4th place: Grad student essay contest — Nicolle Dirksen

Nicolle Dirksen

Religion is antiquated and irrelevant

FFRF awarded Nicolle $2,000.

By Nicolle Dirksen

In the current political climate of extreme polarization, religion seeks to further divide us. While many proponents of religiosity view it as a catalyst of togetherness, the opposite is true, particularly when religion becomes intertwined with politics. When the two become enmeshed, policy changes are made based on religious values that do not represent all of a politician’s constituents. Additionally, religion within the context of politics creates a narrative in which one set of ideas is viewed as the only path to morality and, most devastatingly, it forces scientific understanding and critical thinking to the backseat in policy making.   

Lawmakers have incredible responsibility to their constituents and to the country as a whole. Heading into the 2020 elections, the issues that most divided the country were heavily based on Christian values. LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights and police reform were voted on, by many Americans, through the lens of biblical principles. Politicians pander to these Christian ideals, regardless of their own convictions. While this may seem like a strategic plan to politicians, it only serves to further divide the country into Christians and non-Christians. Nonbelievers and holders of alternate religious views are left out of the equation, pointing to a need for our political system to do away with any religious consideration or conversation. When politicians involve religion in their platforms, it will always be the religion of the majority, because nothing else makes strategic sense. This is not conducive to creating a government for the people, but rather a government for the “right” people, thereby creating an “us-versus-them” society. As demonstrated by the current political climate, no one wins when extreme polarization runs rampant. 

This polarization is further highlighted when the question of morality inevitably enters the conversation. When religion is part of political conversation on virtually every media platform and viewed by the masses, unequal representation of belief systems emerges. This reinforces the false narrative that one’s moral compass must be guided by a religion and/or higher power. When more people in America say they would vote for a Muslim presidential candidate than an atheist candidate in a post-9/11 country rife with anti-Muslim rhetoric, it becomes clear that a religious focus reinforces that morality equals God, any god. A Muslim politician is more palatable than a lawmaker viewed as amoral, even when that politician’s deity is one whose religious text(s) and belief system are in complete contradiction with the voters’.

A lack of a god belief becomes synonymous with a lack of morality, further polarizing the country and calling any scientific discovery that does not align with religion into question.

Science is the only method through which progress can be made. With religion at the center of political debate, science inevitably becomes an afterthought. When a country’s population is incapable of critically thinking about their own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and scientific literature, it is a detriment to that country’s ability to advance. In the social media age, this lack of critical thinking ability is clear. Confirmation bias and creating an echo chamber are easier than ever, and if one searches for something hoping for an answer that aligns with his/her/their biases, he/she/they are almost certainly going to find it, regardless of any objective, scientific truths that may directly oppose it. This seems to be especially true when something as closely held as religion is at the center of those biases. If the political system continues to incorporate religion in any part of the conversation, this problem will only continue to grow. 

Religion is the most divisive and problematic player in the American political system. No individual political figure could do as much damage as religion has. During this tumultuous time in American history, it is more important than ever for our leaders to create policy and make change based on scientific understanding, not divisive religious values. When religion has a seat in the political conversation, people are left out, morality becomes blurred, and critical thinking becomes obsolete. If America wants to move past the polarization and pave a path forward, we must view religion for what it is: antiquated and irrelevant. 

Nicolle, 29, attends South Dakota State University, studying human development and family studies with a minor in psychology.

“Living as an atheist in middle America has not always been easy, but it has been motivating. I have applied to graduate schools and hope to use my skepticism and critical-thinking skills to further the pool of research in psychology. Science has become increasingly important to me, particularly in the age of social media ‘truth,’ and I cannot wait to devote my life to scientific progress.”