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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

7th place: College essay contest — Lydia Woolwine

Lydia Woolwine

FFRF awarded Lydia $750.

By Lydia Woolwine 

People often use religion to find guidance and meaning in their life. Some people truly need to believe in an omnipresent and omnipotent deity to guide them through tough times, give them purpose and teach them morality.

Sadly, with religion comes power, and with power comes corruption. Belief in a strong hierarchical religion leaves the common person vulnerable to those in power. Any omnipresent being would be completely aware of this injustice and would still choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering caused by belief in their existence.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to see the negative impacts religion has had on humankind. From Galileo to LGBTQ+ rights, religions have held humanity back from cultural and scientific advancement.

All religions promote the idea that ancient stories and myths should be believed as true, with absolutely no justification. 

A past example of religion interfering with scientific progress is the infamous Galileo affair. Galileo was told to stop teaching, defending or sharing his research, which defended the theory of heliocentrism. In 1633, Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy for publishing a book that advocated for heliocentrism. This time period could have been an era of great improvement in our knowledge of astronomy and physics, but, instead, the church halted and delayed that progress because it believed scientific advancement to be punishable as heresy.

In the modern day, an example of religion interfering with the advancement of science is found in stem cell research. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes embryonic stem cell research. Appeals to religion are central to many arguments against stem cell research. Stem cell research is important, with great potential to advance humankind that is currently being slowed due to the opinions of many religious powers.

Religion promotes the destruction of societal evolution through ancient standards and divisive tactics. Historically, traditional religious values have conflicted with the human rights of some people. For instance, the rights of people who identify as LGBTQ+ are still a controversial topic in several countries. In the 10 countries that still hold same-sex relationships punishable by death, the official interpretations of Sharia, or Islamic canonical law, are used as justification for this violation of human rights and personhood.

I am a nonbeliever. I am the keeper of my actions. I believe not in destiny or in fate but in myself. Because of this belief, I have been able to accomplish more than an average person my age. This belief helped me to understand that I have to work for the things that I want. I cannot rely on a higher power to help guide me through tough situations. It is entirely up to me to make myself into the person I want to be. For example, by doubling my workload in my freshman year and working hard through every summer, I graduated high school with an associate’s degree at 17. During my senior year, I started my own small business while working full-time. Now, I am happy to finally pursue higher education at the University of Houston. I attribute my achievements to my faith in myself and not in destiny or any supernatural deity. Though, I must always acknowledge the privilege I had to end up where I am today. I am immensely grateful for the supportive people I have who raised me and facilitated my growth as an individual.

If we, as humans, put the time, energy and resources we currently pour into religion into ourselves and our knowledge, we would improve our society and create a more welcoming environment for our future generations.

Lydia Woolwine, 19, attends the University of Houston, majoring in physics, with plans to get a master’s degree in medical physics.

“In my free time, I enjoy painting and making art,” Lydia writes. “Designing jewelry is another passion of mine, and I have even started my own small business dedicated to selling my designs. I volunteer as much as I can at a small wildlife rehabilitation center near my home.”