Seventh place (tie) — BIPOC essay contest: Sumaiyah

With your faith and my lack thereof

FFRF awarded Sumaiyah $750. 

By Sumaiyah

Dear Mom and Dad,

Initially, I was extremely hesitant writing this letter. Through late-night conversations and tiresome lectures, I have pieced together your views on nonbelievers. Safe to say, it isn’t positive or constructive. I find that you teeter between the line of ignorance and patronization. More often than not, your feet are planted firmly in both. 

I suppose you had your suspicions about my atheism far before you had read this letter. In retrospect, the signs of my apostasy were clear. I gradually ceased praying five times a day (a habit I barely developed), I rolled my eyes in a not-so-subtle manner at Islamic traditions, and concerning religious verdicts, I often angrily interjected “Why?” Perhaps, mentioning my atheism may only be a confirmation (and a disappointment) for you, but it feels liberating to say it out loud. I am an atheist. 

When you shuffle to the side of ignorance, I find much of it is fueled with fear. You fear that, with my atheism, I will only amplify Islamophobia. I understand your fear. Discrimination and prejudice driven by non-Muslims is too much to handle. The thought of losing a member of the Ummah due to their misinformation and hate is painful. I am here to assure you that my separation from Islam is not at all related to their hateful words. 

Although I grew up in a relatively quiet Long Island neighborhood and you grew up in the bustling streets of New Delhi, we both come from countries whose governments have increasingly adopted right-wing policies catering to a specific group. Our difference in location falters when we speak of our experiences with hateful people. While you faced hostility from Hindutvas followers, I faced hostility from white students. Our religion became a reason to bully, mock and harass us.

In America, when you identify as a South Asian Muslim, you’re subjected to racism and Islamophobia. The paper planes, mocking “Allah hu Akbar” and terrorist jokes do not escape my mind when I recall high school. The shame still courses through my veins when I think of my second-grade teacher’s question of whether or not I had a bomb in my backpack. (It was a toy). The eyes of my non-Muslim peers never left me when teachers spoke of terrorism. 

I have lived the pain that comes with being a Muslim in a non-Muslim community. So, how can you believe that I have sided with my abusers? 

When you patronize, I find that you pity apostates for dabbling in “worldly” activities. To you, sex, drugs and alcohol are the only reasons why anyone has left Islam. Other reasons need not apply. I am here to assure you that I wasn’t sold on these promises. After being exposed to alcoholism, I doubt I will ever even sip beer. After being exposed to the devastating addiction of drugs, I doubt I will ever smoke a joint. As for heavy indoctrination, you will not catch me with that, either. 

Lastly, I have always questioned the importance of family in an individual’s sexuality. I believe these issues only concern those who are directly impacted by it. I have learned to mind my own business. I hope you learn, too. 

The only difference between us is the matter of faith. While you possess belief in Allah, I simply lack it. This, however, does not change what is ultimately true. In this tangible life, I’m part of a family that should thrive on mutual respect and love. A promise of an afterlife cannot change that. With your faith and my lack thereof, I hope we can coexist. 

“I am passionate about the separation of church and state, particularly concerning reproductive rights,” Sumaiyah writes. “I hope to obtain a medical degree and specialize in reproductive and abortion care, primarily serving women of color.”

Eighth place — BIPOC essay contest: Scarly Benitez-Carbajal 

Scarly Benitez-Carbajal

No fear

FFRF awarded Scarly $500.

By Scarly Benitez-Carbajal 

Dear Mom, 

I know you know I am an atheist. I remember telling you and being so scared of your reaction. I remember you getting mad and telling me I was wrong and I was crazy. I remember feeling guilty and trying to go back in time to take back what I had said and make it seem like nothing ever happened.

I never got to tell you why I stopped believing in a god, why I distanced myself from church and cut my ties with Catholicism. 

You know, I have always questioned everything. (I guess that is where my love for science comes from.) If I had told you that I started questioning religion when I started going to school, you would have probably stopped me from going. I never really understood why we were obligated to go to church every Sunday and then go to Sunday school. I never really understood why they said God was merciful, but he would send you to hell if you disobeyed him and sinned. I never really understood why we had to live in constant fear and pressure so we could go to “heaven.” I never really understood why the church community would judge you for doing something “wrong,” but priests could rape kids and no one judged them. 

