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Freethought Today · September 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Catherine Fahriger Scholarship winner: By Kola Heyward-Rotimi

Faith is something that has stayed on people's minds for millennia. Something about belief — belief in a higher power, belief in a superior leadership position, or belief in the environment itself — ensnares our minds.

I not only identify as a secular person but as an African-American, which brings into play two different cultural aspects that contrast with mainstream society's view of who is secular. Secular people are rarely seen in media as people of color, let alone a young black man raised by an African-American mother and a Nigerian-American father in a nonreligious household. One of the biggest lessons I learned while being raised in this secular household is to question everything. Everything was up for debate, even the idea of not believing in religion.

I was never convinced to personally believe in a religious system. Even so, exploring the significance of religious systems sparked my interest in the reasons why people decide to believe in a higher power, and the various ways people express their belief. These questions have kept me interested in learning about religion for years, and I incorporate these questions heavily in my fictional writing. Most of my fiction takes place in a unified fictional universe. A central conflict stems from debates about the differences between "good" and "bad" faith, how religion can be used to advance personal agendas and the influence of religion on the making of civilizations.

In my next few years at Amherst College, I plan on continuing to ask questions concerning religion and religion's role in peoples' lives. Creative writing will be a great outlet for this process, and I hope to publish the trilogy of Afro-Asian inspired fantasy novels that I am developing while I am in undergrad. I also want to give underprivileged students the opportunity to prove their scientific assumptions like I do and come to their own conclusions. I will attempt to achieve this through creating a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving STEM education of communities lacking in educational resources worldwide.

Kola graduated from North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and will be attending Amherst College in the fall.