David WiegnNovember 23, 2016Discovery and ProgressInterfaith Connections

I am lost in a world of increasing religious fundamentalism. All around me, religion remains powerful, and I feel helpless.

At my high school in Dallas, Texas, teaching evolution remains a touchy subject, even this far into the 21st century. Numerous school clubs and charities spread Christianity as primary goals. Recently, my high school has garnered national attention for our book ban, which was undoubtedly motivated by religious notions. As a student, I find myself with little to no say-power. Living in such a secure and sheltered community, I feel wrong for feeling differently. At times, I even feel suffocated and inundated by the beliefs of others, questioning the validity of my own beliefs.

My parents are both nonreligious. Instead of forcing religion on me, my mother and father have focused on more down-to-earth things, educating me on how to be an ethical human being. They forced me to share my Lego strips with my sister, refused to do science fair projects for me, scolded me for refusing to eat my grandmother’s soup. Sure, these may not sound as profound as teachings contained in books of faith, but they have special meaning to me.

By sharing my toys with my sister, I learned to acknowledge others’ needs and the true importance of family. By doing my own science fair projects, I began to rely on myself and to think out of the box. By sipping my grandmother’s soup obediently, I saw the importance of empathy. Still memorable today, these lessons truly illustrate the ethics that they passed down to me.

Being a teenager has brought a new realization that I still yearn for some understanding, some reverence for a higher power, and I am attracted to deism. Since the first time I came across deism in a history textbook, it has stuck in my head. As a firm believer in scientific laws and theory, I was finally able to join my rational side with my not-so-rational side that believes in the existence of a higher power. Different from agnosticism or atheism, deists acknowledge the presence of a higher power who created the universe but reject any continued intervention in our unimportant daily lives. I wholeheartedly believe that I am the master of my fate, and I refuse to believe that someone else has already predetermined my life.

I see the evidence of God around me. I see his work when I observe the wildlife of the Californian redwood forest, which I visit each summer with my grandparents. These imposing redwoods tower over me. The constant pecking of the woodpecker causes me to pause and appreciate the true beauty of nature. Whenever I am here, I feel minuscule, and I surrender to my senses. The rest of the creatures all have a purpose and function in this interconnected ecosystem, but what is my purpose? Even though the bird is doing repetitive work, it is at peace and tranquil. Perhaps that is what I am searching for, a state of peace that I can’t really find in a city.

I am like a tiny insect, caught in a web much larger than I am. All around me, everyone has strong outward religious convictions, imposing their views on others. While the book ban has since been overturned, the controversy persists as national organizations take sides in this local debate. To extricate myself from this religious fervor, I rely on the peace gained from my time in nature. Rather than acting belligerently like many of the fundamentalists in my community, I’ve devised a plan to express myself more effectively and co-founded a group that wrote a letter to the superintendent, expressing our dismay at the lack of transparency. As such, I have found a way out from the web — through my own words and self-reliance.