4th place (tie): People of color essay contest — Leila Okorie

Leila Okorie

My life is at peace because of atheism

FFRF awarded Leila $2,000.

By Leila Okorie

My questioning of religion started at a fairly young age. Being half Nigerian and having grandparents who slipped God into every other sentence, I grew up pretty Christian. I rarely went to church as a kid, and the few memories I have of going consist of me falling asleep, being bored out of my mind, and wondering why they were calling grape juice Jesus’ blood and a cracker his flesh.

I just never quite felt like I belonged in churches, or like there were any real spiritual forces at play within them, and my experience has yet to change.

I slowly went from praying on my knees every night before bed, to praying in bed every other night, to simply praying in my mind every once in a while. As this went on, I began to notice that I only prayed when I was afraid or I wanted something. What’s more, I never received what I asked for, and I never got any replies back. Not only did this make me realize I was being selfish with my prayers, but it made me feel silly for spending time talking to something that has never once responded to me.

In fourth grade, I was at recess and I asked my friend, “If God created Jesus, then who created God?” I will never forget the distress and shock in her face before she said she didn’t want to talk about that. Not too long after, she no longer wanted to be friends with me.

The older I got, the more I began to distance myself from religion. I learned about how many wars and massacres had happened in history, and still continue to happen, over religion. I learned about how people used, and still use, religion to justify discrimination against different races, sexual orientations and genders. Middle school was also when I learned that I was not straight, and, a few years later, one of my best friends came out to me as transgender. I had people I knew and loved that were in the LGBTQ+ community, including myself, who I knew were good people, and yet they supposedly deserved to burn in hell.

Discovering myself and my identity only raised more questions. If there is a God, why does he create people that automatically deserve to go to hell? Why do people who question a being that provides no scientific proof of its existence deserve to go to hell? I also hated seeing people using religion as an excuse to turn a blind eye to real life concerns, such as not vaccinating their children, or saying they’re “sending prayers” during times of crisis or saying that “everything happens for a reason.”

By ninth grade, I decided that being an atheist was best for me and my mental health. I was tired of feeling like I was being watched and judged for every decision I made, and tired of apologizing for my identity.

I hold no disdain for religious people, and I believe everyone should choose the lifestyle that makes them happiest. But, being an atheist allows me to live my life with the mindset that every day matters because this is the only life we have. Death no longer holds the same weight because I’m not afraid of going to hell for being a “bad” person. It has also helped me feel more in control of my life and keeps me more accountable, because I know a prayer of forgiveness won’t erase the consequences of my actions. For me, atheism is to live peacefully.

Leila, 19, is a senior at the University of Washington, and is on track to earn a bachelor’s degree in art. “Being an African-American woman who is also a part of the LGBTQ+ community, I strive to be an example that you can excel in your passions.” Leila writes. “I want to become a concept artist for video games and film so I can help bring more diverse characters to media.”