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Freethought Today · April 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Honorable mention Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest: Self-motivated morality matters by Julianna Bauman

FFRF awarded Julianna $200. (This essay has been edited for space.)

By Julianna Bauman

The difference between atheistic morals and those of a religious person is that they are organic and rational, rather than provided and blindly accepted. Nonbelievers feel accountability for their actions. They recognize consequences, not as an internal shame inspired by an invisible higher being or a denial of entry into a heavenly afterlife, but as real effects on themselves or others.

It is difficult to deny the strong morality that so many nonbelievers possess, made more impressive by their self-maintained desire to act upon it. A UC-Berkeley study showed that atheists are actually the more compassionate group as a whole — they are more motivated by others' suffering than religious people, who are often motivated by a sense of obligation or concern for their own reputation. Some may believe that this is an insignificant finding. But in the long term, motive truly matters. Actions fueled by obligation are difficult to perpetuate, while a person with self-created and rationalized moral convictions is likely to act upon them for a lifetime.

It was not until I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand in my senior year of high school that I fully understood this notion. I had been a Christian for 17 years and there were times where I loved having religion. At the same time, I would often feel tremendous guilt at my own actions and felt obliged to serve the church and the community. Of course, I had moral inclinations of my own, but they were often locked to and influenced by religion. As I grew older I slowly began to drift away from religion, but Rand's story of competent characters and shameless belief in self completed my departure from Christianity. Her literature espouses the possibility of serving others without sacrificing oneself. I came to realize that I can determine my own morals, I can use them to make change, and through them I can strive for personal fulfillment. This is the conviction of the nonbeliever, and it has stronger roots than any religious doctrine could ever grow.

Julianna Bauman was born in San Ramon, Calif, and is a junior at the University of Washington in Seattle. She intends to major in neurobiology and will graduate in June of 2018, after which she plans to enroll in an MD/PhD program in order to become a medical scientist.