2017 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest Sixth Place By Kaylee Payne

Morality exists within ourselves, not religion

FFRF awarded Kaylee $400 for this essay.

By Kaylee Payne

One would think it would be easy enough to discount the notion that a person who is religious is inherently more moral than anyone else. After all, there are many cases, both historically and in the modern day, of religious individuals who are dishonest or cruel.

Yet bringing up this point generally earns a rebuttal along the lines of “They’re not actually representative of the religion if they do those things,” helping to keep the “No True Scotsman” fallacy alive and well and endlessly frustrating nonbelievers. What, then, is a person to do when faced with the myth that morality solely belongs to, and is a direct result of, religion?
Part of the difficulty of dispelling this idea is how firmly ingrained it is in the public consciousness.

Revealing that I am an atheist has been at times met with revulsion. Other times, well-meaning but tactless individuals can’t help but express shock that someone “as nice as I am” fails to harbor belief in any sort of deity. It doesn’t seem to occur to such people that perhaps my lack of faith has nothing to do with my personal moral compass, but is simply my acknowledgment that there is little to no evidence of the existence of mystical deities. The skeptical side of me refuses to believe anything without sufficient proof.

Nor do I believe that thousand-year-old texts written in the context of different times are a reliable source for my morals. Never mind that behaving in a moral manner only because of commands in an ancient book is a rather dubious attitude. Rather, I don’t feel I need any excuse to treat my fellow human

beings well beyond the fact that I am one of them, and am capable of feeling an emotion that presumably has been present since the days of our earliest ancestors: empathy.
Every person who has ever lived has been hurt. They have experienced misery and suffering and the unfairness of the world. I am no exception. Some in such a position become bitter and hard, and close their hearts off to all. Some, though, use their pain as inspiration to become better people, to work to create a world where no one else has to suffer as they did. I hope to fall in the latter category.

We are all the heroes of our own stories, but also the supporting characters of someone else’s, and when the people I have known reflect back on the sagas that are their lives, I wish that they will find no reason to see me as their story’s villain, who worked at every turn to harm them. No deity told me to be concerned with the welfare of others; I do so completely of my own free will.

However, as time has passed, I’ve found that fewer and fewer people who know me express dismay at my lack of faith upon learning of it, despite living in a rural area where my beliefs are at odds with most people’s. Perhaps it is just a matter of learning to look past such trivial differences as religious beliefs in order to see what really matters: how we treat others.

I’ve seen both theists and atheists alike concerned with nothing but deriding all members of the other party as stupid and immoral, and such behavior benefits no one. Whether morals are from within or are claimed to be derived from a god, the important thing is that they are based on goodwill, something the world could always use a little more of.

Kaylee, 19, is from Fort Blackmore, Va., and attends University of Virginia’s College at Wise. She is working toward earning certification in teaching English as a second language (ESL). She plans to spend her junior year in Chile and then work in the Peace Corps after graduation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation