Morality Without Religious Interference
High School student Tamara Whitehouse wrote this superb essay and won $2,000 from the wonderful Freedom From Religion Foundation. Congratulations Tamara. It’s people like you who give me hope in this twisted world.
The notion that religion is a prerequisite for living a moral life is widely held. Common phrases such as “like a good Christian” and “the Christian thing to do” imply that only Christians can do good things. Swearing on the bible before giving testimony in court suggests that, somehow, a belief in God is necessary in order to tell the truth. When most people hear someone described as “godless,” they immediately imagine a person that is despicable, cruel, and barbaric. In fact, dictionary synonyms for “godless” include “depraved,” “evil,” “profane,” “unprincipled,” and “wicked.” Not only are these insinuations ludicrous, but most times, the religions behind them are being hypocritical, having violated their own moral codes in the past.
Organized religion has been the main factor in most of the conflicts over the past 2,000 years. During the Crusades, Christians fought to take Jerusalem from Muslims, both sides often resorting to brutal violence and claiming it was “justified.” Much of the tension in the Middle East is caused by lack of understanding and tolerance of different religions and beliefs. For decades, constant fighting between Catholics and Protestants, often called ‘The Troubles,” has tormented Northern Ireland. And let’s not forget that many terrorist groups throughout the world are fighting, supposedly, for Allah.
Many other immoral acts have been committed in the name of religion, as well. For example, women were treated as subordinate to men for centuries, mainly due to the various religious texts speaking of women as though they were perpetually unclean and fundamentally unequal. Religion, and fear of the devil, was a main cause of the Salem witch trials, where at least 30 completely innocent people were accused of witchcraft, tortured mercilessly, and then put to death. Throughout history, indigenous peoples have been misjudged as heathen devil-worshippers by religious explorers, and as a result, either treated cruelly or stripped of their cultural heritage by missionaries determined to convert them.
Religion tends to breed intolerance, which has led to the mistreatment of many minority groups. Slave owners in the South, as well as many other Americans of the time, genuinely believed that God made black people inferior to white people. The Conquistadors, when they came to South America, brutally conquered the various indigenous peoples, believing they were heathen and evil. Homosexuals have been targeted for violence, and abortion clinics have been bombed, all in the name of God. How could religion be necessary to live a moral life, when more often than not, religion itself is immoral?
In fact, I’d argue that a religious person has more of a likelihood of being immoral than a nonreligious person does. A religious person would be more likely to unfairly judge others based on their personal choices, lifestyles, and beliefs. He or she would have a greater tendency to be intolerant of anything not accepted in their religious dogmas, and may not treat people who disagree with their religious beliefs as well as they’d treat those who do. They may, in certain extreme, fundamentalist cases, resort to discrimination or violence to spread their beliefs and show their love for God.
On the other hand, someone who is not part of an organized religion, or who doesn’t believe in God, would have less reason to judge others and be intolerant because they would not constantly measure another’s actions against a religious list of accepted and unaccepted behaviors. When was the last time anyone heard of an atheist bombing an abortion clinic, or joining a terrorist group?
Even if religions were the guiding pillars of morality they pretend to be, I still would not need them to be a moral person. I do not need a reward in heaven promised to me as an incentive to do good deeds, nor do I need a higher power that watches all my actions and constantly checks my actions and thoughts against a list of regulations.
To do good for the sake of being rewarded later on is not being moral; it is being bribed. A truly moral person does the right thing because it is the right thing, not because they hope to gain points with the higher being of his or her choice.
The more I’ve learned about religion and have seen how horribly religious people can treat others, the more I’ve believed that religion is a detriment to living a moral life, and certainly not essential. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Paine, George Orwell, and many more people, famous and unknown, have managed to live moral lives without subscribing to a religion or believing in a god. I am proud to count myself among them.
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