2018 Students of Color Essay Contest winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 15 winners of the 2018 David Hudak Memorial Students of Color Essay Competition for College Students.

College students of color were asked to write a personal persuasive essay about the “Challenges of being a student of color who rejects religion.”

Winners are listed below and include the award amount and the college or university they will be attending. FFRF has paid out a total of $10,550 in award money for this contest this year. FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total reflects those bonuses.

First place

MiKaelah Freeman, New York University ($3,000)

Second place

Michael Brown, Dartmouth College ($2,000)

Third place

Noemi Rosario, University at Albany (SUNY) ($1,000)

Fourth place

Johann Rucker, University of Nevada-Las Vegas ($750)

Fifth place

Alondra Vega Rivera, Escuela de Artes Plasticas y Diseno de Puerto Rico ($600)

Sixth place

Azarius Williams, Syracuse University ($500)

Seventh place

Jesica Maldonado Matias, San Francisco State University ($400)

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Joseph Florida, Southern University A&M College

Anissa Foster, Stanford University

Kelvin Martinez Gomez, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Alexandra Harmon, Howard University

Shejan Heaven, University of Georgia

Evan Malcolm, University of South Florida

Tatem Rios, Inver Hills Community College

Therrin Wilson, University of

Students of color essay contest

Tennessee

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979. This is FFRF’s third annual student of color contest. Its other three essay contests are open to students of all backgrounds.

The general college student essay winners will be announced in the October issue and the grad student essay winners will be announced in the November issue.

1st place — MiKaelah Freeman: African-Americans still plagued by Christianity

FFRF awarded MiKaelah $3,000.

By MiKaelah Freeman

Alabama is, and has traditionally been, the most religious state in America, with a whopping 82 percent of people identifying as Christians, according to the U.S. World News database. Alabama is arguably the most racist state, as well, despite having one of the largest populations of African-Americans in the nation. That may seem contradictory: How can the state be racist when it has more African-Americans living in it than most? Just as with the other states in America’s southeast region, Alabama’s high African-American population (27 percent) can be attributed to slavery that took place more than 250 years ago . . . slavery that was made possible through Christianity.

African-American slaves were physically oppressed by the use of whips and shackles against them; however, it was the bible that oppressed them mentally. This was done first by renaming slaves, forcing them to give up their African names and identities and take on Christian ones. Following the renaming process, African-American slaves were forced to listen to their oppressors justify their actions as being God’s plan. God permitted slavery, as various forms of slavery and servitude are mentioned throughout the bible, and Christianity encouraged the treatment of human beings as worthless objects. Slave masters also forced their African-American slaves to convert to the Christian faith, the same faith that allowed them to be kept as property and treated so poorly to the point where dying seemed like the only way to find peace. Alabama was not only home to such travesty, it was also the only slave state that African-Americans could not escape from. The most religious state in America was the only slave state that had no Underground Railroad route, with the presence and power of slave catchers being too overbearing for any slave to consider an escape attempt.

Slavery was eventually abolished, thanks to the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation, yet, most of Alabama’s African-American population is still indoctrinated with the Christian values that were forced on their shackled ancestors.

The idea of the “black church” being the center of the African-American community has unfortunately poisoned the ideologies of most African-Americans living in the “most religious state,” which has given the southern African-American community a reputation of being homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. African-Americans in Alabama use the bible as an outlet for discrimination, prejudice and mistreatment toward the non-racial marginalization of others.

It’s the same book that allowed for our ancestors to be stolen from their homeland, eaten, raped, displaced and murdered. I had called attention to this many times in my predominantly African-American school — an underfunded, underperforming public school, thanks to the institutionalized racism and classism that has plagued the African-American community since the Reconstruction. I am struck down as someone who is “in need of the church” or “in need of Christ.” I have had my African-American AP environmental sciences teacher mark points off of a class discussion because I pointed out that the bible cannot be used as scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the attitudes of the African-American students and teachers at my school are extremely common among African-Americans throughout my state, the “most religious state” in America. I, on the other hand, cannot accept this same attitude and I will not accept it, even if it gets me into a bit of trouble at times.

