Sunday activities for the godless

There is a Sunday School for Atheists? I think it’s an interesting idea to have a special school on Sundays for people to teach their kids about ethics and family, but it shouldn’t be for atheists — Christians need it more. I know they already have something called Sunday School, but I went through it, and it wasn’t about values: it was about memorizing bible verses, mindless arts and crafts, and antique and false stories illustrated on a felt board.

Besides, we already have a Carnival of the Godless and a Sunday Sermonette. If we just had a felt board and some colored cloth, maybe we could re-enact science stories for the kiddies.


  1. QrazyQat says

    Our granddaughter used to go to a group called Awana, a sort of Christian quasi Brownies. She had a bunch of merit badges on her vest; I figured they were for, you know, making stuff, learning to tie knots. Nope, all were for memorizing Bible verses. The good news: a year after she stopped going we asked her if she remembered any of them. The answer was a matter of fact “No”.

  2. Richard Harris says

    We walked over to the village pub for a pint & a meal. (The womenfolk had coke.) Does that count?

  3. The Stone says

    This could be a valuable transitional activity for new non-believers. I’ve often heard the principle that the major reason for attending church is to belong to a group. I’d say judging from our own evolution, this is likely a valid reason. Most new non-believers will be accustomed to being part of a strong group, and taking part in its activities to some extent.

    Unlike church, it would be an opportunity for fellow atheists to share science information, and discuss moral problems in their communities and in society. I disagree that morality is not something atheists need to discuss. Our society changes continuously, and making decisions based on science to form naturally moralistic ways of dealing with problems of society would benefit everyone. Religions represents moral stagnation, and disciplinarian inflexibility which has lead to a wildly irrelevant and damaging world view. Atheists have an opportunity to take the lead, and show society that religions has NO purpose whatsoever.

    What would be bad, is to have a central group to proclaim the official view of atheists (e.g. Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church for example). Clearly, we all should use our innate sense of justice and morality to come to what we individually feel is the proper conclusion for a problem.

    Take the Iraq war for example. Hitchens feels its a moral imperative. Many of the Atheists I know feel support for war is the antithesis of the peaceful coexistence a scientific lifestyle necessitates. I can see both sides. But the republicans have really botched this conflict by choosing only military conflict, starting the war with the lie, and surrendering some of our constitutional rights. This is exactly the sort of social problem Atheists should be discussing amongst ourselves, and what better time than old church time?

  4. Karey says

    Hmm. The time for teaching your kids about morals and values is all the time, while just living life. One of the major benefits of being atheist is not having to go to any ridiculous sunday school. I felt terrible for all my friends growing up that they were saddled with extra school on the weekends. What a sadistic thing to do to a kid.

  5. Carl says

    Sunday school for atheists, huh?! Isn’t this a slippery slope toward the rigid and ecclesiastical routine of moral dogmatism that we all hate?

  6. Kevin says

    I don’t have any use for the Biblical aspect of churches, but churches do offer something of value to families—community, fellowship, support, and structured and unstructured time for learning amongst adults and children sharing a similar world view. Children learn both by rote and by immersion and churches offer a world of both. Despite their many failings, Churches have managed to be remarkable successful institutions.

    Here in small town America, churches are deeply woven into the fabric of local communities. For many people, they are the center of family life outside the home. It isn’t enough for the non-religious to offer a cogent argument against the myth of genesis. They must also offer a way to fill the community role that churches play.

  7. says

    Having grown up in small-town Midwest, and just returned from a funeral there, I can attest to their centrality as social institutions. And I also do wish they would disappear.

  8. says

    A secular Sunday school, somewhere that discussed all the wider social, ethical and philosophical issues that normal schools don’t touch, could have a lot of value.

    An atheist Sunday school is pretty straightforwardly a Bad Thing – we shouldn’t be following the example of the other lot in imposing dogma on our children.