Nothing made sense to me. If God was real, why was he not stopping wars? Why was he not helping kids and people in hunger? Why was he not helping the women who were being prostituted? If he was real, and if he was good, he would’ve done something to prevent and stop all the terrible things going on, he wouldn’t let innocent people die and suffer. Not only that, but he would stop all wars started because of his name. 

How common it is to hear that a war was started because of their god and their religion. If God was merciful, he wouldn’t allow those things.

When I stopped believing in any god and distanced myself from religion, I started seeing things more clearly. I could see that religion was something created to control people, to make them fear a stronger unknown force that does not even exist. I was happier with myself and my decisions. I was not afraid of a god. I felt like I was finally living the life I had always wanted to have, a life where I was free to do whatever I wanted without being scared of judgment. 

Mom, I know you are scared of me taking the wrong path. You are afraid that I will make bad decisions, but let me tell you that religion will not prevent these things. Being religious doesn’t mean you are a good person. Look at me, I am an atheist, I do not do drugs, I do not drink, I have never stolen anything, and I treat people kindly and with respect. Every day I try to be the best person I can, but I am human, and sometimes, I can make mistakes.

I do not need a god and a religion to know what is wrong and what is right, and if the religious people do, then there is something wrong with them and not with me because it should be common sense. I hope that someday you can understand me and where my decision is coming from. I just ask for you to respect my views as I respect yours and to not try to force me to believe in your religion. 

Scarly, 19, is from Asheboro, N.C., and attends New York University. “When I was 8, I moved to a small town in Mexico and lived there until I was 15, when I decided to come back to the United States, this time by myself,” Scarly writes. “I will be the first person in my family to go to college and I will pay for my career myself because my parents cannot support me. I plan to major in chemical and biomolecular engineering and minor in environmental engineering.”

Ninth place — BIPOC essay contest: Lucas Ng 

Lucas Ng

From your friendly neighborhood atheist

FFRF awarded Lucas $400.

By Lucas Ng 

Dear Tim, 

We have known each other for the last eight years, and I consider you to be one of my closest friends. However, I have never really explained to you what exactly I believe and why. In the past, whenever the subject of religion was brought up, I shrugged my shoulders and feigned disinterest. Arguments or even discussions about religious beliefs seemed a bit taboo to me because of how integral these beliefs are to our sense of self. As I have grown and matured, though, I have learned that having those conversations in an intelligent and respectful manner leaves everyone with a bit more knowledge of the world, its diversity, and what may lie beyond. I would like to try and initiate such a conversation between us. 

I would describe myself as an atheist — a person who lacks belief in the existence of gods. I do not believe in the existence of any higher beings or the existence of any form of an afterlife. I think it is important to understand that I did not always hold this nonbelief. I was raised in a Chinese household that practiced traditional ancestor worship where family members were thought to become heavenly beings after passing. 

The transition to atheism happened gradually over my middle school and high school years as I became more and more skeptical of the various beliefs contained within ancestor worship. Critical and logical thinking were touted as skills necessary for success throughout my school years, and religion just did not make sense to me rationally, as simple as that sounds. I saw no evidence of heavenly beings or of an afterlife, so I concluded that there was no reason for me to believe in either of those things.

Almost all of our friends, as you know, are Christians, and I applied the same line of thinking to God and heaven/hell. This reasoning has of course developed into a more nuanced and fleshed out argument the older I have grown, but the basic principles of rationality still serve as the foundation of my worldview. 

Not too long after I became an atheist, I became aware of a very damaging misconception about atheists that many religious followers believe. In fact, I remember this issue came up in class during freshmen year in our religious studies elective. Because atheists do not believe in a god, they are accused of being immoral and unscrupulous because gods are believed to be the source of morality. Rest assured, I have a very rigid set of morals and ethics that I try to uphold every day of my life. Atheists are no more or less moral than any other person. I think it is rather clear that a person develops morality as they accumulate life experiences and I do not think that this development is restricted to the religious. For example, you do not have to go to church or read holy books to understand that murder is wrong. Interpretations of church teachings and holy books can vary greatly between individuals, anyway. Thus, I very much believe in subjective morality, that everyone is entitled to their own moral code. 

