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

Second place: College essay contest — Meredith Corda

Vol. 38 No. 08 October 2021
Meredith Corda                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Out of the shadows

FFRF awarded Meredith $3,000.

By Meredith Corda

“Ave Verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine 

Vere passum, immolatum 

In cruce pro homine” 

As I sang those words, surrounded by my peers, feeling the swells of the music, I couldn’t help but let tears well up in my eyes and eventually spill down my cheeks. Overcome with raw emotion, I continued to sing, my heart aching, but my voice somehow still intact. 

In the six years I sang in choirs, I fell in love with the processes behind an excellent choir: what it took to perfect the blend of voices, the hours spent on tiny details in order to improve and better convey meaning to an audience. 

Creating synergy within a choir depends on an emotional connection to the music, or so I was taught. We held long conversations about each song, because syncing up every consonant, breath and pitch was not enough. We had to sing with one mind. 

We all knew what this song was about, more or less: Jesus dying on the cross and his mother Mary’s suffering. I knew the story all too well. Having grown up going to Catholic Church for 10 years, I was familiar yet uncomfortable with the subject. Several of my closest friends were devoutly Christian and LDS, and would often talk about church or their youth groups at school. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I finally accepted that I did not believe in a god, but I kept that to myself for years, opting to hide in the background of conversations about religion, which was difficult for an outgoing person like myself. It felt like I was keeping a dark secret. In many ways, I envied my religious friends; the way they could talk about their beliefs with what seemed like no fear, but also no consideration for those without the same beliefs. 

In class that day, as we read the translation from Latin, the room was tense. Our director asked if anyone was comfortable enough to share their personal connection with the music. Of course, several students stood and described their personal, religious connection to the song. I distinctly remember looking around the room and feeling like a “closeted” atheist — shameful, uncomfortable, and sad. Sad that I would not be able to feel the same way about the song, sad that we were even talking about religion this much in a public high school classroom, and sad for the other students in the class I knew felt the same way. Not just other atheists, but students of other faiths who probably felt equally as alienated. I knew that there was more to the song than a love for a god, and even though at the time I didn’t feel very comfortable opening up about my lack of faith, I knew that if we all truly were going to buy into something meaningful, it was not going to be a religious sentiment. So, I stood, and as gracefully as I could, offered a more secular interpretation: that we should simply sing with the theme of parental love in our minds, something I was sure we all could find a way to relate to. 

Even though this was over four years ago, I can still remember the relief I felt in that moment. I was not met with any judgment and my interpretation sparked several other talking points and nudged other nonreligious students to stand up and share what they thought. I can truly say that this experience helped me realize the unifying power of secular thought, even if it is not explicitly anti-religious. When we finally performed the song, I was blown away by just how connected we all really were. Going forward, I became more outspoken about my secular views and gained confidence in myself, which is why I wholeheartedly encourage all secularists to be brave and do the same.

Meredith, 21, attends the University of California Berkeley with a double major of rhetoric and German. “I am a member of Cal’s cross country and track and field teams,” Meredith writes. “I hope to attend law school after I graduate and am interested in international and environmental law.”