The Hesitant Unbeliever

One of the supplementary essays written for a college application.

Claustrophobic and sticky is how I’d describe my childhood trips to temples. Claustrophobic due to my short stature relative to the others in the crowd; sticky from the remnants of various edible offerings placed at the idols’ feet. The primary element coloring the memories of each journey is my unwillingness to succumb to my parents’ pleas for me to accompany them to some festive event. Occasionally, the stubbornness I clutched onto failed me and I was dragged off, more sullen than was usual even for my gloomy disposition, to another pooja. In every temple the same atmosphere prevailed: a surge of religiosity emanating from people’s murmurs towards ubiquitous gods. And every time I was eagerly nudged forward to murmur, I looked at the statue before me, wondering to whom I was praying and why it was necessary, since I hadn’t previously received any response. The concept of religion enveloped me in fear- not of religion itself, but of my family, in which religious belief is akin to common sense. Professing a lack of faith seemed like social suicide, but at some level I’d realized my lonely pre-temple protests weren’t the tantrums of a naïve child. They were symptoms of my transition from following ideas, to creating my own, thinking independently, and disagreeing with theories that didn’t comply with my system of reasoning. Only recently have I come to solid terms with my atheism, and it was much less frightening to do so now than it would have been a few years ago, when I was still finding a foothold in this new territory. Though confronting my skepticism was a process plagued with doubt regarding the credibility of my opinions, it was a fair price to pay; today I feel finally liberated in saying: “I’m an atheist, and I’m no longer afraid to face whatever that entails, no longer afraid of my own thoughts.”

-Shaakya Vembar


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