Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

3rd place — Emily Mickel: Theism in the life of an atheist

Vol. 35 No. 8 October 2018
Emily Mickel                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

FFRF awarded Emily $1,000.

By Emily Mickel

I grew up in a vaguely Christian household; my mom is a lapsed Catholic, my dad is a nontheist and my brother is an apatheist, so none of us agree on religion. When I was a kid, my great-aunt used to send little girls’ bibles and “VeggieTales” movies, but both always seemed more like fairy tales or fictional stories than the truth they’re claimed to be. I didn’t ever think of the stories of the bible as real, such as that of Moses parting the Red Sea for the Israelites to escape the Egyptians. It sounded just as fantastical as “The Frog-King” or “Cinderella,” so I didn’t make a distinction between those and the bible as bedtime stories. As I got older, I met some people whose beliefs made no sense to me. For example, my childhood friend believed the Earth began 5,000 years ago and that carbon dating was wrong. Mentioning my dad’s lack of faith horrified her to the point that, even though she was only 8 or 9 years old at the time, she tried to convert him.

I quickly learned not to bring up my lack of religion in my community, where Christianity is so prevalent that the main road gets backed up every Sunday morning, requiring police to direct traffic. In high school, I drove my dad’s car to school and I worried that one of my classmates would be offended by the Flying Spaghetti Monster sticker on it and key the car. (Luckily, no one seemed to catch the reference.)

I even have to be careful around my relatives. I watch what I say around them because they would easily be offended by an irreverent joke. For example, my dad once made a joke about the phrase “Jesus take the wheel,” saying that Jesus was going to get arrested and go to jail because he doesn’t have a license. They would’ve been horrified that he was taking God’s name in vain. This disconnect creates awkward moments between my relatives and me, since they can be overzealous in their desire to “save” me. During our last visit, they wanted to take my brother and me to a Christian bookstore, and we didn’t have the heart to tell them we’d rather do anything else.

I am an unabashed atheist because organized religion just makes no sense to me and seems to contradict scientific evidence. The bible says that the entire human race was started by two people. Why would anyone ever believe this over evolution, when there is proof that we have a common ancestor with other primates? If we had existed since the beginning of creation, then we would have coexisted with the dinosaurs, who we’ve found to have lived and then died out millions of years before humans ever existed. Some may say it seems like too much of a coincidence that all the conditions necessary to form life on our planet occurred, but as we’ve continued to explore our universe, we’ve found that our planet isn’t as unique as we thought. Though many phenomena are currently inexplicable, it doesn’t mean that their causes are supernatural.

Besides my confidence that it doesn’t exist, I’m also unafraid of burning in hell because it’s such an objectionable concept. Who is to decide who deserves to go there? Depending on who you ask, a murderer who repents right before being electrocuted on the electric chair might not, while an otherwise morally good and “sin-free” nonbeliever could end up in hell. As an atheist, I don’t worry about some omnipotent presence watching everything I do, and I don’t do the right thing to avoid going to hell. I am a good person because I want to be.

Emily, 20, is from Middleburg, Fla., and attends Cornell University. She plans to get a degree in mechanical engineering and hopes to work in aviation. She enjoys running and biking and has volunteered at an animal shelter.