  9. Ruprecht says

    I had to go to Sunday school when I was a kid, but — as naive, ignorant, guileless, stupid, dumb, and trusting as I was back then — even I recognized it as a pretend school. All the grownups were going through the motions, not trying to teach us anything, just babbling to us, then telling us what to do and say, and we’d do and say it — with nary a lesson to learn from.

  10. says

    Why not make time *every day* for learning & exploration and development of critical thinking, instead of making it institutional? Why does everything with have to be so regulated and structured?

  11. says

    I have a friend who has kids and banded together with a small group of like-minded parents (atheists, and a deist or two who think it’s valuable) – instead of going to church they have some kind of educational or stimulating outing every sunday. They’ll do a hike, or go to a museum, or volunteer a day for habitat for humanity – whatever, and they haul the kids along. Why not?

    If religion has any value, it’s that it socializes kids. Mostly it socializes them badly, but that’s not hard to fix.

  12. joewanderlust says

    “Why not make time *every day* for learning & exploration and development of critical thinking, instead of making it institutional?”

    Somebody hasn’t worked with kids much. And it doesn’t seem to be the grim idiot-fest that I remember from sunday school, but a time fro that kind of directed creative fun. I like it.

    I had to endure years of jesus jackassery at the hands of the the Boy Scouts of America, because it was the only gig in town that gave me the ability to go in the wood and learn and have fun with my friends, and then later give some real screwed up kids a fun outlet. It was a great thing and wonderful for me, but I also had to sit through more than one cheesy sermon.

  13. Carlie says

    It’s not a bad idea. Kids obviously don’t get enough exposure to critical thinking and skepticism in regular school. And church can indeed provide a sense of community that is sorely needed. Where else can families go for that? I don’t know of any other organizations that are outside of school, that would get kids involved with people from other areas of the community than their own neighborhood, that gives families a support network. I feel for MAJeff – I grew up very Southern Baptist, and some of the churches I’ve been in were pretty cold. But some were lifelines, as well. There are two factors at play here: education of children outside of school topics, and social networking.
    Unitarian Universalists fit the bill somewhat for both, but even they are too churchy for me – they seem like people who want to play church.
    As for the topics, I’d really love to have an entirely nonreligous group that meets to talk about interesting topics and teach basic thinking skills to the younguns. An enlightenment-era coffee house with a kids’ table, as it were.
    As for the social networking, people who haven’t been deeply involved in a church don’t really realize how tight it can be. I once spent a couple of months in another country when I was a teenager. It was my first time away from home, I was basically on my own, and I was scared stiff. So, I looked up a local church of my own denomination, called up and told them my situation, and immediately was “adopted” by a family in the church, had several new friends of my age at the ready, and pretty much had an entire network pre-set by the time I got there. How else does this kind of thing happen? Another church I went to had an entire team that organized meals for people during times of need; if anyone died, went in the hospital, etc., two weeks’ worth of meals delivered daily simply happened for the family, longer if needed. That’s a whole sight more help than a casserole or two from work. And as a child I interacted with a much more broad diversity of socioeconomic and ethnic groups at church than I did at my neighborhood school. That’s really been my biggest struggle with transitioning to atheism, trying to figure out if anything can replace the good aspects of the church.

  14. says

    I’ve extended on the issue myself, where I’m more for the idea of a social networking group that better reflects attitudes that you want kids to have. Rather than the Fuzzy Felt dioramas that PZ is so loathe to remember. :)
    P.S – Digital Cuttlefish for the Science Blog Anthology! Get voting for the squishy one!

  15. says

    Have to disagree. Loved Sunday School and had perfect attendance from ages 4 to about 12. Made a few lifelong friends there that I really cherish. Had one teacher who lost a couple of fingers slammed into a submarine hatch during WWII; he taught me a lot about love of country and honor and duty and stuff.

    Our daughter, 7, went to Sunday School today. Here’s what she did: “First we sang, then we did a fun craft, and then we learned about forgiveness, that even though someone is mean to you, you need to pray for them because Jesus wants us to do that and that will make us closer to Him.”