I hope that I cleared up a bit of the mystery surrounding my nonbelief and that we can continue this conversation. 

Lucas, 20, attends Iowa State University and plans to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.

“My main hobbies are running and reading,” Lucas writes. “I also enjoy playing video games. I lived in China during fifth and sixth grade, but before and after that, I have spent all of my time in the United States, mainly living in Iowa.”

10th place — BIPOC essay contest: Anqi Qu 

Anqi Qu

Regards from a religiously deviant friend

FFRF awarded Anqi $300.

By Anqi Qu 

Dearest Phoebe,

I hope you are keeping well. Congratulations on your acceptance into Brown! I am beyond happy for you and we must celebrate in style when we see each other again! 

Sorry for not writing to you earlier. I’ve been participating in a month-long school camp and just arrived home. The camp was quite brutal and I’m afraid it might’ve left me with enough camping trauma to last the rest of my life. It snowed unexpectedly during our stay, I was bitten by a spider, and half of us caught salmonella from eating undercooked chicken. But what took the cake was when I approached the teacher with hypothermia in my fingers. She looked me dead in the eye and told me, completely seriously, that she would pray for me. Fortunately, my fingers survived the ordeal, but that situation really fortified my nonbelief in religion. 

I know that you are religious, so I’m really glad we can have meaningful conversations about our beliefs while maintaining our friendship. It’s not always easy for me to discuss my nonbelief, especially with others in our community. (I’m sure you can imagine the sorts of names I’ll be called.) I recognize and respect that religion has helped many of our people find hope during hard times, but I seriously think that there is an unreasonable stigma surrounding atheism, stemming from harmful misconceptions. 

As I hope you can tell by now, I’m not some morally corrupt savage because I do not believe in religion. In fact, I think my nonbelief has actually contributed to my compassion and empathy by giving me a unique appreciation of our shared humanity. 

I would even say that rejecting religion has improved the way I live my life. I take complete personal responsibility for my actions instead of believing in a predestined fate for myself. Moreover, it feels good knowing that my acts of kindness come from a place of pure compassion. I help people in need because I want to, not because a god will reward me for it or because I will be pushed in my afterlife for not doing so. 

That is not to say that I am closed to enlightening experiences. I believe that there are many benefits to connecting with our psyche and exploring our identity. Religion is not the only way of enlightenment. I connect with myself through meditation and Vinyasa yoga. Life is not meaningless for me either. It’s quite the opposite. Without being limited by the confines of religion, I can live life to the fullest. I do not need to feel shame for loving who I love, or living a personally satisfying life. 

I also despise that religion is often used to justify ignorance or oppression. I am disgusted that the dehumanization and colonization of Africans was justified as “religious enlightenment of the savages” and that gay couples are regularly attacked because it is “sinful” to be gay. It’s simply harmful to oppose vaccines and deny climate change on the grounds of religion. The more I learn about science and history, the less I believe in the principles of religion. 

In a way, we are the same — both nonbelievers in a way. Your religion forbids you from believing in other gods just as I do not believe in any gods. Anyway, this is enough from me for now about my nonbelief, we can always have a longer chat when we see each other in person. Please come visit me soon! We can go shopping together for some college dorm essentials. I look forward to hearing from you soon! 

Anqi, 20, is from Johannesburg, South Africa, and attends the University of Chicago with plans to get a dual degree in computer science and economics. “I am a South African self-starter who loves design, tech, and building things,” Anqi writes. “I worked for a few months as an intern software developer at the Business Science Corporation and then secured a job as a software engineer at a startup, Root Wealth. I frequently volunteer at my local animal shelter and at the CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation.”

