Interview on October 31, 2022, with Sophia, who is studying anthropology, outside the Charles & Leeta Dovica Learning Resource Center at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

Do you consider yourself religious?

Sophia: No, not religious. We went to church when I was a kid. I was allowed to pick what I wanted to believe in. My dad still does Easters. My grandparents, my extended family all still go to church. I know my great-grandparents do. I consider myself more spiritual. I like the concept of rituals and practices and community but I wouldn’t say I have any beliefs, per se. I like the idea that we’re part of something bigger, that there’s a plan. Just the concept that things are going in a direction. My grandma passed away when I was young, about four or five, and so, my family being Christian and Catholic like they are, she’s in heaven to them and to me she is, too, even though I don’t believe in a God or a heaven per se. My brain just kind of applies it to whoever is from whichever one, but I don’t think I ever fully believed that there’s a God or a deity out there. 

Why do you think there is no God?

Sophia: I like the idea of one being there, but I could never quite convince myself. Not that science disproves it, because obviously if it did exist, it would be something beyond that but there was never enough there for it to exist in my brain, more just the practices surrounding it: the idea of rituals or going to church or doing certain prayers make sense in my brain because humans look for comfort in things and we have very predictable behavior like that. But I could never quite attribute it to a person or a deity or an individual of some kind. 

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Sophia: I don’t have a specific belief on the afterlife. I wouldn’t say heaven is my choice or reincarnation, but I like to think that there’s something, it doesn’t just end in dirt. Because sometimes it feels like people do come back and maybe your pet is identical to a pet you lost, those kinds of stories. Not quite ghosts because the concept of spirits is weird. But sometimes it feels like, if you believe more in the paranormal incidences, it feels like you can get to there almost. You couldn’t prove that it’s your grandma knocking on the door at night, but some people’s stories are just so specific and contextual that you can’t ignore it. Or maybe our brain just manifests it as a way to deal with it. Either way, I like the idea of things coming back.

Do you believe in absolute right and wrong?

Sophia: I would say yes, but only because we have a human perspective on ethics. I don’t necessarily condone animals doing violent, horrible things, but it’s different for them. Different levels of cognitive thinking affect what you think of as right or wrong. Certain things, more graphic assaults and similar stuff, I don’t think there’s ever any good to come out of that, or if there is, it isn’t worth it. They’re too specific to people. I think there maybe is a right and a wrong, but it matters where you are and when. It’s a very fluid structure. As long as we’re biological creatures, I don’t think we’ll get to definitively state that something is right or wrong, just if it hurts someone or not. 

In your own life, how do you decide if an action is right or wrong?

Sophia: I try to measure how harmful it would be to somebody. If I know someone’s going to be upset about me taking something, then I probably shouldn’t take it. I guess just the level of harm I think it would cause somebody and whether or not it’s necessary for me. I wouldn’t feel bad about stealing water from somebody if I was dying, but if they were also dying that’s a different situation. So I guess just perceived harm and whether or not we can emotionally handle it because you can be mean to people as much as you want. There’s technically nothing stopping you. But then you have to sit there and think about it and feel it again and most people, including myself, can’t handle that. It’s just harm both directions.

How do you decide if abortion is right or wrong?

Sophia: It would just matter at what point you define it as a life or a separate individual. That wraps up into twins who are conjoined and similar things like that where it’s hard for us to decide that line of “this is the specific individual that can think and exist as a person” and whether it’s not before that, I don’t know. A lot of people say it’s the heartbeat or some people say it’s the brainwaves. I personally feel it’s the brainwaves because even tumors can have heartbeats and develop organs. But you could also argue that the end potential there is completely different. But not all pregnancies make it. That line’s really hard. I feel people should be allowed to get one if they need one early, but babies can survive at about 25 weeks or so, we’ve gotten it down to 23 with one or two infants, but it’s not usually a good end for most of them. I think after that, you can’t. If medically necessary, because things happen, but other than that, I think it depends on if you feel that it is a life or not and whether you have the option to do that because it’s dependent on you. 

Do you think that people are valuable because they’re human beings or because they have attributes like brain waves?

Sophia: I feel like if that’s the line we draw for comatose patients and patients on life support then it makes sense to apply that backwards. I think that all people have value, even people who commit horrific, disgusting crimes.