8th place: College essay contest — Brenna Bigenwald

The non-necessity of religion

FFRF awarded Brenna $500 for her essay.

Brenna Bigenwald

By Brenna Bigenwald

My religion — or rather my lack thereof — has been a topic I have defended for as long as I can remember. As a young atheist surrounded by individuals with differing opinions, I’ve gotten used to answering questions about why I choose to live without religion. The simple answer? I do not believe there is a higher power in any way, shape or form. Though this is ultimately what drives my life as an atheist, this answer does not do justice to the myriad other reasons I reject any theologies.

I was raised in an atheist household — a result of two parents who turned their backs on their Catholic upbringings to raise their children as freethinkers. My parents stressed the ideals of knowledge, reason and forming one’s own opinions, so I was educated on religion, not shielded from it.

Ultimately, it was my decision as to whether or not I would continue living as an atheist, but the choice was exceedingly easy after being raised to think for myself. I did not want to sacrifice my own viewpoints for those blindly endorsed by organized religion.

Even in elementary school, I was introduced to the constant propaganda of faith in America. I questioned why I was forced, at age 6, to stand before the American flag in the name of a god I did not believe in. My teachers claimed it was about respect for our country, but it made no sense to me why my beliefs were being thrown to the wayside in favor of a religion that not all citizens practice. America claims to follow the principle of separating church and state.

However, it is abundantly clear that monotheism — Christianity in particular — is exceedingly favored. Little displays of religion, like our currency or the use of the bible in court settings, all undermine the pretense that Americans are free to practice whatever religion they wish. Though I face no legal repercussions for being unreligious, this preference for particular beliefs makes freethinkers and those of less favorable religions feel like second-class citizens. 

I also find religion to be wholly unnecessary in this day and age. Humans have an incredible amount of research and technology at our fingertips, research that has pointed time and time again to the lack of credibility of religious teachings. In ancient times, believers looked to scripture to explain the world around them, but that blind faith is pointless when we have science to guide us. Rather than following an ancient word that has been used to justify sexist and discriminatory actions, I prefer to look to reason and logic to guide my convictions.

People often mistake being holy for being moral when that is simply not the case. I do not need religion to be a good person; I was raised to be kind and generous without the threat of an afterlife looming over my head. It is not the fear of being rejected from heaven that inspires my sense of morality, but rather empathy for my fellow human beings. As a young atheist, I am able to use reason and faithless goodwill to live a fulfilling life.

Simply put, I am an atheist because I find religion to be restrictive and unnecessary. My life without religion has not been a life without kindness or selflessness. Instead, it has been a life rooted in logic and filled with empathy. Even though my country undeniably favors religion, I hope there comes a day when there is not only a clear separation of church and state, but also a separation of religion from politics. I hope that more atheists are unafraid to speak out against religious institutions. I hope that all nations move toward becoming more secular, more educated and more peaceful.

Brenna, 20, is from Rochester, N.Y., and attends the University of Pittsburgh, and is majoring in rehabilitation science and minoring in education. Brenna plans to earn a doctorate in occupational therapy. “I am hoping to work with children, either in schools or a hospital setting, so that I can help children with developmental delays and disabilities live a happy and healthy childhood!”