Critical Thinking: The Foundation of Morality: Emily R. Trauenicht

Emily R. Trauenicht received $500 as one of three high school seniors who tied for third place. The other third-place essays will run in September.

I will be attending the University of Virginia beginning in the fall of 2007 and plan to study biology in preparation for a career in medicine. I would like to specialize in ophthalmology, an area of medicine that particularly interests me due to my family’s history of severe myopia and cataracts. My hobbies include playing the classical guitar as part of the York-James Classical Guitar Ensemble and volunteering as an Instructor and Drum Major for the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown, a Revolutionary War marching and music reenactment corps.

Academically, I have been a student in the International Baccalaureate Program for four years. This course of study involved completing an independent research project culminating in a 4,000-word extended essay. My paper argued that secular humanism is the ideal philosophy for a separation of church and state because of secular humanism’s unwavering commitment to freedom, including freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”

By Emily R. Trauenicht

Morality does not stem from a god or from adherence to a religious dogma. Instead, morality can be found in those people, whether religious or not, who make genuine efforts to improve society and to help better the world in which they live. Morality and ethics should not be based on the extent to which a person abides by the accepted social rule of religious devotion, but rather on the extent to which a person lives for the sake of helping others. Accordingly, claiming that a person has a high ethical standard does not necessarily imply that this person simply goes to church weekly and observes prescribed religious customs. Because morality comes from something more than religion, from a sincere desire to do good in the world, I do not need religion to be a moral and ethical individual. In fact, by choosing not to follow any religious dogma, I believe I have made myself more ethical and moral, for I have not limited my thoughts and beliefs to the constraints of theistic doctrine. In doing so, I have allowed myself to be open to thinking freely and critically. Only if people adopt open-mindedness and independent reasoning will society advance, for these characteristics are absolutely necessary for change and development. Therefore, morality does not come from any sort of god or from religion, but instead from the willingness of individuals to face the unknown for the sake of eventual progress.

Society often associates morality with faith or religion, and this belief on the part of much of the population often leads to the misconception that a person’s lack of religion excludes the possibility of this person being ethical. If ethics and morality are defined as being a productive and contributing member of society, then certainly religion is not a requirement for decency. Moreover, not only is religion unnecessary to being moral, but it can frequently be a hindrance, for religious dogma places restrictions on the minds of adherents. These restrictions lead to the inability of many religious devotees to think independently of the theology into which they have been indoctrinated. Religions seek to establish strict belief systems by which their followers will abide for the sake of maintaining social order.

Unfortunately, this leads to adherents being unable to consider ideas and concepts not accepted by their church. Consequently, numerous policies that would lead to the advancement and development of society are vehemently opposed by religious groups unwilling to take into consideration the possibility that their own standpoint on an issue may not be the correct and moral thing to do.

For example, certain strict religious institutions oppose stem cell research, deeming it an immoral treatment of human life. But how can something that has the potential to save and treat millions be immoral? Religion has a tendency to categorize ideas as either ethical or unethical solely on the basis of whether or not these ideas coincide with the religion’s own teachings. This singular approach to controversial issues cannot possibly be considered moral, for it inhibits the ability of people to think freely and come to their own determination on the morality of a certain course of action. Only when people reason independently will they be able to choose the most appropriate and moral path. Although religion claims to be inherently ethical, it often achieves the opposite by limiting society’s advancement. Morality does not stem from religion or any institution that seeks to hinder development for the sake of maintaining power and control.

This is not to say, however, that being religious automatically makes a person immoral because they have chosen to adopt a certain belief system. Many religious groups see their lot in life just as many secular humanists view their own: morally obligated to pave the way for a future society superior to the global community of today. Unfortunately, though most religious institutions claim to act with such a motive, few genuinely do. In today’s world, religion causes more strife and destruction than it eradicates. This has resulted from the paradigm held by many religions that their own dogma is right and all others are wrong. Because so many religious groups refuse to recognize the possible validity of views contradictory to their own, they cannot be considered as moral and ethical as groups that are willing to broaden their perspective when presented with new information. The groups that do approach issues with this sort of open-mindedness are usually secular. Accordingly, secular groups often promote morality as it should be, to a greater degree than do religious institutions, and so religion is not the source of a high moral standard.

Religion, as a means by which to exercise control, whether or not this control is for the greater good, does not beget morality. Instead, morality stems from an earnest desire to improve the world, and acting on such does not require any sort of religious faith. Secularists have equal ability, if not more, to help society make valuable progress, for they do not operate under a restrictive theistic doctrine.

Such freedom of thought allows secularists to make their own value judgments and to determine for themselves what they feel to be right or wrong. This ability to reason critically leads people to become moral and ethical individuals, for it is this openness to change that will lead society toward advancement. Religion in general seeks to avoid change in favor of clinging to the old, and so cannot be argued as the source of morality.

Freedom From Religion Foundation