FFRF awarded Mary $1,000.
Imagine you don't care for milk. You don't have anything against it, you just prefer not to drink it. You live sans lactose without mentioning it, thinking about it much, or persuading others to adopt your milk-less ways.
But some kid in your class really wants you to drink milk. "It's good for you," he says. "Milk will help you find yourself, because you're clearly living a life devoid of purpose by avoiding it. You'll keep others from drinking it and ruin their lives, too! Are you vegan? Are you morally opposed to milk? Have you tried it and seen how much it can change your soul?"
Imagine your classmate heckling you like this about religion.
It started in middle school. Apparently, being a nonreligious person who generally minded her own business was unacceptable to Jake, a devout Christian who would badger me into livid arguments during our lunch period. He would go on and on about how I was going to hell and how I still had time to repent. If I changed my mind and converted right then, he said, I'd be saved from my "sinful ways."
By my first year in high school, it got to the point where I couldn't sit with my friends at lunch because Jake was there, too. If I so much as approached the table to ask someone a homework question, he would promptly launch into a one-sided "friendly discussion" about Christianity. It usually devolved into him lamenting how desolate my life must be without any spiritual influence. I told him I found my life very fulfilling, thank you very much, and that I didn't feel I was morally depraved at all.
That summer, Jake began sending letters to my house and filling my inbox with long-winded Facebook messages.
Jake was an extreme case; our interactions felt almost like a sitcom — satirical, even. Most of my friends were religious to some degree, and completely respected my atheism, but after receiving what was essentially hate mail disguised in flowery words, I found it very difficult to voice my stance on religion. Religion simply didn't make sense to me. How could anyone devote themselves so fully to an entity that likely didn't even exist? Why was spirituality often synonymous with moral adjustment? Who was Jake to declare he was right about something that had been adamantly debated for centuries?
Thankfully, my family was supportive. I grew up in a house that encouraged freethought and celebrated autonomy. My parents let me navigate spirituality at my own pace and arrive at personal conclusions independently. Ultimately, I learned to climb above petty arguments and dead-end discussions to move on with things more worth my time.
I know that in the future my lack of religion will inevitably and repeatedly be challenged. However, when that time comes, I will stand tall. I have no reason to apologize for my nonbelief.
Mary (Amanda) Breeden, 18, recently graduated from Normal Community West High School in Normal, Ill. She was the leader of her school's Pride Club, and enjoys painting, playing violin and piano, and doing humanitarian work. She will be attending Illinois Wesleyan University and plans to major in women's/gender/sexuality studies.