Parental Religious Fart Logic

This post is an example of classic religious “fart logic”. If you don’t know my expression “fart logic”, you might want to read the definition here.


This weekend, I again heard a religious excuse which I have heard many times before.  Two friends, from different families, gave similar excuses for why they send their kids to church.  Neither of the families have significantly religious parents.  In fact, in both families, one parent is an atheist and the other a minimal Christian at best.  Yet both families send their kids to religious education classes and church services.  And both friends, at different times this weekend, gave the following reasons:

“I just want my kids to be exposed to a religion so they can then later choose for themselves if they believe in religion or not.”

I didn’t say this, but I wondered to myself:

“Well, why didn’t you send your kids to the Jewish Synagogue or the Buddhist Temple or the African-American Methodist church in town rather than the exact same denomination you just happened to have been raised in?”

To me, the friends’ explanations are obvious fart-logic.  The reason they gave probably did not significantly influence their decision but instead the major reasons for their choice are probably to be found among any or all of the following:

  • I want my kid to have my experiences
  • I want my kid to have morals and morals come from church and God
  • I want my kid to fit in with all her/his friends and society
  • I want to be looked at by my community as doing the right thing
  • I want to play my bets right, because what if God wants this.  I don’t want my kid to go to hell because I didn’t think this out right.
  • I like to stick to the familiar
  • I don’t want my kids or family picked on unnecessarily, so we will just blend in
  • I don’t want to be hassled by my extended family about the whole issue

Besides these, I am sure there are more possible reasons.  Feel free to suggest them in the comments.

Am I being over cynical, harsh, self-righteous and judgmental, or does anyone else suspect the fart-logic?  I am not saying that sending your kids to church is necessarily bad, I am just pickin’ on the fart logic excuses used here.   Of course I have no clue if the parents are actually aware of their fart logic or if they are consciously offering socially acceptable excuses which they themselves don’t believe.  I wonder if they would confess to any of the other reasons which may be influencing their minds.  All that said, may I say that I am sure I justify much in my life with similar fart logic — but I depend on readers to point that out.

A)  I am not saying that going to church is the “fart logic”, but that the reason they put forward is not their real reason.
B)  Commentors at /r/Atheist ( tell me that they have not heard such excuses in European countries where the percent of sincere believers is much lower.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

27 responses to “Parental Religious Fart Logic

  1. Sam

    “Well, why didn’t you send your kids to the Jewish Synagogue or the Buddhist Temple…”

    Believe me I would love to, it’s just that we don’t have very many options here in the Bible Belt. I’m seen as the outsider in this predominantly Christian (mostly Baptist) community, and as the outsider my views don’t really count. It’s difficult to fight off my entire family on the subject of raising my children in the church. I’ve found it’s better to let it be. I won’t indoctrinate my kids just let them figure things out on their own.

  2. I think you are spot on Sabio. I think a better option for parents then taking thier child to church would be to take ones child to the library for a book reading every week. They gain experience, are in a social community environment, can learn moral values, and are not lied to about the book being read being fiction or not. Much better if you ask me.

    The, “…“so they can then later choose for themselves what they believe” excuse is poor. What are they giving them a choice between really? Following the evidence or not following the evidence. Putting them in an environment where they are knowingly being lied to or not being lied to.

  3. @ Sam
    Ooops, thank you. I didn’t want the misperception that I think sending kids to church is necessarily bad at all. I was only picking on the rationalization.

    But I doubt you have used the one I spoke of, have you. Indeed you helped me think of a few other real reasons people send their kids to church though they are not particularly religious themselves:
    (1) I don’t want my kids or family picked on unnecessarily, so I will just blend in
    (2) I don’t want to be hasseled by my extended family about the whole issue

    Thank you, I will add a caveat to avoid the misunderstanding. Thanks for writing.

    @ Travis
    Thanks Travis. But note that, as I said to Sam, my main point is the rational, not sending kids to church.

    I must say I LOVE the library idea. Thanks. In a recent post I write about how our Elementary School has become a huge Mega-Church of late. Well, maybe we can convert the Library to a Free-Thinker “Church”. Fun.