So, while I might be criticized for my refusal to have my intellect colonized by religion, I realize that I am more free than others surrounding me could ever be. I hope that one day, my community — southern African-Americans — will no longer be controlled by an ancient book and will be instead influenced by collaborative learners and freethinkers.

MiKaelah, 18, from Birmingham, Ala., attends New York University. She plans to major in global studies to eventually pursue a career as an international human rights attorney. She volunteers with the Suicide Prevention and Crisis lines.

MiKaelah Freeman

2nd place — Michael Brown: Free of thought, but not free of color

FFRF awarded Michael $2,000.

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown

I’m an atheist.

I’ve never been totally convinced by religion. At age 6, I wanted to know where God had come from. At 10, I wondered why we had to ask forgiveness for being born “short of the glory of god.” At 16, I rejected the cycle of fear, ignorance and shame that religion depends on and decided to leave the church, and unexpectedly, a large part of my cultural identity.

As the child of a single Latina mother, I grew up depending on the Catholic Church. When my mom was paid so little that she could hardly keep the lights on, the church provided free babysitting services so she could work more. When my extended family was targeted with deportations, it insured we had basic necessities and helped us pay for lawyers. When our community experienced racism, xenophobia or violence, the church was our refuge center.

As I rejected religion, I faced rejection in turn. My family, friends and community leaders saw my rejection of the church as a way for me to try and embody whiteness. They were deeply hurt and saw my intellectual freedom as my way of saying I was too good to be Mexican. I was not invited to participate in quinceaneras and other community events. I was ostracized from my culture for rejecting a colonial imposition on my ancestors, yet I also struggled to find a place in atheist communities, as well.

The freethought movement often doesn’t understand the social conditions of why religion is so intertwined with identities of color, and this understanding is critical to making the movement open to people of color. In the wake of racism and tragedy, communities of color cannot find solace in the justice system. As I type this, Mexican toddlers are representing themselves in immigration court, and another unarmed black teen has been killed while running away. The violence and racism our communities face is often senseless, unpredictable and unrectified.

Church has historically been a place of refuge in the absence of equality, and the false assurance of God’s plan and an afterlife helps our communities mitigate the injustices we face. If the freethought community has any interest in being open and welcoming of people of color, it must advocate to address the social issues that allow religion to become the cornerstone of minority identities.

Within our own communities, we have to educate ourselves about the origins of our religious roots. Religion was a way to strip our indigenous identities away. Religion was a way to hold us down, and, even today, in the face of gross injustice, we are often told to hold our tongues because “it’s all part of God’s plan.” There may be no God, but there is definitely humanity, and white people benefit from our pious complacency.

I am Mexican. I am an atheist. Those identities are not exclusive commitments. I believe in the beauty of my language and culture. I have seen it in my mother’s hands, heard it in her voice and lived each day of my life. But I have neither seen nor heard from God, and until such a time that I do, I will not mask the very real needs of my community with religious teachings. I will live not for some future reward, or settle for the comfort the church may provide in the wake of injustice, but rather I will proactively fight for the justice communities of color deserve.

Michael, 24, is from Boston and attends Dartmouth College. He has donated his time to scholar organizations and college preparedness programs.

3rd place — Noemi Rosario: Place your bets at the divine casino

FFRF awarded Noemi $1,000.

By Noemi Rosario

M

Noemi Rosario

y mother is a gambler. Most of the members of the Hispanic community are gamblers. As a child, I watched them, one by one, file into a casino of divine winnings. In a casino, thousands march in to try to win big in an arbitrary game rigged beforehand by the people that founded it. There are big promises of a better life — everyone is happy, everyone is free.

Here on Earth, however, that is not the case. Religious people don’t gamble with the real and tangible; no, they gamble with their lives, their life choices, their autonomy, and yes, their freedom. Some people give up everything in the hope that they will be the one to score big in the existential lottery. Belief in God is very much like that.

