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Is parenting without God really advisable?

When the Atheists in Kenya put out an advert for a “Parenting without God” seminar, it caused some stir. Some feared that it was likely to upset the established social order. Its billing was certainly audacious, especially in a highly religious society that is Kenya.PHOTO: COURTESY

When the Atheists in Kenya put out an advert for a “Parenting without God” seminar, it caused some stir. Some feared that it was likely to upset the established social order. Its billing was certainly audacious, especially in a highly religious society that is Kenya. Some of us therefore decided to attend, if only to hear about this new approach to raising family. The expectation was that this would be a game changer — a show stopper. Well...

About 30 people turned up for the seminar — consisting mainly of curious Christians. Sadly, the panelists seemed uncertain of their subject and had no clear script for presentation. According to those present, it was therefore hard to follow their line of thought.

 On parenting without God, the organisers argued that prayer is a useless exercise and parents should never teach a child to pray. Children’s curiosity about God should not be encouraged. Curiously, the focus of the presentation was against the Christian God. They claimed that the Bible is an outrageous book, full of stories of war and a source of bad moral values for children. The Book of Revelation in particular is dangerous and full of weird imaginations that a child should not be exposed to.

Children, therefore, should be raised up as free thinkers, because, hope is found in humanity and in good deeds, and not in some deity. But, is it true that religion is bad for raising up children? Several scientific studies have tried to ascertain this. Kathleen Corriveau, Assistant Professor in Human Development at Boston University, with Paul Harris, a Developmental Psychologist, and Eva Chen, an Assistant Professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, conducted two studies to explore how exposure to religion would influence children’s reality judgments of novel characters.

The results showed a child’s home life — including religious exposure, and scientific phenomenon — influences how they might perceive school-based subjects. Of significance was the finding that, “in some instances, the ability to suspend disbelief might be an asset to learning.” For example, the researchers argued, “When learning counterintuitive phenomena — such as the entirety of modern physics — the ability to imagine improbable events might aid in acquiring knowledge.” In other words, exposing children to supernatural phenomena (such as in the Book of Revelation?) may be beneficial to a child’s learning. The researchers concluded children appear to have an intuitive grasp of the difference between magic and miracles.

Another significant study was conducted by John Bartkowski, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, together with other colleagues. The researchers asked the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 children, most of them first-graders (Class One), to rate how much self-control they believed the children had, how often they exhibited poor or unhappy behaviour, and how well they respected and worked with their peers. They then compared these scores to how frequently the children’s parents said they attended worship services, talked about religion with their child, and argued about religion in their home.

The results indicated that children whose parents regularly attended religious services — especially when both parents did so frequently — and talked with their children about religion, had better self-control, social skills, and approaches to learning than the children with non-religious parents. In other words, children with religious parents were found to be better behaved and socially adjusted than other children. Interestingly though, the study found that when parents regularly argued over their faith at home, it had a negative effect on child development and behaviour.

In yet another study, Barry Chiswick of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Donka Mirtcheva of the College of New Jersey explored the effect of religion on the reported overall health and psychological health of the child.

The analysis revealed that children with a religious affiliation, who view religion as very important, and who attend church at least weekly, had higher levels of overall and psychological health, compared to those who view religion as unimportant, who do not, or seldom attend worship.

 In other words, there was found a strong association between religion and a child’s general physical and psychological health.So, there it is, whereas the so called atheists would have us believe that religion is dangerous for children, empirical evidence seems to show otherwise. What is instructive, however, is that during the atheists’ seminar, the panelists consistently gave the disclaimer that all their claims were personal views and opinions. I agree.