  4. I agree that the “so they can later choose for themselves” nonsense is just that–nonsense. The entire point is that children are NOT able to just decide for themselves. They NEED adult supervision. And parents should teach their children about the REAL world and not the fantasy world of religion.

    My parents sent me to a Southern Baptist church for the first 10 to 12 years of my life and luckily for me, it didn’t “take.” I never really bought any of it. I certainly would not do that to any child of mine.

  5. I recall a story, though I couldn’t find it, that involved a parent sitting in church and learning that his young child who was in Sunday school was crying in terror saying things like “Why does God want to burn me?” Yes, they were not only teaching this young child about hell, but telling him that if he didn’t accept Jesus he would go there.

    I don’t have children and we don’t have any plans to have any currently. My fiance is a liberal Catholic, she likes the tradition and ceremony, but disagrees with many of the Catholic churches positions. We’ve talked about children and I’ve said repeatedly I would not allow them to be raised Catholic. If we had to compromise I would prefer a liberal denomination maybe even as free as the UU folks. My choice would be to let them read and learn about religion on their own.

  6. And I should say that I do agree that they are sending their kids to church for the wrong reasons.

  7. @ Gary
    It is interesting how, under the same exposure, some get the religious bug and some don’t (like you). I got it, threw it off, got it again, then threw if off.

    @ Mike
    Sad story. That is why UU can be a good option.
    And as a caveat: I think they may be sending their kids for the right reasons (in a qualified sense), but the reasons they are telling us are a cover-up — conscious or not.

  8. I’ve also heard of parents doing it to expose the kids to a culture that will help them more easily blend in. Many segments of America are still dominated by people with a certain background, and being fluent in their culture is an advantage. You don’t really learn fluency by visiting the library as an adult. (And it goes without saying that learning about Christian America from a Richard Dawkins book would be like taking lessons on black culture from the KKK :-))

    Although that’s not my reason for churching my kids, it’s not a bad excuse. IMO, having kids be separatist from Christian influences will leave them just as culturally isolated as the fundamentalists who are separatist from “popular culture”.

    This *is* one reason that we’ve participated in all sorts of Buddhist ceremonies. It’s a legitimate cultural competence. I don’t expect the kids to ever need fluency in voodoo culture, so we pass on those opportunities. 🙂

    Regarding fear of brainwashing, I don’t think the right answer is to isolate the kids. Our kids will hear complete B.S. from authority figures all the time, and the antidote is to have them actively evaluate everything authorities say. When one Sunday school teacher said that evolution is a lie, I explained that this is just her belief, that not all of the other teachers believe that, and explained why this teacher is wrong. It was an early object lesson in the truth than not every authority figure is right.

    The top economists used to say that house prices would never drop dramatically, and their mistake had more direct impact on people’s lives than the debates about evolution. Do we tell our kids they can’t go to economics school, because the authorities were dangerously wrong? Actors and musicians give terrible advice about life, all the time. Do we tell our kids that they aren’t allowed to listen to anything these performers say? The list goes on. So I think we just have to teach kids to be healthily skeptical of anyone in authority.

  9. @ JS Allen
    I am not saying that sending kids to Church is necessarily bad, but that the reason given was probably not the real reason.

    But, concerning your points
    (a) If I really wanted to enculturate my kids, would order cable and watch TV sports, MTV and inappropriate sit coms with them for about 3 hours a day (national avg may actually be more). That is what their peers are raised on. I could then sit with them and tell them how much bullshit is involved for those three hours a day — yawn. Instead, we don’t have a commercial TV and just watch DVDs. Pseudo-Amish, I guess.
    With our left over time (Even DVD are not allowed 4 days a week), we raise our animals, play games, do art projects, read, talk and more.

    Church would be 1 hour a week sittin’ on your butt listening to some preacher — TV beats that for enculturation in terms of time and how much sticks in the brain (commercials are much more clever than preachers) if that is your real goal.

    I have taken my kids to churches — they hate it, “it is boring” they say. They are right.

