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Fourth place: College essay contest — Lindsey Bridges 

Lindsey Bridges

Tribal tribulations

FFRF awarded Lindsey $2,000.

By Lindsey Bridges 

On Jan. 6, religious syndicates stormed the U.S. Capitol, imbued with apocalyptic admonitions of ecclesiastical authorities who posited Donald Trump as God’s chosen sovereign. On May 11, Israel leveled civilian homes in its latest act in the centuries-old play of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a gruesome game of divinely inspired land grab. In April, as Covid-19 engulfed India, the Dalits, formerly the “Untouchables,” were ejected from hospitals and denied care as a result of the country’s inveterate, sacred caste system. There are countless examples of religion’s divisiveness, and yet it persists. How is it that something so often equated to goodwill and camaraderie, to fellowship and community, to alms and philanthropy, can be responsible for such cruel discrimination? To examine this question requires insight into the human mind and the rise of the thinking ape. 

In The Meaning of Human Existence, Edward O. Wilson claims “It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.” The need to belong trumps the desire to hold to lofty ideals and moral platitudes. Such steadfast commitment to the tribe was once crucial for survival — a relic of intense ecological competition among neighbors, a byproduct which unequivocally offers little utility in our modern construction of global society. What religion calls “altruism,” scholars of evolutionary theory call “a set of complex behaviors whose potential benefits outweigh potential costs.” Simply put, a unified group of optimal size would boast increased predator safety, elevated foraging ability, and a reproductive advantage. Historically, religion acted aas a vital ingredient in this “glue,” providing a common origin and purpose among communities. 

If this is true, why, then, do we not unite under our shared origin with all of life? If religion is no more than the early unscientific reasonings and fantasies of our forebears, why has the advent of secularism not supplanted it? Arguably, it is because religion offers the concept of predestination — the idea that everything, especially the bad things, are meant to happen. We derive comfort from believing in a higher power, that an unseen actor guides us all, and that in times of unthinkable suffering, there is always recourse and redemption. “These sacred places, where God dwells immanent on Earth, become ultimate refuges against the iniquities and tragedies of secular life,” as Wilson suggests. There is no dopamine rush, or sense of tranquility, in acknowledging that all events occur without purpose, by chance, constrained by a universal physics. 

It is time to change the narrative. If secularism is to unite us, it must embrace us all. It must ground its faith in humanity; it must furnish hope for peace, for a future; it must transform spirituality mired in supernatural fictions into communion with one another, with every being on Earth. Secularism has the propensity to transcend the tenuous lines in the sand we toil to preserve in the name of religion. Humanity must say to itself that there is a better, real hope — open to all — if it could only learn to trust in its power; if it could only banish its tribalism. For, as long as factions fight for gods, globalism is obstructed — our progress stunted. Secularism offers a neutral, humanistic sanctuary and the means to take us further, united. Through it a true paradise exists, if we are prepared to reconcile our differences — without hoary myths and untoward prejudice. Then, we may yet coexist. 

Lindsey, 23, attends the University of Central Florida, with plans to major in biology and mathematical biology.

“As a formerly Baptist Christian, I am a proud member of the Central Florida Freethought Community and FFRF,” Lindsey writes. “During the pandemic, I organized a fundraiser supplying PPE and sanitation supplies to Central Florida Public School teachers with the aid of grants awarded by FFRF, Central Florida Freethought Community and the FHA.”