Jason Bachand

Jason Bachand
Location
Connecticut, United States
Birthday
September 09
Bio
Jason Bachand is an author, independent scholar, and blogger. His blog, A Bright Blog, is located at http://a-bright-blog.blogspot.com/.

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2011 9:21PM

Why I'm Godless for my Daughter's Sake

Rate: 20 Flag

Children are often described as "a blessing." I confess that as a new father positively giddy with excitement and awe over my daughter's birth and development, I've felt the occasional need to express gratitude to something. This is a new feeling - but becoming a parent is renewing, after all. The conventional preface to becoming a parent comes as a veritable warning: "Having children changes you," our more experienced peers advise.

I'd prepared myself for the 'changes' of the logistical variety: I told my family and friends to expect to see less of me, I came to grips with the fact that sleep would shortly become a luxury, and I said a fond farewell to my collectible Doctor Who action figures, pristine in their factory packaging. Nothing, however, can prepare you for the metamorphosis of perspective and priorities that comes with parenthood. It is, to employ a modest poetic metaphor, a complete renovation of the heart. When I pick up my baby girl, to melodious peals of laughter, I find a happiness that exceeds all of my previous estimations as to its limits.

However, it seems that to some my personal growth has not been dramatic enough. "Doesn't having a child finally make you understand or desire god?" they ask. The query comes in varying forms, of course. But the assumption is the same - the 'miracle' of life demands acknowledgement of a miracle-maker. The absence of an instant conversion seems almost an affront to the faithful, as if I have not understood the importance of my child because I don't see a Maker behind the Miracle.

As an atheist (I prefer a-supernaturalist; I don't believe in gods but I don't believe in fairies or goblins either) I'm not much for miracles. Not of the divine sort, anyway. If one assumes the definition of 'miracle,' however, to mean the occurrence of something so improbable as to be nearly impossible, then we're all very much miracles. By all biological rights, we shouldn't be here. Richard Dawkins expressed it most eloquently when he said: "The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."

When Dawkins speaks of the "set of possible people" he's referring to the number of possible combinations of base-pairs in the human genome - the DNA code that gives each of us our unique characteristics. That number, by the way, exceeds the total number of atoms in the universe. To say, then, that your particular combination of genes was improbable given the set of possible combinations is an understatement without parallel.

In that sense, my daughter is a 'miracle.' The child that smiles when I say her name, or giggles when I croon "Droolin' Dalton," a parody of a song by The Eagles for which I must credit her mother, is a gift of chance. I believe Penn Jillette was tapping this feeling when he wrote that "It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day."

To live at all and to have the privilege to love and be loved, and if we're lucky leave with a slighter greater understanding of our world than we had when we entered it, is sufficient for profound gratitude. Knowing this, I would be doing a grave disservice to my daughter to tell her that she must be grateful to something else for her existence. Like each of us, she was born with the capacity to reason and inquire - why would I, one of the two people she trusts most in the world, instruct her to suppress or ignore those innate capacities? More to the point, what justification would I have for teaching her as fact the dubious propositions of faith? For the sake of her comfort and security, some might argue. But under what circumstance is "I lied to make you feel better" an acceptable and ethical explanation for dissemblance? It wouldn't hold up in court, you can be sure. (And just try it on your spouse - good luck.) Honesty and integrity demand that I teach my child the truth that there's no evidence for any sort of god. True, I will also teach her that some people choose to believe nevertheless. And I will have to explain why so many believe in that which they cannot see or hear and which science vastly supercedes in explanatory power. (Not just believe in, but are willing to kill and die for, too.)

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg alleges that religion is "an insult to human dignity." Put aside all of the ontological or "rational" arguments for the existence or non-existence of god and ask yourself this: what does religion essentially tell us about ourselves and our place in the cosmos? I began this article by stating my hunch that all of us are searching for meaning - hope in times of adversity and someone to thank when fortune turns our way. In sum, we crave to frame our lives with a sense that the universe is in some way invested in us and that we are not merely particles in motion. Is the religious message superior to realism in delivering happiness and meaning?

