Daniel Dennett urges that the schools teach religion as a purely natural phenomenon. By this he means that religion should be taught as if it were untrue. Dennett argues that religion is like sports or cancer, “a human phenomenon composed of events, organisms,objects, structures, patterns.” By studying religion on the premise that there is no supernatural truth underlying it, Dennett argues that young people will come to accept religion as a social creation pointing to nothing higher than human hopes and aspirations.

As for atheism, Sam Harris argues that it should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious…. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

Consider a practical example of how this works. In his famous PBS program Cosmos, astronomer Carl Sagan developed the trademark slogan “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be:’ Sagan’s implication was clear: the natural is all that exists, and there is simply no supernatural. This was presented not as a metaphysical claim but as the authoritative finding of science.

But at least it was presented to adults, who could evaluate Sagan’s arguments and make up their own minds. Pretty soon Sagan’s doctrine could be found in children’s books. One, The Berenstain Bears’ Nature Guide, features the bears going on a stroll through the woods. Emblazoned on the page featuring a beautiful scene is the ideological message, “Nature is all that IS, or WAS, or EVER WILL BE.”

The effect of all this indoctrination, leading advocates of atheism argue, is not that religion will disappear but that it will cease to matter. Writer Jonathan Rauch calls this “apatheism,” which he defines as “a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.” Rauch argues that even many self-proclaimed Christians today are really apatheists. “It is not a lapse,” he contends. “It is an achievement.” Rauch hopes to see our whole culture become this way.