Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sunday School for Atheists?

We have a running discussion here at Daddy Dialectic about how to raise moral kids without religion.

This week, Time magazine tells us that there are Sunday schools for the children of atheists:

An estimated 14% of Americans profess to have no religion, and among 18-to-25-year-olds, the proportion rises to 20%, according to the Institute for Humanist Studies. The lives of these young people would be much easier, adult nonbelievers say, if they learned at an early age how to respond to the God-fearing majority in the U.S. "It's important for kids not to look weird," says Peter Bishop, who leads the preteen class at the Humanist center in Palo Alto. Others say the weekly instruction supports their position that it's O.K. to not believe in God and gives them a place to reinforce the morals and values they want their children to have.

The pioneering Palo Alto program began three years ago, and like-minded communities in Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland, Ore., plan to start similar classes next spring. The growing movement of institutions for kids in atheist families also includes Camp Quest, a group of sleep-away summer camps in five states plus Ontario, and the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, Fla., the country's first Humanism-influenced public charter school, which opened with 55 kids in the fall of 2005. Bri Kneisley, who sent her son Damian, 10, to Camp Quest Ohio this past summer, welcomes the sense of community these new choices offer him: "He's a child of atheist parents, and he's not the only one in the world."

I don't have much to say about this, beyond pointing out that such institutions are not new: free-thinking children's camps go back to the 19th century, and perhaps earlier. In America, one usually sees them spring into existence when religious fanaticism seems about to overwhelm society.


Anonymous said...

you won't be surprised, but I have to say that I kind of cringe when I read about this... For all the reasons I've already ranted about in your comments section.

From the Time article: Kneisley, 26, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, says she realized Damian needed to learn about secularism after a neighbor showed him the Bible. Damian was quite certain this guy was right and was telling him this amazing truth that I had never shared.

Ummm, how about this: you as a parent talk to your kids from the earliest years about what you believe, what you think is important, but also about things in our culture that they are going to come into contact with that go against your values. It's called parenting. The best place for Damian to learn about secularism is from his parents.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

You know, I also cringed a bit when I read this: There is a strong note of "me-too"-ism in the quotes from parents. But as before, we disagree about parents being sufficient in and of themselves: We're just too easy to rebel against. I mean, look at us, we're dorks. Well, I am. I like the idea of surrounding my kid with peers and other adults who are promoting values like (quoting from the article) self-empowerment, community collaboration, and intellectual curiosity. Of course, it would be nice if all these things came through school in addition to home. But if a parent doesn't think that's the case, I think a little humanist summer camp or some regular Sunday meet-ups can't hurt.

Anonymous said...

you know you're right, kids do rebel. But that's why we have to start talking to them about this stuff from the very youngest years -- and of course our actions have to coincide with the talk. Kids will rebel, but I think that you lay down the core values and priorities early on, the rebellion is a temporary thing. Plus, when they reach a certain age they're going to decide for themselves. I have to say that despite the fact that my kids never went to atheist camp or atheist "church", I really am not worried about either of them going off the deep end into some religious phase; or actually into any kind of serious religiousness.

And btw I'll proudly include myself in the "we" of dorkdom...