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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Fifth place — High school essay contest: Milo Shields

FFRF awarded Milo $1,500.

Blind faith not a capable guide

By Milo Shields

Milo Shields

Several years ago, I was tutoring a seventh-grader, Madison, in math, when I came across a strategy that I had never seen before. It wasn’t a formula or an equation, but a belief, one that Madison thought would earn her a higher grade than my advice ever could.

When I told her that she should probably skim over the study guide on her own to get ready for her test the next day, she responded, “Nah.” I asked, “Why not?” She replied, “I’ll just pray to God and he’ll make sure that I get a good grade.”

I walked out of that house with my jaw open. Somehow, in all my years of agnosticism, I had never fully realized the extent to which religion can stifle the pursuit of greatness, whether in relationships, financial situations or academia. I began to consider the consequences, many dangerous, of such a rigid adherence to faith. This type of thinking only serves to restrain human beings from success.

The lottery, for example, is a perversion of the American dream. It preys on those who believe in odds that will never favor them, who have faith in the impossible, only to avoid the reality of their situation. Instead of systems like these, the poor should have federally regulated access to financial literacy and health courses that build the middle class. By blinding the poor with promises of intangible sums of money, the industry simultaneously makes profit and suppresses the tension within the most populous and disadvantaged class.

To truly succeed, humans must accept responsibility for the outcomes of their own actions. We must change the narrative from one of passive acceptance to one of action and change. The solution of “thoughts and prayers,” so often used by religious groups in America, is nonsensical.

To prevent tragedy and to usher in an era of improvement, we must, as a nation, realize that our situation is ours: ours to suffer through and ours to deal with. We cannot expect divine intervention as we enter the most crucial decades of human existence.

As I walk down my own path, I don’t expect help from any deities. Throughout high school, my most fulfilling experiences have been in academics and performing. When I played Bert, a starring role in Mary Poppins, I never crossed my fingers or relied on blind faith to guide me. Instead, I internalized each piece of choreography, each song, and each line. On my own, I got to the point where I was confident in my own abilities. I helped to put on a fantastic show.

At Tufts University, I plan to take classes in computer science, philosophy, cognitive psychology and environmental science. Any success I attain in these areas will stem from my own passion to learn, to collaborate and to innovate. There will be no rolling the dice, no “winging it,” and no praying to God and hoping for the best.

Milo, 17, is from Maplewood, N.J., and will be attending Tufts University, with plans to major in computer science and either philosophy or cognitive psychology. He tutors (both paid and volunteer positions), performs musical theater and leads an a capella group.