I think the primary issue in answering that question is that of truth. Does it matter? Even if religion does provide comfort, happiness, and joy, how moral is a happiness built on fictions? Can it be called authentic happiness at all? As for what religion teaches us about ourselves and our place in the universe, let's consider the Christian faith, since this is the animal my daughter is most likely to encounter in the American culture into which she was born. Most of the Christian faiths begin with the repugnant assumption that we're all born laden with sin and evil. From this departure point, they proceed to claim that only the blood of a 'savior,' grotesquely tortured and murdered under the command of his own father, washes us 'clean' of our decadence. In all things, we're told not to trust our own instincts or follow the guidance of reason, but to be blindly obedient to this god, who is sometimes racist, genocidal, and merciless and at others loving and forgiving. Despite the progress of our species over the past centuries in almost every category of endeavor, we're also assured that the ultimate and exclusive treatise on how to live our lives was written (and copied, and translated, and rewritten again) over 2,000 years ago by scientifically illiterate men in a backwater clime of the Middle East. Moreover, in many Christian faiths women are told that their gender relegates them to second-class citizenship; they are unsuitable to hold a leadership position in the church and admonished to remain "submissive" to men.

In my view, to look into my daughter's eyes, brimming with trust, and tell her that through no action of her own but owing only to the caprice of an angry deity, she's imperfect - even evil - isn't just irresponsible, it's child abuse. When she stretches her little hands out to touch the world for the first time and begins to ask the essential questions of life, the universe, and everything, I will not restrain her with defeatist dogmas of murderous redemption. I will not insult her with fictions meant to soothe, when demonstrable truths equally salvific exist. I will not tell her that she is a second class citizen, nor dash her confidence by saying she's worthless without the blessing of a god or the blood of a savior.

I will teach her these things, instead: that she's beautiful, and strong, and capable of pursuing an abundant and extravagant life with the exceptional tools bestowed by evolution - intelligence, imagination, compassion, creativity. I will tell that when she feels broken and in need of hope, there's mystery and wonder without end to be found in the universe - superstition and shortcuts not required. Perhaps I'll point to the sky and echo Carl Sagan's observation that we are "starstuff," with a simple explanation of how stars create heavy elements that go on to become the building blocks of life. Maybe we'll gaze at an amoeba holding forth on pseudopods under a microscope. Under the canopy of a New England forest, we might investigate the strata in rocks, dazzle at the prodigious expanse of lichens and mosses, or catch crayfish just for fun. And at the end of the day, I hope we'll both lose our breath with awe over the simple fact that all of this marvelous universe is here and within our understanding - the greatest miracle.  

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although i consider myself a believer (admittedly in something vaguely defined, but nonetheless supernatural), i think this is a beautiful peace...much respect to you...rated
I look at the universe so differently. Of course I also believe that the inevidible emergence of a superintelligence of unlimited power is an essential part of the universe...but hey...we're all on our own parade here.

I have no quarrel with athiests, or humanists or whatever. I do take issue with those pastafarians though....damnedable people.
Jason, well done. Thanks for inviting us in to meet you and your daughter. It's difficult to write anything about religion without stirring up the hornet's nest but you've done a wonderfully lucid, non crucifying piece here, Bravo.

Obviously you can't foresee the exact specifics of what your daughter will grow up to become on the insides or out. However, with the strong foundation your building for her it's more than likely she will fall into the 20 percentile of human beings that people will, without hesitation, refer to as, "A good friend," among other complimentary professional and personal titles throughout her long years.

That's certainly one part of every parent's dream. Congratulations on emphasizing the importance of openness, acceptance, forgiveness and encouragement needed to further a child's passage into adulthood. On the times you fail and become an ogre papa--hey, come on, it happens to the best of 'em, now and then--your daughter will probably be just as forgiving. That's something quite a few parents aren't granted. But of course, that's because they didn't offer the same gift.
A few weeks ago I was on an admittedly less-than standard airplane in Russia. It was, or appeared to be, encountering difficulties.

