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Honorable mention — College essay contest: Danielle Puccio

Danielle Puccio

“Thoughts and Prayers:” My Radical Responsibility to Reject Religion

By Danielle Puccio

The commitment to creating change required of all people as activists, leaders and members of the world is incongruent with belief in religion. As a lesbian raised in a mostly secular family, I am so lucky to have avoided a vast majority of the religious homophobia that a great many of my friends have endured and are still having to cope with to this day. Especially now that I have met people from all around the country and world in college, my contempt for the religious trauma so many LGBTQ people endure from communities that proclaim to support all people and respect their differences has only developed further as I learn more about how the functionality of religion is so embedded in almost all aspects of society.

Growing up, I was never forced to attend religious events or partake in church ceremonies — besides Catholic baptism as an infant, which I reject. The first concrete memory I have of taking a stance against religious beliefs was when I was in middle school. I was hanging out with a group of friends, and we went around asking questions to learn about each other’s personalities and life experiences. One question left me the only person not raising their hand to confirm a belief in a god. This was the first time I became cognizant of the fact that my lack of religious belief was uncommon. It drew a confused reaction from my peers. After that experience, I had been wary of expressing my rejection of religion because I still did not truly understand the full cultural context of proclaiming atheism, especially as a young person in the South.

In high school, I became incredibly frustrated by others’ reliance on religion to solve problems in the world. I was a 16-year-old junior when the Parkland shooting happened. I will never forget sitting in my third-period sociology classroom as the news continued rolling in. My teacher did not even try to have a lesson that day — everyone was just so stunned and horrified as

we continually checked our Twitter feeds and other news sources as reports upping the death count kept surging in. In this moment of terrifying shock, seeing politicians and other leaders, who are meant to protect us and improve life for all, rely on offers of apathetic “thoughts and prayers” was infuriating. Our school organized a March for Our Lives walk-out and I made a poster that said, “Thoughts and prays don’t save lives — gun reform will.”

Now a sophomore in college, I have progressed in this stance beyond seeing school shootings as merely an issue of gun control, but rather as reflective of the selfish and culturally ingrained violence perpetuated throughout the United States and the world in general, most of which is supported by a reliance on religious beliefs.

I reject religion because I refuse to divorce myself from real-world issues that affect the lives of anyone and everyone. I reject religion because I find it unconscionable to draw inspiration for good deeds and compassion from organizations and entities rather than an inherently internal necessity to be a moral member of humanity. I reject religion most simply because I know that I alone have the power to make positive changes in the world.

It is my duty to care for others, to actively work to end all forces of oppression, to restructure society in a way that is equitable for all. Locating the responsibility for kindness and socially just action within myself rather than seeking praise from a group or deity makes me more powerful and strong-willed than anyone who relies on religious beliefs could ever hope to be. The rejection of religion is the grandest act of faith; it declares a confidence in each other that builds community, resists selfishness, and directs us toward a world guided by mutual care rather than fatally useless offerings of “thoughts and prayers.”

Danielle, 19, is from Cary, N.C., and attends the University of North Carolina where she is double majoring in communication studies and women’s and gender studies. She volunteers for a domestic violence prevention center and at the LGBT Center of Raleigh.