Ninth place — High school essay contest: Ashley Levstik

Ashley Levstik

Empiricism as gospel: A hymn against suffering

FFRF awarded Ashley $400.

By Ashley Levstik 

I remember the sticky thin paper, like pages from a bible, clinging to my face as I rested on my doctor’s examination table. I was 8 years old and had pneumonia. My dad, a devout Catholic, did not take me to a priest when my fever passed 104 degrees. He drove me to my pediatrician, who gave me antibiotics, which I could have died without. As strong as Dad’s faith in God was, his faith in expertly studied, repeatable, scientific solutions to ease my suffering was stronger. 

Religion gives people a sense of community; a valuable asset in a chaotic and isolated world. But it cannot adequately address issues of physical human suffering, making religion an unacceptable schema to operate within when making decisions to alleviate suffering. 

In fact, religion often suppresses our ability to help others in the name of blind faith in God and his edicts. Take, for example, embryonic stem-cell research, which uses stem cells from an embryo before they have set upon a course of development, a trait only present in embryonic cells. While the Abrahamic religions were being developed, knowledge about gynecology and fetal development was severely limited. Today, some religious groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, ignore modern knowledge in favor of tradition. They oppose embryonic stem-cell research because they believe its equivalent to infanticide. 

To apply uneducated ideas about a field of research which helps people with spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns and cancer is just one example of how religious groups, who lack education and credibility in medicine, protest progress that would ease human suffering. 

A weak, unstable society resulting from miseducation also promotes human suffering. When we ignore current scientific information in favor of unproven religious ideas, we promote ignorance and a society vulnerable to fear-mongering. The Covid-19 pandemic exemplifies the failures of religious teachings applied to public health. Because of the misinformation coming from religious groups, stating that the pandemic was punishment for sin, it became very easy for people to blame Asian-Americans who supposedly brought the plague. Misinformation spread by the church was a contributing factor in the 150-percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, which caused many to suffer. 

While I believe religion can be a comfort to some, it is more important that we minimize human suffering by taking the guidance of credible scientists rather than uneducated religious groups or individual leaders who enable and promote suffering. To help others and ease their pain is an essential part of our humanity; denying our humanity for the sake of religion is self-defeating. 

Ashley, 17, is from Colorado Springs, Colo., and attends the University of Texas-San Antonio. “My interests include volunteer work for the group Too Little Children,” Ashley writes. “We sew and distribute menstrual pads to women and girls in developing countries so they can go to school. During high school, I made the dean’s list and president’s list for my academic performance. Outside of school, I work part time to support my family and my education.”