4th place: College essay contest — Liliana Austin
FFRF awarded Liliana $2,000.
By Liliana Austin
I have a very clear memory of the first time I questioned God’s existence. I must have been about 5 or 6, hiding behind my mother in the narrow corridor that separated the church’s sanctuary from its office. This was the church that I had spent nearly every Sunday of my life praying in, the church that my mother had grown up in, gotten married in. My mother was speaking with the priest and the office manager.
It was not a Sunday, and we had not come to the church to worship. We had come to ask for help. My father had left us before that winter started, and as it came to an end, the pit of debt he had left behind threatened to swallow us whole. My mother was juggling two jobs and still we were barely staying afloat. We were living off of no-name soup and toast, with the accounts in the red more frequently than black. When we got to the point where we could no longer afford to buy diapers for my baby sister, my mom knew that we could not continue on our own.
So, she had gone to the church. The church, which she had known her whole life. The church, which she had always donated to whenever the plate came around during Mass. The church that refused to help a single mother begging for help. “God will provide,” the priest had said to her, before turning us away.
That experience has lingered in my mind throughout every interaction I’ve had with religion since, like a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. How could anyone, I’ve wondered, have so much faith in something improvable that they would let real people suffer before their eyes? It wasn’t until I learned in college about the bystander effect that I started approaching an answer to that question: It isn’t about faith, but responsibility.
The bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon where, in the face of an emergency, a bystander is less likely to offer assistance to a person in distress if there is another person present that responsibility for the situation can fall on. Faith, in my opinion, is like the bystander effect on steroids. Since God is always there, he can always take responsibility for the situation so that those who believe in him don’t have to.
For those who believe in him, God plays the role of both savior and punisher. He’s someone to blame when things go awry, and someone to push our problems onto when we don’t want to solve them. God becomes the ultimate fall guy, and in doing so, stifles personal growth.
His believers no longer need to take responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof, when they can double back and pin it on the Big Guy Upstairs.
Belief in God gives you an out to owning up to your mistakes, and a way to back out of the responsibilities we have to each other as members of humankind. When you remove God from the equation, everything becomes a lot more personal. Your mistakes become your own, your responsibilities unquestionable. At first, the reality of that can be uncomfortable, but that discomfort is proof of the personal growth that is occurring.
If humankind were to put its faith in itself, rather than some supernatural deity, the world would be a much better place. We would be able to learn from our mistakes because we would be able to claim them as ours. We would .be forced to take responsibility for the world around us. Every action would be our own; our lives would finally be our own.
Instead of putting our faith in some supernatural deity, we would be putting our faith in ourselves and each other, and in doing so, revive the real human connection that religion stifles.
Liliana, 20, attends the University of Ottawa and is majoring in translational and molecular medicine. She aspires to become an OB-GYN and work in remote communities in the North, with the goal of improving women’s access to healthcare.