If my child asks me if there are any ghosts in this house I will explain to her that they do not exist. If she's old enough to understand a little bit of reasoning I will tell her the reasons that I know they don't exist. If she's too young then I'll hope she trusts me enough to take me at my word. If she asks if there really is a Bigfoot roaming the countryside I will tell her it's not true. If she asks if people really get abducted by aliens I will tell her that it doesn't happen and the people that claim they were abducted are either starving for attention or mentally ill. But what do I tell her when she asks why people go to a building with a pointy roof to ask an invisible man in the sky for special favors?
I have no idea how this child raising thing will play out. But I can guarantee you she will not be going to bed at night chanting things like
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
She will not lie there thinking and worrying about dying in her sleep, hoping that God will answer her prayer to take her soul to heaven, instead of letting the devil drag her to hell. She will not lie in bed wondering if she followed the 10 Commandments well enough that day to please God. She will not lie there thinking that the ghosts of her dead relatives are roaming around her house, just outside her bedroom. She will not wonder why a God that says he loves her would allow her to burn for an eternity if she doesn't follow his strange rules. She will not wonder what's going to happen to the souls of the millions and millions of people that were unlucky enough to have been born in a place where the wrong religion was prevalent, thus making it near impossible that they should believe in the correct God and find true happiness.
The religious hatred, the physical and mental abuse, the oppression of women and the violence and hatred toward homosexuals, the childhood indoctrination and mental abuse, and the suppression of science — all these things persist not because of the religious. It's because of the non-religious people. It's the one-church-visit-per-year folks. It's the "I believe in the Bible even though I haven't read it" people. It's the people that are only religious on Facebook. It's the people that pretend to be religious on their wedding day; or when a friend dies; or when a baby get its name. It's silent atheists. It's people like you. It's people like you that are ensuring that these superstitions and all the terrible things that stem from them continue unabated, because you choose to tip-toe around the believers, deathly afraid of offending them by suggesting that their unfounded beliefs are unfounded. You hold the power to change things for the better but knowingly — purposefully — choose not to. And that's a terrible thing. It's an immoral thing.
Well, I choose to. I choose to try to change things for the better. People always say to me, to people like me, "You're not going to change the world." No, I will not change the world. But I've received enough messages from people that have struggled with religious upbringings to know I'm doing a good thing, and that I am, even if it's only in some minuscule way, helping them deal with their complicated situations. And what about the people that know that it's all a sham but aren't great at thinking the whole thing through cohesively and coherently? What if a few posts from me or someone like me snaps everything into place for someone, making them more resolved, more certain in what they already know deep down? I had one fellow tell me that my blogging helped him to argue against the angry religious people that populated the town in which he worked. He was already an atheist, but he just wasn't great at explaining things. This guy even told me that a person that he once argued with came back to him later and said, "Man, I've been thinking a lot about what you said, and I gotta say, you're right." You're right! He changed a person's mind! And he says I helped! So no, I'm not changing the world. But who says that can be your only goal? Who says it has to be all or nothing? Do you say that to someone that works for a charity? Do you tell people that trying to help starving children on the other side of the world is pointless because your donation will not eradicate starvation? Do you tell people, "Nah, I'm gonna keep my $5 because I'm sure cancer won't be completely and totally cured if I give it to your charity."? Of course you don't. Because you know these things are processes. Change and progress often takes time. Often these things take efforts from multitudes of people; people chipping away at whatever problem they wish to change. Good God damn, I bet you people would have told the people trying to eradicate slavery, "Come on. It's the way it is! It's been like that forever! It's tradition! You think that you and a few others big-mouths yapping about it is going to change anything? Get real." Sure, the people at the beginning of that or any other struggle might not have lived to see the offending disease, virus, or cruelty disappear or get corrected. But does that mean they wasted their time? They got the ball rolling. They opened people's eyes, even if it was only on a person-by-person basis. Any major change in a society is never accomplished by one soul. It's always a vast movement of changing ideas and perception over a given period of time. Think of it as a chain of change. And that period of change may be stretched over years, it may be decades, it may be millennia. It doesn't matter to the people that get to enjoy the changes set in motion by problem solvers they will never meet. The Greek proverb “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in” is precisely what I'm getting at. I'm an old man planting a tree (along with hundreds of thousands of other people planting trees). Let's call it a tree of knowledge, because that's the intent: to spread knowledge; to encourage education, objectivity, and critical thought; to let people know that we're not all going to bend like weaklings under the force of superstition and religion that has weighed down humanity since our thoughts became abstract. For the first time we have the ability to control our own evolution. This is evolution of the mind. We can make changes in our thinking now that will benefit the world tomorrow. No, I will not live to see any worldly benefit from what I or people like me have said over the past few years. I won't sit under that tree of knowledge because there's still too many shrubs of delusions stealing the light and enjoying protection from rational thought. I won't sit under the tree but I have seen the roots getting deeper. I've seen the tiny sprouts breaking through the dirt. I've seen them in the messages I've received from people, thanking me and encouraging me to keep doing what I'm doing.
But all that aside, I'm absolutely sure of one thing. I have the power to change my daughters' world, and I will not let people fill her head with all the delusions that filled mine as a child. And I will not fill her head with superstitions and fairy tales designed to scare her into believing in things that any rational person, any loving parent, would and should wholeheartedly protect their children from.
Now I lay me down to sleep
To rest and have sweet dreams
In the morning I will awake
And appreciate each step I take