Children raised without religion are more likely to stay out of jail, avoid peer pressure, love their families and not be racist.
At least this is what new research has concluded, according to a recently published op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, “How secular family values stack up.”
Needless to say, as a new parent raising my son in the faith, statements like this give me pause.
In case you’re pausing too, here’s why I like this article, and why I still choose to raise my son in the church.
As a Christian, it’s helpful to be reminded that we can learn just as much from non-Christians as we used to—and often still—try to teach. Which is a lot.
That said, I do wonder if much of the criteria for success in this article is simply what you find in whatever religious category happens to be the most concentrated in the middle class.
The “no religion” category, I suspect, is mostly middle class, and, as such, you probably find the same results you’d expect to find in any study of the middle class: lower crime rates, more intact families, higher levels of education, and therefore a better means for speaking in more politically correct ways about race and critical thinking.
In fact, I can think of rural areas I know well where Christianity is mostly concentrated among that area’s middle class.
In these places, some Christians will occasionally use the same evidence to claim that Christianity is “better.”
You’ll essentially hear: “We go to jail less than ‘them’ and keep our families together more often than ‘them.’”
“Them,” of course, means those of lower socio-economic status, who mostly don’t go to church.
Therefore, Christianity is the better way to raise your children. It’s not the full story there, so I’m skeptical that it’s the full story with this article.
All that is to say, whether or not my suspicions about its demographics are correct, I like that the article’s research challenges the myth that children without a religious upbringing will automatically be worse than my son.
But I would also argue against the implication that my son will inherently be more closed-minded, racist and prone to criminal behavior.
In fact, whatever research category it happens to put him in, I choose to pass on my faith because it asks my son to challenge the economic injustice that makes it easier for him to meet the criteria of a “better” person.
And I choose to pass on my faith because it teaches—nay, implores—him to love those who are closed-minded, racist or in prison.
As a child who will grow up in the middle class, my faith tells my son that meeting this article’s criteria for being a “better” person is just the beginning of what he should strive for.
He should also strive to love, learn from, and work with and for those who will have to work harder to meet this researcher’s criteria. He should stand with and for a worldview that is speaking to those who struggle, not just those who have succeeded.
Am I certain this can’t be taught outside my faith? How could I be?
But I am certain that it’s the deepest, most effective way for me to teach him these things—because it’s precisely how I learned them and keep learning them myself.
So even if a study like this can give me pause, I can still confidently say that I hope to see my son raised with a deep commitment to the church. Because if I do, I can also realistically hope to see him working for a world in which every child will have an equal shot at being labelled “good.”
Or even if that won’t happen for all children in their lifetime, at least they will have one more person around to tell them that something bigger than all of this has always considered them “good” anyway—no matter what the researchers say.
If, when he gets there, he finds the children from families of other religions, or no religion at all, working alongside him, all the better. l
Peter Epp is completing a master of arts degree in theology at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, after seven years of teaching Mennonite studies at Mennonite Collegiate Institute, Gretna, Man. He and his partner, Shanda Hochstetler, have begun raising their first child, Oliver, born on Dec. 5, 2014, in the faith. This first appeared in the Canadian Mennonite.