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Honorable mention — College essay contest: Justin Mitchell 

A Closet Freethinker’s Journey to Find Truth

By Justin Mitchell

Justin Mitchell

The beginning portion of my life was spent in a devoutly Christian (Baptist) household. From birth, I was shepherded into subscribing to the concept of a “young earth” creationist model of the universe — and I bought into it. For the entirety of my childhood, I firmly believed in the idea of a “one true God.” For years, I lived with the “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105 KJV) That was until my ninth-grade year, when the shadows cast by the “lamp” began to reveal themselves as the one true light in this world.

The “shadows” I am referring to, of course, are those of the scientific community, which are demonized and discredited on a regular basis by the young-earth creationists and their dangerous misinterpretation of history. My awakening to the misinformation happened during my ninth-grade biology course at the public school I was attending. I was always told that the “early hominids” were nothing more than monkeys. But if this was the case, then why are they different from current monkey skulls? The school had immaculate recreations of the skulls that I poured hours into studying. Just like that, the first seed of uncertainty was brought into the “light.” I approached the church, asking about my findings, but was met with no concrete answers like the ones I had received from science.

No less than a month after I started asking questions was the infamous Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate at the former’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Those who tuned in to the debate will remember that the creation “scientist’s” arguments could be summed up with his default answer of “There is a book,” referring generally to the bible instead of pointing to tangible facts. Nye, while his execution was far from perfect at times, answered every question thrown at him using scientific fact. Despite this, throughout the debate, I remained tentatively on the side of the creationist. I couldn’t just throw away everything I had been raised on all at once, could I? That was, until one of the last questions of the debate: “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” Ham responded that he is a devout Christian and that “No one’s ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true.” Nye responded: “We would need just one piece of evidence.”

This response shook me to my core at the time and has stayed with me since. I had spent the first years of my life following a religion that would sooner hide the truth than acknowledge it, all in an effort to maintain the illusion that creationism is the only model that works. The religious dogma I was willingly following was responsible for the proliferation of misinformation and a woefully oblivious populous. It was at this point that I fully realized the importance of freethought. Propagating deliberately wrong information in an effort to protect a backwards and morally questionable lifestyle is not something I could allow myself to remain a part of. The level of deception carried out by the church can only lead to ignorant adults, and ignorant adults are the most dangerous ones.

It was at this point in my life that I became a “pretender.” Unable to shift my family’s point of view, yet still needing their financial support for further education, I have silently tolerated their religious ignorance. Try as they might to reconvert me, I have found the true “Lamp unto my feet,” and have now tasted the fruits of freethought and scientific fact.

Justin, 21, is from Doylestown, Pa., and attends Ursinus College, where he is majoring in history and would like to be a museum curator. “I served for five years in the cadet program of the Civil Air Patrol. I volunteered and remained active, serving in various command roles all the way up to the Group level,” he writes.