5th place: College essay contest — Ashley Huh
FFRF awarded Ashley $1,500.
By Ashley Huh
“I pray you die before you turn away from God!” “I pray your life falls apart and you face every struggle necessary to bring you into submission to God!”
Those are phrases that I thought I’d never hear coming from my father. They deeply wounded me, sending me into a panic attack with painful, temporary paralysis that I was treated for in an emergency room in 2021. Those abusive words marked the decision to finally turn away from believing in a god to believing in myself.
As early as the age of 4, I trusted in the Christian God, Jesus, to carry me through my life. He earned the money I made and the grades I studied for. He owned the brain I had and the emotions and intelligence I possessed. It was made clear to me that my body was not my own and my accomplishments were his. This affected my mental health negatively since the age of 16, coincidentally, the age I was baptized. I was depressed, lonely and ashamed of myself for having doubts. I needed a way out.
During deconstruction, many verses in the bible plagued me on my journey to believing in myself. An excerpt from John 15:5 specifically haunted me: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” To me, this was a challenge to prove to myself that I am the writer of my own story and that I am responsible for my accomplishments.
One year ago, I vowed to never pray for help again. I have found trust in myself after deconstructing, taking antidepressants and expressing myself through clothing and piercings. I have overcome anxiety, depression and shame by finally loving myself enough to trust my judgment and intuition. This past spring semester, I passed five STEM classes, four of which were upper-level mathematics. I cried from pure joy on May 16. I had succeeded in school on my own, without a single prayer being uttered from my lips. In the past, this would not have been possible without nights of prayer in tears on my bedroom floor and “speaking in tongues” at my Pentecostal church.
In the same way as I was held back by my belief in God, society is also held back.
Roe v. Wade has been overturned. This raises the question: What human rights are next on the agenda for religious politicians? Banning birth control, taking away the ability for a woman to have an education, career, and vote, stripping LGBT+ rights, and banning gay marriage all come to mind. We are moving backward as a society.
To quote Blaise Pascal, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” The world would have fewer wars and strife, abuse, and turmoil if humankind believed in itself. Instead, by believing in a god, everyone is turned against each other. Men against women, heterosexuals against homosexuals, children against adults, religion against religion.
I believe the most damaging part of all is that a religion’s evil against others is considered justified because a certain holy book of one’s choosing says it is righteous. Faith in a god also undermines science, promotes holy wars like the Crusades and the war in Iraq, promotes terrorist groups like al-Qaida and QAnon, reduces women to baby-making machines with no right to family planning, and destroys the Earth.
The Earth is going uncared for due to the religious imposing their harmful “dominion” and “afterlife” views on the government. Why care for the world when the religious are required to dominate it and simply return to their home in the sky once it is destroyed? All religious beliefs have contributed to a toxic society and future for our children. Trusting in a deity is harmful, but by believing in oneself we can bring about peace, which will in turn promote the advancement of society.
Ashley, 22, is a senior at the University of Houston, majoring in mathematics-data science and computer science. “For the past two years, I have struggled with being accepted by my strict, Pentecostal family,” she writes. “I have faced opposition from my father in the form of no financial and emotional aid. This has shaped me into who I am and I have come out stronger for it.”