Bad for Kids
Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, a biologist and proponent of evolutionary theory, not so long ago embarked on a new venture; a series of videos where he openly attacked religion. Called The Root of All Evil, Dawkins claims in these films that religion is inherently evil because it is not rational and, further, claims religion is responsible for many, if not most, ills of society. He calls teaching children religion a form of child abuse and obviously wants to ban it in ‘the best interests of children’. Let us look beyond the fact that Dawkins admits he knows virtually nothing of theology. Let us ignore the fact that the BBC would blanche at the mere idea of allowing a fiction story portray Catholics or Baptists as being correct and condemning those with differing beliefs as being in a ‘permanent state of infancy’, but have no problem producing and airing an atheist’s blatant attack on all religious believers, everywhere. Let us even overlook how Dawkins’, a self-proclaimed rationalist with advanced degrees in biology and zoology, can be so concerned with overpopulation in face of the evidence that it is not, and never has been, a true concern (see the rest of this blog).
Instead of looking at his hypocrisy (he mocks people whom criticize biology without understanding it, but refuses to study the theology he, in turn, criticizes), his prejudice (his assumption that believers are inherently inferior is quite obvious, and often admitted), or his use of mass media to denigrate a majority of the world. No, let us instead focus on… children. Dawkins claims that it is ‘bad’ to raise children in a religious atmosphere. Let’s do what he would like and – look at the scientific evidence.
There have been a lot of studies into religious people vs. non-religious people. Since it can be really hard to figure out who really has faith and who doesn’t, statisticians (and other researchers) usually use the shorthand of measuring how often a person or family attends church, synagogue, or temple and calling people who go at least once a week ‘religious’. Sure, this may not be perfect, but statistically it seems accurate. What do these studies show? Are religious people, as Dawkins claims, infantilized by their beliefs?
Overwhelmingly, being religious is good for you. Regular church attendance leads to lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, a stronger immune system, and are less likely to commit suicide, all contributing to religious people having a mortality rate about 25% lower than people who do not attend worship regularly with the end result that religious people outlive the non-religious by, on average, seven years. Not only do religious people live longer, they are healthier and happier, leading to a higher quality of life! Indeed, the correlation of church attendance and happiness is pretty strong, and diverse. People who regularly attend church are more likely to have strong, lasting marriages where both members are happy.
Scientific research seems to point toward a result that surprises religious people not at all; they are healthier, happier, and live longer than non-religious people. Heck, religious people make more money and the sex is better, too! It should be obvious, then, that a rational person, looking only at the scientific literature, should advocate for more religion in peoples’ lives. Not only is it good for them as individuals and families, it is good for society as a whole – after all, healthier, happier, wealthier people need less of the services governments provide these days.
But I was speaking pretty specifically about kids, wasn’t I? And while we hope each and every child grows up to be an adult (and also, we hope, benefit from the advantages of being religious), they are kids first. Does religion affect kids, too? Yes, it does.
Research shows that even low levels of religious life make adolescents less likely to use alcohol, drugs, tobacco, engage in criminal activity, become suspended from school, run away from home, engage in sexual activity, or require emotional counseling. Religious children (again, even at low levels of church attendance) are less likely to drive drunk or engage in casual vandalism. Church attendance improves school attendance, work activity, and homework completion. It even improves their chances of escaping childhood poverty. As religious faith and participation increases, the positive effect on children also increases. At the other end, just having a mother that attends church regularly also improves the odds of adolescents not engaging in self-destructive behavior. Religious children grow up to have more education.
To sum up; scientific research shows that religious people are healthier, happier, wealthier, and live longer. Religious children are happier, less prone to depression, more likely to get an education and escape poverty, and better at avoiding self-destructive behavior. These things are all positives for children. For Dawkins to oppose religion as ‘child abuse’ is to place his prejudices above the actual welfare of children.