Atheism scholarship winner

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The day I told my father I didn’t want to go to church anymore, I may as well have turned
into Satan himself. For hours, I tried to explain how I do not agree with the church’s teachings,
but he wasn’t budging. I was just another ‘brainwashed liberal’ that gathered all my ideologies
from the internet.

While parents tend to be the last people you want to disappoint, I was tired of
being shoved into a box of religion. They always told me, “It’s about relationship with God, not
religion,” but failed to adhere to the fact that they were still following a religion, based on a book
written more than 2,000 years ago, at least.

My parents were not always churchgoers. Eight years ago, my father began to attend with my
older brother, eventually letting my little brother and I tag along, and soon enough, my mother
was convinced, too. In the beginning, it was nice. Everybody hugged me, spoke positively,
occasionally provided free donuts for the youth and so on. However, I was far too young to
actually understand religion. I just figured, “Hey, these people are nice. I like this.”

As I grew older, into my teenage years, I admit I became skeptical. Acknowledging the fact that I am not
speaking on behalf of all churches across the nation, I’d like to talk about my personal church,
and the hypocrisies that were all too common. For a religion that claims to love everyone and
treat everyone equally, there were more cliques than a high school drama movie. Trying to make
friends was hard. Girls would stare at me like I was dirty, unworthy of their time, and seemed
quite comfortable with their group, so I didn’t bother to make approaches anymore.

There was a silent hierarchy, the friends and family of pastors at the top, young adult interns in the middle,and everyone else at the bottom. Understanding where I fit in, I began to develop this kind of
resentment for feeling that I was constantly alienated.

For reasons unknown, I’ve found that there is a huge mental health stigma in the church.
When I came to my mother with such problems, at about age 15, the answer seemed to be that I
needed more Jesus, and for a short time, I believed that. I believed that my chemical imbalance
was just me not being a good Christian, and that, “the enemy was working his ways.” But with
the “Jesus can heal you” mentality, wouldn’t that mean Jesus was the one who gave me the
illness in the first place? (Just saying.)

Anyways, when I wanted to begin medication treatment, my father was clearly uncomfortable with the idea. Personally, I was tired of trying to, “tough it out,” so I was willing to try just about anything. He eventually gave in to it, understanding I had to do what I thought was best for me. But still, every so often, my parents would tell me to just, “give it all to God” and mention that I could always speak with the pastor’s wife about my problems. No thanks, mom.

Ultimately, I found that there is a superficial mantra of positivity in church that I could just not get over. Having a God that can take away depression and lack of motivation at the snap of his fingers sounds awesome, but there’s also Prozac and Zoloft that can do the job.

In the church world, there didn’t seem to be much talk about the LGBTQ+ community. Their beliefs were typically said out loud only when spoken to personally. And whenever marriage was brought up during a sermon, you could practically hear the vindication in their voice when the pastor said, “between a man and a woman” and the masses so close-mindedly repeated “Amen.”

Up until I was about 15, I only started to begin to understand the gender spectrum, the difficulties that the LGBTQ+ community faces, and how unjust it was overall. Not only was I appalled, but after putting much thought into my own sexuality, I could no longer be complacent with how the church treated and judged these individuals. I hit a rather awkward time in my life about a year ago where I began to admire another young woman. It didn’t feel wrong, but I felt incredibly lost, considering I knew nothing but heterosexual relationships.

Nothing came of it, but I pondered for a long time about why the church was against homosexual
relationships. Was I not allowed to be happy with whomever? Are straight men the only people
that can make me feel love, and happiness? Seems a little misogynistic to me. I’ve never talked
with anyone in my family about my sexuality, because I feel they are the people to think I’m in a
“phase,” or just “confused.”

Don’t get me wrong , my parents are not what I would call homophobic, but it’s definitely understood where they stand on the belief itself. There’s so many beautiful people out in the world and I’m strictly limited to men? Lame. All jokes aside, I came to the conclusion that I could not support an organization that did not accept all walks of sexuality.

Within the past few weeks, I have become more comfortable questioning my beliefs.
Initially, I felt guilty — extremely guilty. Even now, my mother’s initial reaction to me writing
this article for a scholarship was that it wasn’t worth it, and, “How could a family promote this?”

I haven’t completely opened up to my parents about my atheism, and the only thing stopping me
is the thought of disappointing them. Nevertheless, my life has felt free. I no longer spend my
days worrying about being punished by God, or force myself to sit through those sanctimonious
Sunday sermons.

My parents and I have a loving relationship, but the tension and awkwardness
remains. Sometimes my father’s judgment comes out during arguments, and if he doesn’t see the
subtle resentment, I do. If church has taught me anything, it’s definitely that there is a
comfortability found in religion. Putting faith in a higher power, and believing in a life after
death certainly makes living a lot more tolerable. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s a
very lonely, sobering feeling to consider that we, mankind, are just coincidences, embodiments
of energy and atoms from the Big Bang, floating through an infinite universe.

Sincerely,
Sarah Hagy

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