I am acutely aware of how intense this fervor is with minorities. Hispanics and blacks are hit especially hard, and their vulnerability is in clear view of the world. This makes it especially tough to watch people’s sense of reality fade while their religious fanaticism grows.

For an atheist of color, choosing not to participate in this gamble has its own social consequences. People may not outright disown you, but your former preacher may choose to ignore your existence, your community may whisper behind closed doors, and you will be seen as an “other.” A classmate of mine exemplifies a mentality about atheists I fear is present in the community as a whole. When asked if she would feel guilty in heaven while some are in hell simply for not believing in God, she explained that their memories would be erased so it wouldn’t matter. This is just one example of many where, when asked about the “sin” of atheism, not one person thought twice of their punishment.

It is difficult to deal with knowing you will never be seen on the same level as the rest of the people in your community. Even in a supposedly progressive community, the shift in opinion is felt deeply, and it is hurtful.

For me, I find religion too costly to place my bets on the table. It is never a good idea to assume that you know the outcome of something you know nothing about, and on a cosmic scale the odds are impossible to determine. In addition, with no clear factual evidence to back this assumption, you’d end up looking like a gambling addict assuring his friends that “Lucky 23 is going to hit this time!”

People are caused to suffer unnecessarily for going against this system, and in some parts of the world, they face death. To rally under a belief system that only encourages division and fanatical thinking is counterproductive toward my goal of trying to be a levelheaded thinker. We are part of the modern world, where we ought to understand the difference between blind emotional reactions and a logical solution. It is the only way that we can fix this broken world we’ve built for ourselves. When taking all that into account, I feel that the odds are not in my favor to stay in the world of the religious, and have chosen to embrace my atheism.

We need to let other minorities know that their doubts and criticisms are natural and human. Other people shouldn’t feel ashamed and ostracized because they don’t want to get sucked into this corrupt and all-consuming leviathan. In the end, we just want a space where we feel comforted and respected equally, free of judgement for our identity. Most of all, we need to show other minorities that there are others like them, those unwilling to sell their souls for the thrill of a divine casino.

Noemi, 18, is from Maspeth, N.Y., and attends the University at Albany (SUNY). She would like to study abroad at some point and eventually earn a master’s degree in education.

4th place — Johann Rucker: Thank you, Tio Carlos

FFRF awarded Johann $750.

By Johann Rucker

Johann Rucker

did not meet another Mexican atheist until I was 20, and he happened to be my Tio Carlos.

I spent the majority of my childhood idolizing him, as he was a bleeding-heart activist and a renowned artist in the Bay Area. My effort was spent working toward the ideal he represented to me, and I hoped to grow to be a man like he was. I always assumed, considering he was raised by my maternal grandparents, that he was a traditional Roman Catholic, like most of the population of Durango, Mexico, in the 1950s. When I finally found out he was an ardent atheist — on a trip to Sausalito during spring break — my entire perception of him was inverted; the man that I thought I had known was suddenly a complete stranger. I had never once told anyone about my nonbelief, but as soon as the confession casually left my Tio Carlos’ lips, they stumbled out of mine.

I had said it — finally! I felt incomparably free. Funnily enough, this happened as we were hiking down the mossed-over steps of an abandoned monastery. The air was still, the rain gently fell, and everything was OK.

Seeing my tio (uncle) as confident in his nonbelief as he seemed was so reaffirming, but it was also disheartening to know that Mexican atheists are seemingly few and far between. Any lapse in faith was always met by eye rolls and punishment from my family, and I never once considered it as a way of life. I was always assured that I could live my life as best as I could, but it would all be in vain if I did not believe in God. Every bad thing that happened to me was because I was not pious enough. I was never a good Catholic.

In hindsight, one of the most ardent Catholics in my early life was my father, a lifetime abuser and all-around awful individual who wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. It always seemed so wrong to me, the idea that a man could be so evil but be absolved simply by his religious beliefs. This is part of the reason why I looked up to my Tio Carlos so much, as I had no positive male role models in my life. He was the antithesis of my father, someone who rejected these antiquated notions of machismo and Catholic guilt. Tio Carlos was a good man who believed in no supernatural being, while my father was a heathen who believed in God. My father was a hypocrite and utilized Catholicism as a means to guilt his children into submission. The manner in which he weaponized faith without hesitation turned me off completely, even at an early age. I saw how disingenuous religion inherently is, and chose to opt out completely. I could be a good man without God.

