Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 7 September 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

College essay honorable mention

Why I’m an atheist

FFRF awarded $200 to Hannah for this essay.

I grew up in a nonreligious family in a very nonreligious area of Germany. But with my mother originating from a religious family, we went to church regularly until I was about 5. My mother then became an atheist and we stopped going to church.

I have not seriously thought about religion since then, except for the occasional feeling of disbelief that someone “actually believes what the bible says.” I used to tend to make fun of religious people, but since I came to America at age 18, I have learned that here, religion is more than just a collection of ridiculous beliefs — it is a powerful institution. Everyone needs to be aware how great the church’s power really is.

Back in Germany, religion is not really an issue in everyday life outside of church, at least in the region I come from. There is no oath on the bible for the head of state, no politicians that want to outlaw abortion because it’s not in accordance with their beliefs, no denial of global warming based on the bible, not even “God bless you” when someone sneezes. We say “Gesundheit.”

Imagine a nation where everything is interwoven with religion enough to allow the church to start overthrowing government, secretly and slowly of course. People would be ashamed to admit that they do not believe, even to their friends. Presidential candidates would have to believe in order to be considered for office, no matter what their qualifications were. Sects would be allowed to ring your door at any time of the day, trying to convert you. Politicians would gain votes by denying evolution and favoring religious teachings in science class.

This is the image I have in my mind of a nation that is very vulnerable, a nation that does not think for itself but blindly believes dogma. This image is America, and it scares me.

I’m not just a nonbeliever anymore. My experience in the U.S. has made me a proud atheist.

Hannah Burkhardt, 20, Escondido, Calif., was born in Würzburg, Germany, and lived in Martinroda until moving to the U.S. after high school graduation. She attended community college in Pennsylvania before transferring to the University of California-San Diego. Her main academic interest is science.

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