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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

8th place: College essay contest — Rio Velasco 

Rio Velasco

FFRF awarded Rio $500.

By Rio Velasco 

I believe in myself and people I trust, not a mythical being. I know from experience that I can depend on myself, my judgment and my own powers of reason. Belief in a mythical being strips one of not just the ability, but even the right, to their own thoughts, desires and passions. When a person puts all their faith into another, whether a person or a god, they are no longer capable of making fully rational decisions. I do not need the crutch of faith in an all-powerful, omnipotent deity in order to live an ethical life. Without the ability to think rationally, the individual and all of society suffer, as history has shown many times, and as epitomized by current events.

My parents, both scientists, were raised Roman Catholic but left the church, freeing themselves from the strictures of theology. I was raised nonreligious, but not without knowledge of different faith systems. My parents made sure I was educated about religions to protect me. With this knowledge, I am prepared to see through the facade, with an understanding of why religious people think the way they do.

My sister and I grew up in rural Kentucky. It was great living on a farm, raising livestock, learning to hunt and fish, and building robots. My parents wanted us to have as many experiences as possible and the freedom to travel and to not be indoctrinated by public school teachers, so we were homeschooled.

The first question that people in our town would ask is, “What church do you go to?” This is a very uncomfortable question because to say “None” leads to “Why?” It is difficult to co-exist in a small, rural, religious community as an atheist. Being an “out” atheist/freethinker closes many minds and doors. Some friends told my sister and me that we were awfully nice people and wondered, “How can you be atheists?” It seemed incongruous to them that we could be ethical people without believing in God. This, for me, sums up the overarching problem — to religious people, one can’t be an ethical, moral person without religion.

Religiosity has affected the American political system throughout its history. I agree with Robert Ingersoll and Barry Goldwater, along with many others, who were afraid of the influence of religion in politics. People who believe that they have God on their side will not compromise, and governing requires negotiation and compromise.

When those in positions of political power refuse to reach across the aisle to craft solutions, then society as a whole suffers.

Our current political system cannot control the negative influence of religion on society, specifically pressure being brought to bear by the Christian right, which is advocating Christian nationalism. This push by a subset of religious politicians to make all aspects of American life be governed by the Judeo-Christian narrative is a prime example of how blind faith overrules reason, with disastrous consequences, both environmentally and socially. 

Besides historically marginalized groups such as Blacks and other people of color suffering more injustices, women, Native Americans, LGBTQ+ and anyone not within the cult of Christianity will lose rights they have fought long and hard for.

Imagine what humanity could accomplish if even a portion of the energy spent on religious activities went toward solving problems such as climate change, poverty, war and discrimination, to name a few. Without religious ideology in the way, humans would have the mental and emotional freedom to more clearly assess the existential issues facing humanity. Without the fog of faith, fewer wars would start, since many are faith-based disagreements. Religious tax exemptions would not exist and more money would go toward infrastructure, health care, education and other social needs. Charitable giving would be diverted from religions and go to other humanitarian organizations. In short, the world would be a better place for all.

Rio, 22, attends the University of Louisville, where she is majoring in liberal studies, although she is currently studying abroad in Pau, France.  She is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the campus French club and the Freedom in Chance club. Her background includes over 10 years of training as a ballet dancer, while being homeschooled, raising and showing dairy goats, and building robots for academic competitions.