By Maddy Malik
When I was 16, my father introduced me to a story from Martin Buber’s Tales of Hasidism Vol. 2 to teach me a lesson about helping others, one I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
The lesson opens with a student inquiring of his master, “Why, if God created everything with meaning, did God create atheists?” The master responds, explaining that atheists do not help others to satisfy the whims of their religion. When an atheist does good, he does it not for a God, but because he believes it is moral and just to do so. His own sense of righteousness is not tied to any arbitrary religious compass, and instead comes from within. The lesson drawn from this tale is that when an individual is in desperate need of aid, we must imagine no God exists to help them, as an atheist would, and take it upon ourselves to better that person’s life. In other words, become the atheist, and derive morality from the compassion in your heart, not the scripture in your mind.
I have encountered many individuals who do good deeds because religious figures have ordained them to do so — their charity is a means to an end, and they glean no personal satisfaction or joy in improving the livelihoods of the disadvantaged. In a way, their endless chase for the virtue of the “afterlife” wholly prevents them from appreciating the role they play in helping others. The very connotation of the phrase “hereafter” insinuates that once an individual’s time on this Earth has passed, they are endowed with a second chance to do the good they neglected to accomplish before. By clinging to the existence of an afterlife, we often fail to seize every chance to help others in our waking lives. What purpose would it serve to help others to the fullest extent when a simple prayer grants you access to rapture in the hereafter? In my own experience, the friends I have met and the lives I have changed in this life are worth more to me than any afterlife.
Personally, I believe that religion and morality can be mutually exclusive. The ability to “live on love and laughter” without the ulterior motive of reaching an afterlife is incredibly important to bettering this life while we all still have the chance. Like Yip Harburg, I have made the choice to reject this rat race, and instead race for a new purpose: not the hereafter, but the here and now.
Maddy, 18, graduated from Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn. She is a self-proclaimed Muslim of Pakistani immigrants living in Tennessee. She was a member of the Science National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Rho Kappa, National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. She will be attending Vanderbilt University with the goal of eventully becoming a physician.