Casey was awarded $200 for his essay.
For purely academic reasons I was sent to a Catholic high school, which for the purposes of this essay, I’ll call “Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering.” I was forced to take theology and had my formal introduction to the Catholic faith and Christian apologetics.
I watched with morbid curiosity and genuine horror as we were taught the inerrancy of the bible, the reality of demonic possession (and how to guard against it), the immorality of condom use, and the great homosexual threat to society.
In history class, I learned how our country was founded on uniquely Christian values, how the Inquisition really wasn’t that bad, and about the Catholic Church’s often overlooked role in resisting Nazi oppression. While I was embarrassed for my teachers that they were able to spout such nonsense and keep a straight face, I was ashamed for myself that I didn’t do more to speak up or challenge the blatantly immoral rhetoric we heard day in and day out.
No longer can I be a bystander in the conflict between reason and faith, knowing how many trusting students have been lied to by religious demagogues. They preach with utter certainty about things that are clearly untrue or about which there can be no certainty.
I’m an atheist. My commitment is to intellectual honesty. Now I am, for lack of better words, attempting to atone for my sins for having stayed silent for so long. During my sophomore year at Buffalo State College, I founded Buffalo State Freethinkers, a group dedicated to freethought, free speech and skeptical inquiry. We’ve held several well-attended events, including debates with campus Christians, a workshop exposing psychics and a presentation by an undercover journalist on Christian-run “gay conversion” camps.
Many students see challenging of their beliefs as ignorant and mean-spirited. But among those who won’t listen are so many who have simply never had the chance.
My secular upbringing gave me a skepticism about certainty. I feel I have almost a moral duty to share my skepticism. Atheist can no longer be a dirty word. It must become a synonym for honesty, and while statistics say we are a minority, I know it’s not for long.
After all, everyone is born an atheist.
Casey Brescia, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., is a sophomore social studies education major at Buffalo State. “Promoting freethought and skepticism is my passion, and I want to share that with as many people as possible. Becoming a teacher will, hopefully, give me the means to teach kids the value of learning and skepticism.”