Forward Freethought winner — Natasha Herrera
By Natasha Herrera
Religion was something I believed in as a child. My mom didn’t talk about God much, but I just assumed she believed because of the teachings I learned every Sunday at church with my grandfather.
My grandpa was a born-again Christian, who relied on his family’s ignorance — they forgive too easily and have an excuse for everything. He was never an amazing person who provided for his family, but, anytime he fell off, he claimed to be lifted by God again and was forgiven.
My father disappeared for six years. When he returned, he was welcomed back into the family with no questions asked. It never made sense to me how easily their trust was earned back, but according to them, God had willed him back and willed them to forgive.
When I would ask my family questions about the bible, I was always accused of distrusting God, even though for me it wasn’t that I didn’t believe the bible, I just had questions. I’ve always been a curious person and it didn’t make sense to me to not ask questions about something so important. Questioning authority shouldn’t be a sign of defiance.
In my experience, people have tried to use religion as an excuse for the world and their actions. Instead of trying to hold people accountable, often God is used as an excuse. I struggled to see how, if an almighty god existed, it would allow so much bad and evil to exist and why it would punish those who didn’t believe in or agree with it.
Learning about the injustices and struggles in the world just made me more angry at God. So much conflict and harm have been a product of religion and yet God had done nothing about it. It proved itself another way to divide people in a world where there is already so much division, and that didn’t make sense. I was tired of people waiting for God to make a change when they were really the only ones capable of doing anything. As an atheist, I believe humanism is the only way to make significant positive change.
My community struggles with diversity and provides a haven for racists and I work to change that. When I attended a peaceful BLM protest in my town, we were met with violence from law enforcement. I am multiracial and have the privilege of white-passing, and I make an effort to use that privilege to speak out and talk to those with harmful views. Religion is a large reason humans still live in disharmony. This fact is living proof that we need to change the way the majority thinks and open people’s eyes. Though religious tolerance wasn’t taught by my grandparents, my mother always taught me how important civil rights and speaking out for what you believe in is. I carry that with me.
Humanism is important because it places the responsibility on the only people that can really make change and takes away excuses, allowing people to see what’s really happening and positively change the world. It brings to the surface the reality that human beings are capable of changing the world and we are more powerful together than any outside source or entity. Giving the power to the people and not a man in the sky is the only way to create social change.
Natasha, 17, attends University of California-Irvine.