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Nadiyah Williams 

Nadiyah Williams

To my fifth-grade teacher

By Nadiyah Williams 

To My Fifth Grade Teacher,

Some people will look at the universe and all its shapes and patterns and say that there is no doubt that it is the work of a god. Others, like myself, will look at the universe and the physics that govern it and say that there is evidence of a singularity event. Our coexistence only becomes problematic if one group attempts to enforce their beliefs on the other. When you reprimanded me for refusing to celebrate Easter, I was a child who didn’t completely understand my own reasoning. My father told me that there was no god, and there was no reason to celebrate holidays based on religion. I blindly believed him. Now that I have become more knowledgeable, I can confidently say that I believe there is no god.

When the Spanish philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda justified the near extinction of Native Americans with Christianity, the courts debated whether humans in the New World deserved rights. In today’s world, this would be considered absurd and would no doubt stir public outrage. Even though the world has certainly evolved past these primeval beliefs, there remains inconsistencies in how much theists trust secularism.

In the United States, a 2014 Pew Research poll found that nearly half of Americans believed it was necessary to believe in God to have morals and wouldn’t vote for a secular candidate. Denying secular individuals the ability to hold public office has been restricted in America, but seven states still have language in their constitutions that prohibits secular persons from holding office. Nearly 500 years after Sepúlveda, we still struggle to understand the morality of those who don’t believe in God.

When you discovered that I didn’t subscribe to religion, you jokingly vowed to scrutinize my actions because you feared and pitied those without a god. Moral reasoning and ethics are reflective of many processes, especially parental care. When positive behaviors are reinforced and negative behaviors are discouraged, children develop positive morals. While religion can be used to reinforce positive behavior, we have also seen throughout history that religion can be used to encourage negative behaviors. Divine law and punishment don’t necessarily mean fair and good, just as constitutional law doesn’t necessarily mean morally virtuous.

Your admonishment of my beliefs has helped me understand how to become a better citizen and make informed decisions. My rejection of religion has forced me to constantly examine the duality of right and wrong and question the world with science. I have you to thank for that.

Best Regards,

Nadiyah

Nadiyah, 19, is from Jonesboro, Ga., and attends the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in meteorology. “I enjoy studying severe weather and astrophysics,” Nadiyah writes. “Six years ago, I became vegan, and along with animal rights, I also advocate for secularism on campus.”

 

 

 

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Joanna Tapia 

Joanna Tapia

My pronouncement of atheism and humanism

By Joanna Tapia 

Dear Mom,

Recently, I informed you that I identify as an atheist. I know this is undesirable to hear and hard to accept. I would like to explain my beliefs further, therefore I hope you will continue to read this letter.

I know the Roman Catholic faith is very important to our culture. I deeply believe I can exist as a proud Mexican while still being atheist. Please let me explain myself and my beliefs. Atheism and humanism align with my beliefs and have helped me grow as a person.

Throughout my childhood, I have had plentiful positive experiences within our church. Our church community is one that I will always value. That being said, it is not a community I fundamentally agree with. While I may disagree with religion, I still respect those who are religious. There is a common stereotype that atheists look down on those who are religious. This stereotype is not applicable to me. I continue to respect the Catholic faith and all other faiths as well. Becoming atheist has enabled me to become more respectful and open to all religions, beliefs and cultures. I believe that religion divides people more than it unites people. This is one of my issues with religion, how it divides people greatly. I personally believe there are many flaws with religion. But, I will continue to respect your beliefs, and I hope you can grow to respect mine.

As I believe I have shown, I care much about my morals. Being friendly, welcoming and accepting to all people is one of my personal values. I do this because I deeply care for humankind. I would also identify myself as a humanist. Humanism places a large emphasis on the human experience. Humanists care about human welfare, human potential, happiness, and more. Humanists, such as myself, believe that it is our responsibility, not “God’s,” to fix issues in our world. (Humanists do not believe there is a god). Even though I do not believe in God or the afterlife, I still aim to be a good person and do good things for our world. Growing up, our church placed a large emphasis on “right and wrong” and how our choices will determine if we go to heaven or hell. One main disagreement of mine with religion is the principle of “be good or you will end up in hell.” I find this a very juvenile way to think. I believe people should want to be good for the sake of humankind, not to avoid punishment (hell). Therefore, straying away from religion has helped me understand humankind’s responsibility and connection to one another.

