Honorable mention: High school essay 'Good Without God' contest
Blind faith: The real problem with religion
FFRF awarded Julian $200.
By Julian Rauter
I have always believed that there is a reason to make ethical choices beyond the fact that someone is watching. I was raised in a household where morality was a given. My parents taught me about sharing and respecting other's viewpoints without invoking the threat of God's watchful eyes. I understood from a young age that I needed to be good for my own benefit and the benefit of others, not because there was a higher power constantly passing judgment on my actions.
It is no shock, then, that I grew up to be an atheist.
For a long time, I was hateful toward religion and faith in general. However, maturity and contemplation have helped me understand that the problem is not faith itself, but blind faith.
There is no hatred in the heart of a religious follower who understands the historical context of their sacred text but still finds its teachings helpful. There is hatred in the heart of a religious follower who interprets their text as the literal word of God Almighty passed down through his anointed servants on Earth. These are the Zionists detonating car bombs, the Muslims sending money and guns to ISIS, the Christians campaigning to ban evolution from public schools.
Every religion has its easily led and blindly devoted followers. Even Buddhism has encouraged the oppression of minority groups in Southeast Asia. Religious people are entirely capable of hatred and undue aggression, and much of this is motivated by blind faith.
The question is, where does blind faith come from? I believe it is due to a false correlation between religion and morality. I know many religious people who understand the value of being good as an end unto itself and may have been helped to that understanding by their religion. I've also met an equal number of religious people who assume that following the rules of their particular doctrine simply makes them a good person. They eat the wafer, wear the yarmulke, abstain from pork and assume "that's good enough." While these rituals all have their value to the culture of each faith, they are not intrinsically valuable. They do not prevent the worshiper from doing wrong.
Those who follow religious tradition by rote gain nothing; their thinking has been done for them. Herein lies the intrinsic problem with organized religion: When left unchecked, it creates one-track minds. Generations of unquestioning belief breed monocultures wherein children are raised to believe that the answer to the question "Why am I here?" is located in one book. This belief is faulty only due to its scope.
Humans have written many thousands of books trying to answer that question. What are the odds that anyone got it exactly right? Is it not far more likely that the answer is spread across many books, all of which must be taken with a healthy dose of context? People who have only studied one text are bound to be closed-minded and insular. This is true whether the text is the Quran or Great Expectations. But it's especially regrettable when the text holds its followers as part of an elite few exclusively blessed with the secrets of the world. This leads to an undeserved feeling of superiority and, eventually, to decidedly immoral behavior.
We are all part of the same species with the same physical and emotional needs. No one among us has the right to claim that we are truly "better." Therefore, the perception that followers of any religion are morally cleaner than nonbelievers is just that: a perception.
As Americans, we have the privilege of not being required to pray at one specific altar, or any altar at all. This allows us to seek paths to morality and enlightenment that are less faith-based. In the end, it is not about the paths that people take but the direction in which they are going.
I am proud to say that I am heading toward freethought and morality, and I don't need God's help to get there.
Julian Robert Rauter, 17, attended Margaretville Central School in Margaretville, N.Y. He is attending Harvard University with the tentative plan to major in anthropology with either a double major or minor in linguistics. "I also plan to take many classes in the humanities, especially literature, creative writing and ethnic studies. I hope to pursue linguistic anthropology at the graduate level and specialize in language documentation and culture loss. I hope to pursue fieldwork with indigenous communities in North America and other areas with high rates of linguicide (language death) such as Australia and the Pacific. My highest ambition is to dedicate my life to protecting the world's linguistic and cultural diversity from the Western monoculture that threatens its survival."