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Second place (tie) — High school essay contest: Jonah Mathisson

Jonah Mathisson

Where is God in the back of the ambulance?

FFRF awarded Jonah $3,000 for his essay.

By Jonah Mathisson

There is a certain type of atheist who can pinpoint an exact moment in time when God died for them. I know these people exist because I am one of them.

I volunteer as an EMT on my local ambulance. When we get a critical patient in the back of the ambulance and are racing the clock, it can be tempting to pray. And believe me, I know how.

When I was young, Saturday meant an early wake-up for Hebrew school and services.  I went to a Jewish summer camp for years where we would pray before and after each meal and before bed. I recited Torah at my bar mitzvah, and have visited Israel twice for religious reasons. I did all of this happily, eager to please my parents, family and rabbi.

God died for me in the best possible way. On March 20, 2019, I crewed a cardiac arrest. After intubation, several shocks and numerous rounds of chest compressions, the patient regained a pulse. I was later informed that he left the hospital on his own two feet. Later, I caught myself reflexively praising God for this man’s continued life. Yet, where was God in the ambulance? I had watched and assisted a well-trained crew of health-care professionals perform life-saving interventions. I now realize it is impossible to reconcile the concept of an omnipotent God with the work we do in EMS. Even considering such an idea would alienate the critical nature of our call to action and imply that our patient lacking in perfusion didn’t truly need our help.

Now that I have expelled God from the back of the ambulance, it is a much safer place. Patients need not wait for divine intervention when medical intervention is at hand. I am an unabashed atheist because if I ever end up in the back of the ambulance, I want the paramedic to be one too. To all the religious EMTs, commercial pilots, doctors, and firefighters, heed my entirely non-prophetic words: Civilians’ lives are in your hands, not God’s.

Jonah, 18, is from Rye, N.Y., and plans to attend the University of Michigan, where he plans to study biology and eventually become a doctor. He is a volunteer EMT. In high school, he was president of the Science Olympiad team, founder of the chess club, an editor for the school newspaper and captain of the cross country team. He won the St. Vincent’s Youth Award at his high school for his commitment to volunteerism.