Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 7 September 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

College essay contest: Third place (tie)

Religion best served to couch potatoes

FFRF awarded Taylor $500 for her essay.

When I was 5, my mother tells me, I dispelled the myth of Santa on my own. It just doesn’t add up, I explained to her. The whole square peg-round hole chimney thing, the Santa-can-be-in-two-places-at-once deal, flying reindeer and his status as a caroler-frightening, telepathic voyeur just didn’t sit right.

And I mean, I wasn’t a physicist, but what I had observed in a short five years told me that this was all physically impossible. I was a skeptic at 5.

My mother tried to reassure me, most likely because she didn’t want to ruin the excitement of a strange man leaving surprises in my house. It wasn’t until the next year that she confirmed my suspicions. When I finally got my first-grade class huddled around me at recess, I laid it out for them very simply: Santa isn’t real. As you can imagine, they all took it pretty hard. One girl started crying hysterically, so to console her I said I was joking.

Religion was betraying me, so I walked out on it.

Seven years later in a church basement surrounded by confirmation candidates, the priest asked for anyone who didn’t believe in God to raise their hand. Looking around, it seemed I was the only one in my whole CCD class who wasn’t eating what he was serving. But remembering The Santa Incident, I sat on my hands, thinking that Father Tim might throw up or that the nuns would riot.

My Catholic indoctrination started about the time I was dissing Santa and, despite my earlier cynicism, I welcomed it with surprisingly open ears as most impressionable children do. Let me tell you, I was lovin’ me some Catholicism. I listened intently, I prayed and even wanted to be a saint like the ones I was reading about, especially the martyrs.

But I lost it somewhere between lectures suggesting that women are inferior to men and that homosexuality is wrong. I was a young lady of 13 with aspirations for a career as a doctor or an author. I was even the only girl at school who played the drums and played them better than most of the boys. I was equal, and there was no way I was going to be a toilet-scrubbing baby factory.

I’d been exposed to unconventional lifestyles by then. My father was a “house husband,” while my mom won the bread. A couple of my family members are gay. I’ve never thought it anything but natural and normal that other families were different from my own. Religion was betraying me, so I walked out on it promptly and with hard feelings. It lied to me (how could you!) about everything, including the existence of god.

I first reasoned how it was impossible for god to exist by taking an historical approach, which made it easy to see gods, and then god, as a human construct. I let myself out of the “cave,” as Plato might say. Thus began my atheism.

A woman of action

Now, with religion out of the way, I’m a woman of action and certainly not a couch potato. I’m making up for all the hours spent hunched over in a pew and for all the dollars I dropped into collection baskets. One of my main beefs with religion is the encouragement of nonaction, via prayer and meditation, mistaking it for action. When disaster strikes, a spiritual individual will spend minutes and hours over a lifespan kneeling with their eyes closed, speaking to themselves.

The believer reflects on the issue they wish to ameliorate by repeating an instilled chant. By doing so, they become one step closer to acquiring arthritic knees and nothing more. This is not to say that reflective thought is destructive or nonconstructive. It is prayer that is not productive. The “pray-er” is not devising a plan to physically assuage whatever is distressing them or society at the time. They are just thinking about it.

The difference between secular reflection and prayer is that nonbelievers understand that thought, though an effective and appropriate prelude to action, isn’t action. This is not to say that believers are never productive, because they can be. There’s just one major interference — their belief that nonaction yields consequence. Progress requires doing, because good intentions are not enough. Ironically, believers (particularly Christians) hop to their feet without hesitation to advocate for legislation that makes life complicated for certain groups (cough-women, cough-gay people, cough).

But the main impediment to pro-gress is the whole heaven and hell thing. We get one life to live, and the afterlife is a major distraction to living it. “Life might suck now but no worries, pray a bunch and you will be rewarded in the afterlife.”

No, if people do not take steps to better their lives, it will always suck. Besides, if you believe in heaven, then you also believe in its stifling counterpart. Therefore, access to the VIP after-party is a total coin toss. So where’s the motivation, people? If everyone understood how brief the human experience is, there might be fewer drones and more progress.

Fully aware of the true time I have, I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. I spend time outdoors, read avidly and travel. I know how much there is to experience in so little time, so I advocate for complete equality so that no one’s access to any part of the human experience is infringed upon.

I’ve gotten over The Santa Incident for humanity’s sake. I will have a voice because the crying doesn’t bother me anymore. Religion is an obstacle to the complete and proactive life. I am an atheist, not a couch potato.

Taylor McGill, 20, was born in Flemington, N.J., and is a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She’s majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and is minoring in philosophy. Her interests include writing, poetry, music, film, philosophy and human rights issues. 

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