9th place: College essay contest — Anjaly Nagarajan
FFRF awarded Anjaly $400.
In a town filled with Christians, I felt out of place as my classmates proudly discussed their church retreats and confirmations. Growing up in a Hindu Indian community, I never identified with family members who sought out arranged marriages based on star orientation. Even among my Muslim friends, I admired but could never imagine memorizing the entire Quran or fasting for a full month.
For the longest time, I thought something was wrong with me because I struggled with placing faith in a deity over my own choices and drive. However, after relying on myself to achieve my goals of getting into my dream school from a small town in Wisconsin and eventually landing my dream internship in the finance industry, I realized that trusting myself is an actionable, concrete method that always will triumph over faith in a deity.
My faith in myself over any supernatural beings stemmed not from a large, life-changing event, but rather a series of smaller experiences where I can trace all of the outcomes of my life to my own personal decisions and character.
As a result of people trusting deities instead of themselves, individuals in religiously heterogeneous communities and between religiously homogeneous communities foster less trust. Thus, they are not as willing to work together and put together their resources. For instance, looking at the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The two ethnic groups are arguing over their claim to the land based on religious rights, which can never truly be ascertained. However, if, instead, the two groups combined their minds and resources, they could turn into a thriving republic rather than one ravaged by war and distrust. Extrapolating this further, think about all the time devoted to religious activities, such as the millions who attend churches, mosques, temples, etc., as well as all the time people devote their lives to their religion, such as priests or nuns. If that time, energy, fervor and passion was directed toward science or improving society, humanity would advance at an exponential rate.
In addition to being more efficient, the world would simply be a better place with humankind trusting themselves over faith. Religiously inspired inhumane acts and wars would not occur because there would not be as much distrust between groups.
For instance, from the Crusades a thousand years ago to the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars, all had root causes of religion fueling the deaths of thousands, if not millions, over time. While greed and power imbalances are often true motivators of most wars, religion is often something that can be used as a justifier for these acts of violence. Furthermore, decisions would be based more on fact and science rather than beliefs, so worries about political problems like the separation of church and state would not occur.
For women in extremely religious societies, they are even more limited in their clothes, marriage, school and other basic life choices. By handicapping half of a specific society with religious restrictions, these communities are also capping their potential.
Drawing this back to my own life, in elementary school, I struggled with my weight and appearance, so I tried my hand at praying to various Hindu deities. Nothing changed for years because I wasn’t making any actual changes. Once I took my personal issues into my own hands and made tangible changes to my diet and workout regime, I started getting results and developed a passion, now as a national competitor on an Indian-Raas dance team.
Looking back on my religious experiences and my childhood, I am grateful that my parents always prioritized science over everything. They gave me the opportunity and space to come to my own realizations about religion. By constantly reminding me to place more emphasis on my own abilities and decisions, they instilled a strong work ethic and sense of self that I carry into every endeavor of my life.
Anjaly, 20, attends the University of Pennsylvania, where she is majoring in finance and behavioral economics. “I hope to combine my academic, social and personal interests to start my own educational nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs in Third World countries and underrepresented areas in First World countries navigate the complex business and financial world,” Anjaly writes.