When you are ready, I would love to speak more with you about my beliefs. I have more to say, but I do not want to overwhelm you in this letter. I want to end this letter by reemphasizing how proud I am of our Mexican culture. I absolutely love my background and culture. I understand that religion is very intertwined within our culture. Nonetheless, I am confident in my ability to engage in, and pass down, Mexican customs without believing in God or religion. Atheism is not a barrier between me and my Mexican culture.

Mom, thank you for reading this letter and letting me better explain myself and my beliefs.

Love,

Joanna

Joanna, 21, is from Peoria, Ill., and attends Bradley University, where she is studying special education with an English as a second language endorsement. “I plan on earning my master’s degree and doctorates degree one day,” Joanna writes. “I have received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for my volunteering efforts.”

 

 

 

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Cole Songster

Cole Songster

The beauties of nihilism

By Cole Songster

Dear Grandpa,

I’ve never really believed in the concept of a god, though I’m sure you know that. It’s not that I could say that, without any doubt, one doesn’t exist — I have no way of knowing. But to believe confidently in a god requires me to think this world was crafted with intent and, at the end of the day, I don’t.

Rather, I believe we live in a world devoid of any sort of set meaning, purpose, or rigid outlined moral structure. I suppose you could call me a nihilist, though people tend to have a negative reaction to that. And I get it, the concept is scary to think of! Society can only function with a general trust in strangers — a belief that most everyone you meet is, deep down, good. Otherwise, we’d be too constantly suspicious of each other to do anything. The idea that this belief isn’t grounded in some universal guarantee — that nothing actually dictates the morality of others — provides us no safety and can be terrifying.

And that is only made more poignant by the fact we are painfully aware of our own mortality. Humans are born to uniquely comfortable lives. Many of our basic needs are met and therefore we are free to fear why we exist at all — the luxury of existential crisis. It makes us search for purpose, for meaning — and we get scared and confused when what we grasp at is never quite perfect. As a result, we are born into a world not knowing how we are meant to use our time, but knowing it will run out. And that knowledge, that haunting thought that all will one day end, well, it means everything has a tinge of sadness to it. Everything is bittersweet.

Which is why I think so often that feeling can be seen as among the best. In a way it pulls at this innate, deeply human experience. Of knowing there is cause to be sad in any given moment, and feeling that tinge of sadness, but deciding to appreciate the beauty in it anyway. All beauty is eventually linked to pain. Love to heartbreak, life to death, and good moments to the fact that one day they will simply be distant memories you can never return to. But we accept the pain for the beauty. We take the risks of vulnerability because we make the choice to believe that it is all worth it. That in the end the beauty of these moments and these people are what give our lives meaning.

And therein lies the joys of existential nihilism. The almost freeing knowledge that you have no purpose. No meaning. You are free to live your life however you choose and in whatever ways make you happy. Because ultimately the risks you take — the activities and people you deem worthy of your time — forge a meaning that is self-made. All of us finding meaning in our own lives in uniquely individual ways, each according to our own needs and loves. There’s something beautiful in that.

Ultimately, when it comes to belief to religion and philosophy, there will never be one path that is so clear and defined that it’s objectively true. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be called faith. But there is beauty in all the paths, so long as those with differing ideas are still able to discuss them. And I’m terribly glad we can.

With love,

Cole Songster

Cole, 19, is from Portland, Ore, and attends Knox College. “I’m part white, black and Japanese,” Cole writes. “I have a strong interest in history, politics and the performing arts, namely choir and theater. I also have an interest in community service, and was part of the student-run organization PSPR (Portland Student Pandemic Response).”

 

 

 

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Aerahan Skanthakumar

Aerahan Skanthakumar

By Aerahan Skanthakumar

Dear Ammah (mom)

Before I explain my reasons for believing in what I do, I just want you to know that you have done your job as a parent brilliantly and whatever I choose to believe in has no correlation with it. You have raised me with strong values, from the importance of helping others to the emphasis on academics.

