Catherine Fahringer Black Skeptic Awardee Sydney Steward

A little girl sat at her desk and crafted a paint-splattered masterpiece. The other children chatted about the little things that consumed the common sixth-graders’ attention: who was crushing on the cutest boy, the latest shenanigans of the class clown, and hopes of the cafeteria serving ravioli for lunch. But she was different, and she knew it. So she remained quiet, consumed in her own mental world.

She continued filling the spaces of her existence with pastels just as bright as her mind. Then, she overheard comments of a deeper context. “I love Jesus.” “I go to church every Sunday!” “Do you read the bible?” She twitched. She silently cringed. She felt dangerously brave.

I looked up and said, “God isn’t perfect.”

During my youth, I attended a church that often left me feeling empty inside. Sermons were boisterous, beautiful in the way that hymns captivated the broken souls sitting in the pews.

I sat and watched people pour their problems into a mysterious being. The same god who claimed to promote peace and love desecrated the lives of millions of people every day.

Confusion and anger plagued my conscience. With every Sunday that passed, I realized a raw truth: Blind trust is intoxicating.

When asked the question, “Do you believe in God?” I awkwardly reply, “I don’t know,” or “I am trying to figure that out.” Rarely am I asked, “What do you believe in?”
I do not live without a moral compass. None of us do; the human propensity consists of the need to delineate good and evil.

Why attach divisive religions to this natural phenomenon? Good and evil mingle inside each and every one of us.

With empathy as my fuel and passion as my road map, I navigate life fiercely fighting for all that I think is right. What truly warms my soul, I get to define that. Not society, not a deity, not a centuries-old tome, and certainly not a little kid sitting across from me in art class. I am free. My morality isn’t based in blind trust; instead, my morality is simply, utterly and beautifully, mine.

Sydney graduated from Loomis Chaffee High School in Windsor, Conn. She is attending the University of Pennsylvania with plans to major in nursing.

Freedom From Religion Foundation