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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

8th place: High school essay contest 2022 — Sarah Petty

Sarah Petty

FFRF awarded Sarah $500.

By Sarah Petty

Dear religious individual,

Oftentimes, the argument against atheism depicts a life of barbarity and chaos. We are told that religion is essential to society as it reduces crime and generates morality in individuals.

This statement is even supported by many great writers and philosophers. Voltaire, a French philosopher and critic of atheism, wrote “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Similarly, in his critiques of atheism, John Locke wrote “Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though, but even in thought, dissolves all.” 

After being told these facts my entire life, I’m left confused. Why must humans collectively believe in a higher power in order for society to function? How can the idea of hell prevent an individual from committing a crime, but government and societal ramifications can’t? How does God’s love force someone to be good, but familial love can’t?

Morality, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behavior and character.”

For instance, an individual with good morals would tell the truth, have integrity and be kind to others. Theists, specifically those who believe in the Christian God, assume these essential teachings are instilled in them through their religion because the bible says, “You shall not murder” and “you shall not steal.” However, I would disagree with this belief. Society and culture establish your set of morals, not the belief in a higher power.

Morality is taught to a child before any concept of God reaches their mind. Parents tell children to share their toys, not to hit others, and to say “please” and “thank you.” All of these moral doctrines are not introduced to the child for the sake of going to heaven, but rather to teach the child how to be a good person in our society, which will increase their chances of survival when away from the parents. When a child is rude or misbehaves, we don’t think, “If only that child believed in God, maybe they would have better morals.” Instead, we criticize the parents for not teaching the child better. This is because one’s environment, including one’s family, shapes their morality, rather than their inherited belief in God.

That said, when the belief in God is subtracted from one’s life, morality still remains, as those morals were not established on the basis of religious teaching. In fact, if you only remain moral in fear of God’s wrath, and not simply out of desire to be a good person, what does that say about you?

Sarah, 18, is from Rowlett, Texas, and attends the University of North Texas, with plans to major in communication design. Sara’s interests include reading, journaling and watching movies.