Religion often defines a society, a movement or a family. Atheism, a negative word in the religious society, is another belief in the spiritual world. It is often a risky term, or frowned upon, and many may think of atheism as an insult to believers in the world. This I believe: There is no God helping and guiding me through life. There is no greater spirit judging my every movement, and I don’t need a God to understand the world. I believe in myself.
Everyone has or hopefully has been there, the state of being a teenager, dazed and confused, with too much guidance to get anywhere, or not enough to go places at all. High school is a scary place, surrounded by temptation, opinions and varieties of choices that overwhelm a teenager’s brain. I was lost most of high school; I was preoccupied with track and field, finding new friends and relationships. Before high school my mom had attempted to raise me Catholic, but she, not being too religious herself, caused me to quit church as soon as I had reached the age of communion. My dad never participated, he didn’t believe in organized religion.
I lived in a primarily Jewish society, but was surrounded with many Christians as well, and I had no idea what I considered my religion to be. Frankly, I didn’t care. I was devoted to riding horses, and I had tunnel vision of going to state for the pole vault in track, I didn’t have time for God. I did not believe in a God, but I never really had a reason to believe.
October 13, 2006 was when Ross Trace, my pole vault team mate, died. He was the passenger in a car operated by an intoxicated driver, speeding 80 miles an hour down a residential street, when it slammed into a tree. He died instantly at 11:30 at night, it was our high school home coming, but there was nothing to celebrate anymore. I found out the next morning, and before I could even absorb that my life had drastically changed, my mind filled with questions and confusions. The halls at school were filled with black the next Monday, passing periods were silent and everyone was too lost to speak. Teachers would suddenly leave class and students would run out sobbing. It was as if Ross Trace was the only thing holding us together, and we were all falling apart without him. I had friends that turned to God or their various forms of religion, but I turned to my vault team.
We would have practice to honor him, or circles where we remembered Ross in all his greatness. We planted trees in his honor, and all wore his name on our sleeve when we competed. It took months, but finally, acceptance came. Yes, there will always be confusion or hurt present in our lives, but as a team we pulled through and supported each other.
I never thought about a God when Ross died, I believe Ross is in a better place, watching over everyone he impacted, and he will always be remembered. I didn’t want to look for excuses for Ross’ death, smother it with ideas that “everything happens for a reason” or “this was God’s intention”. I just wanted to become a stronger person, and I became that. I don’t pray, I don’t think there is anyone listening to me when I speak out loud and question my life. I don’t believe that a greater being looked down at me while I broke down onto my knees at track meets begging in muffled sobs for Ross to be alive once again. Ross’s death was cruel enough, it made it worse for me to imagine that this was intended just to make me a better human. I believe in this: that Ross’ dying made me stronger, more appreciative and more aware of the miracles around me. But I did not gain faith in God; I gained faith in my friends, family, and myself.
I question God’s existence, like any other person, because others who believe in one surround me. It is my personal belief to say there is no God. I’ve been told that miracles show God’s existence, or Earth itself is an example of his work. Witnessing a whole high school filled with materialistic teenagers and overconfident teachers come together with grief and support each other was a miracle to me. But I don’t think it is evidence of a God, it’s a work of human beings. I don’t think it necessary to allow belief of a higher power to take our credit for our inner strength. I believe we underestimate ourselves as human beings, by allowing an idea to provide us with excuses for life events or sorrow. At the end of the day all it comes down to is life, life happens, death happens, and life goes on.
It was easy to believe in my views when all others were excluded from the picture, and my opinion was my own. However, friends in youth groups and churches surrounded me. When my senior year rolled around, my best friend was very active in church and I was dating a guy who went to the church I once attended. I decided to become more involved with the church; I wanted to go on a retreat that had claimed to change lives. I helped volunteer, and went to services. Though I felt better because I was helping homeless, I sat in church wondering why I was there. I questioned whether Kairos, the retreat, was going to be meaningless to me.
I went on Kairos with an optimistic view, I had a lot of things in my life that were positive: I had a boyfriend who I cared for, I had a good group of friends and I was doing well in track and horseback riding. Kairos was meant to be time between God, and ourselves, so I was really skeptical; a lot of kids went on the trip to find God. I didn’t, I went on Kairos to find myself, trust others, and learn to love. I gained confidence in myself by opening up to others. I learned that my sanctuary isn’t a church of Christ, but riding a horse. I improved my confidence on my beliefs, with the support of those surrounding me, and I helped others with their struggling faiths. I solidified my idea that there is no God out there for me, because I don’t believe that God helped me learn what I learned on Kairos. I learned to love on Kairos, and I began to understand that life may not be fair, but I must make the best of it. No God helped me find this; it was my new ability to be open-minded about the real world and myself. It was my newfound strength to trust others and not put so much pressure on myself.
Not believing in a God has allowed me to realize my own faults and strengths. I found it easy to blame a greater power on the wrongs in the world, but the truth is, is that humans are to blame. There is no person to blame but ourselves for famish, suffering, failure. We must take responsibility for the wrongs in our lives. This I believe, that there is no higher figure pointing his or her finger down at me, as if I were his puppet, directing me. I don’t look up to this person and ask him why there’s wrong in my life, in my eyes it is unrealistic. I find serenity in horses or writing, I find answers through discovery of my own strength. I find faults in myself and improve them. At the end of the day, I know that where I am is result of my own accomplishments, and this makes me more certain of my actions. I’ve learned to second guess myself less and trust my instincts because they are my own, no one else’s. I believe in my own strength.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.