Fifth place: College essay contest — Madeline Kumagai
From faithful to freethinking
FFRF awarded Madeline $1,500.
By Madeline Kumagai
When I became Christian in middle school, I learned the ways that religion elevates believers at the expense of nonbelievers.
In bible study, I learned of the phrase “unequally yoked.” It refers to the idea that Christians should not be in relationships with non-Christians. After all, would we want to be with someone who wouldn’t be going to Heaven? “Unequally yoked” implies that one person is superior to the other. There is a superior “us” and an inferior “them” in interfaith relationships. I would later learn that this “us vs. them” mentality is prevalent in Christianity and other faiths.
One of my junior high friends told someone that if they did not believe in Jesus, they would be going to Hell. Even though I identified as Christian, I was appalled at her message. I never felt comfortable with evangelism. Was it really “spreading the good word” if the alternative was banishment to Hell? The idea that believers are saved while nonbelievers are damned broke my heart. It felt wrong to me that kind, non-Christian people were deserving of eternal punishment. Letting go of the idea of an afterlife brought me peace. I do not have to worry if people I care about will be saved or punished. We can all be equals, united in death, if there is no Heaven or Hell.
My middle school struggles with evangelism sowed the seeds of doubt in my faith. As I aged, I questioned more of the inequalities perpetuated by religion.
In high school and college, I learned more about struggles faced by the LGBTQ community. A lot of the pushback against this community and legalized gay marriage comes from people of faith. While some denominations claim to be tolerant of people who identify as LGBTQ, it is written in the bible itself that homosexuality is a sin. My cognitive dissonance returned regarding the LGBTQ community. I wondered how a loving, consensual, queer relationship could be sinful. The idea that heterosexual relationships are “superior” to others is what turned me away (and keeps me away) from Christianity. I refuse to be a part of any religion whose doctrine debases queer love.
Renouncing my faith in college has dissolved the “us vs. them” mindset, ingrained in me by Christianity. I no longer see people as saved vs. un-saved, but just people. This “us vs. them” mentality is not exclusive to Christianity. Someone I met in college said that she is not allowed to be with someone outside her faith and culture because outsiders are not “pure.” Even in other religions, people are taught that nonbelievers are “less than” believers. At times, it has been difficult in my young adult life to feel a sense of community with others. However, I have resolved to seek community outside of a religion. Embracing secularism has allowed me to see every person as an equal, every person deserving to live on Earth as they are.
Madeline, 23, attends Clovis Community College and plans to become a nurse. “I love going for walks (especially with my poodle), playing video games, and cooking,” Madeline writes. “I also have a polished rock collection and know how to make balloon animals.”