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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

5th place: High school essay contest 2022 — Oliver Brown 

Oliver Brown

FFRF awarded Oliver $1,500.

By Oliver Brown 

Dear Molly,

Since I started dating your daughter, your scrutinous distrust in me has become evident.

Based on your conservative religious views, I’ve been led to believe that because of my lack of faith, you think that I am not worthy of being part of your Mormon family. Like many others, you’ve been sold the idea that to be moral, one must be religious, and that I’m therefore nothing but an unethical shell of a human. For some deeply pious individuals, dependence on faith to act good may be a sad reality. But for me, and for most of my fellow freethinking atheists, our morals come naturally, as they are absolutely not synonymous with religion.

What are morals? They are the set of standards we live by, a code of conduct that allows us to coexist. Morals and ethics are the rights and wrongs, the goods and bads, the do’s and don’ts. They have come to us through our empathy, education, and community life.

To say that morals are a religious invention is a blatant misconception. The first humans are thought to have lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, whereas the first religions only appeared a few thousand years ago. Are we to believe that our ancestors lived for thousands of years with no moral philosophy to guide them? Of course not. Our species would not have survived without some sort of community principles. Similarly, other animals, which obviously have no religious values, have a sense of right and wrong that allows them to coexist successfully. This is because ethical standards are natural to some extent, being present in humans long before faith, simply imitated by religious scriptures at the time of their writing.

What many people don’t understand is that morals are subject to change. As humanity learns and adapts, we find better principles to live by. Most faiths, however, present morals that are absolute and untouchable. This is dangerous, as it allows for uncontested atrocities to be committed in the name of religion. The morality of a behavior should be measured based on valid reasoning and knowledge, rather than being passed through a religious filter immune to questions and criticism. For this reason, many claims in old religious scriptures don’t sit right with the moral sensibilities of modern theists. It’s almost impossible to completely ignore the ethical codes of today’s society in favor of dated ideas that often feel wrong.

I consider myself a freethinker, and I have not been indoctrinated with any religious ideals. Yet, even without these teachings, morality has not escaped me. I may ask you, what drives theists to be moral? Is it for fear of punishment, or hope of reward, after death? Or, like me, do you simply believe in empathy, kindness and love? 

Instead of wondering why I don’t need God to be good, ask yourself why others do. Consider that true morality lies in doing what’s right without expecting divine retribution or recompense for our actions.

Oliver, 18, is from Custer, Wash., and attends Western Washington University, with plans to study environmental science and renew-able energy. Oliver writes: “During most of my high school years, I lived and traveled on a small sailboat with my family. It was a life-changing and eye-opening experience, which shaped my worldview.”