Honorable mention — Evan Malcolm: A matter of perception
My rejection of religion stems from growing up in the church, specifically that of the Baptist denomination. During this time, around the age of 10 or 11, I began asking questions about the bible and God to my grandmother and the pastor at our church.
Questions and contradictions arose, such as, “Why does God let people suffer if he is all-knowing?” and “Wouldn’t that just make him a cruel father who has favorite children?” I continued to ask questions like this to the point where I was called a heathen and nonbeliever and was accused of having a lack of faith. I decided to seek the answers myself and see if the bible held any of them.
Unfortunately, I did not find the answers I was looking for but instead found more contradictions and questions than answers. I was especially confused about the level of blind faith and devotion when prayers weren’t answered. The mundane response was that “God works in mysterious ways.” However, when circumstances went in favor of someone’s prayer, it became an even deeper affirmation of their faith, as I saw with several of my family members and friends.
The rejection of religion and adoption of atheism solidified itself as I started finding logical conclusions to rational questions I held previously. The entrance into college and the exposure to people of different cultures, due to my major in social work and the many organizations I joined out of leisure once I entered college, also helped me to see many religious practices firsthand. My upbringing, coupled with my inquisitive mind and the fact that I am gay (which is in direct contrast with many religious beliefs), further strengthened my atheism. I studied the five major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism) in depth and then many Caribbean religions (Santeria, Candomblé, Voodoo, Obeah, Rastafari). My interpersonal knowledge of religions through friends and acquaintances, along with the knowledge base gained from my classes, helped me see just how similar most religious beliefs are, despite the many wars (Crusades, Inquisition, etc.) that have been fought over their inherent differences. Due to this knowledge, I’ve come to accept that all religions are true and false. For many religions, there is the unyielding insistence that their sole beliefs/deity/god are the one true way to salvation/heaven/nirvana, which leads to the theory that they are either all wrong or all right. Either way, someone in the group is wrong, which makes it more plausible that religion is completely a humanmade concept that is used as a tool used to divide and control, not unite, and is inherently against the progression of humanity.
Many struggles come from being a triple minority (black, atheist, gay), and most of them come to light when interacting with people of my own race and my family. It is automatically assumed that I am Christian and straight when I walk into the room as a black male. Having to navigate social interactions as the opposite of those assumptions is an exhausting and daunting task, but one I am intimately familiar with. Typically, I avoid all conversations concerning matters of sexuality or religion for the reasons stated above. However, if they do arise, I simply say, “I’m not religious.” If sexuality is discussed or someone asks me directly about my sexuality, I respond with the fact that I am gay. I do so respectfully and without aggression or judgment so that the information is received by those around me in a factual sense versus an argumentative one. One of the more frustrating aspects is having to be considerate of others’ religious beliefs while they in turn often do not respect my decision to remain atheist/agnostic. Unfortunately, those who are a minority within the minority will always have to be aware of the social setting they are in and adapt accordingly.
Evan, 21, is from Plantation, Fla., and attends the University of South Florida. He is a political activist, especially when it comes to mental health advocacy and LGBT rights. He plans to obtain a juris doctorate degree after his undergraduate years and hopes to become a legislator or lobbyist.