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Honorable mention: College essay contest — Ellie McDonald

Ellie McDonald

Religion as a manipulated and self-centered institution

By Ellie McDonald

Religion, by its nature, is a divisive means by which people can assume great political power and manipulate those they deem as being beneath themselves, and it is easily exploited by the same individuals who are supposed to be preserving that religion’s sanctity.

Religion breeds an “us vs. them” mentality, not only among members of different religious groups, but even among members of the same religion, especially among religious extremist branches like Wahhabism. Wahhabi Muslims, famous members of which include Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, attack not only those outside their religion, as evident in the infamous attacks on 9/11, but they also reject other Muslims because they do not follow the “correct” Islam.

Historically, wars were fought in the name of a certain god not because of genuine civil rights issues, but rather out of greed and power-based aspirations, most often territorial expansion or simply an ego boost initiated by a power-hungry narcissistic ruler. When a war was over, the bodies buried and blood washed from the streets, the victorious empire would further feed into its religious delusions by claiming that its triumph was simply an affirmation that its god was the “correct” god.

I reject religion because it is inherently greedy and self-centered. Every religion emphasizes performing certain habitual actions so as to attain a personal goal, whether it be gaining entry into heaven, becoming one with Brahman, etc. When the backbone of every moral decision is rooted in a desire to attain a certain end goal, the decision is no longer moral, it’s strategic.

I reject religion because I want my moral decisions to be made from a desire to act in accordance with my own moral code, not the moral code given to me by a religious institution that I follow so as to attain a desirable afterlife.

To reference the problem of evil, as long as there is evil in the world, God cannot be simultaneously all powerful and all good. If God is all powerful and thus capable of stopping evil but chooses not to, then God is not all good. Likewise, if God is all good and willing to put a stop to evil but is not able to, then God is not all powerful. I refuse to follow the will of an omnipotent being that refuses to put a stop to evil, and I don’t see the purpose of devoting my life to a god that is not all powerful.

Religion is an arbitrary system, wherein good and evil have no real significance, as what makes an action “good” is religiously ambiguous. Take, for instance, the Euthyphro problem, recounted by Plato, in which Socrates asks if piety is pious because the gods like it, or if the gods like it because it is pious. If it is the former, and every “good” action is only good because God likes it, then morality seems arbitrary, whereas if a “good” action is liked by the gods simply because it is a good action, it begs the question as to what being or institution then defines a “good” action and calls into question God’s authority. This either makes morality completely arbitrary and superficial, or it questions the authority of God, and as previously stated, I see no reason why I should follow a God that is not all powerful.

Religion is, in every sense of the term, a manipulatable system in which participants either consciously or subconsciously feign moral responsibility to strategically act in accordance with selfish values and aspirations. Religion is very convenient for those who look to separate and divide us, and secularism tears down the ties that religion binds us to, essentially dissolving the “us vs. them” worldview that religious institutions enforce so as to manipulate and exploit their followers.


Ellie McDonald, 18, attends the University of Colorado-Boulder, with plans to major in philosophy, minor in Italian, and possibly double majoring in either neuroscience or political science.

“At the age of 15, I started taking classes full time at my local university, Colorado State University-Pueblo, through which I maintained a 4.0 GPA and earned 82 college credits,” Ellie writes. “I also played varsity and club volleyball, volunteered at my local animal shelter, maintained a part-time job, was the treasurer of my school’s National Honor Society, and started an animal rights club at my school called Students for Animal Welfare.”