Fifth place — College essay contest: Danielle Kyle

Morality without fear of eternal damnation

Danielle Kyle

FFRF awarded Danielle $1,500.

By Danielle Kyle

Despite being a vegetarian, an environmentalist and strong advocate for marginalized groups (LGBTQ+, women, the poor, disabled), I still run into theists who question my morality. Because I do not believe in an afterlife, I do not have the pressing fear of eternal damnation as motivation to behave like a decent human being.

Needing that sort of fearful motivation to behave like a decent human being is rather concerning. I question the idea that we should only be “good” and “moral” because there is punishment if we do not.

As an atheist, the threat of hell is not something that motivates me to treat others with respect and kindness, rather, it is my identification as a humanist. I believe in the inherent worth of every person and being around me. They are all deserving of respect and dignity, no matter where they come from, how they identify, who they choose to love or their ability.

It’s better to live without the belief in heaven or hell. While others have offered their thoughts and prayers to the sick, scientists have delivered treatments. Where religious folk sit at home, praying to their deity that the Westboro Baptist Church, which protested at my university, will have a change of heart, I organized a rally to show those who felt threatened that they were loved. I lobbied in Washington, D.C., on a scholarship, to promote how essential the humanities are to the United States, because there is no god that will do it for me.

Because there is no hell, I believe it is the responsibility of people here to take action against hatred and bigotry. Likewise, it is the responsibility of people like me to promote charity and uplift the disadvantaged around me.

I live with the knowledge that this is my only chance. There is not another life where I can improve on what I did before, so I must do my best now, every step of the way.

If others did the same, there would be less “thoughts and prayers” every time the United States experiences a mass shooting — and more motions put in order to prevent the next one. Without the fear of hell, I believe my fellow humans would spend less time criticizing the “sins” that led to someone living in poverty, or with addiction, and instead offer them support.

Americans would not be taking “mission trips” to other countries and imposing their views on people who need the opposite of Western saviors. The best way to help communities in need is not sending other people to “fix” the problem (people often ignorant of the culture they will be encountering), but providing the individuals concerned with the tools to do it themselves.

Living with “no hell below us” and “above us only sky” provides me intrinsic motivation to help others. It means I will not be blaming some deity when something goes wrong, but rather taking action in order to improve the situation.

Dannie, 21, is from Elgin, Ill., and is a senior at Western Illinois University. She has spent her time at WIU doing advocacy work for the humanities in Washington, D.C., organizing the Rally for Love and Macomb Pridefest, and participating in various ensembles. Dannie previously spent a semester in Mannheim, Germany, where she improved her German and conducted research on topics such as foreign aid’s effectiveness in civil conflict.