Honorable mention Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest: Atheism and virtuousness by Samuel Chan Sai Hay

FFRF awarded Samuel $200. (This essay has been edited for space.)

By Samuel Chan Sai Hay

Without religion, how can one be good, or even want to be good? As an international student from Hong Kong studying in the U.S., I find the previous statement offensive to nonbelievers. The theory that there is an incompatibility between morality and atheism is far too common and prevalent in the United States. In light of this, I would like to introduce Hong Kong as an answer to how atheism and morality can coexist and illustrate how an atheistic society can be as ethical as any other type of society.

According to government documents, about 50% of the city’s population, which is approximately 3.5 million people, do not consider themselves religious. In fact, as studies in recent years indicate, 77% of China’s population describe themselves as nonreligious people, while 47% consider themselves atheists.

Hong Kong is often applauded as one of the most civilized, orderly and peaceful cities, having only a total of 11.95 crimes per 1,000 citizens, which is almost four times less than the number in the heavily religious United States. And atheism does not necessarily spell violence or savagery. In 2014, Hong Kong only had 27 homicides, while New York City, which is also a city of 8 million people, had 333 homicides. The incarceration rate of Hong Kong also hit a record low in 2014, with only 123 people per 100,000 in prison, which is 125th in the world. Although nonreligious factors must not be overlooked, one can see that the degree of religiosity does not necessarily have direct links to a population’s savagery. That being said, one’s civility is actually subject to a collection of many other factors, such as education, rather than only religion.

Hong Kong, despite, or perhaps because of, its nonreligiousness, also displays outstanding numbers in term of city safety, human development and sustainability. The list goes on, but it just proves that it is possible and realistic for a largely atheistic society to be as moral, civilized and advanced as any other societies, no matter what their religiosities are.

Hong Kong native Samuel Chan Sai Hay is a history major student at De Anza College, Calif., where he enjoys studying all branches of humanities. He is also a co-author of 64:24, a Tiananmen Square protest commemorative book.

Freedom From Religion Foundation