Honorable mention: High school essay contest – Morality by threat or morality by love by Anna Bores

FFRF awarded Anna $200.

By Anna Bores

Being an atheist came naturally to me. I was never interested in the religious activities that my mom forced me into. Phrases like “If God isn’t real, we’re really wasting a lot of time” and “What makes our religion different from the other ones?” often found their way out my mouth and into my mother’s aggravated ears.

I just never felt this “force” or “love” from above that everyone seemed to experience; I usually just felt bored. Around the age of 12, I said to my cousin, “Hey Andrew, I don’t think I believe in God anymore.” He said, “That’s called being an atheist.”

It was not a big deal to me, but I soon realized that it was an enormous deal to other people. People gave me weird looks when I said I was an atheist. One friend told me that I was going to hell. A teacher said the word “atheists” with such extraordinary disdain, as if we were the spawn of Satan (I guess in her mind we were). It amazed and scared me that for the first time in my life people thought I was a bad person.

Around this time I started searching for atheism on YouTube. I needed validation. I needed to feel like I was not the only atheist on planet Earth (aside from babies). This is when I discovered the infamy that is Fox News. I read comments such as “If everyone followed the teachings of Jesus Christ, we’d have peace on Earth.” “Science doesn’t advance the human condition in any moralistic way.” “You (atheists) want to be rude and narcissistic and mean.”

On the one hand, the commentary is laughable because the claims are so outlandish, but on the other hand it is sad. To this day, I have not talked about my atheist views anywhere on social media because I am afraid it may affect my future job prospects.

The ironic thing (not to toot my own horn) is I am a really moral person. I help people because knowing that I made their day better is rewarding. I do not need the promise of heaven or the threat of hell to force myself to be moral. I help others because making them happy makes me happy, and that is all I need.

Turning morality into a system of rewards and punishments seems self-centered. Some religious people are moral only to secure a positive eternity for themselves. It defeats the whole purpose of helping others, which is to make the world a happier and kinder place. There are endless examples of religion being twisted into something grotesquely immoral: gay conversion therapy, the Crusades, slavery, my own great-grandmother dying from an illegal abortion. What do all of these examples have in common? Religion.

Stereotypes about atheists seem to be deeply woven into the fabric of American culture. Despite that, I think there is hope that we can be seen in a more positive light. Even though others have questioned my morality, I have also been described as “a fantastic friend” and “so kind,” even by religious people. The way I do this is simply by being a fantastic friend and being kind.

Stereotypes survive only as long as people’s ignorance thrives. If atheists aid others, do community service, help a neighbor, religious people will realize that we are not the spawn of Satan but are caring, loving people who just believe in one less god than they do.

Anna Bores, 17, was born in New York City, where she attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. “I was a vocal major at LaGuardia and I am extremely passionate about music. I like songwriting, music theory and performance. I will attend Binghamton University in the fall. My other interests are political science, social justice, writing, (and I skateboard recreationally).”

More honorable mentions to be published in future issues.

Freedom From Religion Foundation