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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Ninth place (tie) — Persons of color essay contest: Elisa Nicolini

The detrimental religious paradigm

FFRF awarded Elisa $400.

By Elisa Nicolini

Elisa Nicolini

Contrary to what religious organizations would have you believe, there is much to gain and little to lose by leaving religion. Many freethinkers, especially in the case of people of color from developing countries (such as myself), are raised in organized religion and are indoctrinated into a mindset that promotes the hatred of the reified “other,” including homosexuals, atheists and individuals belonging to other religions. This mindset is extremely pervasive in the fundamentalist Catholicism that is practiced by my Mexican family.

Fundamentalism is most pervasive among the less educated, such as the community that my family comes from. My mother, for example, only had a middle school education and was pulled out of school to be married off, despite her proficiency in mathematics. The same community also is heavily entrenched in patriarchal norms. The traditionalist and conservative paradigm that my family has been indoctrinated into is the exact opposite of the mindset that I have developed. I am the first person in my immediate family to attend college, am a successful athlete and always speak my mind. I am finishing my undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech a year early with a double major and am going to attend law school in order to pursue my dream career in international and human rights law. None of the accomplishments that I have achieved or goals that I am working toward would be possible if I was still fettered by the religious paradigm I was born into.

Whenever I attended church with my parents as a child, I heard the priests spew hateful misogyny and homophobia and wondered why there were so many people in the audience nodding along to the sheer evil hatred that was being expressed in each week’s sermon. I wondered how there could possibly be a god who wanted his followers to be so hateful. I decided that if that God indeed existed, I would never be able to worship it and maintain my intellectual and moral honesty. Furthermore, as I follow current events, it becomes more and more evident that any god that would allow the sheer evil that exists in humankind to continue is not worth worshipping.

When I rejected religion, I finally felt that I was free to be myself and express my opinions. During my education, I have extensively studied topics such as women’s rights, abortion, the male domination of politics, and the oppression of minority groups. All of the topics I have studied have something crucial in common: They are all examples of progression of culture that is being hampered by religious norms. These issues are especially evident in communities of color and in developing countries. An example of oppression of minority groups that has recently made headlines would be Brunei’s attempt to implement a policy of stoning LGBTQ individuals to death. This serves as an example of a religious majority showing a flagrant disrespect and disdain for those who do not follow their religious paradigm.

Being nonreligious has enhanced my life in that I am able to pursue an education and career and do not have to subscribe to an organization that supports the hatred of certain individuals (and in some cases, violence against them). The secular community grows each year as more individuals receive the education required to think critically about the means and ends that religious organizations engage in and whether religion is morally correct. However, the secular community could better engage people of color simply by becoming more visible. For example, volunteering in low-income neighborhoods without the ulterior motive of conversion that religious organizations have when they “do good” in the community would make freethinkers more visible and dispel the myth that freethinkers are evil devil worshippers who eat babies.

Elisa, 20, is from Herndon, Va., and attends Virginia Tech, where she is double majoring in international relations and Spanish. She plans to attend law school. Elisa currently interns at a law firm.