Honorable mention — College essay contest: Alice Blesi
By Alice Blesi
Religion gives life meaning, or so people say. One of the many questions a nonbeliever might be faced with when talking to a religious person is “What gives your life meaning?” To the religious, life is meant to serve a higher power, and imagining anything beyond that can be difficult for them, but to the nonreligious, life is full of meaning because we live in the here and now.
Of course, the meaning of life has been a question of the ages. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Everyone from educated philosophers to religious leaders to the average human has wondered why they are on Earth. Religion tends to suppose that the reason the human race exists is to serve some almighty purpose, but within secular circles, the same cannot be said. For us, as far as we know, there is no deity to follow and no afterlife to punish or reward. With that lack of religiosity comes the freedom to pick our own meaning for life.
I have always found value in the idea that I can choose what I want to do with my life. It is, after all, the only life I have. I have one shot to make my life everything I want it to be. This includes what I study, where and who I work for, which people I keep in my life and what I devote my time to. My time is especially important. Since I have a limited amount, I must be careful about what I decide to do with it. Will I spend it volunteering? Advancing my career? With my family? All the above and much more are time-consuming, so I must pick and choose which options I value more so that I can spend my time doing what I love. That, however, is not always possible with religion.
Living for some unknowable future, something that isn’t guaranteed, is so limiting. The bible, among other religious texts, tells you what to value. In an age where newer generations are moving away from traditional life plans such as marriage and nuclear families, it is important that we have other options, without fearing judgment. We also much understand that over time our values will change. If we stick to a strict religion and hope it will bring us happiness someday, then we will be disappointed. A secular lifestyle, where we look at our values, allows everyone to assess their own, and do what they believe is best, especially when it comes to the events of the here and now.
There are so many causes and lifestyles to devote oneself to in the world. Plenty of issues and movements to grab onto and ways of life to lead, and when we look at these options, we will find what we think is important. We can throw ourselves into movements that we value, instead of participating in movements we have no passion for. We can find what lifestyles best suit us. Our passions, beliefs and desires are not threatened with hell or controlled with promises of heaven. Living in the here and now we are free, and we can be ourselves, with “no hell below us, above us only sky.”
Alice, 22, is from Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota, where she earned a degree in English and creative writing, graduating in May. She was an officer in the University of Minnesota’s secular group, Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists.