In The God Delusion religious non-scholar Richard Dawkins claimed that parents who teach their religious beliefs to children are guilty of "child abuse." In The End of Faith Sam Harris declares that religious extremism is "the greatest problem confronting civilization."
Are parents who mentor their children in their faith child abusers, part of the greatest problem confronting civilization? The answer is: No, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of University of Virgina's National Marriage Project. In fact, religious faith is actually good for families. (See The Washington Post, "The latest social science is Wrong. Religion is good for families and kids.")
Bradford's findings include:
- On average, religion is a clear force for good when it comes to family unity and the welfare of children — the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives.
- Americans who regularly attend religious services are less likely to cheat on their partners.
- They are less likely to abuse their partners.
- They are less likely to divorce.
- They are more likely to enjoy happier marriages.
- Religious parents spend more time with their children.
- Religious teens are more likely to shun lying, cheating, and stealing, and to identify with the Golden Rule.
- Children from religious families are “rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents,” according to a nationally representative study of more than 16,000 children across the United States.
- Faith is a net positive when it comes to “prosocial behavior” among American children.
- Religious parents are also more likely to report praising and hugging their school-aged children.
Wilcox cites the findings of French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who concluded:
- What makes religion vital, in part, is that it provides rituals, beliefs and a sense of group identity that deepens people’s connections to the moral order. In his words, the faithful “believe in the existence of a moral power to which they are subject and from which they receive what is best in themselves.” (Obviously this is absent in atheism. On the absence of God there is no reason to be moral.)
- The rituals associated with religion lend meaning to life, including its most difficult moments and seasons — from the loss of a job to the loss of a loved one.
- Religious rituals encourage us to take our family roles more seriously and to help us deal with the stresses that can otherwise poison family relationships. The norms — from fidelity to forgiveness — taught in America’s houses of worship tend to reinforce the faithful’s commitments to their spouses, family members and children and give them a road map for dealing with the disappointments, anger and conflicts that crop up in all family relationships. And as one of the most powerful sources of social capital outside of the state and workplace today, religious social networks provide support to millions of Americans.
Yes, there are religious families that are unhealthy. (As there are brutal atheistic families.) But, writes Wilcox, "religion in America is not the corrosive influence that it’s often made out to be nowadays. On the contrary, for many Americans, it’s a source of inspiration that redounds not only to their benefit, but also to their families and communities."
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