Honorable mention — Persons of color essay contest: Anoushka Shandilya

God is stopping us from reaching our true potential


Anoushka Shandilya

I was born in a very religious family. My mother is a devout Hindu and prays every day, fasts every Monday and Saturday, and does everything that a good Hindu is supposed to do. My grandmother used to spend six to eight hours a day performing a plethora of rituals and reading religious texts in the little temple at the far edge of our house. I was always expected to help out as a kid, but it never really made sense to me as to why I was asking a piece of rock for happiness and success.

One of the main reasons why I became an atheist was that my questions about religion were never answered or were answered in a very illogical and unsatisfactory way. I was an extremely curious child, asking questions like “Why is the sky blue? Why do I need two eyes to see one thing? Who made cars? Telephones? Schools?” My parents usually had answers, or they found them for me, so not getting an answer to something was deeply unsettling for me. I explored other religions hoping to find one that would speak to me and make sense but there was always some doctrine that would seem unbelievably weird to me. I wasn’t a nonbeliever just yet, I just thought I hadn’t found the right religion. However, after my grandmother, who was deeply religious and spent most of her life praying and doing unbelievably altruistic deeds, contracted cancer and died, I was extremely angry at God and lost all faith.

And that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Because that is when I got all the answers that I was looking for.

Life is hard and religion is but one of the many methods we use to comfort ourselves. I recognize this when I look back on times when I was deeply religious: when I didn’t study for the test, when my mom broke her leg, when my grandmother got diagnosed with cancer. There are many situations in life when we feel helpless and as a species with an enormously large ego, we hate feeling that way. So, we pray to feel better.

We think it’ll help and revel in it.

Living without religion has made me limitless and happier. My life is not controlled by a supernatural entity — it’s in my own hands. I can make my own destiny and take every opportunity. I am not subservient to any male because God expects me to be. I can ask any question I want and follow any line of investigation to find a conclusion and that in itself is a liberating feeling. I do volunteer work and help people not because I want to go to heaven or because I was asked to do it in a 4,000-year-old book. It’s solely because seeing a smile on someone’s face and knowing that you put it there is one of the best feelings in the world. I see people through humanist eyes and treat everyone with the same kindness and compassion than I would expect someone to treat me with.

Once the veil of religion is pulled back, you realize that no one is up there keeping a tally count of your sins waiting to punish you once you die. Life is finite and we are one tale among the millions of other magnificent ones. We are social beings; we thrive when together and religion only divides us, like race and socioeconomic status.

We are the ones who need to ultimately make the change. We need to let go of our comforting beliefs and step into discomfort, where amazing things happen.

Anoushka, 17, is from Artesia, Calif., and attends the University of California-San Diego, where she will seek a degree in engineering. She volunteers at animal shelters and retirement homes. After graduation, she would like to I work on making nuclear power plants affordable and cost-efficient and water treatment cheaper and easier. “Having lived in a third-world country for 15 years, I have first-hand experienced the electricity crisis — long sleepless nights drenched in sweat, having to always finish homework by 8 p.m. because that was when my city would cut the power,” she writes.