For the next few weeks I’m going to be catching up on some links I’d saved throughout December on account of my broken wrist; that, coupled with general laziness and craving more quality time with the Man, made updating this blog something of a low priority. First up, a December 5th article out of Live Science. It focuses on a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Researchers used results from an earlier survey of elite U.S. universities and their science departments and pulled 275 of the 2,198 respondents to be their sample. In the original survey, about half of the scientists had declared themselves religious but they noticed that some of the ones who declared themselves atheist were still willing to spend time in church and the like.
The atheist parents surveyed had multiple reasons for attending religious services in the absence of religious belief. Some said their spouse or partner was religious, and encouraged them to go to services as well. Others said they enjoyed the community that attending a church, mosque, temple or other religious institution can bring.
Perhaps most interesting, Ecklund said, was that many atheist scientists take their children to religious services so that the kids can make up their own mind about God and spirituality.
“We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,” Ecklund said. “They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their children to all sources of knowledge.”
I don’t know if I would have thought that was “most interesting” but whatever. I can see it as making sense, though. To limit kids and never expose them to the other side of the belief coin would make an atheist parent just as out-of-touch and fundamentalist as the worst of the religionists. In order for a person to make a real choice, choices have to be made available. In the article they use an example from the study of a man who’d been Catholic. He later decided religion and science weren’t compatible enough to keep that up but has chosen to let his child experience Catholicism, Islam and Buddhism, too. He’d rather she be equipped to make an informed choice later rather than insist only his way is right.
I’ve wondered how I’d deal with that were I in a parenting position. I think I’d wind up modifying what my dose of religious studies taught me in terms of the sheer variety of belief out there. Some people think this way, some think that way, these ones don’t get along at all because they each claim the same slab of rock as having religious significance and nobody is entirely sure who found it first. Here’s what seems to be the best of what they have to offer and here’s the stuff that made me question why…
I don’t recall asking my parents about this thing called God when I was a kid. I went to Catholic school and mass every week with classmates but there wasn’t much at home to encourage more than the bare minimum in terms of that business. They let me spend many Saturdays with my cousin and her church-going parents but I don’t recall many Sunday school excursions with her so I don’t think I was allowed much in the way of overnights. (Not necessarily for that reason, mind you. My early morning habits started pretty damn young and most of my cousins were weekend layabouts by preference.)
I don’t know if I’d want to set a kid up by saying, “There absolutely is no god and anyone who tells you different is deluded.” I see the overall value of believing in something bigger than we are, but I’d quibble on the need to name that inner need “God” and anthropomorphize it into a vast supernatural creature capable of giving a damn. The universe is already bigger than we are and most of us don’t stand around expecting it to notice us and give out hugs. No treats expected for the best behaved — unless you count those who still buy into karma.
Maybe it’d be worthwhile to transform the god crap into a belief that compassion truly has the power trump greed and villainy. That winds up being a basis for some of the better beliefs already out there anyway. Promote the belief that most people do want to be good and helpful instead of selfish and arrogant S.O.B’s all the time. Maybe they just never learned how and could benefit from a new approach. Maybe they learned the wrong lessons from their past actions or failed to get encouragement when the opportunity arose to make the more humane decision. Plus, some people get a skewed idea of what a reward for effort ought to look like. Sometimes it ought to look like a smile instead of dollar sign, for one thing. More could be done to support that outcome, I think, and in better ways than “You’ll go to hell otherwise.”
To end, to end.. how to end. I guess I end by saying that we need to do whatever is necessary in terms of bettering ourselves and our children. If making room for religious experiences helps with that a little, then make a little room for it. And we can all hope that at some point maybe people won’t need that step anymore.