What effect does religion have on children?


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

Many influential leaders have made strong, negative statements about the harmful effects that religion has on children. These condemnations are often illustrated by moving testimonials of people who had harmful experiences in religious communities. Compassion leads us to grieve with those who have been abused and suffered loss from an upbringing in toxic spiritual environments.

But what does science say? Anecdotes and opinions are interesting, but we want to look at the evidence. The latest research, published from work done at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, shows a very positive effect on growing up in a religious household. The study had a large sample and duration:

Our study used a large sample of over 5,000 adolescents, followed them up for more than eight years, and controlled for many other variables to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing. We found that children who were raised in a religious or spiritual environment were subsequently better protected from the “big three” dangers of adolescence.

The researchers provide a helpful infographic that summarizes their research:

As Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele summarizes, " The research indicates that, on average, the effects of a religious community are profoundly positive."

Questions for discussion:

  1. If you grew up in a religious family and environment, did this have a positive effect on your life?
  2. How have you seen a church provide better life outcomes for children?
  3. How could this scientific research lead to opportunities to discuss spiritual issues?

(christopher van zyl) #2

This is awesome! It’s also interesting that those saying it is harmful, are usually those embracing really harmful alternatives.

  1. it definetly had a positive effect. Obviously growing up you think to yourself how nice it would be to sleep in, and do the things other kids are doing. But quickly you realize what’s important. You learn value, virtue and morality. You learn how it’s grounded in God.

  2. for the most part, it teaches structure and responsibility. Although I personally believe the home is better for this, it is still a bonus. In terms of community, where ministry is involved, it feeds, educates, and gets involved in getting kids off of the streets

  3. it gives an objective view, and not merely opinion. I think this to be important.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #3

Does this study show the different religions that they studied from? Was it predominantly Christian households, Muslim households, etc? what is their definition of “religious”?
I remember the teacher i had for psychology class said that people who have “faith” tend to live happier lives. I missed the opportunity to ask what she meant by “faith”. Faith in what? A transcendent being? Multiple beings? Faith in oneself?

See what I mean? The results are great, but what if the study was done on the majority of Hindus, or Muslims, or others? Does that mean that as long as one is religious, they can expect have a “higher level of forgiveness” and have some kind of meaning in life? Does it matter which religion, as long as they all produce relatively the same results?

I find it interesting that that the two lowest percentages are on the side of “those who attend religious services regularly”. If one goes to church regularly, or a mosque, a Buddhist temple, etc regularly, then one will have a 12% less likelihood of getting depression. Why is that number so low? How about the levels of happiness? why is that so low? Obviously just going to a religious service is not all there is to it. An atheist going to church to have a 12% less chance of suffering from depression doesn’t make much sense. I don’t go to church to have an 18% higher chance of experiencing high levels of happiness. I go because Christianity true. That is my basis for going to church. Atheists like to say that Christianity is just another emotional crutch along with all the other religions. When looking at this study without a definition of “religion,” one sort of gets that picture, right? I’m not saying tis study is “bad” or “wrong”, but that it raises some important questions about religion and our professed Christian Truth. How can we separate Christianity from the pack? How can we stand out from mere religion?


(Warner Joseph Miller) #4

Christianity untouched does a great job of separating herself. What I mean is that Jesus – as He stands among the pantheon of “gods” – is inherently unique…and correspondingly, so should the practice of following Him.

I should make this point, however. Religion, in and of itself is not bad. In James 1:27, it says that:

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” NLT

That’s good religion!:+1:t6:However, religion that becomes oppressive, burdensome and/or takes the place of genuine spirituality as in a way to bribe your way into good standing with God bad religion. Christ said this of the Pharisees:

They tie on your backs oppressive burdens of religious obligations and insist that you carry it, but will never lift a finger to help ease your load. Everything they do is done for show and to be noticed by others. They want to be seen as holy , so they wear oversized prayer boxes on their arms and foreheads with Scriptures inside, and wear extra-long tassels on their outer garments.
Matthew 23:4‭-‬5 TPT

Again, bad religion.

But back to Jesus and how he sets us apart, He gives us an exact recipe on how we, His disciples, will stand out and be different. He commands His disciples (us), to love others like He loves us. (John 13:34-35) That kind of love, Jesus’ love is revolutionary! It’s a game changer! Love one another. How? Like Christ loves you. There’s no guess work in that. It can’t be faked or imitated…not for any significant length of time, at least. Because it isn’t superficial, frilly, Hollywood-esq and subjective. Its unearned and undeserved. It is sacrificial, redemptive and unconditional. THAT love can’t be faked because that love requires a strength that none of us have, in and of ourselves. It is exclusively via the Holy Spirit.


(Brittany Bowman) #5

Thanks for sharing, Carson. This is interesting and encouraging. Perhaps this could be an encouragement in a few common skeptical points towards Christianity.

  • Christianity is a crutch for the weak- Because the health/psychological variables were measured 8-14 years after the religious variables, researchers were able to minimize the possibility people with certain preconditions would be religious. Interestingly, the researchers’ commentary in the article link suggested they actually assumed healthier/happier people would migrate towards religion, which is contrary to the claim that Christianity is for the weak.

“Wherever possible, we controlled also for the health and psychological characteristics of the adolescents at the time that the service attendance and prayer/meditation was assessed to try to rule out that it was just positive health or psychological states that was leading to greater religious practice.”

  • Faith-based life is contingent on just feelings- The highest variables in the infographic were forgiveness and having a sense of purpose. This is despite feeling-based factors like happiness (18%) and depression (12%) having less difference between religious and non-religious. This is a double-edged sword. We can rejoice many people appear to remain obedient to God’s word without necessarily feeling a certain way. However, we can also be burdened in praying more people realize God for who he fully is, as happiness and obedience should occur in tandem.

  • Christianity is burdensome- In past threads, we’ve discussed “freedom from” vs. “freedom for” in the context of accepting God’s laws so we can more fully embrace His goodness in our lives. The low STD and drug frequency in comparison to the high sense of purpose could yield data supporting what God’s been promising us all along. Shocker. :smiley:

In my personal experience, kids who attend church for the first time often have a look of relief and awe on their faces during their first visit. It’s almost like they have finally found a place where they can feel at home, a place of love and grace their hearts have been craving but hadn’t been able to find in the outside world. I think back to the thread, “Desire against Materialism,” where the conversation considered how our hearts’ desire for God could be evidence He exists. In my own life, although I wasn’t sure Christianity was true growing up, I clung to it because of the positive benefits I saw in others’ lives.

This could be a valuable tool for conversation both at the office water cooler and on social media. As society becomes increasingly data-driven, this is a rare opportunity for us to speak in others’ context.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #6

Yes I 100% agree with you, @WarnerMiller, but who really takes the time to look into the different religions? I remember reading once that us as believers may be the only Bible people read in their lives. Many either assume that Christ is “just like all the other religions” and that it’s bereft of reason of any kind or they see it as “good for you but not for me” kind of thing. Let’s face it, to the world Christian morality is not the most appealing thing for people in today’s culture, especially in the West. Christ Himself is very clear in what one has to do if one were to become a follower of Him, and the world doesn’t like only one Way or one Truth. Assertions like that make them feel uncomfortable. What I mean is that us in the Church have to be the hands and feet of Jesus to go and reach out to the world, not sitting in our homes and waiting for it to come to us. That is why I’m a big supporter in RZIM and what they do. I am so thankful for RZIM and the global reach that they have so that Christ’s message of hope and forgiveness can reach as many as possible.