I have not spoken to my father in almost a decade. I want to remain in healthy contact with the rest of my immediate family, so I keep my nonbelief to myself. I do not think they would go as far as disowning me, but I do not want to be perceived as a deviant and be ostracized. I realize how foolish this secrecy is, but I also realize how necessary it is. Whenever the subject of religion rears its head — be it at dinner, a holiday, etc. — I know to keep my head down. It is a sad reality, but it is reality. I take solace in knowing that there are other young people of color who reject religion, wherever they may be; feeling connected to them through our shared nonbelief is enough to keep me going whenever I’m feeling down. I wish I had known that sooner, as I cannot imagine how many young people struggle with their nonbelief and have nowhere to turn.

Johann, 22, is from Las Vegas and attends the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He is pursuing a degree in film studies and cultural anthropology.

5th place — Alondra Vega Rivera: Spanish-speaking heathen

FFRF awarded Alondra $600.

By Alondra Vega Rivera

I

Alondra Vega Rivera

n Hispanic and Latin American cultures, day-to-day life is permeated with religion. For most Hispanics in particular, the Catholic Church is ever-present in their lives. Growing up Puerto Rican, I was baptized before I could walk or talk, and from then on my life was constantly submersed in the Catholic Church. I spent a great majority of the first eight years of my life with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather got ordained as a deacon when I was 4, and my grandmother led a prayer group that met up every first Friday of the month. Coincidentally, I always had those days off from school, so I would spend it with them, the only child among a sea of old ladies and some of their husbands, sitting around one of their houses praying over a rosary for hours.

I began catechism at the age of 5, and weekends since then were spent at church. At the time, I didn’t understand what I was doing, but it seemed to make my family proud, so I did it without question. I sang the hymns, read the psalms, participated actively in my church for the next few years, doing my first communion at age 7. That’s also when I started questioning whether the church actually meant anything. Did prayer have any effect? Did God truly exist? I remember asking my grandmother, and her getting increasingly agitated until she told me I was too young to be thinking that, and to stop asking questions. So I kept quiet — for years.

As time went on, I found myself straying further and further from religion. I kept attending church, but while I had been raised in it, the rites all seemed alien to me. I felt distanced and cast aside, alienated by my lack of faith. During high school, I found friends that felt similarly, with similar experiences, having been raised religious and yet being nonbelievers themselves. It was there where I was able to have the most in-depth discussions about religion with my nonreligious and religious peers alike, from a position of respect. There, I was able to formulate my own views. I came to understand religion as a coping mechanism for many, a way to give meaning and purpose to their lives and establish control over the unknown, despite having developed into a system of hierarchy and oppression.

Of course, I could tell none of this to my family. There was a night when I had a project coming up and still had more than half the work to do when my father decided he would take me to church. I told him I couldn’t go because I had to work, and he got angry and left. My mother came by my room a few minutes later to ask if I believed in God, to which I replied “no.” She got extremely angry and began shouting at me, telling me I was bound for nothing but hell, and that I was going to lose everything I had. It hurt, and I was still forced to go to church, crying during the car ride with my father and lying all the way, telling him I did believe — just differently. I don’t think he believed me. My grandmother caught on and constantly told me I should believe in God, and blamed my generation for not doing so.

Being a non-religious Hispanic person has meant being alienated not only from my family, but from my culture. I have been sent to camps and counselors to try and “correct” me, to get me to see God, and yet it doesn’t work. I understand why people need religion, but I don’t want it. It’s just not right for me.

Alondra, 18, from Carolina, Puerto Rico, attends Ecuslea de Artes Plasticas y Diseno de Puerto Rico. She would like to get a degree in graphic design and become an illustrator for movies, games books and other media.

6th place — Azarius Williams: My journey to secularism

FFRF awarded Azarius $500.

