Honorable mention — College essay contest: Rachel Panettiere
The danger of blind faith and oppression
By Rachel Panettiere
It is natural to fear the unknown. Centuries ago, humankind created gods and deities to account for natural occurrences that could not yet be explained with contemporary technology. As time progressed, societies divided, and religious thought became much more separated and organized. This resulted in the formation of various religions and their respective sects. The institutions of monotheistic religions are the most well-known within Western society. Christianity surged as the dominant religion for many of these Western nations. Its ideas involving the desire for mass conversion suited powerful rulers and conquerors well while forcing their culture on new colonies. In the United States, this created an overwhelmingly Christian nation, where the lines between church and state are often blurred to the point that it is ironic to call it a free country.
I was never raised within a particular faith growing up. I lived in rural Georgia for most of my youth, and all of my friends attended church. In elementary school, I would go with them occasionally out of curiosity, but these experiences left me rather bored as opposed to inspired. The general message to be a good person, however, was clear. This ideal made the religion seem harmless enough at the time. However, it became evident that those who claim to be religious are often using sacred texts to defend their hatred and bigotry.
In middle school, I ran a secret blog that I thought was anonymous enough to share parts of my life that I had hidden from my friends and family. In this blog, I was open about my experiences as a young member of the LGBTQ community while living in the conservative South. This blog was an outlet for me to share my thoughts with people who experienced similar situations. Unfortunately, I was not as secretive as I had thought, and a peer eventually found the blog and exposed it at school.
Subconsciously, I knew my fellow classmates would not be open to being friends with a gay person, but I had no idea how violently opposed they were to my existence. My best friend, a devout Baptist, told me I would burn in hell and that she could no longer be around me. To this day, she has never said another word to me. I became contagious to those around me. I was a freak and an outlier. Although this experience was traumatizing, I now understand that I was ostracized by a group of people who were blindly following the beliefs of their parents. Their loving, Christian ways taught them that bullying and shunning were the proper methods to deal with those who did not fall in line with their beliefs.
There is an irrefutable danger in blindly following others in what to believe. Although, I will admit it is easier to accept what you are told as true than to form your own opinions. I strongly maintain, however, that a moral code is instinctual, and that understanding what it means to be a good person does not require a religious establishment. In fact, performing good deeds merely to avoid eternal damnation is arguably more selfish than performing said good deeds for the sake of others and the community. The necessity of freethought does not simply lie in the desire to escape oppression from those who fear any lifestyle that deviates from their own. Instead, this necessity lies in the beauty of questioning everything that you have been so that it may expand your understanding of the world.