Honorable mention — BIPOC essay contest: Nadiyah Williams
To my fifth-grade teacher
By Nadiyah Williams
To My Fifth Grade Teacher,
Some people will look at the universe and all its shapes and patterns and say that there is no doubt that it is the work of a god. Others, like myself, will look at the universe and the physics that govern it and say that there is evidence of a singularity event. Our coexistence only becomes problematic if one group attempts to enforce their beliefs on the other. When you reprimanded me for refusing to celebrate Easter, I was a child who didn’t completely understand my own reasoning. My father told me that there was no god, and there was no reason to celebrate holidays based on religion. I blindly believed him. Now that I have become more knowledgeable, I can confidently say that I believe there is no god.
When the Spanish philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda justified the near extinction of Native Americans with Christianity, the courts debated whether humans in the New World deserved rights. In today’s world, this would be considered absurd and would no doubt stir public outrage. Even though the world has certainly evolved past these primeval beliefs, there remains inconsistencies in how much theists trust secularism.
In the United States, a 2014 Pew Research poll found that nearly half of Americans believed it was necessary to believe in God to have morals and wouldn’t vote for a secular candidate. Denying secular individuals the ability to hold public office has been restricted in America, but seven states still have language in their constitutions that prohibits secular persons from holding office. Nearly 500 years after Sepúlveda, we still struggle to understand the morality of those who don’t believe in God.
When you discovered that I didn’t subscribe to religion, you jokingly vowed to scrutinize my actions because you feared and pitied those without a god. Moral reasoning and ethics are reflective of many processes, especially parental care. When positive behaviors are reinforced and negative behaviors are discouraged, children develop positive morals. While religion can be used to reinforce positive behavior, we have also seen throughout history that religion can be used to encourage negative behaviors. Divine law and punishment don’t necessarily mean fair and good, just as constitutional law doesn’t necessarily mean morally virtuous.
Your admonishment of my beliefs has helped me understand how to become a better citizen and make informed decisions. My rejection of religion has forced me to constantly examine the duality of right and wrong and question the world with science. I have you to thank for that.
Nadiyah, 19, is from Jonesboro, Ga., and attends the Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in meteorology. “I enjoy studying severe weather and astrophysics,” Nadiyah writes. “Six years ago, I became vegan, and along with animal rights, I also advocate for secularism on campus.”