Time: Sunday School for Atheists
Will Time magazine come and cover MY Sunday school class? You know, the one where I teach my kids that their Christian faith is under attack on a weekly, if not daily, basis from the mainstream media?
I think its a valid question because Time just did a lovely send-up to a Sunday School for ..... atheists. Yep. Seems the atheists, or rather humanists, in Palo Alto, California think believers have something going on with the whole Sunday School thing.
Time's reporter Jeninne Lee-St. John promotes the atheist program, atheist summer camps and a new Carl Sagan-named Humanist public charter school in her Nov. 21 story. The fact that the piece was put up on Time.com on the eve before Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans gathered to give thanks to God, is delectable irony.
The bias started in the first paragraph:
"On Sunday mornings, most parents who don't believe in the Christian God, or any god at all, are probably making brunch or cheering at their kids' soccer game, or running errands or, with luck, sleeping in. Without religion, there's no need for church, right?"
Talk about painting going to church as something - burdensome. But also beneficial: "...some nonbelievers are beginning to think they might need something for their children." Not to mention that most church-going folks are also making brunch, going to their kids' sports events, running errands and sometimes sleeping in.
Lee-St. John wrote that atheists, especially those with kids, find value in the Sunday School model where church groups "help teach ... kids values." She then introduced the Humanist Community Center of Palo Alto, California as a place where atheists are taking their children to learn "from an early age how to respond to the God-fearing majority in the U.S." Lee-St. John consistently uses the word "nonbelievers" to describe the atheists. Her choice of "God-fearing" to describe believers seems loaded.
The story calls the program in Palo Alto "pioneering" and describes it as a "place to reinforce the morals and values" atheist parents want their children to have. Between this, the summer camps and charter school which has an enrollment of only 55 students, it seems like Time used a lot of ink for a handful of sparsely attended programs, schools and camps. But it's free publicity for atheism, which has received a lot of positive coverage from the mainstream media this year. (Blasphemy Challenge and Christopher Hitchens' review of Mother Theresa's book come to mind.)
Cheerleading for atheism continued throughout the piece:
Kneisley, 26, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, says she realized [her son] 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," says Kneisley. In most ways a traditional sleep-away camp--her son loved canoeing--Camp Quest also taught Damian critical thinking, world religions and tales of famous freethinkers (an umbrella term for atheists, agnostics and other rationalists) like the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass."
The implication is that Christians kids aren't taught to think critically and don't learn about world religions or Frederick Douglass. By the way, when did atheists become "rationalists?" Atheism is explicitly irrational. The statement that God does not exist cannot be proven, it can only be asserted by faith; it's logically impossible to prove a negative.
Lee-St. John described the Palo Alto program as one that "uses music, art and discussion to encourage personal expression, intellectual curiosity and collaboration." She continued, "One Sunday this fall found a dozen children up to age 6 and several parents playing percussion instruments and singing empowering anthems like I'm Unique and Unrepeatable, set to the tune of Ten Little Indians, instead of traditional Sunday school songs like Jesus Loves Me. She said there were a "dozen children up to age 6" in this class.
What other class with only 12 kids in it gets featured in TIME magazine?
While the little ones were singing about their uniqueness, reports Lee-St. John, the "older kids engaged in a Socratic conversation with (the teacher) about the role persuasion plays in decision making. He tried to get them to see that people who are coerced into renouncing their beliefs might not actually change their minds but could be acting out of self-preservation - an important lesson for young atheists who may feel pressure to say they believe in God."
Which brings me back to my first question. I've got 20 7th graders in my Sunday school class. I wonder if Lee-St. John will come and document my efforts to get my students fired up for God in a media culture that does everything in its power to undermine those efforts and their still-forming faith?
Lee-St. John concluded her piece with the following paragraph:
"Atheist parents appreciate this nurturing environment. That's why Kitty, a nonbeliever who didn't want her last name used to protect her kids' privacy, brings them to Bishop's class each week. After Jonathan, 13, and Hana, 11, were born, Kitty says she felt socially isolated and even tried taking them to church. But they're all much more comfortable having rational discussions at the Humanist center. ‘I'm a person that doesn't believe in myths,' Hana says. ‘I'd rather stick to the evidence.'"
Implication: believing in God equates to irrationality and myth-believing.