    (b)I think you are right about brainwashing — with correct parent intervention, lots can be learned. But it would make no sense for an atheist to take their kid to church and tell them constantly that what they are hearing is either fantasy or bullshit. The kid’s natural question would then be, “So why the hell have you dragged me here instead of letting me play outside, swim, read or be with friends?” And then, that whole list of real answers come back to play again. Thus my post.

    Trying not to be too offensive, I actually think you have illustrated my point to some degree.🙂 I’d guess you took your kids to church because you believe it. But you are unusual in taking to Buddhist settings — but you probably would not want to sit too often in Scientology meetings with them.

  10. Good point about “what their peers are raised on”, and TV sports is a perfect example. We have never watched televised sports (and the private school doesn’t have traditional American sports). I’m a bit concerned that they will be unable to talk football or baseball, so was thinking about getting some video games just to ensure they’ll understand the basic rules, tactics, etc.

  11. @ JS Allen
    Yeah, I occasionally let my kids listen to radio preachers on car trips (my wife laughs). I let them watch videos about abuses of the church against science and children. I also read them bizarre Bible stories — actually it is a Bible for Children book. It gives them a taste of what they are missing. I actually teach some of the good stuff too. So I don’t think for that one hour on Sunday with hymn singing they will miss much.

    Now, as for sports, yeah, I should probably do something like you are doing! 🙂

  12. So, HeRikutsu pretty much directly translates as fart logic? That is awesome!

    I don’t have any ‘reasons’ to contribute to the list at the moment, but I do think it is incredibly telling that they all can be started with “I want” or “I don’t want”.

    I tried to bring up the J Haidt idea (on a previous post) that moral/emotional judgments happen almost instantaneously and are only later described with reasons (often ill-fitting reasons). Many of your listed reasons could have emotional foundations, as you kind of suggest.

    Is it possible these parents have more education or training or background in fart logic than they do in any other form of logic or reasoning? the rewards for fart logic in public culture and social situations are quite different from the rewards of healthy logic.

  13. One thing that occurred to me on the way home tonight is what do you do about things like Christmas carols? Particularly songs that might have some religious reference, like “We Three Kings”. I imagine that atheist parents have a wide range of opinions.

  14. Brandon

    Two points:

    Hypothetically, if they are sincere about their desire to expose their children to “some” religion so they can decide for themselves, it seems almost obvious that they would go for the one that would feel most “normal”, is most locally popular, etc. especially if they don’t actually believe the literal truth of any religion in particular. The utility then would be that religious involvement is “socially beneficial” – so why not go for the one that has the most social bang for the buck? In our community, taking a child that would otherwise “fit in” in a white protestant (Catholic?) church to a Buddhist temple, a church where he is the only white face, etc. would ad a layer of complication to an otherwise straightforward endeavor. Speaking personally, it was awkward enough have to close my eyes and seemingly talk to myself in my head when I was seven, so I already thought I was the only one who didn’t hear god speaking back to me. Being the only white dude in the room would have certainly chipped away what little solidarity I did feel with the other kids being very similar to me on a surface level.

    Also, their “fart logic” statement doesn’t seem mutually incompatible with any but the first point in the list of “real” reasons. Many of those are good reasons, as is their “fart” reason.

  15. @ Andrew
    Indeed. When I teach medicine, I have to constantly tell students, “To this point in your life you have been rewarded for making up answers and guessing — do that now and you may kill a patient.”

    @ JS Allen
    When I lived in Pakistan, India, Japan and China, all my Christmas hymns did not help me at all. Oddly enough, when my family gets together, we laugh and sing campfire songs (very irreligious) as our bonding music. My kids are learning those songs and love them.
    Lots of movies have Christmas carols, so they hear it. They also hear Jewish stuff, Buddhist stuff and Hindu stuff on the movies and anime we watch. The world is huge, they will learn to catch up once they chose a culture to live in — just like I did.
    What they are learning in the house is the arbitrariness of culture and religion. Hopefully that is more valuable than learning solely any one culture. You are right, we have a wide range of options to play with.

