Fifth place (tie) — Matthew Bergosh: The beautiful game

By Matthew Bergosh

Matthew Bergosh

Growing up, I never gave religion a second thought. Even though I attended a religious preschool (for economic reasons), religion was never more than a fairy tale to me. It was Santa giving every single kid on Earth a present on Christmas, the Easter Bunny going around and hiding treats for us, and Jesus breaking bread and fish into enough pieces to feed everyone. Noah’s Ark was a nice coloring book scene, and the Nativity was a fun story to enact, but that’s all it was. A story for those that couldn’t accept death.

I struggled accepting death, too. It’s kept me awake and brought me to tears on many a night when I was young. But then I had an epiphany, and it may seem small, but it profoundly changed my life: You don’t know you’re sleeping, so why would death be any worse? And then the realizations kept coming: Don’t be nice for a potential reward after death, be nice because it feels nice. Don’t spend a second of your time thinking of death, because that’s a second you wasted from life. Help people in this life, don’t tell yourself they’ll be rewarded in the next.

I also noticed that people rely on religion for strength and they looked down on my lack of faith as if it were a handicap. But I finally understood that I was the stronger one because I “manage” to be a good person without the threat of eternal torture.

That’s what atheism means to me: strength, wisdom and freedom. I denounce religion and accept the cold, uncaring universe. I choose to focus on this life with wisdom and enjoy the freedom that this choice grants. To elaborate, I reject religion for several reasons. First, I simply do not believe. That seed was not planted in me when I was young. By refusing it, I clear my mind for logic and critical thinking, which I would much prefer over comfort and faith. Second, there is far too much suffering in this world for there to be a good God, and if God is not good, why believe? Third, too much of this anguish is in the name of religion for me to find it attractive.

I live my life as if it was a soccer game: I’m on the clock from beginning to end (with a break in the middle for my mid­life crisis), fully enjoying every moment because I never know when the game ends for me.

Matthew, 18, attended Vilsech High School at APO, AE in Germany. After moving numerous times because of his father’s military career, he and his family settled in Germany. Because his mother in German, Matthew is a dual citizen legally, linguistically and culturally. He will be attending the University of Southern California in the fall.