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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Sixth place — High school essay contest: Zoe Nussbaum

FFRF awarded Zoe $1,000.

Tired of ‘thoughts and prayers’

By Zoe Nussbaum


Zoe Nussbaum

he phrases “Everything happens for a reason” and “It’s all a part of God’s plan” pulse dully like a monotonous drumline through my life and the lives of many. Through tragedy after tragedy, people of religious faith, instead of focusing their grief on creating concrete solutions, gravitate toward accepting divine inevitability.

As an atheist since childhood, I’ve always taken issue with these sayings. The world, to me, is an ever-changing amalgamation of lives that fluctuates based on real decisions or random coincidence. It’s not a puppet show crafted by deities.

People who downplay the world’s misfortunes, claiming it was “God’s plan,” are submitting unquestioningly to a life of never-ending violence, suffering and sorrow, while encouraging impressionable people to grin and bear whatever comes their way. It shuts out a world of plausible solutions to turn a blind eye to the resources of the world around us. It’s as if a person lost in the desert abandoned their water because they believe they’ll stumble upon an oasis.

Is it truly “God’s plan” when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children die suffering in the Middle East? When schools across the United States lose children to gun violence? When millions lose mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to cancer?

Our world is too far gone in hatred, fear and violence to continue sitting pretty. Even to those who believe in a god, it is naive to obliviously wait for a divine entity to take the wheel that humans could.

I am tired of accepting thoughts and prayers. In January 2018, my father committed suicide. Every day, I listened to scores of people tell me that “God had a reason,” that “God will make me stronger because of it,” that “he is in a better place now.” Although I listened, I never heard these meaningless condolences. Instead, I heard my dad’s voice, and remembered the love in it whenever we talked. And I heard my own voice, pushing me to do all I can to prevent this grief from hitting another family like mine. Mental illness is something treatable, something preventable. Faux-soothing claims that it was bound to happen are hurtful and offensive.

I will not let others facing a similar situation go gently, as people in my life tried to make me. Instead, I will spend hours in a neuro lab and study books of detailed brain chemistry. I will be an activist and push people in power to forward legislation. I will educate others on reality’s hardships. And, most of all, I will have faith in myself. Because, to me, a life under a shell of naiveté is not deserving of the passion and drive that I have in my heart. Sure, I may have been exposed to great pain in my life, but the only way to prevent future pain is to face the onslaught head on.

Zoe, 17, is a twin from San Diego and will attend the University of Southern California where she plans to major in biomedical engineering. In high school, she was active as a member of the dance team, the chamber choir, the Varsity Academic League, the Link Crew (a community service group), the Beach Revival Club, the Rotary Club branch and Statistics Club.