Scientists in Church? Ack. Thptpth.

I confess I’m not completely on board with the “let the children decide for themselves what to believe” thing.

Yeah, I get it that you have to let kids develop the ability to evaluate the nature of the world on their own.

But on matters of fact? Things which are KNOWN, and which you sort of have to accept as part of the real world? Is that about “belief?” And, considering the broader package of stuff — Eternal Torment! The Evilness of Gays! Mistrust of Liberals! Altarboy Diddling! — that can come along with it, is it okay that actual scientists are willing to expose their kids to it? 

Atheists Who Go to Church: Doing It for the Children

A new study out of Rice University has found that 17 percent — about one out of five scientists who describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics — actually go to church, although not too often, and not because they feel a spiritual yearning to join the faithful.

The study, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice and Kristen Schultz Lee of the University at Buffalo, found that many atheists want their children exposed to religion so that they can make up their own minds on what to believe.  In addition, church may provide a better understanding of morality and ethics, and occasionally attending services may ease the conflict between spouses who disagree over the value of religion to their children, the study contends.

Somewhat misguided, I say.

I just hope they’re choosing some of the more moderate, progressive places to send their kids, and not, say, the Mormon Church, or the Catholic one.

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  • Igakusei

    The Catholic church confuses me a little. It seems like they have been the most open-minded Christian group about the true history of the Bible for a long time, but still have some of the most oppressive and backwards doctrines.

    My best guess is that it’s the result of their traditions holding a high regard in theology, as opposed to Protestants which claim to be more sola scriptura.

    • raymoscow

      Or rather, the RCC teaches a trust in the Church itself (its leaders) to reliably deliver a trustworthy message and accurately interpret the Bible for its members. They’ve realised, at least since the early 20th century, that a certain amount of biblical scholarship does no harm since its members have to defer to the leaders on all important points anyway.

  • Tiktaalik

    Hmm. My parents were atheists/agnostics. I went to a Protestant Sunday school for a while, mainly because all my friends went to it. After a while I got tired of it; it never made a lot of sense to me. My parents provided me with a bunch of different religious texts, from the bible through the Bhagavad Gita, and by the time I was twelve I had realized that if you get to choose what to believe, it isn’t belief. I suppose that method might not work on everyone, but it seems to have accomplished what they thought it would with me.

  • davidct

    While I did allow my kids to attend church on rare occasions with a Catholic aunt, I think there is plenty of Christian culture around. Going to church actually gives it a sort of validity that it does not deserve. I am the sort of atheist who considers religion irrelevant to my life and felt that it was best to raise my kids by ignoring it by way of example. When questions came up I answered them but I did not go looking for them. My kids are not religious. I do not believe that I would be able as an atheist activist to avoid pointing out that a choice to be religious is irrational. I could not stand by and have a child buy into a bunch of lies and logical fallacies and consider it a free choice. I would consider it a symptom of some other problem. To just be happy and say that it was a free choice would be no different than letting a toddler play in the street.

  • N. Nescio

    I’m not a parent yet, but I think the approach I want to take would be to teach my children how to think critically, evaluate claims for truth or falsehood and discuss how that works (or doesn’t) with religion.

    Let them read some Greek and Norse mythology, and show them the gods that were Gods in their time and are now mere stories. Explain why that is. Show them the sheer number of mutually exclusive religions, and how ‘faith’ doesn’t actually address truth claims, and then if they want to go to a religious service with a friend, let them do so. I would most likely want to go with them, too!

    It seems like telling them that they’re not allowed to learn about certain ideas is only going to make those ideas seem more compelling. After all, if religious ideas are so wrong then one should be able to show their children how and why and give them the tools to think for themselves, instead of telling them what to think.

    It sure worked that way for me growing up Catholic. I kept wondering why I was actively discouraged from reading other religious texts like the Koran and ‘Gita; and even asking too many questions about the Bible and why so much of Catholicism did not square with scripture. Sure it’s a lot for a child to deal with, but some kids are way smarter than most adults give them credit for.

