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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

4th place: High school essay contest 2022 — Melanie Barry 

Melanie Barry

FFRF awarded Melanie $2,000.

By Melanie Barry 

Dear friend,

Earlier this week, you expressed bewilderment that I could have high integrity without a religious moral compass to rely on. I have always struggled to understand this perspective because I was never given any reason to believe that religion and morality go hand in hand. In fact, I’ve only found evidence to the contrary.

For example, a large percentage of the crimes against humanity that have occurred over history are faith-based. Of course, religious people tend to distance themselves from instances of religious extremism, such as the Holocaust and 9/11, saying it doesn’t represent them or their faiths. But that is a poor (and easily disproven) attempt to shirk association. 

There are dozens of passages in the bible, the Quran and the Torah that encourage — even demand — the murder of people from other faiths or of no faith at all, and extremists often quote these verses so as to legitimize their violence. Religious extremists get their justification from the same book that you say you get your morals from.

Then, there are the immeasurable number of crimes that occur not necessarily because of religiosity, but despite it. Within the last century, Catholic priests and other church employees across the globe have sexually abused hundreds of thousands of children. And how do leaders within the churches overwhelmingly respond to news of this abuse? By prioritizing the concealment of these crimes above the removal of the accused from their position. These devoted Catholic leaders, who serve as representatives of their faith, are arguably as “godly” as one can get — and yet, when their morals are tested, they knowingly do the wrong thing.

So, taking all that into account, the idea of a causal relationship between religion and morality is absurd. 

What really fascinates me, though, is the narrative that religious people embrace when it comes to morality. As a Christian, you said you couldn’t fathom where my morals would originate from if not God and the bible. I understand that is because you believe — as the bible asserts — that humans are naturally malicious and evil creatures, and abhorrent acts like murder and rape — “temptations,” as the bible puts it — can only be firmly denied by embracing Jesus Christ. So, according to the bible, I am a catalyst of evil, lawlessness and darkness. But you and I have been friends for a long time, and we both know that I am a good, kind person. My hands are clean; so are yours. The difference between us is that I know my hands are clean because of me and my own morality. You believe your hands are only clean because Christ wills them to be.

How can nonbelievers be moral? We are the very proof of human morality. We disprove the “religion equals morality” myth every day by being good people without it.

Melanie, 18, is from Issaquah, Wash., and is attending Western Washington University, with plans to major in journalism.