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10th place: High school essay contest 2022 — Morgyn Michelson

Morgyn Michelson

By Morgyn Michelson

Dear Grandma,

I don’t believe in God anymore. Regardless, I still strive to have good morals. 

Being moral means feeling guilt when you harm another person or violate a principle you believe to be just. It means trying to atone for what you did through apology, replacement or some expense of your time and service that does not benefit you directly. It means recognizing what is right and what is wrong. It’s striving to change a bad situation or fix something unjust. It’s helping others even if it means putting yourself at risk because inside you know that something is wrong and you can’t forgive yourself if you do nothing. 

It’s possible to hold an unshakable belief in justice and human kindness without being religious. I choose to believe, just as you do, that killing, theft, abuse, rape and oppression of others’ rights are wrong. Does it matter that our reasons for this belief, this ethical code, are different? I don’t go to church on Sundays, listen to biblical anecdotes, read the bible, or talk to other members of a congregation to reaffirm my beliefs and shape my opinions. 

Instead, I look at stories from the world around me, read articles of varying opinions, and debate my thoughts with others. I don’t pray to an omnipotent being for guidance or confess my sins to a priest. Instead, I look inward and analyze what I want out of life, what my regrets and mistakes are, how I can move past them and make myself a better per-son. In fact, personal morals and beliefs have a fluidity that allow them to adapt with time, reshape to be more just as our prejudices are challenged, or perspectives shifted. This is something that religious structures based on centuries of tradition often lack. Human interpretation of religion is fallible, which can lead to people ingraining their biases into their religious beliefs and using their religion as a moral high ground that vindicates hurting others. 

For example, due to the slavery that was present in America for over a century, many people held the belief that if you had darker skin, you were lesser in God’s eyes, and this became part of religious teachings. This racial bias is still intrinsically tied to religion today in many places. 

Another example is the rejection of LGBTQ people, simply because one passage in a centuries-old book says their lifestyle is wrong. In comparison, a personal ethical code is challenged and shaped by experiences and information gained throughout your life. 

Core values remain the same, just as the core values of your religion do, but an individual’s interpretation is more dynamic than a religious code, allowing for changes for the better. I can be a good person, recognize right and wrong as you do. I don’t need religion to guide me. I trust myself. Why can’t you?

Morgyn, 18, is from Santa Cruz, Calif., and attends the University of California, Los Angeles, with plans to major in biochemistry. During high school, she was part of the varsity tennis team, a props crew member for her school theater productions, and a pre-trial attorney for the Mock Trial club. She hopes to one day be a forensic pathologist.