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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Honorable mentions: Grad student essay contest

A hope for change

By Victoria Cheung 

Engaging with religious extremists about their beliefs quickly becomes fraught with emotion. Critical thinking gets brought to a standstill when these emotions are riled, leading to an even bigger problem: You cannot engage or change anyone’s minds. There is no discussion to be had; logic and science cannot penetrate defenses rooted in a wall of feelings. This is inhibiting the progress of our country and its fundamental belief in the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

Those in power weaponize religion for money, power and political gain. Religion numbs us to violence that would be unacceptable in any other country or context. It stokes hate and hypocrisy, yet select phrases in the bible justify these agendas. Secularism provides a path to new ideas and off comes the blindfold to religious and, in turn, racial bias. This allows empathy and understanding to blossom.

Victoria, 30, attends the University of Michigan. 

A threat to diversity 

By Kristen Chew

Religious extremists use their beliefs to degrade women instead of being accepting of the accomplishments that women have made. In worst case scenarios, misogyny can lead to different forms of abuse among women (including sexual). 

The forms of prejudice brought on by religious extremism can cause trauma or emotional damage that impairs self-worth. There have been protests, organizations and movements that have aimed to stand up against racism. A notable example is Black Lives Matter, a movement used to highlight racism and discrimination among black people. 

Religious extremism is commonly associated with sexism, racism, transphobia, dislike for immigration and toxic attempts to justify these extreme religious beliefs. With less exposure to religious extremism, individuals in the United States can further grow and thrive.

Kristen, 29, attends Lock Haven University. 

Theocracy rising 

By Brandon Cooper 

The most egregious and sly assaults on the democratic process are either pardoned or buttressed by religion.

Like all patriarchal religions, Christianity has no small obsession with controlling women and positing a secondary, subservient status as their inherent lot. It is simply reckless, callous, and myopic to take such draconian measures that threaten the lives and livelihoods of women. What’s more, the current refusal by many to receive the Covid-19 vaccine is, apart from a more generalized demonstration of the lack of information literacy amidst the American public, but a facet of the nation’s latent religiosity. In this instance, the dismissal of science, long a tenet of the white Christian radical, takes on a new and deadly salience. 

Brandon Cooper, 29, attends the California Institute of the Arts. 

Homeland enemies 

By Carina Garcia

The relationship between religious extremism and its violent history has existed for centuries. Many isolated combats have been executed in the name of religion. However, it has most recently become fueled by the technological advancements we have achieved in the 21st century.

Ever since the horrific act of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been keen on fighting terrorism and has taken pride in keeping its country safe. Yet, the enemy is already on American soil and has been wreaking havoc for years. For instance, an infamous extremist, Dylan Roof, murdered nine individuals at a church and was motivated by extreme Christian beliefs. He was radicalized by ideologies he found on the internet and carried out one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in a place where people go to find comfort.

An extremist, Robert Lewis Dear, decided to take matters into his own hands. He entered an abortion clinic in Colorado and killed three people and injured nine more. He believed that death was the only solution to end abortion, and he had a deep admiration for the Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization.

Carina, 23, attends California State University, Stanislaus. 

Growing up in extreme religion

By Daniella Leon 

Religious extremism has not only affected me in my rights as a citizen, it also has impacted my life since childhood. I grew up in an intense Christian household where my mother’s religion was the core of all decisions.

Questioning Christianity is unacceptable, not following the bible is a sin and eternal damnation is the punishment. 

The topic of sex was taboo. We were expected to save ourselves for marriage and boyfriends were completely off-limits.

Time went on and my home life got more and more tense, and I was a prisoner. I was not allowed to have my own relationship; I was not allowed to talk to who I wanted to talk to, and the most dangerous lesson being forced upon me, was my body was not mine, it was God’s. 

Extreme religion is not about true beliefs or spirituality, it is about control. The rules and expectations from extreme religion remove most human rights and that is why secularism is so important.

Daniella, 29, attends Mesa Community College. 

Secularism for the people 

By Lawrence Mullen 

Across the United States, Christian nationalist and religious extremist rhetoric and ideology becomes apparent in state legislatures and acts of physical violence. Anti-
LGBT and anti-
transgender legislation is rampant, and particularly targets school-aged K–12 children and adolescence. Given that we know there is a high correlation between mood disorders and suicidal ideation, and sexuality and gender identity, it is particularly appalling and malicious to target youth that are still formulating their identity and their position in the world. 

