Third place — College essay contest: Alexis Gabbart

Finding purpose without religion

Alexis Gabbart

FFRF awarded Alexis $2,500.

By Alexis Gabbart

For as long as humans have walked the Earth, fear of the unknown has dominated our reality. In the earliest of times, this fear was purely based on survival. Staying alive was the top priority and eating the wrong berry or provoking the wrong animal were fatal mistakes. Searching for answers has always been important to us as a species. It is not surprising, then, that humanity’s strong fear of the unknown has caused so many conflicting opinions about what happens after death. However, I am of the opinion that it does not matter what happens after we die, but rather how we spend our short time on Earth.

Sometimes I wonder where we would be as a civilization if religion did not exist. Think of all the knowledge we lost when the Library of Alexandria was burned, all the brilliant women who could have made scholarly contributions had they been allowed to sooner, all the wars fought, and lives lost in the name of one god or another. It is impossible to know everything religion has robbed us of, but one thing is certain: our lives would be infinitely better if our ancestors had not looked for divine meaning in this secular world.

As someone born and raised in the Bible Belt, I have seen my family dismiss the rights of LGBTQ to marry, I have friends who believe that their husbands are superior to them, I’ve watched strangers pick fights with attendees of a pride festival, and more — all in the name of God.

Evangelicals preach about love yet show hatred toward anyone who is different from themselves. They talk about helping the needy yet turn a blind eye to refugees. They claim that all lives matter yet cage immigrant children and attack religious and racial minorities.

These same evangelicals claim that my life has no meaning or purpose without their religion, but I disagree. I don’t look to an invisible puppet master in the sky to find meaning. I find meaning through other mediums: literature, music, relationships and my future career. It is also a common misconception that freethinkers do not have morals because they do not believe there will be eternal consequences. If one needs the fear of eternal damnation to enforce their morality, then they are not a good person.

By using my own moral compass, as opposed to the church’s, I am able to make the best of my life. I believe that we each get to choose what our purpose is, and I have chosen to spend my time on Earth helping people live the best possible life. Not only will I do this in my future career as an occupational therapist, but I try to do it every day simply by being kind and accepting to everyone I come across. I do not care for others because I fear eternal punishment, but because we are all alike in our humanity. No one is more or less deserving of love and respect based on religion, race, nationality or sexual orientation.

I truly believe that religion was born from imperfect humans who were searching for answers to questions that confused them. It is known that our ancestors blamed magic for phenomena that they did not understand. It is also known that the earliest chapters of the New Testament were not written until approximately 100 years after the death of Jesus.

Nowadays, the bible should not be considered a credible source. These are just a couple reasons why I agree with John Lennon that there is “no hell below us, above us only sky.” The claims of men who lived thousands of years ago are not good enough. Perhaps one day the world will be how Lennon wished it, but, until then, I will work to make it a better place, one interaction at a time.

Alexis, 22, is from Caddo, Okla., and recently graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is beginning work on a master’s degree in occupational therapy at Howard University. “I am the only freethinker in my entire family, and none of them know, so this essay allowed me to express some of my daily thoughts that I usually have to suppress,” Alexis writes.