Guess how else I am different? While I found out that I was bisexual, the church that I had been going to since I was a child preached that the only proper marriage was between a male and a female, and that was God’s intended way. This moment proved my point that I was not welcome here.

Out of all of my internal battles with the Catholic Church, my biggest issue is not its lack of diversity, or its anti-LGBTQ beliefs, but rather the moral decay that lies within. The fact that sexual abuse has been going on for hundreds of years ignites anger in me.

The church taught me to respect my body, yet it corrupts innocent ones every day. It taught me that virginity is sacred, but it continues to commit sexual crimes against children. It taught me to respect life, but it cares more about its image than about exposing its explicit faults. I am not Catholic because I believe in human rights for all — human rights for every gender, race, sexuality and economic status. The exposure of the corruptness and hypocrisy behind religion is shameful, and I hope this world can focus on something greater than a label. Religion teaches rules and stereotypes, but love is universal and empowers all.

By Ciah Russell

When asked, I refer to myself as agnostic. By no means do I come from a heavily religious family. My mother only occasionally goes to church on Sunday mornings and I am never invited — mostly because I never stay awake in the pews. However, my lifelong neighbors, who I do love, are incredibly devoted to the word of the bible. I had awkwardly attended several of their bible study sessions with my best friends (their twin daughters) and was taught about Christianity. But a strong religious belief such as theirs bewilders me. They can easily cite several scriptures — an impressive feat, undoubtedly. But, for avid believers of Christ, they choose to skim over and feign innocence to what they don’t agree with in the bible. I don’t believe you should follow the bible word-for-word, but I’d rather they acknowledge the flaws of what they worship and say that it is OK to live beyond certain rules. However, they don’t do that, leaving me feeling hollow, and even a bit betrayed by their blatant denial.

I cannot comprehend how daily prayers alone could suddenly alleviate me of all woes found today. Were that the case, I wouldn’t have to deal with the financial struggles I endure now. I’d be able to afford my education easily and achieve total happiness without ending up with an abundance of loans to my name. To rely so much on God to solve all your problems in life is dangerously quixotic. One must actually make an effort.

Beyond the debacle of the many religions, there are problems arising all over the world due to many other factors. I am a supporter of those who are oppressed. While the world is somewhat more balanced than it was in the past, there is still toxic hate brewing in the streets and households.

I am asexual, which was the catalyst that dragged me away from my neighbors’ church. There, they told me, that, as a woman, my goal in life was to reproduce with a man and help repopulate the Lord’s glorious Earth. Of course, this left a sour taste in my mouth. There’s more to life than creating more life, believe it or not. The idea of childbirth or sexual intercourse in general revolts me greatly, and I know that God would value my happiness and comfort over the global population.

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