7th place: College essay contest — Anne Marie Nester

Death is not to be feared

FFRF awarded Anne Marie $750.

Anne Marie Nester

By Anne Marie Nester

When I was a junior in high school, a previously close friend of mine killed themself. She was a gender-nonconforming lesbian in an unaccepting religious household, and the years of abuse finally took its toll. To me, this was an unforgivable act of cruelty. Her parents killed their own child in the name of religion — and it was appalling. To have to attend a funeral that she would have hated in a church she didn’t conform to was incredibly painful. It was at this time that my superficial questioning of religion became serious reflection and eventually complete atheism.   

As harsh as it may come across, there was nothing more I hoped than for my friend to cease to be after her death. While she deserved respect and acceptance while she was alive, I thought the least that could be done is allow her to have peace. I can think of no fate worse for her than to be forced to continue on after being tortured to her breaking point. How cruel a twist of fate it would be if the people who caused her to take her own life were correct in their view of the world. This was too much for me to believe, and there began my staunch atheism.

It was a very difficult road to take, however. Not only do you risk the ostracization of those who can’t accept differing points of views, but you are also forced to confront your deepest-rooted biological fear — the fear of death.  For a healthy teenager, the idea of death is either too abstract to properly grasp, or too horrifying to contemplate seriously for too long. And, indeed, the thought of losing my loved ones — and eventually myself — permanently with no chance of reunion or restoration was nightmarish for a long time.   

Time marched on as it does, and with time and new experiences, my worldview was expanded into a newfound sense of relief at death. This marked change was due to the steep physical and cognitive decline of my father beginning in my freshman year, which would end with his death in that first year of college.  Having to watch something as painful as a loved one crying in pain as they lie on their deathbed would have most sane and empathetic people begging for a quicker death for them. This prompted the realization that death is not scary at all. Rather life, and especially the decline of life, is the true terror. The only thing that every human being on the planet has in common is that we were born and that we will die. There is no fear in doing something that everyone else has done. It is far scarier to live a life of pain and regret than an ending to that pain and regret.

This is ultimately why I never became a devout believer in religion. Believers often spend more time trying to better their next life than their current one, and that is no way to live.  The most steadfast in their beliefs will also unrepentantly hurt those that they are supposed to love in the name of that belief.

While there are many truly amazing and kind religious people out there, I find that they are generally that way in spite of their beliefs rather than because of them. Because, ultimately, religion is an ignorant concept at its best, and malicious and exploitative at its worst. While being an atheist can be very painful and difficult, it opens the door to being a more dynamic, thinking and feeling person. And that should be what we strive to achieve.

Rather than abide by some arbitrary rules for the chance of a better afterlife, we should be maximizing our time here and now with each other.

Anne Marie, 19, is from Jesup, Ga., and attends the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in physics. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was nearly obsessed with space. Every book fair, I would buy books about space. My whole life, I wanted to grow up to study the stars, and now I finally have the opportunity to.”