Freethought Today · September 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Second place: Tragedy was catalyst for understanding by Allison Wheeler

FFRF awarded Allison $2,000.

By Allison Wheeler

When I was younger, I was enrolled in a Christian academy. My first years of schooling were filled with stories of Moses, Noah's Ark and Jonah. I learned that God was the default answer to any question I did not know the answer to. Who loves me? God. Why am I here? God. What is my purpose? God.

I continued my half-hearted relationship with Christianity for the next 10 years until, on May 23, 2015, I helplessly watched two of my friends get pulled under by a current in the Umpqua River. I called 911, and realizing the authorities wouldn't get there in time, I did the only other thing I was taught to do — I began praying. I appealed to God, promising to devote the rest of my life to him if only my friends could resurface and swim to shore. For the next two hours, I watched the water for any sign of them, but it was all for naught.

I began to comprehend something important that day. Instead of wasting my time begging for salvation from an unproven supernatural entity, I could have been helping my friends. This tragic event acted as a catalyst for a greater sense of understanding.

I began to take notice of problems in the world and how many of them were caused by religious beliefs. In all of human history, more wars have been waged because of religion than anything else. More than 50,000 "witches" have been burned at the stake in the name of God by people preaching messages such as "love one another" and "thou shalt not kill." The ancient Aztecs pulled beating hearts from their people as a ceremony to the gods.

The time of sacrificing our own people is over. Religion and government have been entwined for far too long, and in order to tackle domestic and foreign issues, we must approach them with the best interests of the people in mind, not with the appeasement of a deity.

Every day people spend countless minutes worshipping various alleged deities, begging for forgiveness, a sense of fulfillment, or even a promotion at work. I am not certain if God exists in the same way that I am not sure God doesn't exist, but I am certain that my time can be better spent helping a friend, making someone smile, or cherishing the time I have with the ones I love. If I could say one thing to all the believers in my life, it would be that, as a nonbeliever, I'm not unsympathetic or lacking morals, but rather I value human beings over religious doctrine.

Allison, 18, graduated as valedictorian from Roseburg High School in Roseburg, Ore. She was active in theater as a performer and technician, and served as four-time chapter officer in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. She is attending Centre College in Danville, Ky., and plans to study foreign languages, and international studies and is expecting to spend the 2019 school year in Segovia, Spain.

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