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TIME Covers a Sunday School for Atheists

The irony is delectable, almost as delectable as Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings.  On the day before millions of Americans gathered to give thanks to God for their blessings, the online version of TIME magazine published an article spotlighting a “Sunday School” for atheists.  And the story treats Christianity and belief in God like a turkey carcass.


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.”


TIME reporter Jennine 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.  Lee-St. John also promoted atheist summer camps and the first Humanism-influenced public charter school, the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, FL, which boasts a total enrollment of 55 children.  Seems like 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.”


I wonder if Lee-St. John will come to my Sunday School class where I teach my kids that the media that surround them daily are all about undermining their faith?  That Christianity is under attack on a weekly, sometimes daily basis in the mainstream media? 


Lee-St. John concluded 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. 


That such an article was served up on Thanksgiving eve is delightfully ironic.  I wonder who all these atheists thanked on Thanksgiving? 


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.