home
RSS
Study: Some atheists with children attend religious services
December 7th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Study: Some atheists with children attend religious services

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Nearly one in five atheist scientists with children involve their families with religious institutions, even if they personally do not agree with the institutions teachings, a recent study says.

The study, conducted by Rice University and the University at Buffalo, found that these scientists affiliate with churches for both social and personal reasons. Additionally, the scientists indicated a strong desire to prepare their children to make educated decisions about their personal religious preference.

“This was so surprising to us just because of all of the public discussion about the ways in which scientists are very against religions people,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice. “When in fact, those we might most expect to be against religious people are sitting alongside them.”

Study participants also indicated they were involved in a religious institution because of the religious preferences of a spouse or partner.

One of the most interesting findings, according to Ecklund, was that some atheist scientists want to expose their children to religion due to scientific reasoning.

"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."

Ecklund said there were cases in which survey respondents identified that not only did they introduce their children to one church, but they also attended other religious services in the hope that the children would better understand each denomination.

"I think that understanding how nonreligious scientists utilize religion in family life demonstrates the important function they have in the U.S.," Ecklund said.

Sociologist Kristen Schultz Lee of University of Buffalo co-authored the study, which can be found in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

The data was pulled from a survey of 2,198 tenured or tenure-track faculty at 21 U.S. research universities. Around half of survey respondents identified a form of religious identity, while the other half did not.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Church • Culture & Science

soundoff (2,129 Responses)
  1. lacoaster

    Atheists sometimes marry people that go to church.Remember: Give and take... Mary B. Catholic: "Since I went with you to the conference in which your friend claimed that Darwin knew nothing about DNA, and I stayed with you for the whole time, I think that it is only fair that you go to church with me and the kids Sunday." John B. Scientist: "Do I have an option?" Mary B. Catholic: "If you opt out, I will trash your old magazines and you won't be able to research the things you like the most from me." John B. Scientist: "I will be there Sunday honey."

    December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @lacoaster
      Your Catholic wife is a bit verbose!
      I think the conversation would go more like this:
      "No church, no nookie."

      December 7, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • tallulah13

      Good one, Doc.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • lacoaster

      @Doc Vestibule. Hehehehe!!!!! You hit that nail right in the head!!!!! Great reply!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  2. Because

    Atheists who bring their kids to Church do so because deep down they KNOW God exists as everyone knows.

    Simple as that. Don't have to agree or disagree with me, I know I'm right.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Jimtanker

      You're funny!!!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • SkatinChic98

      Or stupid.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      What a rude and arrogant post, claiming to know what everyone else has in their hearts. This is proof that YOUR beliefs have done something bad to you. Perhaps others see this, and that's why they reject your beliefs.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Chuckles

      Well that's adorable. Mind if I delve into your head and tell you what you KNOW even if you deny it? If that's the guess and deep down I "know" god does exist..... well then I can probably speak for god too...

      what's that god..... Ok, I'll tell him

      God says you're a dou.chenugget

      December 7, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • kenny

      I like pretending I'm right about things too, its fun. Especially when people know i am straight up lying and I just won't admit it, watching them steam is delicious. Oh and the reason atheists take their kids to church is to show them how silly it is. My dad did it to me and my brother when we were kids and we got kicked out of sunday school after a couple months for making fun of the bs they were teaching us.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think it's funny that you "know you're right" when you pretend to know what motivates people you've never met. I also think that when you make up motivations for people you've never met, you're lying. What is it with the christians on this site and their chronic need to lie? Doesn't the bible expressly forbid lying?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Because

      Oh I don't claim to know what is in you or anyone else's heart - the Bible does.

      And 'common sense' (for those of us who don't know what the Bible says) tells anyone with a brain that if you staunchly disbelieve believe in something, you wouldn't subject your own impressionable children to it.

      Maybe you 'Atheists" should read up on what you supposedly believe or don't believe.

      You aren't fooling anyone.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Oh I don't claim to know what is in you or anyone else's heart – the Bible does."

      too bad the bible was written by a bunch of people who are no more or less smart than you are.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Obvious troll is not obvious because of Poe's Law?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • B-one

      Sometimes the wife and I drop the kids off for Weds junior prayer meetings. We then go on a quick date night. It's cheaper and more convenient than a baby sitter. We also go to all the potlucks, social functions, etc... Church isn't all about religion. Our church has even had rock concerts for the kids, and ski trips.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Because

      Your right, Church ISNT about religion. It's about unconditionally loving those around you. "Above all else love one another."