    @ Brandon
    BTW, the local Buddhist temple is 99% Caucasians.
    Certainly all the points can fit into why minimally religious folks send they kids to church. I am saying that the reason given was the weakest of them all — it is said for social appearance, as other commentors said. Instead of admitting core motivations, they put forward the weakest factor (if it is a factor at all) – thus, “fart logic”.

  16. The world is huge, they will learn to catch up once they chose a culture to live in — just like I did.

    That’s pretty much where me and my kids are, too — lots of choices and no solid default culture. It’s a valid parenting choice. But most parents want their kids to be an “insider” in at least one culture, not just “catching up”. I don’t think that’s “fart logic”. They are making a very valid parenting choice. Choice of culture is one of the most important parenting choices you can make.

    Take your example of China. You may have been able to function in China, but you were always and forever a “laowai” — an outsider. And it’s not just skin color. I’ve seen Chinese friends and colleagues in China use all sorts of funny insults against pureblood ethnic Han Chinese who were raised overseas. For example, “Bananas: yellow on the outside, white on the inside”. The concept is deeply ingrained in Chinese psyche for thousands of years — you are either Chinese or an “outsider”. This is why, whenever a community of Chinese diaspora form anywhere in the world, they immediately start a Chinese school. No parent wants their children to be considered a “laowai” if they return to their own land. And if you don’t train them in the first 8 years, it’s game over. There is no such thing as “catching up”.

    Or take another example. You’ve probably deduced that I once lived in an area that was 90+% black. My first wife was black. So I got a lot of firsthand experience “functioning” in that culture. But even if my skin color had been black, I couldn’t have been an insider. Black kids who had been raised by white parents, outside of the black culture, were never able to fit in. Black people who don’t talk right or act right are accused of “acting white” (I saw this plenty), and black people who aren’t even capable, by virtue of having been *raised* white, might as well give up on ever being an insider.

    Where we live now, many of the Indian parents are quite concerned about their children losing the ability to function as an insider in Desi culture. The kids who learn to have a perfect American accent will still revert to an Indian-English accent when talking to Indians (especially on the phone to India, or to older people). This isn’t just to “blend in” — it is because they will be called out as a “sell-out” for not speaking India-English. Again, I’ve seen this firsthand. And of course it’s not just language. There are a huge set of value norms that you need to be fluent in if you ever hope to function as a Desi insider. If you don’t start as a young child, you’ll never fully “catch up”.

    What you call “fart logic” is what Chinese and Indian parents see as one of the greatest gifts they can give their children — insider status in cultures that, combined, make up half the world’s population.

    IMO, it’s a subtle form of bigotry to pass judgment on parents who conform their kids to a specific cultural heritage. And it’s futile. A billion Chinese aren’t going to change. A billion Desis aren’t going to change. Black culture will remain distinct. So parents can either conform their children to a broader culture, or accept that their kids will forever be “laowai”.

  17. BTW, please take the above as me “shifting into rhetorical gear”. I’m mainly making the point for argument’s sake.

    Personally, I have always felt like and often perceived as a “laowai” even where I grew up, and I think it was a positive thing. One could even argue that people calling themselves Christians *should* always feel like outsiders (“in the world but not of the world”).

    However, I think we can be charitable to people who want to bequeath some WASP, Catholic, or whatever heritage to their kids.

  18. It is important to teach children HOW to think rather than WHAT to think. I have taken this approach with my children. I have four kids ages 3-10 and typically form a type of Socratic dialog with them so that they can learn how to formulate their thoughts and come to a conclusion themselves.

    Now, I have never felt that by not sending them to church that they are missing out on some type of local culture. America is a melting pot and its culture is a combination of a mix of cultures. My kids for example, are half Japanese / half Caucasian. They go to American public school, Japanese school, Kumon, are part of a traveling soccer club, etc… they have lots of experiences and influences. They are not just drone participants of a culture, they create the culture. They aren’t missing anything significant by not going to church that they can’t get elsewhere. There is “culture” to be found everywhere, it doesn’t have to be from a church. There are better places to find and create culture than from church and religion where its members play make-believe. That is not culture, that is fairytale land. And if playing make-believe is part of our culture, my kids can already do that at home.

