3rd place: College essay contest — Ethan Haight
FFRF awarded Ethan $2,500.
By Ethan Haight
When I was younger, my father was very insistent about the power of prayer and divine intervention. He once brought me along on a trip, ostensibly to help the homeless, during which we provided no resources except flyers for church and prayers for help from God. I especially remember being told that the leader of the mission could prophesy, and I remember how he talked at length about seeing divine help on the horizon. “God will provide for you.” He said that a lot. I suppose it was meant to exempt us from providing for them.
To my surprise, I was asked to prophesy. I was curious and excited to give it a try. I closed my eyes and listened for the voice of God to appear. I reached out for divine inspiration. But nothing happened.
I started to worry. Why didn’t he speak to me? Was I not good enough? I thought God was supposed to love me no matter what. He was supposed to provide me with insight, just like he was supposed to provide these people with shelter and good health. But there was nothing.
Eventually, I resorted to making something up, disguising my shame under a veneer of false revelation. The adults smiled and nodded and praised the Lord. And for the first time, I found myself questioning them. They responded to me in just the same way they had responded to the prophecies of the other adults. Could they not tell the difference? Were they pretending, just like I was?
These questions led me, eventually, to what should have been the obvious question from the beginning: Why weren’t we helping these people?
When I asked that question of my father later on, he told me that those in need wouldn’t appreciate having their needs met if we did it for them, and that they would have to earn God’s gifts by accepting him in prayer. I think that answer is what finally drove me away from his mentality. These were people who needed help. Why should they have to earn it?
My life up until that point was often defined by shame and fear. I was told from a very young age that my soul was tainted by sin. I was afraid of myself and my own free will. I was afraid of being cast into the lake of fire when I died. I remember crying when I started struggling in school. God was supposed to bring me success in all things. Was I not being pure enough? Was I being punished?
It would be almost a decade before my learning disability was diagnosed, and I was able to take my success into my own hands. When I was trusting in God, I was living a life of self-doubt and self-hatred. Any time things went wrong, rather than learning from my mistakes and coming back stronger, I receded further into negativity, believing that I had failed God and lost his favor. I rarely, if ever, made any sort of personal progress when I was living in that mentality. I was stagnant and afraid.
But it can also have the opposite effect, as it did with my father. He expected God to solve his problems, and it made him overconfident. I never tried because of my fear; he never tried because he thought he didn’t need to. Both are reductive and dangerous ways of thinking.
We need to be able to recognize our own power to create positive change, and that we should use that power. We can’t just wait for God to fix our problems, and we can’t hold ourselves back in fear from doing the work ourselves. We can do incredible things. I believe that about myself now. I want to see all of humanity believe that about each other. Only then will we move forward together into new and better things.
Ethan, 21, attends Western Carolina University and is working toward a degree in English and philosophy. “I am studying English in the hopes of becoming an author and reaching out to others through my writing,” he writes. “I am an Eagle Scout, and currently a member of student government, as well as involved in student organizations focused on climate action, disability access, and LGBTQ+ issues.”