      That's what God and Church is about – and that's what 99% of all rational humans seek. And there's a reason for it, his name is God.

      December 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • SkatinChic98

      @Because – religious and non religious people subject their "own impressionable children" to Santa Clause and the Easter bunny. These fairytales teach children important lessons, such as the importance of giving. That doesn't stop parents from telling their children that neither exist once they're old enough. Atheists sending their young children to church is very similar. Teach them the lessons, but eventually everyone should understand that like Santa, God does not exist.

      December 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  3. Jimtanker

    Most people who go to church are atheists anyway. They dont really believe in that fairy tale and neither do most of the preachers.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Jesus

      Thomas Jefferson wrote that those that profess a belief in Christianoty are either fools or knaves trying to take advantage of the fools

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  4. Infinite Horizons

    Religion is the greatest source of evil and suffering on this planet today. The elimination of religion and associated theistic belief systems should be the goal of all moral people.

    There can be no room for tolerance of religious beliefs. It must be ended, and it must be ended now.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • iminim

      Perhaps in your opinion religious belief should be eliminated, but there is no reasonable way to do it. People go to their deaths regularly rather than verbally reject their faith (and verbal rejection does not mean loss of belief in those situations, it just means succombing to fear). The more appropriate approach toward eliminating religion/nonreligion related violence is acceptance of people's rights to believe or reject religious belief and advocating acceptance of all nonviolent, nonpersecutory belief/nonbelief.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  5. johnborg

    If you look at which age groups attend church the most, you'll find some surprises. People under 29 don't really attend, but people between 30-40 do in comparison to other age groups. Then it goes back down again and around 65 it starts going back up. Why? The 30-40 group does it for their children, the 65+ do it because they are afraid of dying haha

    December 7, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  6. Peggy

    I am a believer and I do not like religion. Science fails to answer my questions about life's mysteries. I just don't buy some of the explanations as they are mostly based on disputing rather than proving. I will never ask an Atheist to believe in my God but what I really would like them to do is to disprove the Devil, as there is more compelling thought that it exists.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm curious what proof you have that either god or the devil exists. I have never heard of an act of good or evil that fell outside the range of human capability.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • MarkinFL

      And what is so compelling about the existence of a devil. Some people are just plain mean and the real world is hard. That pretty much sums up all the "evil" I read about or experience.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. Limbaugh is a liberal

    It is good to know that at least scientists are open minded about religion and allow their children to make their own decisions about religious belief.
    Now if we could only get right wing Christians to be open minded about science and allow their children to learn about and make up their own mind about science too.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  8. B-one

    This is nothing new. I knew quite a few atheists that were church members. We usually come to the church functions for the fellowship, potlucks, and events for the children. In a recession, it's something cheap to do on Sundays. We are listed as "members," but are really there for the perks.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Jesus

      I think that there are more pick pockets attending Church than atheists.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  9. SkatinChic98

    The bottom line here is that atheists are willing to allow their child to make EDUCATED decisions for themselves. The religious folks know the only way to get their kids on board with their crazy rationale is to brainwash and seclude them from any other option.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Infinite Horizons

      Yes. Educate them. Give them a copy of Sam Harris as soon as they're old enough to read.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • SkatinChic98

      And I'm going to apologize in advance for the fact that my post seems to indicate ALL atheists and ALL God fearing people behave in this manner. Obviously that is a vast generalizion and not what I intended.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Peggy

      SkatinChic98,

      This from a strong believer in God,you are correct.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  10. terre08

    Last time I visited in a church was over 20 years ago when I walked into Westminster Abbey in London to see Darwin's grave among other great Britons.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  11. Joan

    I don't find this at all surprising. Most atheists I know (including myself) were rasied with some religious background in our homes (didn't find out until I was an adult that my father is also an atheist). We want to give our children all of the the information they need to make an educated decision on their own, just as we did.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • TR6

      Just another example of how atheists are more fare, and more open minded then christians

      December 7, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  12. JOregon

    A better question, considering people like E Long, is:
    Is there an Atheist behind the pulpit in your church?

