Freethought Today · September 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Fifth place: Yes, I know I’m going to hell by Ian Garvie

FFRF awarded Ian $500.

By Ian Garvie

"Thanks! I know I'm going to hell and I'll be in good company!"

I've been told I am going to hell throughout my life, even by some of my kindergarten peers. I never understood the gravity of this statement until middle school, when I realized I am an atheist.

Whenever friends, peers or teachers asked if I believed in God or went to church, I simply said, "No," only to have them turn against me in disapproval. I was befuddled and disheartened that people I knew so well would easily spurn me over what seemed irrelevant. I am not sure how many friends I have lost due to my outspoken atheism.

Looking back, I should have asked them a simple, "Why?" Why is their way of life so much more important or better than mine? Was it really that different? Why does believing in God make you better if we live our lives almost the same way? And by the way, doesn't your God say he will be the judge? And what about those other religions whose "false" god or gods don't look like yours?

Though raised in a secular family, my parents intentionally exposed my brother and me to many religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I rejected them all. Being more interested in science, none of them passed the evidentiary test and I wasn't buying the "you have to have faith" argument.

Back to being told I was going to hell . . . I always thought this was such an odd threat. It seemed my believer friends wanted to scare me with "going to hell" to make me want to join their club, or would they sadistically want me to burn and suffer for all eternity? Thus, the next question is, "Do you really want me to suffer in pain and agony forever, and if so, why?" Nothing like loving your neighbor by wishing the most painful thing imaginable upon them.

My endless barrage of questions would continue: Even if there was any scientific evidence for the existence of God or a supernatural Jesus, which there clearly isn't, why would you choose to follow and support them? Have you actually read the bible — both testaments? What kind of loving and benevolent creator would make a realm of intense suffering for those who don't worship him, and still have the audacity to claim the moral high ground?

But no. I haven't raised these questions outwardly with many of my Christian friends. I believe it would be pretty futile, as most of them are so ingrained it wouldn't make a difference and would probably alienate us even further on the topic. Instead, I chose a different path. I started a Secular Student Alliance club at my high school, the first in Northern California, to support students like me. By our presence and example, we want our believer friends to know, "We are here. We are good people."

Ian, 18, graduated from Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, Calif. As founder of his school's SSA, he helped host Darwin Day events, screenings of the Chris Johnson movie, "A Better Life," and had a table at Freethought Days at the California Capitol. Ian's activism has earned him several prestigious awards and scholarships. He will be attending the University of Northern British Columbia.

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