Sixth place (tie): Students of color essay contest — Tina Wen

Tina Wen

FFRF awarded Tina $1,000.

By Tina Wen

grew up in the small, unassuming suburbs of Pittsford, N.Y.,  with a population that was 95 percent Caucasian. My parents and I attended church on Sunday mornings in an attempt to fit in with our community.

As I got older, Sunday morning sermons evolved into month-long summer camps. I diligently listened to what my camp leaders said, bowing my head before each meal and thanking God for his blessings. The church’s teachings of compassion and acceptance made me feel as though I belonged to a community that allowed me to fit in with my peers and be seen as normal. 

In eighth grade, I had a best friend who came out as gay. What I saw in the next few weeks horrified me. The love and acceptance that I had seen for years disappeared, with adults and children alike shunning my friend. I felt confusion, shock and betrayal. How could the church turn on something that my friend could not control, something given to him by the God they claimed to believe in?

When I chose to stand up for my best friend, the people I placed my trust in also ostracized me. I lost friends and my youth group refused to speak to me, forcing me to choose between standing up for my friend’s sexuality and obeying the word of God.

The blatant disregard for compassion and humanity I saw changed my perspective on religion. I could no longer have blind obedience and unquestionable faith in a God that would allow such awful treatment of another human. I could no longer follow a bible that taught kindness to one’s neighbors on the same pages where it justified hate and bigotry.

Looking back on my time as a Christian, I realized I initially joined the church for its community. In my town, I felt alienated as a person of color and conformed to the beliefs of the people surrounding me.

I believe if there was a community for the nonreligious, I would have gladly joined such a group. If the secular community were to raise awareness for issues they believed in, providing help to the community, I would have found a community built around supporting causes I believed in. From summer camps to teach children about leadership, science, and technology, to helping the town alleviate poverty by providing aid for the homeless, the secular community can provide resources to better engage people of color.   

Since the moment I turned 13, I have chosen to live my life without religion. I chose to reject religion because I believe all people deserve the right to be respected, regardless of what the bible says. I believe firmly that one’s morality should be decided by their experiences in life and their own critical thinking, not the mandates of an ancient text that holds little relevance to our world today. Without religion, I am more compassionate toward those around me, instead of blindly rejecting their perspectives simply because they believe in different gods. 

Today, I make choices based on how they benefit the people around me, instead of hoping to please a higher power. I am the person I am today because of how my friends and family have educated me, not because God created me to be who I am. I am free to donate to causes dear to my heart, such as organizations that support women’s bodily autonomy and the LGBTQ+ community. Rejecting religion freed me to make my own choices and take responsibility for them, instead of attributing the results to a higher power.

Tina, 18, is a freshman at Rice University, double majoring in computer science and economics. In high school, Tina was an intern at Microsoft, working on the Minecraft team. After college, Tina hopes to work on projects emphasizing the use of artificial intelligence and data visualization in solving everyday problems.