    December 7, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  13. Paul Wilson

    I have over 1000 bible tracts, some by a Fellowship Trract League. Everytime they more than mention Hell, they depict it not as a place or state of rest in hope, but as a place of unending agonizing torture and suffering. They also rant about Adam & Eve and that tree of knowledge, as if scientific rational minds are to accept it and accept it literally ! People who attend church and get dunk-baptized are not in their opinion believing in and trusting in Christ.

    They attack the Witnesses for offering people a hooe that their dead unsaved loved ones will rise again to enjoy life in a paradise world. While they have no biblical basis for that idea, the above-mentioned tract writers reject that hope.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  14. Mitch

    I am an atheist, and I sometimes attend church services, also synagogues, Buddhist temples and I have even visted a mosque with a Muslim friend. I enjoy it, for many reasons. I would not attend on a regular basis, and never would I join a church, but just because I am an atheist does not mean I am not spiritual.

    Very few atheists hate religion – despite the offensive statements of Internet trolls. Everyone should know to ignore people who make inflamatory and insulting statements on a web site!

    No atheist that I know of would have destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan; no atheist that I know would ever seek to close down a church or other place of worship. At most, we simply ask that others not force their religious beliefs on us.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Infinite Horizons

      So... All the violence caused by religion doesn't give you enough reason to vow to destroy all forms of religion on the planet?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • JOregon

      You go for the Pot Lucks don'tcha?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • JohnR

      Well said! I am an atheist as relates to the "traditionl God", who in the old testament is a vengeful, selfish creature, but in the new testament is a loving peaceful god. But I am spiritual and I am not closed of enough to think that there is no intelligence greater than my own in the universe.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • JOregon

      Violence isn't caused by religion it is caused by people – many that use religion (or any other excuse).

      December 7, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Rob

      Atheist here and not sure how you can claim spirituality.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Diputs

      Infinite Horizons: Two wrongs don't make a right.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • belcab

      Mitch, I've got to say this is one of the most well-reasoned posts I've ever seen on these threads. As a non-religious person, it sometimes seems like the extreme fringe of beliefs are the only ones who bother to post on here. It's nice to see the occasional sane person writing their thoughts. Kudos, good sir.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Pete

      Mitch,
      My experience disagrees with yours. Most of my family and freinds are athiests. When I married a catholic and started attending church the reaction I got from almost everyone was very negative. I have been very surprised at how much most of the athiests I know look down on religion. They vary from kind of looking down on it slightly as silly to blaming religion for most of the wrongs with society.

      If you doubt how much athiests look down on religion, read the comments on any story published on CNN.com on any story that is close to spiritual or even about astronomy. It almost always degenerates into athiests talking about how stupid christians are and how they look down on everyone else. I know that this does not represent a great sample group to determine how "athiests" as a whole look on religion. But you can quickly come to a conclusion that there a many athiests out there who really feel that religion is a social evil.

      It's not like you can't build a case for this either. There are plenty of historical and recent event that you can point to and say, "See, that was really bad." And having been an athiest for a long time it is very easy for me to find examples of christians that do annoying things. However just try to keep an open eye for people who really put down religion and christianity in particluar on a regular basis. It happens.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • iminim

      I agree that there are too many internet "trolls" from both the religious & nonreligious communities who would rather spew abuse at others anonymously than discuss religion and belief with open minds. I am a Christian (Biblical nonliteralist with strong scientist roots). You do not have to accept a belief to understand that others can have that same belief for perfectly legitimate reasons. Thank you for being open-minded about religion. Please know that there are those in the religious community who agree with you. Extremism based on religious/anti-religious belief continues to be a curse in our world. It will not be defeated by continued polarization and hatred. Our only chance of decreasing it is through acceptance of nonviolent choices about faith and rejection of faith/atheism-based violence and hate speech.

      December 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  15. Kellee

    Santa Claus.
    Easter Bunny
    Tooth Fairy........

    I suppose kids are used to getting lied to anyway so what's the harm?

    December 7, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  16. Steve

    Knowledge is the enemy of religion.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • SkatinChic98

      ::Like::

      December 7, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Ignorance is the root of fear
      And fear is the kindling of anger
      War is the bringer of shame
      But never has the burden lain so heavily upon the victim
      Rage and desolation
      Pain and loneliness
      Isn't it all a little alarmingly familiar?
      Hey, hey, hey, silence is a killer.

