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

Honorable mention – College essay contest: Indigo Bistrup-Peterson

Vol. 37 No. 08 October 2020
Indigo Bistrup-Peterson                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

It all depends on where we find comfort

By Indigo Bistrup-Peterson

When I was 11 years old, I came home after school one day and said, “Dad, I think I’m the only vegetarian atheist in the sixth-grade.” He laughed and responded with, “Honey, I think you’re the only vegetarian atheist in the whole school district.” My small town almost completely revolves around religion. It has a population of 2,900 and boasts 12 churches. Religion is so prominent that “Which church do you go to?” is a common first question when meeting new people. That question was difficult for me to answer because I was raised in a nonreligious household. Even though my parents are atheists, they gave me the freedom to explore what I really believed. While my friends went to Sunday school, I played the piano and read as many books as I could find. My parents also let me go to church or bible study with some of my friends, since I was curious what it was like and why people might be religious. I remember coming back from my friend’s church one night and telling my parents, “I didn’t understand the concept of religion, it made no sense to me.”

Even though I knew I did not actually have a religion or want to be a part of one, I still told my friends that I wasn’t sure what I believed. I wanted to fit in, and religion is huge in our tiny town. I kept my true religious affiliation (none) from friends and acquaintances because I didn’t want them to judge me for being different. At that time in my life, I didn’t know of any other classmates who were atheists or even agnostic. I stood up during the Pledge of Allegiance and pledged myself to God and America every morning. I would pray with the rest of my swim team before meets. I would try to avoid the subject of religion as much as possible because I didn’t want people to know the real me. As I got older and more aware of what religion actually is, I realized why people are religious. People turn to religion in order to quell their fears of the unknown. Realizing this helped me cement my own belief in myself, and I began to act on it. I started by omitting the word “God” in the pledge. Then I stood up but didn’t say the pledge at all. One day I didn’t even stand for the pledge and was immediately chastised by my teacher for disrespecting our country. Even so, I was finally starting to feel like my true self. I felt uncomfortable droning the Pledge of Allegiance at the nearest American flag, so I stopped. And when I became a senior, I got rid of the pre-swim meet prayers (separation of church and state, am I right?). I no longer avoided the question of “Which church do you go to?” by stating something vague, and instead I started to say “Oh, I don’t have a religion.” I reject religion because I realized that I don’t need the comfort of a higher power to live life. Instead, I have music. I have books. And those are the things that get me through the hardships of life today.

Indigo, 19, is from Foreston, Minn., and attends Carleton College, where she is majoring in English. “One unusual thing I’ve been able to do was visit all 50 states,” she writes. “I’m incredibly thankful to my parents for giving me that experience because I was able to see what life was like outside of the tiny, conservative town that I grew up in.”