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

Honorable mention — Persons of color essay contest: Raven Yamamoto

Vol. 36 No. 08 October 2019
Raven Yamamoto                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Breaking the cycle

By Raven Yamamoto

My experiences being born into religion have laid the foundation for my humanism today. Having no choice but to be born into a family of Christians, I was raised beneath the roof of a church every Sunday. But as the years went by, I saw firsthand the hypocrisy that ran amok within and, in time, I recognized the act of attending church for what it was: performative. I saw families gossip about each other only to turn around and hug their so-called “neighbor” with a smile. Instead of simply practicing the values they preach in their daily lives, these people that surrounded me played the part for a day. It became nothing more than a weekly event designed to make people feel better about themselves and allow them to sleep soundly knowing they had sacrificed an hour of their week in exchange for piety.

As a humanist college student, I give myself the freedom to have a more pure relationship with morality and what we call the “greater good,” without relying on a false reward system of salvation. Going to a Jesuit university, I am fed the idea that Catholics are dedicated to the idea of social justice and salvation for all. But in actuality, such justice is conditional. I was thrown out of my church for being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and in retrospect, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I learned early on that religion is for those who have the ability to deny themselves—something I did not have. The cancerous idea put forth by religion that a person can be judged by a fixed set of standards never appealed to me. By losing religion, I am able to meet people where they are in life rather than trying to pull them up to some level that I have subjectively labeled as good.

Furthermore, as a person of native Hawaiian descent, I find it impossible to subscribe to a religion when most belief systems are guilty of perpetuating colonization. The arrival of white missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1800s and their spread of Christianity marked the end of our independence and spurred the overthrow of our last reigning monarch. These bringers of God’s “good word” with their bibles in one hand and a gun in the other saw my people as dirty savages and made it their mission to scrub us clean. Once they were in power, they called our culture paganistic and banned our native tongue, stripping us of our identity and replacing it with their own. My ancestors were robbed

of their land in the name of God, making it impossible for me to rationally subscribe to any faith that would wish such horrors unto my ancestors. To do so would mean subscribing myself to a lifetime of hypocrisy.

As a humanist and an atheist, I have taken on a duty to live my life authentically and escape the multi-generational cycle of oppression enforced through religion. I stand loud and proud as an atheist because I want to set an example for future atheist Hawaiians who want to better themselves by defeating this generational trauma. I happily share the story of my upbringing and how it has made it clear that in the eyes of any god, I am still only a means for conversion and spreading a cancerous message the same as those before me. I am a means to meet a quota that is never satisfied the same way people of color have always been throughout America’s treacherous history of colonialism. We are inherently a thing that needs to be fixed because our history books say so. I find power in thinking for myself as a nonbeliever and happily welcome any controversy that comes with it. I am at peace knowing that history will not repeat itself because I refuse to allow it to.

 Raven, 19, is from Kahului, Hawaii, and attends Loyola Marymount University, where she is a journalism major and political science minor. She is president of her college’s Agapé Service Organization, a community-service based club dedicated to raising awareness around mental health and other social justice issues. Raven is also assistant editor of my school newspaper’s social justice section.