My child believes in God and regularly attends worship. Do you know what that means?
Well, if studies are to be believed, it means my child will have a longer life, be less likely to take drugs or alcohol, be less likely to engage in unsafe sex, and generally be more physically and psychologically healthy than kids who don’t. It also means my child will likely earn a higher GPA and participate more in extra-curricular activities. There are numerous studies that have concluded that regular attendance in worship helps children in their development and health.
This seems to me to be a good thing.
But in a recent article here on Babble, Brian Gresko states that his child doesn’t need religion to excel. And he’s right. Many wonderful children come from nominally religious to non-religious households. Many succeed in life financially and otherwise. So to assume that religion is some sort of panacea for all good things would be faulty. I agree. You don’t need religion to excel. But does that mean having religion is a bad thing? Couldn’t a person of faith have a life enhanced by that faith?
The article stresses that children who have faith in God are less able to distinguish fact from fiction, and this is one of Gresko’s arguments against kids having religion. But that simply isn’t true. The Slate article he cites as evidence does imply that conclusion, but it also adds this huge caveat which Gresko didn’t mention:
“It’s still unclear, of course, exactly how seriously religion hinders kids’ perceptions of reality; the children in the latest study were 3 to 6 years old, so the effect could fade as kids garner more complex critical thinking skills. And some researchers aren’t so sure the study’s results can be extrapolated. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, called it “a cool study by a sharp research team,” but note that most kids, religious or secular, are pretty good at distinguishing fantasy from reality.”
Gresko also believes religious communities value conformity, and therefore children from religious households may be discouraged from asking logic-based questions — hence those same children may have trouble judging reality. There simply is no evidence to support any of those assertions. Do some religious communities value conformity? I’m sure there are. But so do many non-religious communities. I attended a public high school growing up and honestly I encountered pressure to conform from not only other students but also from teachers. Conformity isn’t exclusive to religion nor do all places of worship demand it. At our church, we encourage people to ask challenging questions and to raise doubts. We believe that a faith that is tested through doubt is one that is eventually made stronger for it. Because at the essence of our faith is the search for truth. And I believe that is fundamentally the struggle at the core of all religions – to discern the truth. We obviously don’t agree on the answers, but we certainly aren’t trying to escape reality. We simply have different perspectives.
I’m glad studies have shown that worship and faith contribute to my daughter’s life in positive ways, but my belief is that those are side effects to what our worship and faith teach our kids. Sharing with my daughter about our faith I believe will help her have more compassion, understanding, mercy, and forgiveness for others. My hope is that her spiritual education will help her to love others, care for others, and to accept others whether they share our beliefs or not. And I am sure in the long run it will make her a happier person. The evidence seems to bear that out.
Does my child need religion to succeed? No, but it sure seems to help.