Freethought Today · September 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Sixth Place College Essay Contest for Students of Color winner: By Benjamin Duru

Drifting away from religion

FFRF awarded Benjamin $400.

By Benjamin Duru

I was brainwashed as a child. Anger, bitterness and sadness were but a few of the emotions that arose when I realized this. Growing up as a gay, poor, Nigerian-American atheist in Lynwood has given me understanding of multiple perspectives. My parents are very religious people. I became an atheist when I realized that it was time to start thinking for myself and not for others.

I attended a local Catholic church until the age of 15. In eighth grade I began to read the bible from the beginning, but I never finished it. My eyes were opened after coming across Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." This didn't make sense to me because God is supposed to be the embodiment of love and kindness. My parents forced me into Catholic schooling. Every year after eighth grade I drifted further away from religion.

I came out to my parents as gay and an atheist in 2013. My mother would call me several times and tell me that I was going hell and that I needed to find God and accept Jesus. For a few months, phone calls turned into yelling matches. My parents constantly refer to atheists as "heathens."

When someone embraces being an atheist, people take immediate offense because they feel as if you are demeaning them and saying that they are wrong. Atheists don't have a certain location where they meet or a certain set of rules, values or restrictions based on a book. They don't share a personal connection with a higher being they believe to have created them.

Science is constantly changing and adjusting with new information. We can make observations and base our experiments on those observations. We form conclusions based on our results, but if new information becomes available, we change the way we think. Religion always stays the same. Religious people constantly create faulty secondary elaborations for their beliefs in order to preserve their faith.

Atheism can never be used as a justification to kill people in the same way that belief in God can. In the U.S., Christianity is the dominant religion. Whenever a tragedy happens, such as the shootings in Orlando, Fla., people say of survivors, "God answered their prayer and protected them." They completely disregard those that died and how God let that happen. Or, they say, "It's God's will." I reject religion because it is based on a continuous, unproven, supernatural line of thought that inhibits the ability to think freely in many areas.

There is a deep feeling of alienation when you realize that you can't socialize in large groups with people within your own race or ethnicity. The battle was finding a place where I felt comfortable. At school I didn't join the atheist club because there weren't many people of color. I feel like black atheists are judged more harshly than their white counterparts. People tend to lump black people together. Every single black person is the same while white people are different. There was another layer of stress for me because my parents are from Nigeria. They brought along many of those conservative ideologies.

I think that the secular movement can be a more inclusive place to people of color by recognizing that certain groups may have a harder time openly admitting that they are an atheist. There are cultural and historical barriers that need to be talked about. Secular people need to expand their social group. Atheists are from all walks of life. It's important that we create a separation between church and state. We should be able to live in a society that embraces nonbelievers and believers.

Benjamin, 22, lives in Lynwood, Calif., and attends California University- Long Beach. He is majoring in sociology and is interested in studying crime, human rights and the way human beings interact with one another. In his free time, he likes to read, write, sing, exercise and cook.

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