I do not say what I'm about to say as a criticism to you or, of course, as an even partially complete refutation of atheism or justification for religion, so bear that in mind.

But how glad I was that my parents (and I have not remained as observant as at least one of them would have liked) gave me the 23rd Psalm. What a comfort it was to me. This is, I admit, an "emotional" argument for a religion, although it could be used as the foundation of an intellectual one as well.

What I'm saying is that that small thing (small?) from, primarily, my mother gave me something that years after her death sustained me through a difficult hour. I'm grateful for it.
And, lest I be taken in the wrong manner, I am not claiming that this recitation had anything to do with the safe arrival of the plane into Moscow. I'm just speaking to the comfort given, in this small instance, by my earlier religious upbringing and of my gratefulness of having that to, yes, "cling to" in an hour of worry and some fear.

Thanks for your post.
Eloquently put. My husband and I succumbed to social pressure and sent our son to the Unitarian Sunday School. My son finally announced when he was 10 that it bored him. He has grown up to be a loving, compassionate, brilliant atheist full of intellectual curiosity and social conscience.

Thank you so much for your perspective.
Wow. Well said. Every little girl should be so lucky to have you for a father.
If I hadn't been awake (and was sure of that as a fact) I would have thought I was dreaming and was reading something I wrote to and about my daughter! Holy Cow (and I am not just saying this, they are sacred to my people of the hamburger) your comment about people asking about your 'conversion' to a faith is right on point.

I never really thought about it, but when you commented that it put things into a perspective from 19 years ago. All my wife's 'acquaintances' *(almost all of whom were Catholic to some degree) were asking me if I was going to Church now (since my daughter was born.) Your response in this piece echoed my less than sensitive sentiment as a response to those questions.

Why would I make my daughter believe in something we are supposed to fear? Why would I tell my daughter that some unseen, unheard, unknowable being out there wants her to believe in Him, when He clearly isn't running the show? How in the world can someone actually believe that one guy (the Pope, in this particular instance of Christianity) is the only one who can actually Talk with this God? And who in their right minds, with an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent being, would believe that one guy or one group or one religion has any right to deny my ability to talk with this God on my own? I would make my daughter believe this for what reason?

I agree with you. I tell people, when it comes to miracles, what's more miraculous:
A God creates man and woman and places them into the world and says, "Obey me, or suffer the consequences." or;
The multitudinous random occurrences over 13.5 billion years of natural chaos and physics brought about the occurrence of life, from there it evolved over time and ended up with us, reasoning, thinking, sometimes rational beings who can ask, "Why am I here?"

I'll take answer B, please. That's pretty miraculous and avoids having to assign some good/evil plan, a Creator with intent and a known side on which to exist and live. That, to me, is much more miraculous than the oversimplified and overglorified being of extreme power and boredom that He would create us to worship him and his glory.

great post!
-r-
Dear Dunniteowl, you wrote: "How in the world can someone actually believe that one guy (the Pope, in this particular instance of Christianity) is the only one who can actually Talk with this God?"

I mean, and I really DO mean, no disrespect or nastiness when I point out that this statement of yours, kindly meant no doubt, is, however, inaccurate. This is not what Catholics believe.
Thank you, Jason, for a well thought out, unemotional response to theists everywhere. I also do not believe in the supernatural, nor do I engage in magical thinking. I've never really needed (at least not since I was 12) a reason not to believe in a god, but if I did need one this would be the set of reasons I would adopt.

Rated for all the right reasons.
I forgot to add, a fellow Bright.

Make that rated for all the Bright reasons.
Well stated and very eloquently put. Reality is magnificent enough without having to add in any particular mythology of ancient tribal peoples filtered through many human interpreters each focusing on their own goals while proffered as "truth" uttered straight from an omnipotent deity.

