First place: William J. Schulz High School Essay Award – Why I have no need for religion by Jennifer Gray

FFRF awarded Jennifer $3,000.

By Jennifer Gray

I did not grow up with religion. Many of the stories seem strange, implausible and rather silly. I have come to think the only real way to become invested in the doctrine of the bible is to have grown up with it — have the stories dictated to children as laws of the world. However, even if I had had an upbringing steeped in dogma, I still think I would have eventually abandoned it. I questioned too much.

I thought a lot at age 6 about the world and what happened after death. Perhaps I was a bit of a morbid child, entertaining myself with thoughts of existence, but I came to consider many philosophical flaws I still see as inherent in the system “preached” by religion. I did not understand the idea of a system warning of the dangers of greed and ambition, yet bribing followers with rewards. It seemed everything came down to death and the magic ticket into heaven. I thought it was so aggressively selfish: Be nice to others so you can be rewarded later. It is all about what you get in the end, not the good you do.

The most consistent argument against the idea of religion promoting virtue and harmony is that it has been the direct cause of wars and human suffering. The haphazard zealous mess that was the Crusades is certainly a shining example, as is the great cruelty toward the Jewish people in World War II. My grandfather had been a devout man before the news of the horrors of concentration camps. The atrocity caused him to declare there was no God. Why would God allow such a thing to happen? Why would a kind, benevolent God create people destined to hurt other people? My parents shielded me from his ponderings; they were not the thoughts a child ought to have.

When my father presented me with the information concerning this scholarship, he told me not to tell my mother. He said she would cry. I would be a different person from the moment I voiced my atheism. The confession, as it were, supposedly changes a person in the eyes of others — twists them into something immoral and lost. A lack of faith is something to be mourned.

I have always thought it hypocritical that the same people vowing in rows of other people like themselves to be kind and saintly turn so violent against someone who does not see things the way they do. It is dangerous to call yourself an atheist; they are not to be trusted, only those who automatically shun them on principle are worthy human beings. I have always thought it strange that acceptance is not considered a virtue.

While the brutality of war is reason enough to doubt the benefits of religion, my main concern has always been how it discourages freethought. Religion promotes a closed-mindedness and complete aversion to progress that causes abrupt halts to future schools of thought. It advocates clinging to the words written in an archaic book above all else.
It is so strange how we as a society have almost universally come to the conclusion that many old philosophers and scientists were plainly wrong, yet we still hold on to this one document as indisputable fact.

I do not need to be watched over to do the right thing. Morality is about the choices we make, and I personally do not need a man in the clouds looking over my shoulder to choose what is right. I can be a good person without memorizing verses or rattling off names of saints long since dead. I can be a moral person without offering up prayers to some abstract idea of fate as a father figure. I can do what is right because I believe in humanity and kindness.

Goodness is not equivalent to religion. I do not need bribes or faith to understand the almost childish simplicity of a just life.

Jennifer Gray, 18, lives in Carlton, Ore. and attended Forest Grove High School. “I plan to attend Brandeis University in the fall and am currently interested in studying history and the humanities in general, as I have been interested in art and English for a long time.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation