This essay received an Honorable Mention in FFRF’s 2009 College Essay Competition and a prize of $250, including $50 donated by Dean and Dorea Schramm.
One evening I found myself in a bookstore, browsing the aisles as I usually do. I inevitably gravitate to the religion section, observing and scrutinizing the endless amount of religious texts void of opposing opinions and views. Except on this night, in a secluded bottom corner I hadn’t seen before, I found a shelf of atheist and agnostic reading material.
My entire life I have felt like a minority in my beliefs, and almost wrong or bad for thinking the way I did. Now, I had eight books among aisles and aisles of religious texts that for a moment let me feel like I was no longer alone.
For most of my life, religion and Christian values have been pushed upon me, and when I chose to reject them, I felt ostracized and alone. It is interesting, when filling out forms or speaking to people, the lack of knowledge and information they demonstrate about people who choose the path I do. On forms there is no box that says “No Religion” or “None,” just “Other,” but what I have come to realize over the years is that I am not other, nor am I alone.
I remember a day in elementary school when a fellow classmate of mine asked me, “What are you?” — referring to religion. I was unsure how to answer, and simply said that I was uncertain. As an inquisitive young person, who always liked to question, I went home to ask my mother what we “were.” Seemingly perplexed, she told me to just tell the other child I was a Christian, and that’s what I did.
I grew up in a home where we rarely went to church, barely enough for me to recall, and where I was not taught about Jesus or the bible. I was one of those lucky kids who got to stay home on Sunday morning and watch cartoons. As an elementary school student, I barely understood what religion was or what being Christian meant.
Over the years, it became clear to me I was not Christian, nor was I any other religion. My questions had evolved into ones about religious beliefs, practices and doctrine. Now, as a 20-year-old student, I wish I could go back to the day I was asked my religion and tell my classmate that I believe in no religion, and I am not Christian. As an elementary student, that answer would probably have been substantial enough, but in the world I live in now, that answer is simply insignificant.
This is the problem with our society, and many societies across the world. For many, religion has become the defining factor in their lives. If you are living by the laws of your religion, then you are considered a good, moral and ultimately happy person. As a nonbeliever, I’m often asked why I believe the way I do, and I’m told that mine is a sad existence without faith or spirituality.
I believe the way I do because as humans we are born to question, to inquire about our lives. I choose not to believe simply because I do not know — no one knows. I, like every other human on this planet, am uncertain about what will happen to me after I die. Practicing religion or believing in God simply does not provide sufficient answers to those questions, nor do they provide valid conclusions for many other things about daily life on our planet. Happiness simply cannot be equated with the religion that one believes in.
All too often I find myself defending my beliefs and values to people who have never once thought to question what they have been told their entire lives. This is not even an educated debate. Through my eyes, religion has always been something that holds people back and creates a more-divided space. It limits people’s ability or desire to question. It is a doctrine that pretends to project love, while all it appears to do is produce hate. Wars and mass exterminations of people have been done in the name of religion. And because people are so fearful of what they simply do not know, they conform to these ideologies and accept them as truth. To me, God is not good, Jesus is not love, and the place of worship is just another mechanism within society that has the ability to control large groups of people.
Religion is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to create a subordinate people. It has instilled fear and panic, while creating segregation and isolation. Think about how many wars have been fought over the years in the name of religion. Think about how many churches, mosques, synagogues and other holy places are constructed throughout the world and how much money is used to build them. At some point one must wonder, when is religion good, when does it provide morals, whom does it help?
I contest religion, theism and gods because they are simply limiting in what I believe to be virtuous and valued. Religion does not grant people the ability to question, something that I value most as a human in society. All too often, religion is what seems to be holding our planet back. For me, religion seems to contradict almost everything it preaches. Love thy neighbor, as long as they believe. Help the needy, but bring them to church to donate money.
Usually my statement of disbelief leads to the ultimate question, “Well, if you do not believe in God, then what do you believe?” My answer: I believe in myself. I believe in the choices I make. I believe in the human race and our ability to one day accept all people regardless of religion, race, gender, class or position. I believe that education and knowledge are the most powerful tools a person can have, and that morals do not stem from religious texts or religion itself.
It is hard for me to think that if I practiced a religion or believed in God that I would be a happier, more moral or more virtuous person. Religion does not constitute happiness; it does not constitute morality or virtue. I believe I am a better person because I have the freedom to question and the ability to think beyond a belief structure that has been passed down for thousands of years.
In questioning and inquiry, true happiness and freedom can be found. So even though in my short lifetime I have felt like a minority in my beliefs, I am proud to believe the way I do, and proud to tell people that I do not believe.
Victoria Mead is a junior at the City University of New York-Hunter College majoring in geography and sociology. She writes, “I am interested in social geography, the geographical analysis of religion and sacred space, globalization, economic geography, race and ethnicity, capitalist and class structures, and religion in politics in the United States. My goal is to obtain a Ph. D. in geography and eventually go on to teach.”