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.”