    Now, my wife and I have ran into circumstances where we wanted to have a date night but had nobody to watch the kids. A local church was offering free babysitting, while I was reluctant to send them there, we were without any other options. I was confident their thinking skills were sharp enough to not be fooled by any subtle indoctrination methods so we decided to send them there for the evening anyway. My wife and I went out for dinner and later picked up the kids. My sons told me about the “unbelievable” stories they were told about Jesus and other characters. My kids thought it was funny that adults believed these stories were true and went so far as to try to convince others of the stories authenticity. We all laughed about it but I explained to them how causality and environmental conditions can and does lead some people to believe these things. It was nice to see my kids using critical thinking skills. So with some adult guidance, these experiences can be beneficial to them without hurting them, but it is not necessary for cultural cultivation. Also, it isn’t like they would need to go every Sunday either for this learning experience. Religious people are everywhere and promoting their religions well outside of church, one doesn’t have to go to church to find them, they bring it to you whether you want it or not.

  19. DaCheese

    Perhaps some of the parents giving the original rationale are conflating religious culture with religious belief, such that they don’t even realize that they’re misconstruing their motives? JS Allen raises some good points about cultural immersion and fluency; maybe what some of the parents mean is that they’re giving their children the choice of being “normal” Judeo-Christian Americans, vs. going their own way culturally?

    The fact is that many Americans are quite secular in their everyday lives, embracing many aspects of mainstream culture that aren’t strictly compatible with religious dogma. They only pull out the “God card” when they’re confronted with something outside of the cultural norms of their community or upbringing. Then their nominal belief in God becomes both their talisman of in-group belonging and their justification for rejecting anything that they’re uncomfortable with.

    As such, it’s possible that children raised in a mixed atheist/nominal-Christian household could choose to “believe” just to fit in with conventional quasi-Christian society. If you’re somewhat of a conformist personality anyway, then there’s little to be lost by professing a belief in the dominant religion just to get along. If you can halfway-convince yourself of that belief, so much the better.

    Heck, maybe that’s what the “minimal Christian” spouses did, and they just want to give their kids the same option? Maybe they chose to believe in God somewhere along the way because they felt that it’s somehow necessary to be part of mainstream culture? And by letting their kids “choose what to believe”, they really mean choosing whether to fit in?

  20. The methods of and value of exposing one’s children to dominant themes is very interesting. JS Allen, Travis Morgan and DaCheese give fascinating discussions on this.

    I want to point out that it is not the topic of this post. When I speak of “fart logic”, I was not saying “churching your kid is a farty thing to do”. I was simply criticizing the reason put forth by parents for WHY they send their kids to church.

    The “fart logic” I criticized was the reason of :

    “I just want my kids to be exposed to some religion so they can then later choose for themselves what they believe.”

    The other list of reasons I gave would be SINCERE reasons, not farty ones.

    It struck me odd how that became confused. I think it was because I used the word “fart” and “religious” next to each other and the minds of readers, both atheist and theist, heard “farty religion”. Hmmmmm, interesting. This illustrates well, how much of an art writing is. We have to realize how emotions and images move the mind far easier than distilled logic.

  21. @Sabio, FYI, I understood from your original writing that you were, “…criticizing the REASON put forth by parents for WHY they send their kids to church.” I don’t know about others, but I wasn’t confused.

  22. DaCheese

    Yeah, I got that; I guess what I was saying was that maybe the parents themselves are using “choose what to believe” as code for “choose who to fit in with”, in which case the statement wouldn’t be false rationalization so much as a bit of weasel-wording on their true motivations? Though I suppose there’s not so much difference between the two, now that I think about it…

    Another thought is that maybe they really mean letting the kids choose whether to believe what the atheist parent believes, or what the other parent believes. The flip side of what I said above about secular nominal-Christians is that many times that abstract, minimalist belief in God is still irrationally heartfelt, even when they reject all of the dogma that normally goes with it. Maybe the “minimal” Christian parent is actually more disturbed by the thought of their kids not believing than s/he lets on, and so the “expose them and let them choose what to believe” is a compromise between the two parents. In that case, exposure to other religions wouldn’t really be necessary to achieve their intent (other than perhaps tipping the balance toward the non-believer side vs. the Christian side).

