What makes people walk away from religion? We can point to the failures of churches, the spread of atheism online, a more diverse society, and more. Past research has also indicated that our parents have an even more influential role.
But a study recently published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior also found that parents who practiced their faith delayed the age at which their kids became atheists.
This was the case specifically when parents did things that they normally wouldn’t do unless they truly believed this nonsense. For example: Not eating meat on Fridays, wearing magical underwear, getting on their knees to pray, going to church every week (and not just the important ones), etc.
If your parents were truly devout in those unique ways, you probably didn’t become an atheist until you were much older.
Researchers Joseph Langston, David Speed, and Thomas J. Coleman III refer to these “credibility enhancing displays” (CREDs) as “walk the walk” behavior. (They didn’t create the term CREDs; it’s been around since 2009.)
Researchers have known about the importance of CREDs for years now. What this particular paper looked at is how important CREDs are relative to other things that push people away from religion.
What they found was that CREDs were a factor in the age at which people became atheists — and the more central that CRED was to your parents’ faith, the more it delayed your atheism. So if your parents insist you say a particular mantra every night before you go to bed — and that’s a big part of your religion — they’re effectively creating a religious shield that’s tougher to penetrate.
How long do those atheism “delays” last? That depends on other variables, including how much choice you had in adhering to those beliefs and how much conflict there was between you and your parents about faith.
The Christian Post headline summarized it well: “People Raised by Religious Hypocrites More Likely to Become Atheists at Younger Age.”
What may be worth exploring in the future is whether atheist parents function in the same way as religious ones. Do they have their own CREDs? Do they give their kids a choice in what to believe? Do they have have disagreements with their kids (about reality…)? And does that push them toward religion for any reason?
It’s a topic the researchers hope to explore in the future.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to everyone for the link)