By Azarius Williams

W

Azarius Williams

hen I was growing up, my mother would take my siblings and me to a popular church called Redeeming Word Christian Center International. We were the typical “Sunday saints,” attending the bare minimum Sunday service to appease our Christian-valued extended family. My mother felt this immense pressure to conform to Christianity due to her black-sheep status during her own upbringing. This status was bestowed upon her by her grandmother, who was her guardian as a child, for being dark-skinned. The reasoning changed when my mother came out as a lesbian during her mid-20s. The sermons always included heteronormative speech, an insinuation that heterosexuality was the only acceptable partnership. Church folk and family members would coat their homophobia with cherry-picked bible scriptures to “turn her straight.” We stopped going to church.

During my adolescence, I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. This was linked to the emotionally abusive relationship I had with my father, coupled with the grueling process of discovering my identity as a transgender man. I repressed my identity out of a learned fear that God would hate me if I transitioned to male. This led to self-hatred and embarrassment, feelings I soon affixed toward my mother’s lifestyle. Soon, I formulated a plan to cease existing due to the severity of my internal conflict. Fortunately, I chose to live as I intended, not to the approval of oppressive interpretations of some outdated novel that remains unverifiable. Thus began my rejection of religion.

The anti-liberating nature of black religious institutions has strengthened my position as a secularist. As I grew intellectually and consciously of my black identity, so did my skepticism. The same book that was used to justify the institution of slavery in the United States is the same book that much of the black community subscribes to. Slave capturers and plantation owners used religion to subjugate slaves into believing that their slave status was their divine duty. This problematic indoctrination of religion into the black community has been used as a foundation of the immense black subscription to religious institutions. Often, in my experience, these churches promote behaviors and ideologies that directly contrast with the liberation of marginalized groups. It encourages the community to rely on a deity for liberation from oppression rather than to object to the creators of the oppression. Children are scorned if they question what is being taught to them, which is oppressive and detrimental.

Mental health is hardly regarded as an issue that necessitates counseling and treatment, but as an issue that can be remedied by strengthening one’s faith. Women are taught and expected to conform to the patriarchy. The LGBTQIA community is vehemently demonized. All of this has aided the formulation and persistence of a social hierarchy within the black community, which is stalling our liberation.

The overwhelming presence of religion in the black community has made me a minority within a minority. It is very difficult to have conversations about religion with most black people I know due to their strong religious beliefs. Multiple people have attempted to convert me to their religion upon discovering that I am nonreligious. My religion, or lack thereof, is a topic that I do not feel comfortable discussing due to the negative response I have gotten from strangers and loved ones. I’ve quickly learned that discussions based on my rejection of religion are unwelcomed, but discussions of discovering Christ are encouraged. I have had more than my share of sit-downs with devout individuals “concerned” about my rejection of religion, often ending with prayers for my discovery of their deity. An essential feat of black religion for a lot of black people is the “hope” and sense of community that it provides to people who have been disenfranchised for centuries. Perhaps the freethought movement could utilize this knowledge as an opportunity to provide spaces and advocacy for black individuals.

Azarius 20, is from Port St. Lucie, Fla., and attends Syracuse University, but will be studying in Hong Kong in the fall 2018 semester. He wants to study global markets and would also like to found a nonprofit that focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline and LGBTQ+ youth of color. 

7th place — Jesica Maldonado Matias: I said goodbye to the god that failed me

FFRF awarded Jesica $400.

By Jesica Maldonado Matias

grew up in a Hispanic household with austere traditions to be followed, where religion has always been a high and mighty law to comply with and follow without fault. This included the tedious ritual of church on Saturday mornings, two bewildering prayers before bed every night, and the frankly discouraging sessions of Sunday school required for a first communion. These activities deemed themselves vastly colorless and excruciating for me to complete as I began to form ideas and beliefs for myself and realized that there is no such thing as God.

