Eighth place — College essay contest: Cora Womble-Miesner

Finding tranquility in godlessness

Cora Womble-Miesner

FFRF awarded Cora $500.

By Cora Womble-Miesner

My parents chose not to inflict a strict faith onto my brother and me, but hints of God remained from their own religious upbringings. So, for the early years of my life, I held the idea of a greater power in my head, one that was all-knowing and ever-present. It took me a while to realize that God was a source of anxiety for me: At the slightest glimmer of a sinful thought, I would become certain that I had put myself in jeopardy. God would undoubtedly know that I had conjured up indecent thoughts, and therefore I would be punished — not for actual actions, but rather for amorphous things that took place solely within my mind. The harder one tries not to think of anything evil, the more salacious thoughts crowd together, bouncing off one another and multiplying. I was certain that I was destined for hell, due to my inability to control the wandering of my thoughts.

Something struck me one day and diverted my unhindered anxiety: I realized that belief in a higher power was a choice, and if I did not believe in God, then I would not have to live in fear of his punishment. I can’t recall what catalyst prompted this abrupt loss of God, but it was a moment of elation. I was 10 years old and I felt this thought operating like a switch inside me. In an instant my thoughts were calmed, and I was so pleased with the remarkable inner change that I returned to the idea again and again. If God didn’t exist, then my thoughts could be wholly my own, impenetrable from the outside, a place for me to explore freely without fear of being spied on by an all-knowing entity who could decide my fate during life and after death. With the loss of a god, I also lost the concept of an afterlife. Death has a calming finality to it, devoid of the possibilities of punishment or reward.

In that same year, my best friend confided in me in the hallway at school: “Hell isn’t real,” she expressed excitedly. “It was invented to make people go to church.” The confidence with which she delivered this information struck me. It was then that I started to realize that religions operate largely based in fear and shame. To believe in God is to fear God, and so you construct your actions in a way that you will avoid his wrath. Religion is often falsely equated with morality, but if one’s good deeds are not for the benefit of others but rather to ensure a pleasurable afterlife for oneself, the integrity of these morals can be called into question. Without belief in heaven or hell, kindly acts can be truly selfless instead of self-serving.

Freed from the fear of a fiery inferno awaiting me post-mortem, I found that my quality of life improved. The mind of a middle-schooler is already replete with enough worries, trepidations and anxieties without the added concern of eternal punishment. Once I realized my thoughts were not being supervised, I no longer found my brain crowded with hurtful ones. I found instead that my mind was a safe haven for me to be alone, to imagine in solitude, and then return to the world unscathed and soothed. I conduct myself in a way I consider moral, not because of God’s watching eye, but because I care about humankind. My parents raised me to be empathetic and kind and I do not need the threat of hell to monitor my behavior.

Cora, 23, is from San Diego and attends New York University, where she is majoring in English. She attended community college for four years before transferring to NYU. Cora enjoys literature and amateur boxing, and volunteers at her local library and teaches boxing lessons to children at a gym. She would like to teach creative writing to incarcerated people.