10th place: College essay contest — Karsten Barr-Rollins
FFRF awarded Karsten $300.
By Karsten Barr-Rollins
I am fortunate to have grown up with many of my grandparents still alive. They all have different religious views and I was exposed to each of them. Always the question hit me: How can they all be so certain? I spent my high school years trying to find out if there was a possibility that they might all have a basis in truth. After all, so many people couldn’t be so wrong, right?
In college, I started to explore religious ideas, and why people believe what they believe.
I would hear the same arguments from believers. The watchmaker analogy, the Kalam cosmological argument, “creation implies a creator,” yet many of their arguments were flawed and relied upon at least one logical fallacy, and ultimately, faith.
Faith has had many different usages in history. However, today it seems to be used as a shield to questions. “You’ve just got to have faith” or “I believe it on faith” seems to be the foundation of a lot of individual perspectives. But, faith is not a good way to discover what is most probably true. If it were, then people who had faith in things would agree on what they have faith in and that is not the case. Rather, even within a religion, there exists division and conflict. Instead, we should focus on rational conversation and logical processes based on evidence to achieve a better understanding of the world around us.
Faith has been one of the greatest dividers for humanity. It has been the cause of some of the bloodiest wars. When religion dominates, diplomacy fails, and toleration becomes treason and blasphemy. Perhaps a religion is true, but we will never discover that without the freedom of discourse provided by living in a secular society, a society that I can promote.
I have always held to the idea that we should search for the truth and accept it, even if it’s uncomfortable. I am passionate about science and the pursuit of knowledge, and that has led to my current, tentative beliefs.
I left college to enlist in the Air Force. Before I left, I was asking an NCO I knew from college about some tips for basic military training (BMT). Her recommendation: “Sundays are important. Go to a church. If you’re not religious before BMT, you will be when you’re done.”
However, thanks to the college culture of mixing worldviews, I had already rejected Christianity, but I was curious what other beliefs could be out there. On our first Sunday off of BMT, I was able to go to the “Atheists and Secular Humanists” meeting. At the first meeting, we learned about humanism and it was a “eureka” moment for me. Everything just clicked. It described me and my outlook. It wasn’t a framework I needed to mold myself to, it was more like putting on a jacket that had been tailored to me.
I am an active duty airman in the United States Air Force. I am a secular humanist. I am a father, a husband and a student. I serve my community, my country, my family and myself. I am able to do so without the permission of, or declaration from, a supernatural force. I do my best in the positions I am in to be the best I can be and to help others realize their full potential. I don’t do it for a reward in some far-away paradise. I do it because I believe it is the right thing to do. This is the only life we get, and I believe that we should do our best to improve the lives of others.
Karsten, 23, is from Wichita, Kan., and attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, majoring in aeronautics.