Honorable mention: High school essay ‘Good Without God’ contest by Erica Broderhausen

Being goodly with godly

FFRF awarded Erica $200.

By Erica Broderhausen

Living in a small town in South Carolina in the heart of the bible belt USA, I’ve received my fair share of odd looks. I’m the girl who didn’t pray during my high school awards ceremonies, the girl who didn’t include a bible verse as my senior quote and the girl that wanders the ghost town that is Sunday while everyone else is at church.

In my hometown, it is something of an anomaly to not have faith in a higher being, or at least act like you do. Independence of thought is not a common trait here, and the number one characteristic that most aspire to be is “godly.”

When children are born here, their parents teach them lessons from bible verses. Children grow up having no idea what other religious people are like or even, god forbid, what nonreligious people are like, or that their beliefs and opinions hold any meaning whatsoever. We are taught that the bible is the ultimate moral code, our guide to life, the universe and everything. It only makes sense, then, that when those around me find out of my atheism, the overwhelming response is that I disbelieve in god for the simple reason that either I hate him or that I am only looking for an excuse to behave immorally.

But those are not the reasons I disbelieve in god. I disbelieve in god simply because I seek the truth in life. I am consistently wanting to know about the world and about science, and in my journeys so far I have seen a lack of evidence for the existence of a divine being. I disbelieve in god because I’ve read various holy books and none of them so far has convinced me that god is anything other than a rather vicious, human-made creation. I disbelieve in god because I would rather live according to my own will to be good.

While many others around me pursue goodness out of the idea that they will be rewarded in heaven, I pursue goodness simply for the sake of being good. While many around me pray for that homeless man on the street, I buy him a meal instead. Though most people use it with good intentions, religion is ultimately a block to our goodness.

Instead of being concerned about general good will toward others, people are often more concerned with promoting their idea of godliness. This divides us across nations and cultures as every individual strives to promote his or her religion’s idea of morality. The concept of being good just for good’s sake is lost in the cacophony of whose-religion-is-better banter.

It is up to me, and to all other freethinkers of the world, to speak up. We need not be afraid to identify ourselves as atheists, agnostics or the like, for if we refuse to be vocal about who we are, the negative stereotypes will only persist.

It is my hope for the future that all people, not just freethinkers like me, will be active in their wishes for a better world and be kind to one another, not under the banner of being godly, but simply goodly.

Perhaps one day, it will be a more important trait to simply be good, regardless of religion. And perhaps one day, we can all be good without god.

Erica Broderhausen, 18, was born in Los Angeles and graduated from Summerville High School in Summerville, S.C. She will be attending Boston University as a biology major specializing in ecology and conservation biology. “I am very interested in evolution, the history of the world, animal and human behavior, psychology and, perhaps ironically, religion. I plan on becoming an environmental lawyer and helping to put in place laws that better protect our beautiful Earth.”

Honorable mention: High school essay ‘Good Without God’ contest by Kahley McBeth

The freedom of nothingness

FFRF awarded Kahley $200.

By Kahley McBeth

I find it very ironic now that as a little girl, I was so proud of my ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory. But given my upbringing, I now understand why I was so susceptible to such naïveté. Growing up in a home ravaged by alcoholism, mental illness and general unhappiness was indescribably difficult, and just like so many other innocent children, I was taught early on that my hardships and struggles were sent to me by God “for a reason.”

This explanation sometimes comforted me, but one too many times, it left me hiding under the covers at night, sobbing into my pillow as my mother and father screamed and fought. I wondered where God was and why I deserved to endure such misery. This confusion eventually wore out my faith, and in middle school I began to question everything. It was also around this time that I began to mature into a thoughtful young woman, develop confidence and find true happiness. Thanks to my incredible teachers, I developed a keen interest in science, and along with the help of the wonderful World Wide Web, I eventually came to the logical conclusion that there is no God, that we are not here on Earth for any reason at all, and that we are simply stardust, adrift in the empty void of space.

Since this revelation, I have called myself an atheist. Despite living in a small rural town, I am fortunate enough to have many friends who share my beliefs, and I highly value this connection. But I also consider myself fortunate to have a number of friends with very different beliefs. My best friend is one of the most devout Christians I know, and our contrasting viewpoints have taught me about tolerance and cooperation, which are essential qualities in any society that wishes to make progress.

I have had numerous existential discussions with my best friend, and they have simultaneously helped me to be more understanding of her beliefs while reinforcing my own.
The fundamental concept that my best friend does not seem to understand is how morality can exist without God. She questions why I see the importance in doing the right thing if I believe that I have no purpose in life and will not face punishment in the afterlife. She asserts that a sense of right and wrong stems from religion, but I disagree.

Human beings have the mental capacity to use logic, and I believe it is with this ability that a sense of right and wrong actually originates. I also think my sense of morality has more integrity than that of people who have religious beliefs. Most religious people believe in eternal consequences, and this belief serves as a motivator. I do not have this same motivation, yet I still strive to live fairly and compassionately anyway.

Furthermore, although my best friend considers a purposeless life terrifying, I consider it liberating. Our lives may be purposeless, but with that nothingness comes absolute freedom. The universe is filled with an infinite amount of possibilities, and I find that both comforting and beautiful.

As a nonbeliever, I think it’s essential to have high moral standards and aspirations in order to counter the belief that atheism is detrimental to morality. Throughout high school, I have worked tirelessly to achieve excellence in everything I do. I pride myself on my character, academic accomplishments, athletic efforts, musical talent, leadership skills and desire to give back to my community. I frequently challenge my own ideas and continue to question everything.

Through this, I am able to demonstrate to the people that I’m just like any other human being. I have hopes, fears and beliefs, just as everyone does. The word “atheist” should not have a negative connotation, and it is my goal to ensure that my life and actions do not reinforce such false stereotypes.

Kahley McBeth, 18, graduated magna cum laude from Oley Valley High School in Oley, Pa. She will be attending Penn State University to major in biomedical engineering. “I hope to someday have a career making prosthetics. In my free time I enjoy running, cooking, reading and spending time with my lovely friends. Throughout high school, I have been an active member of my school’s cross country team, orchestra, marching band, student council, gifted program and National Honor Society.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation