Ninth place — College essay contest: Hazel Peterson

Procrastination for salvation

Hazel Peterson

FFRF awarded Hazel $400.

By Hazel Peterson

I have the most severe procrastination habit of anyone I know, and it makes even the smallest task an unending nightmare. As a person who has clocked countless hours banking on the odds of a good outcome despite waiting until the last possible moment to accomplish something, I can tell you that heaven is no more than the ultimate reward for procrastination.

For ages, people have muddled through life unsatisfied and unfulfilled. They take jobs they hate and keep them. They do just enough to get by, and trust that their current plight will somehow give way to a paradise that erases every worry, every need, every regret. If they simply keep their heads down, they will be rewarded with a snap of God’s fingers. Karl Marx believed that religion was used as a tool by the bourgeoisie to keep laborers humble (and, more importantly, subordinate). The workers put off self-actualization and potential by relying instead on the promise of heaven. After all, if a person can slip through the pearly gates with just a nod to God and an empty can of elbow grease, why should they search for anything else?

Religion not only impedes the ability to take personal action, but also the capacity to take action for others. How often do people send “thoughts and prayers” to victims of tragedy, yet never act concretely to prevent it from happening again? How often does religion value God’s arbitrary (and sometimes bigoted) notions of morality instead of the people that these notions are directly harming? It is cowardly and misguided to think that anything matters more than others’ suffering right here, right now, and what we can do to ease it. If heaven is not guaranteed for me, then it is also not guaranteed to the victim, much less the survivor of a school shooting, who therefore can’t count on the sweet release of heaven for peace. Survivors need all of the support that this life can give, and only those who realize this can help them.

Apparently, though, it doesn’t really matter at all what a person does, since as long as they accept Jesus, they are welcomed into heaven. Therefore, it seems you could live an objectively horrendous life and still be rewarded as long as you have a change of heart on your deathbed. Or, you could live an objectively altruistic life and yet be eternally punished in hell for having a little healthy doubt about an afterlife! Beyond the concerning implications of this hypocrisy, I find that these points render religious criteria for a “good” life basically moot.

To me, the whole concept of heaven and hell is a lot like a looming essay assignment. There is a small chance that I could avoid writing it until a few hours before the due date, and still perform well. But I’d spend many painful weeks beforehand paralyzed by the unknown. What if I attempted to write and just got frustrated instead? Or worse, what if I tried my best and failed? It’s an exhausting way to live. I’d be much better off confronting doubt and putting my best effort into writing at least a little bit each day. Even if my fears came true, and I still didn’t achieve the outcome I wanted, I’d feel secure and proud, knowing that I’d taken every opportunity possible to succeed.

I don’t want to procrastinate my life away in fear and hope for the slim chance that I can scramble into heaven at the last minute. I’d much rather make my own rules and devote myself to reaching my potential while helping others do the same. If I fall asleep for the final time knowing that it doesn’t matter what happens next because I’ve seized every moment and embraced it, then hell will have no power over me. I will have already occupied a heaven of my own creation.

Hazel, 19, is from Ladysmith, Wis., where she was co-valedictorian of her high school, and attends the University of Wisconsin-Stout, planning to major in art. She aims to use her art and writing skills to tell stories that encourage open-mindedness, acceptance and compassion. She has volunteered at nursing homes and community events and enjoys working with children.