It is the source of a type of logic that denies others their ability to thrive, and in many cases simply survive; with the logic itself being considered “self-evident” by other Christian nationalists, and therefore not needing additional justification. 

Lawrence, 25, attends the University at Buffalo. 

Undoing extremism 

By Scout K. Myracle 

As a Southern queer person raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, I have experienced firsthand how religious extremism creates a traumatizing culture for young people. Pastors and people in power use shame and to enforce a standard, and often single out teenagers who exhibit any characteristics they find unpalatable. It’s common to see families divided by these issues, and individuals ostracized for not conforming to the dominant structure. Religious fundamentalism pushes LGBTQ people into the margins, and severely traumatizes them in an attempt to use shame to control the purity of
the congregation, state, or nation.

Religious extremism has long been used as a tool of control to benefit a very small minority of powerful people. When these people in power can manage to create a collective narcissism, they succeed in weaponizing an entire population against whomever it is they intend to “other,” outlaw or destroy.

Scout, 28, attends the University of Memphis.

The price our planet must pay

By Jenna Slater 

Thanks to religious dogma and the individuals driving its rhetoric, we find ourselves in a race against the clock. Without a plan B, no matter how many billionaires decide to embark on a joy ride to space, this planet is the only home we have. Thanks to religious extremism, we are killing it and are unable to even engage in a conversation about how to give Mother Earth a fighting chance. 

Jenna, 30, attends the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Inhumane actions

By Daniel Spaulding 

Citizens of the United States are given rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. Through centuries of amendments and developments, these rights have shaped the course of American society. There are times, however, when these rights are infringed upon. Though freedom of religion is clearly outlined in the Constitution, religious extremists distort this established human right — among others — in order to mold followers, push agendas, and justify actions that prove disastrous for everyone involved. 

Due to these extremists’ methods, concerns have been raised for young Americans in the 21st century. Because these young Americans are shielded from an objective point of view, it lessens the likelihood of them being exposed to the objective realities around them. Because these young Americans don’t learn the freedoms they’ve been inherently given, it lessens the likelihood they give those same freedoms to others. This not only leads to a continual distortion of the Constitution, but also provides devastating consequences for their lives, the lives of their fellow Americans, and future generations to come. 

Daniel, 25, attends Concordia Seminary.

Extremist Christianity

By Myranda Sullivan 

Many Christians believe that non-Christian scientists are trying to prove that God doesn’t exist more than they’re trying to figure out how the world works. Many facts we know to be true, such as carbon dating, have been “proven” wrong by Christian “scientists” in an effort to prove that God exists, science is wrong, and the bible is right. This has caused a significant amount of distrust of scientists in the Christian community, especially around areas of larger significance, like vaccines and climate change. 

Even though many Christian extremists can see the effects of what religion does to governments, they often rationalize that what’s happening in other countries won’t happen here because it’s their own religion. There is absolutely no proof that a government works more efficiently for the people when it’s run by religion; it’s never had a long-term success rate for the people in any country. 

Myranda, 28, attends Arizona State University. 

Secularism saves

By Chelsea Westfall 

When religious groups come up with laws banning abortion at detection of a so-called “fetal heartbeat,” however, that is entirely unreasonable. These “heartbeat” bills misunderstand what a sonogram is picking up at eight weeks: those sounds are electrical activity in cells, not the pounding of a developed human heart that proves viability. Remember, an extremist’s goal is not to have a nuanced discussion over when abortion might be deemed wrong; it is to outlaw abortion entirely. 

Churches, of course, have a vested interest in condemning abortion. The more children their flock has, the more tithing and political support they can expect later, because children tend to carry on the belief systems they were taught growing up.

America’s women will remain free and healthy only so long as religious freedom is truly the law of the land. 

Chelsea, 29, attends Northern Arizona University. 

A nation under fire

By Cassidy Yñigez

Christian nationalists want to define America as inextricably linked to Christianity and wish to utilize this religious culture as an official template for how and what our country represents. Furthermore, Christian nationalists strive to incorporate this mentality into schools, restrict immigration to avoid religious “pollution,” and believe that Christians are entitled to primacy of place in the social hierarchy due to their role in America’s founding heritage.

Under a Christian government, the right to abortion would be gone completely with (maybe) rare exceptions. The conflict between these is that people who are not pro-life lose their choice, but those who are pro-life gain the right to control those who lost said choice — thus emphasizing an unjust power dynamic.

Cassidy, 23, attends Texas A&M University.