As I began to grow up with the silent idea that challenged my family’s religion, I began to exhibit it, especially through TV shows and music, and they immediately began to bestow judgment and distaste for my alienation from their ideal white-picket-fence beliefs. Soon, at the tender age of 12, I decided to finally remove any religious jewelry or decorations that stripped me of my true identify and molded me to their senseless beliefs. Although I experienced their scoffs of judgment frequently, the worst ensued from my distant family and community in Mexico. My mom, who ultimately accepted my beliefs, would tell me about the inveterate and foolish gossip that my family spread. I was called many things, some of which included satanist, witch, uneducated, devil’s child, stupid and several other equivalent terms. When I visited my family, they would look down upon me as if I were — as sorrowful as it makes me to say it — scum. The pure disappointment on their faces was louder than any silence I’d ever heard. It would be reasonable to conclude that I would try to please them to feel accepted again, but, instead, I finally felt like an individual rather than one defined by the wishes of my family. I felt free as I liberated myself from the suffocating beliefs of Catholicism and decided that it is not my job to sculpt myself to anyone’s standards but my own.

The one individual I could always trust not to elude my personal beliefs has been my mom, who began to question why I reject religion. First and foremost, I find the idea of an invisible, almighty man in the sky downright ridiculous and not scientifically possible. Growing up surrounded by Catholic individuals, I learned that one vacuous factor they share is their rejection of scientific facts. I have always been profoundly fascinated by science, especially biology and evolution. They simply label evolution and the big bang theory as shams. The nasty attitudes of many religious followers have also been another reason I chose to reject religion. Isn’t their religion based on freewill and acceptance of those different from them? More importantly, if God created the whole universe, which is vast and beyond comprehension, who are we to say that we’re the only ones important to him and not just an insignificant occurrence within the universe? The bible does not provide answers for this, only assumptions gathered from different beliefs and viewpoints that do not serve as reliable. It is ridiculous to simply accept a 2,700-year-old book as a factual manual to live by.

For me, the biggest factor contributing to my freedom from religion is the truly delusional idea of a god who cares, who fixes it when you pray to him and who is good despite the cruel fact that the bible paints him multiple times as a non-intervening God who sees everything before it happens and allows it. If he didn’t stop the fall of humanity, he won’t be stopping tragedies anytime soon. I mean, would you really want to believe in a God who doesn’t believe in you?

Jesica, 18, is from Palm Springs, Calif., and attends San Francisco State University. Her goal is to earn a

Jesica Maldonado Matias

master’s degree in business administration and to become a horror novel author. 

Honorable mention — Therrin Wilson: False prophets

Imagine that you are teenager and your family, which is your primary source of love and support, begins to disown you, harshly criticize you, shout at you and sometimes even physically attack you whenever you are present. Most would agree that this is a very unappealing lifestyle for a mere teenager. This image encompasses my complete adolescent experience. One could only imagine how isolated and emotionally abused I felt simply because I, being an atheist, possess a dissimilar belief system then their traditional system; they are entirely evangelical Protestants. I’m one of the extremely rare African-Americans who decided to reject traditional belief, and this is a substantial issue because the African-American community integrates Christianity into the black foundation and identity so much that anything different is extremely taboo. Therefore, being an African-American atheist yields to a unique and powerful burden of adversity. The black community has shown that they’re more accepting of drug dealers, murderers and criminals than they are of black, college-bound atheists. Whenever I recall all of the social, mental and emotional complications that I’ve endured since my decision, the pain reappears as ripe as the actual memory. I have lost multiple friends, been physically abused and my community disclaims me in all aspects. In essence, I have lost most of the love that I needed at many points of my life due to my beliefs. However, I must find my inner strength and allow this pain to be converted into positivity and motivation. This positivity and motivation led me to charter a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance on my campus, mainly because atheists needed a place to reside that fosters understanding, love and support that may be devoid in their everyday life.

