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I have been raised in a strong Christian family my entire life. As my parents are liberal, I considered myself to be much more open and tolerant than many of my peers at school. Trying to follow my God’s example, I accepted everyone I met, no matter their race, sexual orientation, political views, or socio-economic background. I never even had trouble accepting those of different religions, as I contented myself that we worshiped the same God who spoke to us in different ways. Religion made everybody generous, and moral—that was enough for me. I then met twin brothers, Tim and Chris Keele. They caused me to question the two categories for people I had created in my mind, as well as my own tolerance.
It was the night of my high school’s homecoming football game, and Tim and I were happily ensconced amid our group of friends, high in the stadium’s bleachers. I had befriended Tim and Chris when they moved to my town the previous year. They were intelligent, polite, and genuinely kind, with no agenda hidden beneath their smiles.
I remembered something I had been wanting to ask them, and I couldn’t believe I had let twelve months go by without making this vital inquiry.
“So, what church do you and Chris go to?” I asked Tim. In my small southern town, that is always one of the first things you ask when meeting someone. It was a mark of my ignorance that I assumed Time and Chris went to church.
“Actually, Amelia,” Tim squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, “We’re atheists.” Tim could have told me he was Unitarian, Jewish, Hindu, or Mormon—nothing would have shocked me. But when he told me he was an atheist, he did.
“But your Dad,” I began, desperately hoping Tim was joking, “He teaches a religion studies course at the college…”
“That’s just his job,” said Tim, shrugging. He went on to explain how his parents had been raised in an overbearingly restrictive religious practice, and how they grew tired of the strict rules and imprisoning behaviors that were expected. Tim concluded by telling me that when all scientific evidence was laid out for perusal, he just didn’t see how the existence of any sort of god was possible.
While Tim said all of this my mind was spinning, as I tried to fit this new piece into a puzzle I thought I had already completed. People that were Christians, or belonged to any religion, were kind and gracious. They might mess up occasionally, but always carried love for others in their hearts. Atheists were evil, selfish individuals, whose only belief was that they could control everything themselves. Tim was sweet and loving, not self-centered or evil. Tim was an atheist. Could atheists be good? No, that wasn’t—it couldn’t be—possible. If Tim and Chris had just believed in something, I could have been fine. It was them having no belief at all that frightened me.
I struggled over the following weeks, as an epic battle was fought in my mind. My upbringing, community, and long-held beliefs were on one side, and a new revelation was on the other. At times I thought I had no problem with Tim and Chris being atheists, but I wondered if I should be trying to convert them to Christianity. I began to worry that my acceptance of their atheism was a sin, and that I was letting a world preaching tolerance guide my values, instead of God. My mind ricocheted between extremes of loving, “its not my business” acceptance of two nice boys, and fearful hatred of these non-believers who were different from me, causing me to jeopardize my soul for eternity.
The turning point in my war came when I was sitting in homeroom one insignificant school day, listening to the various conversations taking place. For some reason unknown to me, I heard the words my peers saying suddenly amplified, their actions were illuminated, and I saw. Many of the “good,” supposedly religious students running around my school were not truthfully practicing what they preached, but because they had a religious label to stick on themselves, their behavior was somehow acceptable. Then there were Chris and Tim, the most gracious, moral boys I knew, and they had no religion.
I finally realized that being religious does not mean a person is good, and someone without a religion is not necessarily an evil individual with no soul. What ultimately matters is the passion for life and kindness people hold in their hearts, and how they use utilize these feelings while on this earth. Chris and Tim have all ready given the world their love, and I hope one day I can do the same.