The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Why I Am an Atheist
Reason # 1: I don’t like how women are treated in the Bible
Elia Drozdovska

My father took me to church for the first time when I was 5. I’m from Kiev, Ukraine, and unlike here in America, there aren’t any benches in church there. I’d stand for hours listening to the priest reading and singing excerpts from the Bible. My legs hurt and I was bored. I wanted to go home and watch cartoons. So I’d look at the paintings of angels and saints, and count how many candles had been lit.

“Why do women have to cover their heads when they’re in church, but men don’t?” I asked my father during the service.

“It is a tradition. When a woman covers her head it symbolizes that she is obedient and submissive to her husband,” my father whispered.

I looked at the boy standing next to me and thought, “We are the same age and we have the same hair, but for some reason God thinks that he is better than me.”

I grew up in a religious Orthodox Christian family. I prayed every night and went to church every Sunday with my family. My father had been volunteering in church since he was 15 years old, and my grandfather did a lot of work there as an artist and sculptor. In school, all of my teachers referred to the Bible during lessons. I was the only one I knew who questioned God’s existence.

When I was 10, I took the first Harry Potter book out of my school library and was excited to read it. However, when I got home and showed it to my dad he said, “You need to return it. The church doesn’t allow it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Allow what?”

“The church thinks that books like that promote black magic and devil worship.”

I thought that didn’t really make sense, but I did not want to argue with my father. I returned the book.

Questioning the Bible

When I became a teenager, my father gave me my own copy of the Bible. The more I read it, the less sense it made to me. For example, why do all women have to suffer just because the first woman did not listen to God’s instructions and ate an apple? Why is this same tree that the apple came from called “the tree of knowledge?”

If eating the apple was prohibited, does that mean those two people weren’t supposed to get that knowledge? Is knowledge bad? When I asked my grandfather about this, he got me more confused by talking about how it’s human nature to strive to learn more, and how that can be associated with sin.

I also wondered why the Bible says the Earth is only 6,000 years old although it is scientifically proven that it has existed for at least 4.5 billion years. And if there’s only one God, why are there so many different religions?

I’m particularly bothered by how God treats women according to the Bible. I read a passage in Deuteronomy that said that if a man is caught raping a young girl, he has to pay silver to her father and marry her. So, according to the Bible, not only is rape OK if the money is paid, but a girl also has to spend her life with the man who raped her because he took her value.

I understand that the Bible also promotes good things, such as being kind and not stealing, but to me it seems mostly hypocritical and discriminatory. When I talked to my friends about this I discovered that many of them had the same conflicted feelings, but they were afraid of how their parents would react if they questioned them.

Talking to God? Or Santa?

My grandmother would often tell me that whenever she is in church she gets a feeling of peace and holiness. She even said she feels dizzy because she knows that all the saints are watching her. But I didn’t get this feeling in church, though I tried hard to convince myself that I did. I tried to connect to God, but it didn’t work. Talking to God felt like talking to an imaginary friend, or Santa.

One night my father and I were driving home from a grocery store. He lowered the music. “Are you going to church with us tomorrow morning?”

I wanted to jump out of the car. I was in the habit of making excuses so I wouldn’t have to go.

“I am not sure. I feel tired. I want to get enough sleep for school tomorrow,” I said.

“Elia, you have to go. It has been a long time since you’ve been there. You go to church to reconnect with God.”

I stared out the window wishing I could avoid this conversation.

“Dad, what if I don’t want to go to church anymore?”

“What do you mean you don’t want to go? It is not about what you want, it is about what is good for your soul!”

image by YC-Art Dept

“I just feel like it is pointless.”

“How can you say that? I don’t understand where you get this from. Since you were little we’ve taught you to love God.”

A Break From My Father

I could see that he was disappointed and starting to get angry. “We will talk about it later,” he said.

When we got home I didn’t bring it up again, because it upset me to make my dad mad.

It was more than just disagreeing with so much of the Bible. I thought that going to church, just like wearing a cross on my neck, did not make my life better or worse. Praying seemed like a waste of time, talking to somebody or something I doubt exists.

When we got home I heard my dad say to my mom, “We need to get her into a Christian school.”

“It is only going to turn her off to religion more,” my mom answered him. “She will come to it on her own.”

After this I stopped praying at night and stopped wearing a cross on my neck. And my father stopped speaking to me.

A few weeks later, things went back to normal with my dad, and the subject of whether or not I believe in God hasn’t come up again. I know that as long as I feel this way my parents will be disappointed. Still, I’m glad they know how I feel.

Comfortable With My Beliefs

For a few years my parents expected me to go to church with them, but they let me stay outside during the service, hoping I would decide to come in and pray. I went along because I understood that they believe that is what’s best for me and I respect their religion, even if I don’t embrace it. I never went inside.

I am 16 now. My family moved to New York City last year. I feel more comfortable discussing and sharing my beliefs with my new friends. Teenagers in my international high school practice all different religions, so I don’t feel weird having different beliefs or opinions.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a good friend of mine in gym class about how young girls get married in Muslim communities.

“Many of them are doing it because of their parents, and some believe that they need a husband to take care of them emotionally and financially,” she said. “I also come from a Muslim family, but I will decide for myself when and who I am marrying.”

“It’s great that you know what you want. I feel the same way. People often don’t understand it,” I told her.

“What does your religion say about it?” she asked.

“Actually, I am an atheist, so I don’t follow any religion.”

“Wait, so you don’t believe in any God?” She sounded confused and sorry for me. “But you are a good person so you must follow God’s instructions.”

“I don’t think I need to believe in God to be a good person.”

“I will talk to you later.” She walked off.

It surprised me that my friend was so open-minded about decisions in her life, but she didn’t accept mine.

Still, atheist is the way I identify myself now. I first overheard the word atheist spoken by strangers in church. The tone of their voices made it seem like something bad and radical. Then one day, I Googled the definition and learned it means you do not believe in any God or gods. I also read a few statistics showing atheists are usually more educated. That made me feel proud to be among this group of people.

I also discovered there are stereotypes about atheists being evil people. People ask me, “Did something bad happen in your life, and that’s why you don’t believe in God?” There is an incorrect assumption that I experienced a tragedy and now I am mad at God. No one has died, I was not abused as a child, and no, I am not seeking attention. I came to atheism as a result of my critical thinking.

Questioning something does not make me wrong or bad or strange. Nor does searching for answers in sources besides holy books like the Bible.

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