Every atheist has their personalized reason as to why they disbelieve. Many have decided to be atheist due to the faults in their prior religion, or perhaps they simply possess the desire to be rebellious (one I have heard more often than you’d think). Nonetheless, the reason that I reject religious convictions is rather simple — analysis using the scientific method and skeptical questioning. There are two schools of thought in my stance: analysis of religion itself and analysis of a supreme deity. I am a very scientific thinker. In fact, science has always been my favorite and best subject, which is the reason I am getting a degree in biochemistry. Science has taught me the methods of questioning and determining what is fact versus what’s not. The short answer as to why I reject both religion and a supreme deity is that there is absolutely no reason or evidence whatsoever to believe in either. Of course, some would appeal to universal origins or the beauty of life, but to those I would refer to the words of Friedrich

Nietzsche, “There is not enough love and goodness in the world to permit giving any of it away to imaginary beings.” Overall, there is simply not enough evidence to believe in a supreme being, so, instead, I enjoy life as morally stable man without God.

So, yes, I am an African-American atheist and I am proud to identify as such. Once I first became an atheist, I felt very friendless and alone but thanks to organizations such as FFRF, Black Nonbelievers, the Secular Student Alliance, American Humanist Association and many other organizations, I know that I am not alone. Not only do I have new friends that understand what I have been through, but it seems as though we are a form of family. So, as I conclude, I must say that I will continue to support the Good without God movement to the best of my abilities in order to sustain friendships, connections and a safe-zone for people like me.

Therrin, 21, is from Knoxville, Tenn., and attends the University of Tennessee. He is a senior wh

Therrin Wilson

o is seeking a biochemistry degree and eventually wants to pursue a career in optometry.

 

 

 

Honorable mention — Tatem Rios: The challenge of being a freethinker in this society

I was not raised in a religious household. I never attended church, prayed or worshipped. My parents never mentioned religion, nor did I really know what religion was. I just lived life being a good person and doing what made me happy. Never in my mind did I question my existence or thought I was created by some superior power. As I grew older, I started to notice that I had friends who went to church every week with their families and frequently spoke of God. I wondered, “Who is this notorious God everyone speaks of?” Why do people seek his approval to make decisions? I noticed people were letting this imaginary figure control their lives. I eventually decided to take action to see what all the fuss was about. I then went out of my way to attend church.

I ended up going to church multiple times to try and fit in. I did this because everyone made me feel like an outcast. Well, I absolutely hated it. None of it makes sense! The stuff they preach contradicts scientific discoveries, yet people still continue to believe it. I really don’t understand how people have become so brainwashed. They believe in this fantasy story so they can give their lives meaning. I believe individuals themselves have the power to choose the meaning of their own lives. My biggest question is wondering why a creator who “loves” us all sends nonbelievers to hell. I’m a good person who has done nothing wrong, yet I deserve to be sent to “hell”? The joke is on them because hell is just another non-existent fantasy that only they believe in.

I have taken notice that many who believe in God think they are better than those who don’t. They look down upon us nonbelievers as if we are evil creatures. I have experienced this in my own life. There have been instances where people have treated me differently once they found out I was a nonbeliever. I find this to be incredibly ridiculous. I am the same exact person I was before they knew, yet they still treat me as if I am different. I admit that not all religious believers act in these unacceptable ways. There exist many who are open-minded and understanding of others. However, there are also many who are hypocrites who bash those with opposing beliefs. I’m sure “God” wouldn’t want them to treat others unfairly in the ways that they do.

Nonreligious people tend to be much more accepting and live life in a more logical manner. As a nonbeliever, I don’t need to seek approval from some mysterious higher being. I live my life with a set of good morals. I accept everyone for who they are. I don’t judge people on their gender, race, beliefs nor marriage status.

Tatem Rios

Here is some advice to those who are minorities within this minority, just like me. Don’t let others treat you differently because of your beliefs. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to be in your life. Yes, this world can be a cruel place and we have all experienced it, however, stand up for yourself. There is a whole community of people just like you here to support you. Always remember that you are not alone. We together have what it takes to thrive in prosper in this world.

Tatem, 18, is from Woodbury, Minn., and attends Inver Hills Community College. She was able to take college courses while in high school and will graduate from Inver Hills in the spring of 2019 and then plans to attend the University of Minnesota for her senior year with the plan of getting a degree in chemical engineering and chemistry.