Freethought Today · October 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

2017 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Contest Fifth Place By Violet Richardson

Caring, compassion are the moral standards

FFRF awarded Violet $500 for her essay.

By Violet Richardson

I grew up in a household that could accurately be described as "godless." I was not educated by religious scholarship or kept in line with reminders of divine consequences. I was not set on a path of righteousness paved with bible stories nor was my sense of justice instilled on the basis of any god's will. As such, I do not believe that the moral code that I follow can be credited to God.

Instead, my understanding of right and wrong has been formed via the choice to practice empathy and compassion in my everyday life. When considering my own behavior, I imagine how it will affect the people around me rather than how it will be judged by God. I imagine the feelings of others based on how I would feel in their shoes. I do not need a cosmic middleman to tell me that I possess no right to make other people suffer.

Despite what I consider to be an inherent human trait, many people of faith do not believe that those outside of their religion, or any other religious following, have the ability to lead just and moral lives. Godlessness is associated with violence and chaos, which leads atheists and agnostics to be stereotyped as dangerous undesirables. Given humanity's long history of war and aggression committed by those among the ranks of believers, and frequently in the name of God, this assessment appears patently unfair.

Conflating piousness with morality is far more dangerous than the choice to live a life without religion. To do so allows for the justification of wrongdoing by those who claim to act in line with the word of their god. To do so opens the door for preemptive persecution of anyone deemed a nonbeliever, whether that is how they identify themselves or not.

Personally, I do not consider myself a believer. I do not discount the possibility that a higher power may exist, but if so, that truth has failed to reveal itself to me. Though I sometimes long for the comfort of believing that everything happens for a reason, that I am watched over by a kind, all-knowing being, and that I am destined for an eternity of happiness in the afterlife, I have yet to be convinced.

Regardless of whether we possess immortal souls, each of us is given the opportunity to make the best of our finite time as the people that we are. Instead of viewing this reality through a negative and nihilistic lens, I and many others take this to mean that we are all responsible for making our time and the time of those we live with as positive as possible. In recognizing that our own life is finite, we can recognize that the same is true for every other living creature and that they all deserve to experience the same happiness and security that we want in our own lives.

If we are to live but once, we should do so in a loving and generous way. Choosing a life of positivity, of caring for your community as you care for yourself, is the best way to not only dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding "godlessness," but it is also the best way to set an example for anyone who wants to live their lives in a moral way. My morals do not come from God, they come from understanding this fact.

Violet, 22, is from Madison, Wis., and attends the University of Wisconsin, majoring in international studies and political science. She is currently spending a semester abroad in France. She hopes to attend law school to become a lawyer to help people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.

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