2017 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest Third Place By Jamie Moffa

Following in my father’s footsteps

FFRF awarded Jamie $1,000 for this essay.

By Jamie Moffa

I was raised Catholic. When I was growing up, my mother took my siblings and me to church every Sunday. We learned “God’s teachings,” many of which pertained to morality and how we ought to treat others.

Despite my early doubts about God’s existence, many of these teachings rang true for me: that we ought to treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated, be accepting and respectful towards others, practice forgiveness, and selflessly give our time and money to those less fortunate seemed like obvious moral guidelines.

Yet I saw precious few examples of my church’s leaders and parishioners living according to these teachings. Instead of treating their neighbors with kindness, I saw judgment and intolerance. Instead of acceptance and respect, I saw outright hostility and condescension toward women, LGBTQ people, and people of other (or no) faiths. Instead of forgiveness, I saw people shamed for breaking from the church’s teachings.

Observing this, the noble teachings of the Catholic Church fell flat for me; I couldn’t accept the morals taught by a hypocritical institution. However, I still yearned for moral guidance.
I found this guidance not from any religion, but from my father, a secular humanist. He taught me how to show respect and kindness to everyone, not just in his words, but through his actions. His humble conviction in his ideals provided me with the best possible foundation for my own morals, better than any religion could have accomplished.

Ever since I was young, I admired my father, a hardworking man devoted to his family and dedicated to his work as an optometrist. His first lesson to my siblings and me was that family comes first, and he lived up to that with every fiber of his being. He showed that he cared in small ways, like always being home to have dinner with the family, and larger commitments, like coaching most of our youth sports teams.

On top of being an excellent parent, he also owned his own optometry practice. As a child, I spent many afternoons at his office and got to see the amazing work he did there. I was fascinated by the medical aspects, but what stood out more was the way he treated his patients. He greeted everyone as if they were his friends, and treated them all with the utmost care and respect. The compassion and acceptance he showed to patients of all races, economic situations, genders, political affiliations, and religious beliefs touched something deep within me, a knowledge that this was the sort of behavior I wanted to emulate in my own life.

As I grew older, I had many discussions with my father about religion, and expressed my doubts about my belief in God and the hypocrisy I saw in the church. He never pushed me to abandon the beliefs I had grown up with. Instead, he simply listened to my doubts, and discussed humanism — his guiding philosophy — with me.

He told me that humanism is a faith in the accomplishments of people, and the basic goodness within our fellow men and women. He explained that to be a humanist is to treat others with respect, kindness, tolerance and to look for rational and effective solutions to the problems faced by humanity.

As he explained this over many years and many more conversations, I could see that his moral code was not merely words. My father truly lived the lessons he spoke every day of his life. He gave to charity, did good deeds, and showed devotion to his family and his work, not in the name of some God, but out of knowledge that what he was doing was right, and dedication to improving humanity as a whole.

It is his moral example I follow as I make my own way in the world, proud to call myself a secular humanist, and, more importantly, his daughter.

Jamie, 22, is from Granby, Conn., and attends Washington University School of Medicine. She graduated in May from the University of Connecticut with a degree in physiology and neurobiology in the honors program. She earned a full scholarship to UConn for her exemplary academic career and leadership potential. She volunteered in Hartford at the Hospital for Special Care as a recreational aide. She was also a member of the UConn Marching Band.

Freedom From Religion Foundation