Last month, an op-ed about secular parenting by Phil Zuckerman, author and Pitzer College professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, was published in the LA Times. In the piece, Zuckerman discusses his own and other researchers’ work, in measuring the success, or lack thereof, of raising kids to be “good without God.”
And the results seem to indicate the secular community is doing as good a job, and in some measures possibly a better job, than their peers.
The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.
… Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women’s equality and gay rights. One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics.
Of course, while this is encouraging news, it should be noted (as Zuckerman does) that researchers have only recently started to examine secular culture. There isn’t a complete picture yet, but what is out there is certainly promising.
And it shouldn’t be surprising. It seems far more likely that a system of values derived from empathy and reason would provide a better, more moral outlook than a set of arbitrary, purportedly infallible external dictates. A community that promotes skepticism, rational thinking, and scientifically accurate information should produce children who value accuracy and solid information over hearsay and authoritarian commands. People who reject religious ideas about LGBT rights and women’s rights are going to be less likely to embrace the largely religious opposition to those rights. A set of people that doesn’t get forgiveness based on belief must instead own up to their own misdeeds — and answer to those they’ve wronged, as well as their own consciences, instead of a God who forgives all in exchange for belief.
It goes without saying that merely being secular doesn’t mean you necessarily value skepticism, science, equality, etc.; or that being religious means you reject them. It seems, however, that a large enough proportion of the secular community does place enough of an emphasis on those values — and is passing them on to their children — to make the impact noticeable.