9th place: Grad student essay contest — Hanna Talsky

Hanna Talsky

FFRF awarded Hannah $400.

By Hanna Talsky 

Humankind has undoubtedly been participating in religion since before recorded history. From ancient Hinduism to modern-age Scientology, religion has been endlessly touted as a means of personal comfort and guidance to millions of people. What is too often overlooked, however, is what can only be described as a form of guilt-driven mind control that permeates today’s American culture in the form of extreme evangelical beliefs. In a country that was founded on religious freedom and escape from tyranny, it is all too apparent to those considered outsiders by the religious community that power-hungry religious zealots have burrowed their way into the deepest parts of our society. From national prayer breakfasts to “In God We Trust” plastered onto our currency to legislation being lobbied and enacted against reproductive health, there seems to be no limit to the dangerous ideals’ reach. 

Separation of church and state seems to be one of the most commonly ignored, albeit the number one, clauses in the Bill of Rights, which evangelical extremists typically claim and reference when disputing many social change attempts. The blatant disregard for this clause has been evident every year since the early 1950s. How can America claim to be a land of religious freedom with separation of religion and political decisions when, every year, thousands of high-ranking political officials gather to “pray” for our country? How can we trust these individuals to enact legislation that will benefit those who do not share those beliefs, when they hide this religious performance underneath the red, white and blue of patriotism? In truth, there is no regard for religious freedom, because the cash cow that has become the modern-day church has sunk its financial tentacles into the elected officials who swore to protect the very documents they disrespect with this disgusting display of Christianity. 

A direct result of the beginning of the National Prayer Breakfast was the enactment of the phrase “In God We Trust” becoming the nation’s official motto merely three years after the first breakfast was held. The level of lobbying and extreme belief it takes to make such a blanket statement for a country filled with millions of people who do not share that belief is frightening. Currency is an obviously essential aspect to American life, and flagrantly displaying the Christian victory on every last coin and bill is a slap in the face to those who refute those beliefs. This is textbook indoctrination, making it so there is no escape from Christianity. It is a banner that says, “There is no existing without Christianity, and we will prove it by plastering it all over the one thing every single citizen needs — money.” 

While the previous two examples are stomach-churning enough, they are hardly as outwardly hateful and violent as the religious fight against reproductive health. It is no surprise that a religion which has a strong foundation in anti-woman, pro-control rhetoric would twist and bastardize the text of the bible they claim to adhere to in order to control the bodies of its citizens. Despite continual disagreement from the scientific community, Christian extremists cling to the fallible claim that a fetus is a human baby that deserves to exist in and feed off of a mother host, no matter the danger or traumatic experience the already living mother must endure to bring that fetus to fruition. They scream behind their posters that they are pro-life, when in reality they are pro-birth, as they hardly advocate for continued care for the mother and the fetus once it’s born. They would rather see starving, traumatized, unloved living children than they would a woman making an informed choice about what to do with her own body that she inhabits in the developed nation with one of the highest maternal death rates on the planet. 

America needs to take a step back and recognize the damage that extreme religious beliefs have caused this country. We are imitating the infamous Dark Ages by retarding immense progress in the fields of science, education, legislation, health care and infrastructure all because of what is supposed to be individual beliefs meant to guide and enrich people’s lives. The immense financial power of the church needs to be reconsidered and ultimately disbanded in order to address the real issues of this country: incarceration, houselessness, mental health disease, gun violence, and civil rights. Only then will we see the true land of the free, and home of the brave. 

Hannah, 29, attends the Florida School of Massage. “I am a working mother of two, raising accepting and religion-free children. After suffering religious trauma in the ultra-Christian bible belt of Florida, I have made it my goal to ensure that my family will not suffer as I did.”