However, one thing that you have tried to instill in me, your religion, hasn’t quite gone the way you planned. I am agnostic. I have no opinion on the existence of a higher power either way. I know that the presence of such a power can never be disproven, but there is no evidence at all for the existence of one. I simply cannot blindly believe in something that I have seen no proof of existing.

An analogy I like to compare it to is that yes, it’s possible that I’d win the lottery tomorrow, but am I going to live my life today like I will? In the time that I would spend going to the temple and praying, there are so many more productive uses of my time. I could volunteer for a charitable organization or just better myself overall. If there really was a god, would God want me to spend my time essentially begging him to do something for me or to go out and improve my life and the lives of others around me?

I know another concern of yours is that religion and morality go hand in hand. While I do understand where you’re coming from, religion can provide a seemingly good moral framework, I have disagreements here. Instead of being motivated by a fear of God/karma to be a good person, I believe it is simply my duty as a human. I am just as motivated as you and other religious people to be a good person. I don’t do it out of fear of retribution in some future life but just trying to make the world a better place.

Secondly, Hinduism itself has questionable priorities. Why is it a major sin to eat a certain type of animal, but it’s not expressly prohibited to spread rumors about/put down other people, something that frequently happens between other religious families that we know? This is not to even mention the shaky attitude toward the LGBT community in many traditional Hindu families. Does a benevolent god really value people not eating a certain type of organism more than valuing everyone treating each other with respect?

Religion is not making these people better humans. Religious people with strong moral principles are good people because of their inherent values, while the religious people that shun LGBT people are just following an arbitrary set of rules dictated by their religion and expressing their true personalities while believing that they’re good people. To your credit, you’ve instilled in me the values of treating everyone with respect and helping others in me, and I will never lose those as long as I live.

Overall, all I want is a chance to express myself and explain to you a little better why I choose to live my life as I do. I have no judgment about what you do with yours, you’re an exemplary person and I aim to emulate you. I simply ask that you at least try to understand my reasons for my divergence from you in terms of religion and allow me to live my life as I choose.

Your son,

Aerahan

Aerahan, 18, is from Bolingbrook, Ill., and attends the University of Illinois. “My main educational goal is to prepare myself for my first job in mechanical engineering,” Aerahan writes. “I also hope to pick up an MBA in order to ease my transition from the engineering to the management side. I desire to utilize both my engineering and business skills, bringing a new perspective that most of the pure business majors in management lack.”

 

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Suly Ramirez

Suly Ramirez

Uncomfortable

By Suly Ramirez

Dear Uncle Alfredo,

I was 10 years old when I first questioned religion. Mom had tucked us in and, for some reason, I asked her who she loved more: God or me. She told me that she had to love God more just like I loved God more than her. After she left, I started crying because my mom loved a god more than me when she was the person I loved above everything else. It was the first time in my life I had experienced true sadness.

When I brought my concerns up to the father of my church, he insisted this was the devil’s work and that as long as I prayed every night before bed and held onto my newly blessed rosary, I would be set back on the right path. And I kept praying for five years only to have not one prayer answered.

My choice to not believe in religion stems from my experience and beliefs that religion causes more harm than the good it claims to promote. When I was 15, I began to read the bible instead of just relying on the church service. But, it seemed the more I read the bible, the more contradictions and inconsistences there were. Eventually, I asked myself how was it possible that the garden of Eden and evolution were both possible? And would I really be subjected to an eternity of punishment for a sexuality that I did not choose?

At this point, all religion did was cause me distress. Why would an omnipotent god who could create me in his ideal image, create me to be bisexual and someone who would not be accepted by him? And if he couldn’t pre-program humans like we were taught, was he really all that powerful? And if he was the creator, was he also the creator of everything bad, too?

Moreover, why was I still calling him by male pronouns when God could be anything they wanted to be? I am upset that you, one of the people who is supposed to love me the most, will tell me I will burn in hell for my choice to not believe in a god.

