Non-religious children kinder and more altruistic?


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I can see three different reactions to studies such as this one.

Christians who are wise will realise that Isaiah 58 says pretty much the same thing and ask, “how can I do my part in fixing this? How can I raise my kids to do as Jesus commanded and love one another?”

Christians who are foolish will look for flaws in the study. They may find some, but nothing will change in how they raise their kids.

Secularist activists will view it as a propaganda stick with which to beat religion over the head.


This is why I do not call myself Christian, becuase there are many who call themselves such but do not act Christ-like, and specifically when it comes to how they raise their children.

Did you know, that there are only two countries in the world that have not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child? They are the US and Somalia. And do you know why the US has not ratified it? Right-wing Christian organizations oppose treating children as anything other than property. Indoctrination is a sin against the spirit, and this is what right-wing Christians do to their children.

I suspect the study does identify an issue which it would behoove the Christian community to address. But every community has its challenges. This kind of make sense:

Their findings were quite interesting, and found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

I agree with you that more emphasis on the parables Jesus used might offer a way forward. Once the perception that there is always a right way and a wrong way and the wrong way deserves punishment has been internalized, children can hardly be more empathetic towards others than they are toward themselves. Seems like something important to consider.

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The study cited in this thin unreliable blog post is a few years old, and was shown to be mistaken. The original study was published in Current Biology, which then published a reanalysis of the data that showed that the authors of the original study failed to adequately account for societal differences (i.e., differences due to the country the children live in). When this factor was accounted for, the apparent effect of religion disappeared. Unfortunately, it seems that the original study got more press than the followup that showed it to be wrong.

The news still isn’t very good for religion: there is no detectable effect of Christianity or Islam on altruism or other prosocial behavior. My experience of decades in church makes this unsurprising to me.

A good place to read the whole story is this blog post at NPR. It has links to both of the reports in Current Biology. Oh and, it’s probably wise to avoid the site linked in the OP. It seems unreliable.


Thanks Stephen.
Perhaps the lesson here is that we should be careful and skeptical about accepting results that have not been robustly reproduced. It is of course always tempting to uncritically accept a result that confirms a bias we have; I no less than anyone else.
After looking at the content on the Awareness Act site I have concluded it is not a particularly reliable source. Apart from anything else I couldn’t find an “about us” section to see who was running it and what they were about.

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Thanks Stephen. I wondered if this might be the case. The number of different countries that they studied did seem to be suspiciously small, and in any case it was only one study.

I think if there’s anything to take away from this it is that we should never draw conclusions about anything from just a single study. Unfortunately, far too many news outlets and pressure groups do precisely that.

Having said that, I think my original point still stands. As Christians, if we are wise, rather than just shrugging our shoulders and saying “flawed study, nothing to see here,” we will still let it prompt us to up our game in instilling empathetic and altruistic attitudes and behaviours in ourselves and our children.

Incidentally, there’s one study on the relationship between religion and prosocial attitudes that I’d like to see, and that is whether there’s a difference between state religions and minority religions. I’d suspect that followers of religions that enjoy a lot of political power and state patronage would be a whole lot less altruistic and more selfish than their counterparts in other nations where their faith is in a minority, discriminated against or even persecuted.

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I suspect that is one of the big keys, James. People do not “passively” rise to the top of worldly power structures by just being nice. So once some group or tribe has fought their way into power - especially political power, that brings with it a culturally preserved apparatus to maintain that power and to harshly put down any threats to it. And that makes for a very different looking moral landscape than a persecuted minority who had among its highest ambitions faithful allegiance to a leader who taught us to love our enemies and not resist evil with evil.


Interestingly, Malay Muslim and Christian majority sentiment parallel each other in rejecting minorities lately. The Malay government outlawed the use of “Allah” as a name for God in Christian Bibles, and a recent kerfuffle (example: Larycia Hawkins left Wheaton after donning a hijab but affirming the Trinit) saw many Christians saying that we don’t worship the same God; both seem afraid that minorities will gain traction if they use majority terms (note: Christians in the Middle East have used the term “Allah” for centuries, and Muslims use the word “God” frequently

They do realize that kindness and altruism presupposes the Judeo-Christian biblical worldview, right!?
Non-religious children acting in a theistic manner.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development…"

We don’t need it, even though biblical worldview is the foundation of morality. Reductio ad absurdum

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