By Amber Fehrs
In May of 2017, when asked about his thoughts on climate change, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg claimed, “If there’s a real problem, [God] can take care of it.” This opinion is shared by a majority of the religious people I know. Climate change isn’t a problem to them because they believe that God would never allow the Earth to become unlivable, and even if God did, they’ve still got heaven to look forward to. This blasé dismissal of a legitimately pressing issue represents one of my main problems with religion: Religious dogma, especially belief in the idea of an afterlife, encourages complacency.
Growing up in rural Nebraska, a no-man’s-farmland filled with mostly well-meaning Lutherans and a few less well-meaning Westboro Baptists, has allowed me to spot a sort of pattern in the religious people that surround me. No matter what problem someone might be facing, the same advice is doled out ad nauseum with a holier-than-thou smirk: “You shouldn’t question God’s plan. He takes care of everything if you trust in him.” Most of the people in my small, hyper-religious community are entirely convinced that God will take care of every one of their problems so long as they are patient enough to wait for him to act.
Even before I became an atheist, when I was still an intensely devout Lutheran, I struggled to accept this line of thinking. I often found myself cornering my pastor after church services to ask apparently taboo questions like, “Why should I wait for God to solve my problems if I can do it myself faster?” I would always receive the same non-answer: “Just relax and trust in God. He’s in control.”
I personally reject religion and its promise of an afterlife because I do not want to “just relax and trust in God.” I do not want to be complacent in my life. I want to have agency, I want to work to solve my own problems, and I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I came into it. I’m driven to protect the environment because I know that there is no paradisal world waiting for me if humanity destroys the one we’ve got. I value the life of myself and the lives of others more than any religious person can because I know there is no life after death. I strive to make the most out of the time I have on Earth because I know it is inherently limited. To put it simply, I reject religion and its promise of an afterlife because, where religion breeds complacency, atheism inspires action.
Amber, 18, graduated as valedictorian from Norfolk Senior High School in Norfolk, Neb. She will be attending Brown University and plans to double major in physics and applied mathematics.