Uncle, it runs deeper than a personal anecdote: It’s intertwined in our history — a blemish that can never go away. Our family and our culture constantly reject Spain. We call them our colonizers, oppressors and, oftentimes, many members of our family will reject that part of themselves and go as far to claim they are fully indigenous (when we are not). Yet almost all of them practice a religion that was forced upon our ancestors. Our ancestors were stripped of their lives, languages, land and other aspects of their routine and culture. It’s something that our family specifically can never go back to and reconnect because we don’t know who they were.

To be Latin American and practice any form of our oppressors’ religion is to be so colonized to the point you’re saying you don’t care about the impact it had on our people. It means you are comfortable with these transgressions and you don’t want to see progress, but I want progress and I will take off my jacket.

Sincerely,

Suly

Suly, 20, is from Forney, Texas, and attends the University of Texas.“I am pre-law and plan to attend law school in Texas straight after my senior year,” Suly writes. “I am heavily involved on campus where I am a part of a Latina sorority, The Fearless Leadership Institute (which is an organization to support Latin and Black woman students), and I will be chair of Mexican American Culture Committee.”

 

 

Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Christopher Nava

Christopher Nava

An open letter to my mother about faith

By Christopher Nava 

Mother,

You tell me to have faith. Have faith in the Lord. Have faith in his plan. Have faith in the Lord, believe in him, and trust in his plan that everything will be all right. Yet, can I?

I’ve had faith, but I cannot blindly give my faith to a god that commands believers to place absolute trust in him.

Faith is a powerful force. For some, it’s trust in an otherworldly power. For others, it’s the belief in oneself. I grew up believing that an omniscient deity governs everything in absolutes: black and white, good and evil.

For a while, fear paralyzed my mind — childlike awe commanding me to fear God’s power and wrath for what he could do. Yet, I caught onto the inconsistencies with his teachings. Love thy neighbor as yourself, but only if they believe in the same God and teachings we do. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ wife and goods, yet evangelicals preaching on TV live in mansions, sell books about their transformation through faith, and delude people to place their trust into them and the Lord.

Placing faith in a book written by humans and claiming it is the absolute truth is a flawed concept because we’re imperfect. Catholic school taught me that faith is absolute and is the only truth, but I believe organized religion deprives people of their individual faith.

Our world is painted in vibrant shades of gray, Mother. While we as Filipinos — the only Christian majority country in Asia — place our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, I think about our other Asian kin. Are Indonesians wrong for placing their faith in Allah and Muhammad because they’re a Muslim majority nation? Are Indians wrong for placing their faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva because they’re a Hindu majority nation? Are the Japanese wrong for placing their faith in traditions they’ve practiced for thousands of years?

They aren’t. That’s the beauty of our world. Humans hold the incredible power to choose who or what they believe in and who they place their faith in. That’s why I choose to put my faith in agnosticism.

I don’t reject the notion of God or a god, nor do I affirm the existence of one. I’m not a sinner, nor am I a believer. I instead choose to see the world through many perspectives painted by its people. Agnosticism is how I choose to see the world. I can’t prove if the God of Abraham is the true ruler of the universe, if a pantheon of deities rules over us, or if a flying spaghetti monster ruled the galaxy, transforming planets into meatballs.

We’re defined by our choices, or, rather, our faith. Faith isn’t a spiritual force that rules the world and the people living in it. Faith is our hopes, our dreams, and our memories made real. I walk away from the predetermined path of religion and place faith in myself; faith that I can choose to live my life without fear of divine retribution.

Mother, I can’t force you to believe what I write. I ask you to see the world through another perspective, choose to place your faith in something, anything that isn’t made absolute by another.

We’re not right or wrong as agnostics. Simply, we view the world through the many possibilities and truths weaved through us and our legacies. As long as choice exists in our world, I’ll keep searching for my faith.

With love, your son,

Chris

Christopher, 19, is from Rialto, Calif., and attends the University of California Irvine with plans to major in English with a minor in computer science. “I go by my pen name, Christopher Hall,” Christopher writes. “I’m a 19-year-old, gay, Asian-American writer and pop-culture enthusiast. I hope to become an actor, writer or a narrative designer for a video game company.”