The elementary school art room was bustling, filled with the cacophony of children’s voices. Amidst the chaos, I sat in quiet concentration, molding my clay into a dolphin. The girl across from me was making an angel. In the process of polite conversation, I felt myself being sucked into the topic of religion like a goldfish in a flushing toilet bowl. For years I’ve had to lie, change the subject, or completely bail on the conversation. Such is the life of a closet atheist. But for once, it occurred to me to stop hiding.
“I don’t go to church,” I said aloud for the first time in my 11 years of life. My friend’s eyes widened.
“You mean you aren’t Christian? You mean you don’t accept the love of Jesus into your heart as our Lord and savior after he died on the cross for our sins?”
It was unusual to see this girl, who was usually more concerned with cookies, rattling on.
“Um — no.”
“Oh my God. I’ll bring you a bible tomorrow! You need to read it cover to cover and pray every single night, OK? You need to listen to me because I am honestly concerned for your soul. Don’t worry, you can still be saved!” she promised, as if to assuage some genuine fear of mine.
This wasn’t the worst such incident, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I grew up in Arlington, Texas, smack in the gaudy, gleaming buckle of the bible belt. I was an unusually petite girl, and somewhat less than imposing. It would have been easy, and surely preferable, for me to simply surrender to the pressures of Christianity.
But at some point, it is no longer possible to hold back your ideals, especially ones that have been molded and shaped so concretely by your own reason for your whole life. Something had to come out. I was given my opportunity when a high school YAPA (Young Adults for Political Awareness) Club debate focused on the issue of whether or not creationism should be taught in schools.
The debate room was divided. Those who opposed teaching creationism were isolated in a corner of the room. Creationism supporters dominated 90% of the space, and included some of my friends and biggest academic rivals, those who would like to believe that they were in possession of greater mental faculties than I.
The debate proceeded, with the majority party zealously declaring that school was teaching us to be bad Christians, sinners or (God forbid) atheists. Those on my side could hardly get a word in. I sat in the back and seethed as the debate, one-sided and without direction, continued.
Something compelled me forth. The voice that issued from my small frame carried an unusual strength. It was a voice that had been silenced for years and now forced its way out. It was a voice that silenced the seemingly ceaseless stream of babble from the opposition.
My statement was simple: “School teaches us how to think. In every science class we have ever taken since the beginning of our education, the very first thing we are taught, without fail, is the scientific method. You don’t need me to repeat it. It basically states that everything we believe should be deduced through rational processes, observation, data, evidence. What exactly about creationism has been deduced from these processes? Therefore, why should we learn creationism as if it were a supported fact? School should teach us to think rationally, to use logic, not to take blind leaps of ideological faith.”
The room was silent. The debate proctor leaned toward me and whispered, with a smile, “You have them cornered.”
After a few moments of pregnant silence, the opposition offered many and varied retorts, but it was painfully obvious that none could actually respond to my argument. I left the debate in silent victory.
From that day on, I have carried my ideals proudly. I did not broadcast them obnoxiously without being asked, but I no longer felt a need to hide. The way I think and view the world, my beliefs and ideals, shape me as a student and a person. I am able to see and understand the world for what it is, without being clouded by a faith that would have me ignore my natural and logical understanding of the world.
Anna Liu graduated third academically in her class of 823 with a 4.0 GPA at James Martin High School, Arlington, Texas. She will major in bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena with an eye toward working in medical research or drug development. Anna was assistant concertmaster of the school symphony and violinist with the Youth Orchestra of Greater Fort Worth. Anna recieved $2,000 from FFRF