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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

9th place: Grad student essay contest — Paula Canales

Paula Canales

One nation going under

FFRF awarded Paula $400. 

By Paula Canales

Religion — specifically the Abrahamic belief systems — has played a large and multifaceted role in the development of humanity for the past several thousand years. Historical trends reveal a general decline in human rights and societal progress during times of increased religiosity and in theocratic societies, such as during the European Dark Ages and in countries under strict observance of Sharia law. Basing political systems on theology can often create a slippery slope into religious extremism and compulsory conversion. Despite being the land of the free in theory, the history of the United States is scarred with the effects of religious extremism, as evidenced by Christian support of slavery, Manifest Destiny and the forced removal/conversion of Native Americans, and evangelical marginalization of women and homosexuals, to name just a few. 

The modern political stage has also seen a rise in Christian Nationalism and its negative effects due to [former] President Trump’s problematic rhetoric, such as the empowerment of Christian domestic terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and faith-based ignorance of COVID-19 precautions under the guise of individual rights. Aside from the obvious and overdone (and often ignored) argument that the Founding Fathers stipulated a separation of religion and government, Christian Nationalism is a detriment to American society and should be kept out of election debates because it further divides the nation’s people and creates a hindrance to social and scientific progress.

There have been few instances in our nation’s history plagued with more division among its people than the present. Domestic terrorist groups have become increasingly empowered, racial and foreign tensions are at an all-time high, and the very recognition of a worldwide pandemic has been reduced to a political opinion. Despite living in the age of free and accessible information, we continue to see the classic religious denial of fact for the sake of faith, and near-cult following Donald Trump has gained among right-wing Christians. His public displays of piety and religious rhetoric have not only gained him forgiveness for inexcusable displays of character (citing his former racist business decisions and misogynistic actions and remarks) but have caused nearly half of the nation’s population to turn a blind eye to the aforementioned atrocities. Additionally, Trump’s rhetoric has caused a belief among many Christians that our nation’s problems stem from a rise in rational secularism and thus, reinstitution of mainstream Christian dogma is necessary, despite being unconstitutional. We have seen from the Trump presidency how easily a cult of personality can be formed based on religious rhetoric, and how this in turn leads to social division and permittance of the blatantly unconstitutional. Regardless of one’s political affiliation or opinion of Trump, leaders should be elected based on the merit of their ideas and applicable experience, rather than feigned divine ordination.

The ancient standards of the bible are purely anachronistic when applied to modern society. Not only do they contradict well-established scientific facts such as the evolution of life forms (further evidence of the ignorance of the book’s human writers), but they hinder social progress because of their rigid nature. Of even more concern is the damage done by bible-based political policies, such as the call to defund Planned Parenthood, which would result in greatly limited access to healthcare for underprivileged women. Additionally, some fundamentalist Christian sects have pushed for the biblical myth of creation to be taught in public schools as an equivalent and opposing theory to that of evolution. The freedom of religion granted as the most basic of rights in the United States has become confused for biblical supremacy over the personal lives of citizens largely due to the willingness of politicians to include such demands in their platforms. 

Contrary to the myth that Christianity is under attack by modern ideals, secularism takes a neutral stance on social issues; religious beliefs of almost any kind are tolerated, without favoring one over others. Rather, political decisions should be made based on reason and with the peoples’ best interest in mind, without unequitable regard to any specific theology’s laws. Because of the requirement of faith in the absence of evidence that is the foundation of Christianity — rendering it little more than a long-held and inherited personal opinion — it is no more relevant to political debate than other arbitrary traits, such as a candidate’s favorite color. Allowing religion to interfere in politics is a threat to progress and to the unity of the people. 

Paula, 25, attends University of Texas at San Antonio. “I am a mental health tech in a children’s psychiatric center in San Antonio. Teaching English as a second language and advocating for speakers of other languages has been a goal of mine since high school. After earning my degree, I hope to teach abroad to gain experience working with multiple language groups. Upon returning to the United States, I hope to teach and advocate for multilingual learners.”