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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

1st place: College essay contest — Caleb Buell

Caleb Buell

FFRF awarded Caleb $3,500.

By Caleb Buell

The pious reserve of my grandmother always astounded me. She was unfaltering in her faith, wholly devoted to the teachings of the Pentecostal church, which translated into every aspect of her life. From the ankle-length jean skirts to the bible she kept stowed in her purse, it was as if an aura of holiness surrounded her at all times, one that would assuredly protect her from any torment that the devil may inflict upon her. Thus, when the Covid-19 vaccines became readily available to the public, she refused the injections, trusting that God would shield her from this “demonic virus.” 

However, those claims could not be heard behind the glass veil of the hospital room she soon found herself in. Neither could the coughing spurts or the soft moans, which came in inconsistent intervals, but nevertheless displayed her consistently decaying state. Instead, I could only watch in horror as my grandmother’s silent bout with the coronavirus unfolded over the next four days. There I stood, separated from my grandmother by the clear partition as she muttered prayers under her breath — but they soon fell just as flat as the EKG in that barren hospital room. 

This is one of many reasons why I have placed my confidence in myself rather than some supernatural being. It doesn’t matter how devoted, obedient or trusting you are to that deity — what doesn’t exist cannot honor your faith, and my grandmother discovered this the hard way. Had she forgone her religious pride and opted to take the vaccine, perhaps she would still be with us today. Rather, my tear-stained eyes were forced to watch with blurry vision as we lowered her casket into the ground. How ironic that the mahogany was brandished with a cross. 

Now, all I can do is implore others not to make the same mistake as my grandmother. While the grief of her loss may be confined to me and my family, the world is bound to experience agony on a much greater scale if people continue to put blind faith in divine entities. 

We are already seeing the inklings of intense societal pain due to such actions — loss of homes due to rising sea levels, crop and food shortages, endless mass shootings — all of these are happening due to a lack of trust in science, logic and basic human empathy. Even worse, when they do occur, they are met with public cries to count on God and pray for the victims. 

This creates a vicious cycle of harm all across the planet, because — NEWSFLASH — these are not effective solutions, just hollow words draped in a cloak of deceitful care and sorrow. If we truly wish to prevent such tragedies, then we have to stop them at the source, and there’s only one way to do that — by redirecting our trust in supernatural beings toward ourselves. 

Until then, those who follow in my grandmother’s footsteps will find themselves trapped behind a similar glass veil. They will continue to experience pain and anguish due to their misguided faith, while those of us with personal trust watch from the other side, unable to help. However, unlike my grandmother, it is not too late to free themselves from their pious prison. All they have to do is realize that their prayers have reached empty ears, because when they do, they will finally find the strength to shatter the glass once and for all. There they will stand, free from the burdens their faith has shackled to them, as we welcome them to the side that makes effective change through reason and self-confidence, and join them as they confidently say, “In God I Trust — NOT!” 

Caleb, 19, attends the University of Alabama and is majoring in chemistry. He is a member of Alabama’s Randall Research Scholars Program and Blount Scholars Program. Caleb also serves as an assistant team leader at the West Alabama Food Bank and volunteers at the local hospital. He plans to attend medical school in hopes of becoming a dermatologist or a neurologist.