Eighth place: College essay contest — Keara Hayes
An aversion to questions
FFRF awarded Keara $500.
By Keara Hayes
I remember the first time I was told I was going to hell. I was in fifth grade, sitting with my friends, when out of nowhere, a friend piped up about how she believed everyone should worship God. Even as a kid, the idea of dedicating so much energy to someone you can’t see, hear or touch struck me as strange. So, being a kid, tactless as they are, I said that out loud.
And my friend told me I was going to go to hell. A single, ineloquent, off-handed remark was all it took to provoke her and the wrath of God, and that astounded me. What shocked me even more was finding out as I grew up that adults behave that way, too, throwing around threats of eternal damnation like rice at a wedding, and at the heart of these threats is morality. Religion divides because of the way it defines morality.
I’ve seen philosophical discussions of religion that go roughly like this: “God gives us morals and I believe in God, therefore I am moral.” If a person thinks like this, where they connect the degree of morality to the degree of faith, problems immediately arise. By questioning a person’s faith, you are, in effect, questioning whether they are a good person.
Secularism doesn’t have this effect. Because secularism requires humanity to define morals, it doesn’t divide people the way religion does. We can discuss and compromise with real people, which we can’t do with some absent deity. It’s a person’s actions that make them good, not something arbitrary like faith. Secularism allows for understanding and discussion in ways that religion can’t.
Abortion is a good example of this idea. If a person wants to discuss abortion with someone who is pro-life because of their faith, the conversation is over before it begins. The blast doors are sealed, because entertaining another viewpoint, or, “God forbid,” changing their minds, means they aren’t completely faithful, which puts their immortal soul on the line.
Rigidity and stubbornness are built in, because anything else means incomplete belief in God, which, by that syllogism, makes them a bad person. Religion reduces complex issues to a binary “yes” or “no” choice, and if you pick the wrong one, you go to hell. It’s no wonder Americans are so divided on things like abortion, birth control and LGBTQ+ rights. If a theist questions, they burn.
It’s that aversion to questions that causes me to reject religion, because without asking questions, we stop learning. We stagnate. I’m a scientist, so I know what it’s like to believe something, to test it, to find that belief was false, and have to let go of that belief. Asking and answering questions is my job, and in my relatively short life, I’ve found that there is little that is as satisfying as learning something new, even if that means admitting I was wrong. I’m a humanist and a secularist because those schools of thought lend themselves to learning. Prejudice, stagnation, and close-mindedness are all possible for nonreligious people, but it’s much more difficult to be that way when you don’t have a mystical, unquestionable text backing up your feelings, or a god breathing down your neck with threats of damnation.
I don’t belong to any faith or believe in any god. I believe in humanity. I believe in the good and the beauty of people. Secularism unites because it forces us to see that beauty, to see the good in different ideas, because we aren’t bound by books or scrolls that supposedly tell us how to be good people.
What is right becomes humanity’s responsibility. Secularism unites because it makes us responsible to each other.
Keara Hayes, 19, attends Michigan State University and is majoring in astrophysics. “I love all things science fiction, with soft spots for “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who,” Keara writes. “I hope to pursue cosmology research and science communication, and science literacy is a passion of mine.”