2nd place (tie): College essay contest — Reese Borlin

I am reverent, not religious

FFRF awarded Reese $3,000.

Reese Borlin

By Reese Borlin

“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” — The Boy Scout law

Reverent.

Supposedly one must be religious to be reverent. But I was reverent. I showed “deep and solemn respect” when it came to the beliefs of others. I attended mandatory Sunday service on campouts. I respected the choice of scouts to pray before meals. I went through the motions. I drank the wine; I chewed the wafer.

And, yet, I had to lie to earn my Eagle Scout rank. Do you see the contradiction? The Boy Scouts of America preferred that I choose its definition of reverence over that of trustworthiness. I was supposed to place respect for a god over respect for myself. I could have believed in any number or type of gods, as long as I believed in “something beyond myself.”

I am deeply, profoundly reverent of my own human capacity for freethought. I cherish this ability over all else. I can make my own decisions, choose my beliefs. I control my own destiny.

This isn’t a new feeling for me. In the third grade, I vividly remember a Catholic priest trying to convince me that this tiny bread — reminiscent of a stale, flat Cheerio — was, literally, the flesh of Jesus Christ. First: That’s gross. Second: Even my 9-year-old brain realized that there was something off about this whole thing.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was attending my friend’s youth group (mostly because some girl I liked was there). I enjoyed the games, but the small group sessions made me incredibly uncomfortable. I asked but one question for the three years I went: “Why do bad things still happen?” The leader rambled in circles for 20-plus minutes, but never gave a direct answer.

In fact, I have never heard a direct answer. Religion prevents us from seeing past our own privilege, becoming nearly blind to real suffering. Belief in a higher power placates our conscience, creating no moral imperative to help others. It acts as filler, providing meaning for those lacking it in their own human lives, or rather those who refuse to embrace their life as singular and their own: those who need the promise of something more to feel comfortable.

As human beings, we have the capacity for abstract thought. We can partake in seemingly joyless activities and obtain massive fulfillment from it. I gain happiness from running. My high school track coach was a pastor, and, to my surprise, he rarely brought religion into the mix. Yet, one day, he asked each of us to choose something we are running for “beyond ourselves.” I am rarely confrontational, but I blatantly disagreed. I run for myself. My answer made him glaringly uncomfortable and insulted.

He “ran for God.” That statement made him feel as though he had done right by his faith. There is no need to actively seek opportunities to better the lives of others when one can simply go jogging for God, therefore being the peak of morality.

These thoughts perpetuate the ethical complacency created by religion. There is a chasm between what religion says is good and necessary versus what the world needs. With the climate crisis, current pandemic and volatile political situation, Earth needs more freethinkers: those who can see problems — real problems, not those invented by religious beliefs — for what they are and fix them.

As a freethinker, I am reverent in the purest definition of the word. I am “deeply and solemnly respectful” to my fellow people, to all species of Earthlings who coexist on this planet, and, most importantly, to what makes me human. Because of freethought, and without any threat of eternal damnation, I have realized my moral obligation to better the world, and I intend to live my life in a way that fixes real problems, rather than creating imaginary ones.

Reese, 19, is from Washington, Ill., and attends Southern Illinois University and is majoring in forestry with minors in Spanish and GIS studies. “I love nature. I identify with the outdoor recreation I pursue, and I want a career helping others do the same. I am an avid runner, having qualified for and ran the 2019 Boston Marathon in addition to various ultramarathons.”