By Winston McCurley
“Love is the most beautiful thing to have, hardest thing to earn, and most painful thing to lose.” -Anonymous.
I live in a small, traditional town in Alabama, and when I tell most of the people around me I’m agnostic, they respond furiously with incredulity, as if I just told them my favorite hobby is going to defenseless grandmas’ houses and stealing their cats. They associate nonreligious people like me with cold-hearted murderers, morally depraved sociopaths and other evil figures. Despite the stigma, I certainly don’t make it a hobby to steal a pencil, much less a cat, from anyone. I laugh, love and cry like anyone who believes in Jesus, Allah, Vishnu or any other reverent figure. I’m a nursing major who wants to comfort those in their times of need. I have friends and family who I adore and I have loved and lost.
However, I have been discriminated against and ostracized because of many aspects of who I am, due to the predominant religion of where I live. I am gay, a long-time vegan and agnostic. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in sociology to understand my life has not been made any easier by identifying the way I do in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Many of my Christian high school classmates did not fully embrace me and/or were reluctant to relate to me. My father told me I’m the disgrace of my Christian family because I’m homosexual (I only wish he put it that kindly) and I haven’t spoken to my dad’s side of the family since I came out as gay and unreligious.
An important point emerges from all this. My closest friends are straight, bisexual, gay, liberal, conservative, Christian, agnostic, atheist and Wiccan, and I love and identify with all of them, not due to their religions or preferences, but because of their inherent qualities — their characters and their personalities. Having experienced prejudice based on who I love and what I believe, I would never follow any dogma that commands me to demean, ostracize or even kill people who I treasure because of differences in their belief systems. I see my friends’ hearts on their sleeves, their kindness in the actions they make.
Thus, I wholeheartedly reject the proposition that one must adhere to a single loosely translated and subjectively interpreted set of “holy” textual guidelines in order to be a moral member of society. Research in social psychology supports my stance. In a 2008 study, when study participants were given a cash sum and told to spend it either only on themselves or on others, spending the cash sum on other people led to the greatest increase in the participants’ happiness. To summarize the implications of this article, humans are not inherently selfish beings and are likely moral by nature. Regardless, humans’ widely varied, limiting and fear-provoking religious beliefs, however, have led to social division and warfare.
The love I experience for people is not limited based on choice or rejection of any deity. By choosing any religion, I would choose to reject — subconsciously, at the bare minimum —crucial aspects of the ones I love, just like I have experienced. But by being agnostic, I fully embrace my friends’ sexualities, moral dilemmas and lifestyle choices as integral parts of who they are with no bias or indirect judgment. In a world full of unnecessary polarization and exclusion, I am neutral, and the admiration I have for my loved ones is greater than my need to be accepted by society nor improbable gods.
Winston, 20, is from Hartselle, Ala., and attends the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where he is majoring in nursing. “I have few strong opinions because I believe much of life isn’t black and white and because I value the power of an open mind, but I believe equality for everyone — including animals — should be maximized as much as possible, which led me to become a vegan in April of 2015,” he writes.”