    Obviously you know the parents much better than I do, though, so I could be totally wrong on this.

  23. Oh! I think I got confused before that; with the word “some”.

    It appears that your intended communication was, “I just want to expose my kids to some religion [or another]”. In other words, the way you intended it, “some” was being used to specify one alternative out of many, as in the sentence “I am planning to choose some nanny to watch my kids”.

    I read it, instead, to be referring to a unit of measure: “I just want to expose my kids to some [but not all of my] religion”. As in the sentence, “I need the nanny to spend some time teaching the kids manners”.

    Given that reading, it seemed to me that the parents were just saying, “Don’t worry, we’re not raising religious nuts, we just want them to have a sufficient foundation.” So I was startled that you jumped right into “why not take them to the temple”? It seemed like a complete non-sequitur to me, as if you couldn’t possibly imagine how the parents would prefer one denomination over another.

    So that, at least, was my emotional reaction. Assuming that parents want to teach their children “some of a religion”, it doesn’t follow that all religions are created equal. It seems pretty defensible to prefer the denomination you were raised in, completely independently of whether your goal is for the kids to “have the option to believe” or just to “allow the kids to blend in”. That’s what I was getting at with my comment about “voodoo”.

  24. DaCheese

    Maybe the parents’ intention is to expose their kids to religion in general, but they think that “if you’ve seen one (religion), you’ve seen them all”? Obviously Sabio might take issue with this stance, but I could easily see someone who hasn’t been exposed to other religions thinking that way.

    Given that base assumption, wouldn’t it make sense just to dump your kids into whatever religious program is most convenient or familiar? It may not even have occurred to these folks to take their kids to other religious services, because they don’t think of the differences as being significant enough to warrant the extra effort. Or they just didn’t think about the other religions at all…

  25. @ Travis Morgan
    Whoooops, yeah, sorry, I totally agree with your comment. It was a rushed morning, my apology. Great comment!

    @ JS Allen
    LOL !!!! That is amazing. Absolutely. I can clearly see how what I wrote was ambiguous and could go the way you took it. I am going to change the original post. Thank you kindly.

    @ DaCheese
    Good points. It may be they only feel there are two choices – believe what I believe or Daddy believes. But I have have two sets of friends where both parents are atheists and Mom wants them to go to church. And Mom uses the same excuse. It is obvious to me she wants them to socialize, be liked and all that other stuff and not choose from all the various faiths. I really hear this a lot. It is a common excuse — common “fart logic”.
    But I loved your counter points.

    Thanks folks!

  26. CRL

    One atheist (agnostic, actually) parent and one minimally religious one? This exactly describes my family. My “Catholic” mom goes to church about as much as I do. Which is never. And yet, I was sent to a very religious school, taken to church thought my childhood, and raised to believe in God (if not necessarily in church teachings). So this is going to be more personal/experiential than logical/philosophical.

    So, to respond to some of the commentors from the “child’s” perspective:

    Sabio: Quite honestly, I a glad to have grown up religious. Not because of moral lessons, or experiences, but because I think I can more honestly call myself an atheist when I have a firm grasp on what I am rejecting. So I actually agree with “fart logic”: I have chosen my belief for myself, but only because I was exposed to religion.

    Brandon/JS Allen: But religion is a *much* more powerful isolating factor than race, in my experience. When I went to Catholic school, I was clearly an outsider as one of the three of four atheists in my grade. At public school, while I am a “laowei”, especially in my math and science classes (honors+asian stereotypes :)) I am less of an outsider.

  27. @ CRL
    Thanks for sharing.
    I was raised religious too — and both my parents were at best minimally religious. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what they believed. We NEVER talked.
    But I had a good childhood and was a happy kid and though I left the church at 14 years old, I didn’t resent the exposure.
    Now, I have lots of friends (including my wife) who deeply resent and are very angry at their parents for their religious brainwashing.
    You and I can be happy we have good memories!

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