First place: College essay contest — Ryan Rindels
Is anyone listening?
FFRF awarded Ryan $3,500.
By Ryan Rindels
The divisiveness of religion was only revealed to me as I began to depart from it. Sixteen years I had spent marinating in the evangelical Christian faith — in its community, in its doctrines, and in its unfailing support.
I spent my nights in prayer, external from family dinners and church services, in order to capture alone time with God. I could feel the tangible threads of a relationship already developing in the short time I had been alive. I longed for the day I would reach eternal salvation, forever alive with the ones that I love, free of fear or worry. I questioned the justice of eternal damnation, and never truly believed that homosexuality was a sin, but these were quiet doubts, overshadowed by a far more powerful feeling inside of me.
One night, I continued my nightly prayer ritual, but instead of feeling satisfied, I gazed up at my bedroom ceiling and felt the most unbearable silence I had ever experienced. I was incredibly unsettled, and failed to fall asleep for several hours. This was NOT the reason for my de-conversion, but rather, it was the catalyst that asked the question in my mind for the first time: “Is anyone listening?”
The questions I had suppressed steadily creeped to the forefront of my brain as time went on. Most of my questions regarded Hell, but others challenged the biblical narrative, the philosophical aspects of a God, and the personal experiences my friends and family held dear. Following two years of further doubt and discovery, it was finally time to entirely reject the ideas I had been forced to believe.
My perspective shift to an outsider revealed a countless number of cracks I had been unable to see under the Christian veil. The religion that I was a part of for so long was NOT a religion of hope, joy, inclusion, freethought, or even love, as it is often described. Historically, this is hardly controversial. Christianity has been used to justify numerous atrocities, such as the Crusades or the Atlantic slave trade. Even today, Christianity is the enemy of unity, constantly battling any ideas contrary to the biblical narrative, even those that push for equality.
Personally, I have experienced the extreme shame that my religion gave me, for thoughts and actions that were entirely healthy as an adolescent. I believed that my community was unrivaled, and yet it pushed back against inclusion at every step of the way. I believed my beliefs were truly my own, instead of being compelled to believe falsehoods. Especially during the year of my deconversion, I witnessed a level of demonization toward others by Christians that was devoid of any sort of love. And finally, I found my religion to be one of the most hopeless propositions ever offered, except to a select few. For the majority of humankind, only futility can be seen.
Secularism is quite the opposite. An openness to new ideas, inclusion of everybody, and a caring for humankind can only lead to unity. Though I can only honestly speak to the religion that I was a part of, it is truly an obstacle to progress. So much pain has been caused even within my own family by my different belief system. I can’t imagine how others have been forced to cope with a similar struggle. My words seem to evaporate in the face of my church community. I have yet to feel like anyone has been listening, let alone a divine being.
I truly believe that the only way to unify the world is to embrace openness. Secularism is beneficial, but even the religious can attempt to understand those different from them and approach new ideas free of bias. It is my hope that the world will embrace openness and break away from the rigid exclusion that religion has always provided.
Ryan, 18, is from Los Lunas, N.M., and attends the University of New Mexico, with plans to graduate with a degree in film and digital arts. “I recently left the evangelical Christian faith I was indoctrinated into,” Ryan writes. “While a Christian, I participated in feeding the homeless, and plan to do so apart from religion.”