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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

4th place — Rachel Bellflowers: Perspectives from a Bible Belt atheist

FFRF awarded Rachel $750.

By Rachel Bellflowers

Rachel Bellflowers

In my 19 years of life, I have not heard a single claim convincing enough to entice me into becoming a member of the one of the hordes of religious fanatics. With its acceptance of rape, genocide, misogyny, murder and slavery, its ever-conflicting divisional sects, and its hypocrisy and questionable “truths,” religion proves itself less than unappealing. However, in the eyes of many, if I do not believe the tales of a book that offers more conjecture than citation, more mysticism than matter, I am a lost soul in need of guidance, ignorant of the miracle of God’s creation. To the contrary, I do not believe that deviating from the traditional path means that I have lost my way; rather, I have discovered freedom from an oppressive religious system.

The bible paints Satan as the prime malevolence, all due to his defiance of God and subsequent attempt to steal his throne. However, the more probable reason for Satan’s appearance in the bible is to silence any temptation to question God’s word. Through this adversary figure, God instills eternal fear and guilt in his subjects. In truth, the “worst” the devil ever did was enlighten humankind by enticing Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Is it not better to side with Satan, who rejected the tyranny of God, than to accept passage to what will be like a life-long prison sentence in heaven?

God possesses the power to create unthinking, all-obeying creatures, but he would rather grant humanity free will so that they can be punished if they do not obey his will. Why is God so vain that he must punish those who do not willingly believe in him? Those who do not believe in Jesus are undesirable, yet, according to some sects, merely asking for forgiveness for your wrongs is enough to earn your key to heaven. Expressing penance (whether false or genuine), even in the case of an inherently evil individual, would cast him or her in a better light than a moral, honest nonbeliever. A system deeming a recurrent child molester to be more deserving of forgiveness than a nontheist is one that is principally defunct itself.

Living in the Bible Belt has forced me to live a life of nondisclosure. My family’s lack of faith is a family secret revealed only to those we trust; being ostracized by the religious mothers of my friends taught me that. In the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, they ranked North Carolina as the tenth-most religious state, with 73 percent of the population believing in God with “absolute certainty.” These statistics reflect the reality that I have lived. I have sworn on a bible to gain a nonreligious leadership position. I have accepted the religious beliefs of others while knowing that they would not respect mine in return, holding my tongue, lest I be decried a sinner. In the South, it is an acceptable practice to force religion upon people at every turn, and I have discovered that there is little else one can do in this current situation but find like-minded, nonjudgmental individuals.

As a freethinker, I would rather consider ideas from multiple philosophies to form my own point of view, rather than having one body of thought prescribed. The only proof that God exists is “faith,” yet I would not accept the existence of any invisible thing unless there were proof. Consequently, I do not yearn to find guidance or strength in religion. If we are only good enough in the eyes of the lord if we abandon our own desires to submit to his commandments, I would prefer “burning in hell” than becoming a part of what is more akin to an abusive relationship than to one of love.

Rachel, 19, is from Bessemer City, N.C., and attends Appalachian State University. She plans to get a degree in psychology with a business concentration. After graduating, she hopes to get a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology.