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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Eighth place — Grad student essay contest: Alexis Muschal

Thank God I stopped believing

FFRF awarded Alexis $500.

Alexis Muschal

By Alexis Muschal

“For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” Genesis 3:5-7

Imagine growing up Catholic, hearing this verse and believing that women were the first true sinners. Try being a little girl who was taught that a woman’s period comes from woman’s first sin. Think about how this impacts a growing mind that is already faced with a myriad of lies about her identity: Women are the weaker sex, the fairer sex, and truly not capable of anything outside “God’s” role for her in the home.

Now imagine you are that little girl, and in addition to all that, you discover that on top of liking boys, you also like girls. But then you remember that the teachers and priests at your Catholic school have made sure you know that it’s wrong. You can’t like other little girls. It is not in “God’s” plan. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” — Leviticus 18:22.

I have heard misogynist and homophobic propaganda for years. For the first 17 years of my life during which I identified as religious, I bought this thinking. One day, I thought to myself, “What would happen if I didn’t believe? What if I chose wisdom of the tree over the arbitrary rules of the Church? What if I could love and be myself, guilt-free?” So, I stopped believing. I have been so much happier ever since.

There are still many moments when I feel like that little girl again. I see typically conservative politicians act in ways that are outright sexist and get supported by a large evangelical base. Misogyny that takes root in religious tradition springs up in political debate about women’s rights to join the military, women’s qualifications to be president or other esteemed offices, and women’s right to choose. Politicians and public leaders defer to the idea that women are unworthy or weak and cannot be trusted in this manner. They attempt to strike down affirmative-action laws which have largely supported women. They posit that we no longer need these laws because they themselves do not require such actions.

Even the vice presidency is wrought with bigotry, as the vice president refuses to even enter rooms alone with a woman other than his wife, hinting that it is the woman’s fault should he be “tempted.” This thinking is used to justify sexual assault and rape as is seen widely after the “Me Too” movement. Women’s “impurity” is to be blamed for all of these attacks.

As a bisexual, I see politicians passing laws that allow for religious freedom over my sexual freedom. Religious liberty laws openly allow for discrimination against LGBTQ members. While I am all for allowing people to believe as they will, I do not want those beliefs infringing upon my rights. It is none of my baker’s business who I chose to marry, and I don’t believe that person should be allowed to openly discriminate against me and my partner because of their beliefs, which, quite frankly, are none of my business.

I have many friends on the gender spectrum that identify as nonbinary or gender queer. I witness so many religious people claiming that “God” only intends for there to be women and men since that is what is indicated in Genesis. I have seen instances of non-binary and trans people being discriminated against over the use of bathrooms and told they don’t belong. I see pundits pushing for “bathroom laws,” claiming that anyone not strictly cisgender could be a child molester.

I feel like that little girl who had to hide from her own sexuality even a decade after she no longer believed the lies of Leviticus. I feel put down as a woman knowing that there are people out there who automatically disqualify me as a woman because of book written over two millennia ago. I am terrified that kids will learn to hate themselves and others as I did growing up. If this is how the bible is being used, I don’t think it lives up to its purpose. Or maybe it is.

Alexis, 29, is from Villa Park, Ill., and attends Boston University Graduate School of Medicine, where she is working toward a master’s degree in forensic anthropology. She also works at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where she volunteers teaching female colleagues how to build simple fighting robots.