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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

1st place: High school essay contest 2022 — Noel Atkinson

Noel Atkinson

FFRF awarded Noel $3,500.

By Noel Atkinson

Dear Dad,

No, Dad, I’m not a rapist because I no longer believe in a god. My morality didn’t dissolve when I stopped receiving communion and reciting the “Our Father,” nor will it vanish when I stop attending Mass. My morals are still present. I value life in all forms, care about others, respect social order, have no desire to hurt those around me, and I stand up for what’s right — all things you and Mom have taught me, not some supernatural being housed above the clouds.

Faith does not automatically mean one is moral. If this were true, then the Catholic Church wouldn’t have a track record of child abuse, the Crusades, or a Wikipedia page dedicated to the “Bad Popes,” like the adulterous murderer Pope John XII. 

Step away from Roman Catholicism, and the Westboro Baptist Church is another infamous example of how believing in God does not make one moral. (“God hates fags’’ doesn’t exactly scream “I’m a good person.”) And Jared Padgett, a highly spiritual teen from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, brought a gun to Reynolds High School to kill all the “sinners” there. He believed in a god, was active in his church, and yet was an atrocious person. Then there’s al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Jewish Defense League, Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar — the list goes on and on.

Too many “big picture” examples? Let’s look at our own family, then. Your dad, “Poppie,” as we grandkids call him, is a devout Christian, a member of the Knights of Columbus and a Freemason, reads the bible, and goes to church every Sunday. He also abused you, your sister and your mom throughout your childhood. He’s racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and has routinely criticized my siblings’ and my own weight to the point of our tears and disordered eating. He’s close to his god, but has proven he’s not good.

Yes, Dad, I know you say not all Christians are horrible, and this applies to members of all religions, too. But, how can you say this and then turn around and say that all atheists lack morals? There are good and bad Christians; there are good and bad atheists. Theological beliefs don’t matter, there are just good and bad people. Morals derive from humanity, not religion.

Give yourself and Mom some credit — I’m a good person because you raised me that way, not because you raised me Catholic. How can you say that my values and morals are equal to those of a rapist or murderer just because I don’t believe in a god anymore? You know me. You raised me! I’m not going to kill someone because I think an “eternal punishment” doesn’t exist. I’m not going to kill someone because killing is wrong. Rape is wrong. Stealing is wrong. I don’t need a god or a holy book to tell me these things — I’m good without them.

Noel, 18, is from Minneapolis and is attending St. Olaf College, with plans to major in music education and eventually earn a master’s degree in music and/or education. She recently worked as a political canvasser for Minnesota state Rep. Zack Stephenson and as a Target Starbucks barista. Noel writes: “I have volunteered through Health Occupational Students of America and the National Honor Society at my high school, which included making stuffed animals for patients at the Children’s Hospital, wrapping presents for poverty-stricken families, and sewing cloth masks for the community during Covid.”