My question to your detractors: If there was such a thing as an omnipotent deity, it certainly would have been able to choose more appropriate messengers than those with so little knowledge of the world and one so unable to present "The Word" without so much obvious manipulation as demonstrated by contradictions.

If one puts forth that an all-powerful and all-knowing God did create all that is, one then has the burden of demonstrating evidence for this claim since objective and reproducible science has shown that life has evolved over millions of years from a common ancestor. This common ancestor formed from a primordial environment that had energy being put into it by our local star, the Sun and formed from the celestial chemical soup that was the early Earth.

Given that there never could have been an Adam and/or Eve (since our ancestors evolved through the gradual change of genetic modification - proven and demonstrable), this means there was no real Adam or Eve created out of dust and that the mythology attributed to the creation mythology is just that, myth.

Therefore, there was not original sin and therefore no need for a savior as put forth in so many other cultural myths before the current JudeoChristianIslamic version was invented. Therefore, there is no need to be "born again" since our real birth was magnificent enough given all of the variables involved that resulted in each and every one of us being here at the present moment.

If one still holds to the position that mankind was created out of dust with life blown into it by this supernatural being, please put forth the evidence that others can test and prove or disprove. Otherwise, please keep ones complaints to oneself and wonder instead of how it is that one came to ones beliefs and look to reality for the answer instead of imagination.

Yours in a magnificent and beautiful reality....
Wonderfully argued piece, Jason! If it weren't for my belief in a Higher Power, then I'd call myself an Atheist, although perhaps an A-Supernaturalist fits quite nicely. I've come to believe that there's some power greater than myself. While every attempt to define it falls flat, the best I've done is to say that, somehow, there's an "energy" with shares in my consciousness--an intelligent energy, to my way of thinking. I've found others who also understand and share this energy with me. Some, unfortunately with less-than-noble motives, turned this understanding into religions, who then sought to enslave others, especially those who seek desperately for some escape from the pain of their lives. I agree that religion is enslavement for many (dare I say "most"?) people.

As for the god of the Bible and other sacred literature, cut them some slack. Without the media we enjoy today, the only stories available came from those oral traditions that were eventually written down (how many wonderful stories were lost, one can only wonder). Just as with media today, some like their adventure stories, some comedy, some heart-wrenching drama, some sci-fi, and some like blood-and-gore. We certainly find all of those genres in the Bible.

Fortunately, as a Jew I was taught to read between the lines, between the letters. Certainly you'll find literalist Jews, and Jews who follow like sheep (and stupid sheep at that). But I read all "sacred" literature as instruction manuals for accessing the intelligent energy in whose image I was created--nothing more.

Thanks for getting my creative juices flowing this morning.
I ran out of coffee before getting to the end.
I'm 100% with you on this. I was raised by scientific parents who, later in life, decided to involve themselves first in the Mormon church and later in a more liberal church. Initially they joined churches to meet people, but when it started, I said, "You will be tempted to believe that nonsense. If you are going to make friends, that's great, but how can you suddenly believe in this stuff? You must be on your guard at all times.

They, of course, did not heed my warning and eventually got to be pretty attached to it. It just blew my mind. Prayers before meals, no coffee, and my mother was being forced to at least appear to be submissive. As a young woman, she was sent home from school for wearing slacks rather than a dress. She had a great career as a professor TEACHING SCIENCE, particularly empiricism. She was a feminist. I remember hearing the story of my conception: She finished completing my father's calculus homework (!) and demanded sex in recompense. Now that's a great story. I was raised without any church attendance except what I chose to do with friends on boring Sundays. It all feels like a complete betrayal of the very mindset I was raised with and completely believe without doubt or apology.

Very well done.
Just because you're Godless doesn't mean you don't have to blog anymore. But that's one of the biggest problems with modern Atheists, slow to post because they spend all their free time elsewhere, pointing out the ignorance of 'believers' and demanding there be a real "separation of church and state" -Tsk Tsk