    She would be sad if we didn’t let her go to Sunday School. She believes her mom and dad love her more, not less, because we take her every week.

    Here’s her signoff:

    I love you!!!
    love, Maddy

  16. says

    All this talk of dogma and institutional inanity has me thinking about adding another monstrosity to my t-shirt bestiary, but I cant concoct the right design, lemme know if anyone brainstorms up something snazzy and trenchant
    our style is such…

  17. says

    Something someone could do – set up a website for families that want to “like meets like” for irreligious events (museum trips) etc. Like a dating site, basically.

  18. Anon says

    What is wrong with the non-religious-gathering (not anti-religious, but welcome to all) where it is not wine and wafer, but beer and bratwurst, and not “our father” but “Go Browns!”. There will still be the occasional Hail Mary, but the context is totally different.

    In all seriousness, I would argue that organized sport can serve the same cultural purpose as religion–a sense of community, a reason to gather, lessons in humility and ethics, a secular Mythology, ritual (both with and without superstition)… depending on the franchise, this community transcends and spans generations, and provides a context for transmission of culture.

    Why try to replace religion with genetically modified religion? Replace it with a hardy invasive species instead.

  19. Texas Reader says

    A “Sunday School” for atheists is a GREAT idea because it allows us to find other atheists and gives us an organized way to work on projects to better our communities. I grew up in churches and though I’m an agnostic who leans towards atheism, I do like the idea of getting together regularly with people who have the same non-belief as I do and looking after each other.

    Every time I see some program on television about families who have triplets or quints or more, the organized help the family received in the first few months is inevitably from a church.

  20. says

    Going for a walk and enjoying nature straight up would seem like a good excuse not to go to church. Lately, I’ve been having a Sunday morning swimming lesson. Of course, brunch is good, too. Or Belgian waffles with strawberries.

  21. says

    Without being explicitly atheistic, community centre activities such as reading group, community pot-luck breakfast, coffee & chat, food-bank sorting, help in the co-op store, would be valuable. If people drifted to the community centre there could be a variety of activities… The church has simply been the default place to meet and get to know people for many years. Especially in a farming community, it’s the “touch base” moment when everyone sees everyone else. Whether you believed or not, if you wanted to have friends, you went to church.

    I remember a friend remarking that in England, there seemed always to be a pub across the street from the church.

  22. says

    When I stopped going to Sunday school, a couple of years later I joined the Y and took one of their sport classes. If there’s any kind of community centre, look there. Or build a neighbourhood association. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. You’ll meet people, whether it’s talking to old folks, helping out in a classroom, or maintaining hiking trails.

  23. says

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are justifiably proud that the Watchtower Society (their headquarters organization) has probably done more to guarantee free speech than any other religion.

    They have won 37 of their 46 U.S. Supreme Court cases, assuring us all of freedom of speech and assembly and equal protection under the law.
    The sad irony is that the Watchtower Society *daily* abuses the human rights of thousands of its members. It denies current members the right of free speech by forbidding them to speak to former members, even close family members.

    And it denies former members their right of freedom of worship by refusing to allow them to leave the religion with dignity, should they come to disagree with Watchtower’s practices or doctrines.

    The religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a dangerous cult that controls every aspect of its member’s lives.

  24. Carlie says

    Monado – all good ideas, but still out of reach for a particular demographic at a particular time. If you have babies to early grade schoolers, trying to volunteer for things ends up more trouble than it’s worth, because you’re always chasing the children around. Sunday School is also child care.

  25. says

    Sunday school for atheists is not a bad idea, but I prefer the concept of Sunday Brunch. And, as I said in an article I helped write on, the waffle option is a highly desired characteristic in brunch destinations.

  26. octopod says

    Huh, the Time article makes it sound almost exactly like Unitarian church school. Not that that’s a bad thing.