    And even if the ‘worst’ happened and my child was to become religious when they were old enough to make such a decision, I would expect myself to do exactly what I wish my parents would have done: accept their belief (or lack thereof in my case) as a decision made after much reflection and exploration, and love them for who they are.

  • wendellhenry

    This is exactly what my wife and I (both Atheists) did with our children. We felt it important that they understand something about religion as our society is dominated by such people. We searched for the appropriate church and ended up as Unitarian Universalists. The UU religious education program (i. e. Sunday School) is set up for exactly this purpose. There is education in many world religions, ethics, humanism and the like. It is expected that the children when they reach maturity will make their own decisions and the programs are designed to prepare them for that event.

  • JeseC

    I’d be curious to see the original study as to what exactly “going to church” meant. Are these people attending church every sunday? Are they attending the same church, or are they going around looking at different churches.

    If I ever had kids, I would certainly take them around to visit different places of worship, once I felt they were old enough to understand. What I would not do is send them to attend a church regularly.

  • jamessweet

    Don’t forget that the most commonly cited reason was basically “My spouse makes me do it”. How much you want to bet that “exposing them to different viewpoints” is a post hoc rationalization as often as not?

    I’m sorta with you in that while I like the idea in theory, I’m sort leery about it in practice. Children can be very impressionable, and while I don’t want to specifically hide anything from them, I think none of us are in favor of exposing them to just whatever. As long as my kids are young enough that I wouldn’t be comfortable having them play a violent video game, I also wouldn’t be comfortable having them go to most churches.

  • feralboy12

    I exposed my daughter to religion when she was nine. I took her outside and we sat in the carport, watching and listening to our Pentacostalist neighbors across the street, who liked to roll around babbling, speaking in tongues every Friday night.
    That taught her most of what she needed to know about religion.

    • hauntfox

      If there were a “Like” button on FTB (or WordPress, I guess), your story would more than warrant clicking on it.

  • mikeym

    As young marrieds a friend and I once half-joked that when we became fathers, we should force our young’uns to attend church, both as a way of immunizing them against superstitious nonsense, and to give them a worthy target to rebel against in adolescence.

  • geocatherder

    First of all, I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, a parent. So perhaps my contribution doesn’t count too much. But I can’t imagine, as a parent, that I wouldn’t want my children to believe the same things (and disbelieve the same things) that I believe. I’m not sure how I’d teach them to approach others’ religious beliefs, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want them to “make up their minds for themselves”. And if some of the childhood exploring of their friends’ beliefs meant going to church or some church-sponsored activity, I’d tag along too, and thus be able to explain the myths vs. the reality afterward — and the importance of skepticism in evaluating goddy all beliefs.

    Of course, I really doubt I could reject a child who grew into a different belief system than mine, either. This business of religious parents of teenage atheists tossing their children out sickens me. (Funny, you don’t hear of atheist parents tossing their religious children out.)

  • Lou Doench

    We’re raising our kids as little freethinkers, have been for almost seven years. Check out Dale McGowan’s website “The Memeing of Life” and his books on the subject.

    We have no intention of giving any formal religious unstruction, but we do intend to take our kids to church a few times before they are teenagers. You don’t want your kids first experience with religion to be finding Jesus in college!

  • Josh

    I wonder how much of this, if any, is tied up with a perceived need for social membership/structure/ritual. I grew up Catholic (I got better), and despite my distaste for the religion I find myself still craving structure, ritual, and pageantry in my life from time to time.

    As a result, I am the guy in my group of buddies who puts a label on our group (silly though it may be), occasionally enforces our joke of an initiation ritual at our annual New Year’s party, and other such things.

    In a less accomodating group of friends, I might well seek out a relatively non-offensive local church to attend to fill that psychological need a few times a year.

  • gordonmacginitie

    Elaine Ecklund’s study is several years old, she just keeps milking the same old numbers. Also note that only 17% ( one in six ) of the scientists she interviewed allowed their children in church and that most of them did so only because their wives were religious.

    I think it is wrong to expose children to people that are dedicated to telling lies.

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