      – Dr. Greg Graffin

      December 7, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  17. Bill

    Atheist don't have any good holidays

    December 7, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • hippypoet

      how about new years? thats the only day i truly celerbrate... tis a very lovely day indeed!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Infinite Horizons

      Just do the same thing that the christers did; co-opt religious holidays!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Joan

      Festivus (for the rest of us)

      December 7, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Chuckles

      Um.... Thanksgiving? Best Holiday ever

      December 7, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • JP

      Actually Bill, Atheists have ALL the good holidays. The main ones have just been usurped because religion could not come up with their own. e.g. Solstice (Christmas 2 -4 days later because the church couldn't figure out leap year for awhile), Vernal Equinox (Easter), and the other good ones are all sectarian. You can keep your Lent.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • MarkinFL

      We get to choose ANY holiday we wish to celebrate. No restrictions.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • BioArtChick

      I know a few people, including myself, who celebrate Darwin Day (2/12) and Sagan Day (11/12). In all honesty, its just a great excuse to make a trip to the pub with like minded friends, but the conversations tend to be quite rich.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MM

      Athiests have April 1st: Psalms 53:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

      December 7, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Chris

      I'm going to have to call bull on that, Bill

      December 7, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  18. Infinite Horizons

    Isn't great to hear that some of us enlightened folk are traitor god-enablers?

    December 7, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  19. MandoZink

    I was raised Catholic and took great solace in the spiritual warmth I felt as a human among humans. I truly woke up when I began to learn about other religions and realized what was going on. I understood that, regardless of whether you grew up under a belief system, the moral sense of commitment to others was learned from the good people and examples you experienced when young. Religion was just the best attempt we had to organize that in an understandable way. Religions, however, tend to get caught up in the act of aiming, and forget what they are aiming for. I am now an atheist with deeper a meaning than I ever thought could be had. As an atheist, you discover you have to answer to yourself for what you do to others. You cannot be unjust and expect to get off the hook by having an omnipotent supreme being to forgive you for the devil’s influence. It is YOU who must maintain integrity. That is what most Christians get completely backwards. Atheists can be much more understanding of what they must be as fellow humans. Mammy Yokum once said in an old cartoon strip: "Good is better than evil 'cause it's nicer!” As a child that really made me think. That saying and “do unto others” are truly great rules to live by.

    December 7, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • DaveB

      Well said.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Bulla

      Yes, and who came up with the Golden Rule?? Jesus Christ!!! He is the only way, all other ground is sinking sand!!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The Golden Rule predates JC by millennia and has appeared independantly in many cultures.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MandoZink

      @ Bulla
      The "Golden Rule" is not in the Bible. It was included in philosophies way before biblical times too. That is why education about ALL religions and philosophies is an awakening. You may have been told that by a well meaning preacher. The act of aiming does that. Sigh!

      December 7, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • jecd

      If you're going to be an atheist – be a good one. That's what my grandmother said.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • BioArtChick

      You honestly think that principle didn't exist until 2,000 years ago when human beings have been working cooperatively for more than 10,000+ years??? Such arrogance... It is in all likelihood a universal and long standing principle that was co-opted by religious authors. Besides, if this principle is so fantastic, why oh why didn't Moses bring it down from Mt. Sinai as a commandment?

      December 7, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Peggy

      MandoZink,

      Here you go, another great post. And the sad thing about this is those offending believers actually think they are good people and will go to Heaven. I am a believer but I stay away from religious people, especially the ones that want me to join them.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Pete

      Mando,
      I went the opposite way, Athiest to Catholic and I truly believe that I have a far deeper meaning of christianity due to having been an athiest and having chosen in my adulthood to follow a religion. I get a lot of meaning out of the bible and going to church and even debating other catholics on areas of doctrine. It's a blast.

      However I am amazed at just how wrong most people are about basics of belief who have been in the chruch their whole lives. As if somehow they were taught things when there were five, internalized it as a five year old, and then just kind of kept going with that framework as they went into adulthood.

      I think the most important thing a person can do as they move into adulthood is become a spiritual seeker of sorts. You must challenge your own beliefs and find your own path. Once you really do this you can come to a belief system that helps you grow as a person. However no matter what faith (or lack of faith) guides your life, if you don't challenge it at some point in time and really try to find what helps you grow you are simply doing something for no reason. You are following the algorithm of what your parents taught you to do and no more.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  20. Paul Wilson

    (testing) (I am NOT to compose a reply if the program gives me crap about a password, and then refuses to accept it !

    December 7, 2011 at 11:05 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.