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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Honorable mention — Shejan Heaven: Discovering the unknown

I’ve always had an innate passion for science and what its findings could do for my parents, my grandmother and me. Like a seed that had just been planted, I knew my pursuit of knowledge would only grow. Instead of watching cartoons, I found myself feeding my hunger through documentaries, particularly on undiscovered parts in space. Like the universe, knowledge is endless. The breaking point was when I realized science is a tunnel. This tunnel has no end, but if I hold on tight, I will come across countless questions, solutions, cures and knowledge that will broaden our views on human potential. I also believed the purpose of scientific discoveries is to apply these findings to help human life. This led me to pursue a career in biology with a concentration in neuroscience.

The biggest wall that stood between my dreams as a doctor was my family’s Islamic faith. Like most monotheistic religions, Islam is seen to have all of the answers. Our existence, our purpose and everything that makes up our reality is published in the Quran and we are not allowed to question it.

Although the teachings of Zakat (giving a portion of income to charity) was beautiful, I could not apply these teachings to my life in literal terms. Many do not realize religion is so powerful to individuals because naturally we fear the unknown. While afraid and unsure, we seek solace by relying on a higher power that promises us answers in exchange for following a life role. There are many issues with this mindset; this skews followers to relieve themselves of their responsibilities because they are centered around “God’s plan.” What sets me aside from people tied to religious ideologies is I do not seek comfort in the unknown nor do I fear it. Instead I want to explore and research this empty space around us.

Although my personal observations have impacted my decision to disregard religion, well-known scientists have given me the concrete evidence I need to reject religion in all aspects of my life. My favorite scientist and author Richard Dawkins wrote the 2006 best seller The God Delusion that argues the behavior religious followers exemplify are similar to the behavior of those who suffer from hallucinations and delusions, thus deeming religion harmful to one’s mental health. What I enjoyed most of about The God Delusion is that it did not try to disprove God, but rather critiqued religion itself and its

psychological effects. The external harm religion has had on humans, such as war, segregation and its role in social issues is obvious, however, many scientists and freethinking advocates have not touched on the negative psychological effects. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s arguments against an almighty God do support my freethinking views, but I focus more on rejecting religion and the traditions it entails.

The challenges I face from my family and community consist of fear rhetoric. The Muslim community consistently tells me my views are haram (sinful) and I will burn in eternal suffering. I am told Islam is the only way to heaven and I need to accept the faith into my life before I get married and have children. However, I do not consider the remarks I receive from my family

Shejan Heaven

as challenges. I overcame the challenge of finding myself and the person I want to be through medical research and science. After studying the behavior of people who are tied to religious ideologies, I am led to understand their rhetoric. Religion was created because we fear death. The tips I have to offer for the freethought movement is to always encourage freethinkers to research and question everything you see. This world has more to offer than what you are settled to believe. Religion can be beautiful, but reason and logic will always prevail.

Shejan, 19, is from Atlanta and attends the University of Georgia. She enjoys playing the violin and tutoring children to become musicians. She also volunteers at a local library and a food bank. Shejan hopes to attend medical school after graduation.