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Sunday School Sans God

on December 1, 2007
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TIME: “Sunday School for Atheists For a new generation of children, Sunday school isn’t about Bible stories and singing songs about Jesus—instead, for atheist children, it’s about encouraging “personal expression, intellectual curiosity and collaboration.”

TIME magazine profiles the three-year-old Sunday school programs of the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, California, designed for “nonbelievers [who] think they might need something for their children.” What are these Sunday school kids (and their parents) in for? TIME explains that the Sunday program

It’s difficult to be too surprised by the story, however, since even many atheist parents talk about wanting to instill positive values in their children.

uses music, art and discussion to encourage personal expression, intellectual curiosity and collaboration. 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. Rather than listen to a Bible story, the class read Stone Soup, a secular parable of a traveler who feeds a village by making a stew using one ingredient from each home.

It’s difficult to be too surprised by the story, however, since even many atheist parents talk about wanting to instill positive values in their children. TIME magazine quotes Julie Willey, who takes her four kids to the center each week and explains, “When you have kids, you start to notice that your co-workers or friends have church groups to help teach their kids values and to be able to lean on.” The story cites other parents who say such 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” (although we wonder how such programs judge which morals and values are permissible and which aren’t!).

TIME also compares the program (and others like it that will begin soon) to humanism-run children’s retreats such as Camp Quest and the Carl Sagan Academy, a humanism-driven charter school.

Of course, nearly all parents are—intentionally or not—going to pass some of their values, attitudes, and beliefs to their children; whether the children ultimately accept or reject those values, attitudes, and beliefs is another story. But would vitriolic atheist Richard Dawkins—who recently and famously referred (albeit indirectly) to religious education as abusive—have any complaints about this sort of “religious” education (in the religion of humanism, that is)? We doubt it!

More and more children today are being raised without even a basic idea of what the Bible teaches about Christ or about why we need Christ.

Humanists have essentially taken religion, stripped away the aspects they dislike and those that make them uncomfortable, and have retained the comfort of a basic value system they are trying to pass on to their children. What happens when the children ask, “Mom, I understand that you’re telling me this is right, but why is it right?” These children will eventually grow up and figure out that there can be no morality without a moral authority—someone (or Someone, we should write) whose laws lie beyond the realm of human arbitrariness.

Also, the story reminds us of this increasingly unreached generation that needs not only evangelism, but also “pre-evangelism.” More and more children today are being raised without even a basic idea of what the Bible teaches about Christ or about why we need Christ. Thus, the ministry of Answers in Genesis—whose role is to support the church in bringing society back to the Bible—is more important than ever before.


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