Honorable mention — College essay contest: Jenna Kornicki

Religion as a tool of oppression

Jenna Kornicki

By Jenna Kornicki

For thousands of years, organized religion has been used by those in positions of power to manipulate and control the vulnerable populations beneath them. I have studied the major world religions in my tenure at a severely Catholic four-year university. Thus, I am exceedingly familiar with the fear-mongering, lies, victim-blaming, and other manipulative tactics employed by religious bodies to cripple, control and coerce their members into hating themselves and one another. The perpetuation of xenophobia, homophobia and the fear of science that hinders the progression of modern society has its roots in organized religion. The only means to a future where humanity does not destroy itself is to break away from the narrow-mindedness forced upon us by religious institutions.

I have witnessed first-hand how religious bodies rely on fear of the unknown, particularly of death and what follows, to force believers to fall in line. Taught from the time they can talk that they are born evil, and must spend their entire lives atoning for a crime they didn’t commit or else face eternal suffering the likes of which they could never imagine, Catholics — by whom I have been surrounded for four years — are pressured to follow the rules, and strongly discouraged from using critical thinking skills to make their own decisions. Rather than attempting to define and perform goodness for goodness sake, and for the betterment of humankind, many followers of organized religion conform to expected behaviors for selfish reasons. Under the veneer of compassion, they adhere to a set of arbitrary rules in an attempt to protect themselves from the hell, or equivalent punishment, they are warned about from birth. What follows from this adherence, born of blind fear of a suffering whose existence cannot even be confirmed, is often more harmful than helpful to the human collective.

Countless human atrocities can be attributed to intolerance bred from organized religion. From the Crusades to World War II to the United States’ despicable history of slavery, human conflict overwhelmingly stems from hatred of demographic groups deemed “different” from one’s own. Too frequently, the divisions that form these groups are arbitrary, held only in place by constructs like religious doctrine. Too often, the excuse for contempt for — and, consequently, violence against — those of differing race, gender, orientation, and creed is religious freedom. My question has always been: Why should religious freedoms encroach on all other freedoms every human being inherently deserves? In my mere 22 years of life, I have observed the effects of religion in every war and historic event, as well as in microaggressions against an innocent party, targeted only due to their basic identity, that has occurred in front of my eyes. If each and every human being learned to think freely, rather than blindly follow religious dictates, we could make judgements that are entirely our own, based on independent research and experience, and the world would become a much more tolerant, progressive, and collaborative entity.

I am an atheist. I was not born evil. I do not adhere to an arbitrary list of rules. I do not hate, harm or pass judgment on any other living being based solely on their differences from me. My decisions are not clouded or influenced by delusions I have been fed since birth. The only books I know to be fact are well-researched scientific tomes, supported by concrete evidence, and always with the caveat that science is an ever-evolving field. I am an independent, freethinking scholar, and I posit that there would be significantly less violence and misery in the world if humanity chose to reject organized religion as a basis for human behavior.

Jenna, 21, is from Sicklerville, N.J., and attends Columbia University, where she is majoring in chemical engineering. She has been awarded the American Institute of Chemists award, and has been inducted into multiple honors societies for mathematics and medicine. Jenna has interned with multinational corporations such as BASF Chemistry, and in her spare time she enjoys reading, playing music, and advocating for LGBT and women’s rights.