Religion is Good For You

It has been stated, repeatedly, that religion, especially Christianity, has done more harm that good. Bertrand Russell in his book Why I am Not a Christian stated categorically that “the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” In short, Christianity and religion is evil, and as the late Christopher Hitchens put it: poisons everything:

Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, wrote a piece at Psychology Today titled “Does Christianity Harm Children?” in which he concluded:

The notion that Christianity is good for kids has been trumpeted for centuries, virtually unchallenged and uncontested.

What hasn’t been trumpeted nearly enough – nor studied nearly enough — is the potentially dangerous aspects of Christianity, aspects that stem from the very core/central tenets of the faith.

As a secular parent, I believe that we need to talk more openly about the potential harm Christianity can do to kids – not just the potential good. We mustn’t shy away from such skeptical scrutiny for fear of offending people.

Books have been written on the harm religion and Christianity can have on children such as Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlich and Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse by Philip Greven.

I agree with Dr. Zuckerman, that we should talk more openly about the potential harm Christianity can do to children. In fact, Harvard University has done just that. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a study last year reporting on the benefits of being raised in religion. Ying Chen, the author of the study reported that “these findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices. Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

The Harvard study followed 5,000 children between the ages of 8-14 and controlled for variables such as maternal health, socioeconomic status, and history of substance abuse or depressive symptoms, to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing.

The result found that those children raised with regular spiritual habits such as attending weekly religious services, practiced daily prayer, or meditation were less likely to . . .

  • be depressed
  • smoke
  • use illicit drugs
  • have sexually transmitted infections

. . . than those people who were not raised with regular spiritual habits.

Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, also concurred that religion is good for kids and their families. In the Washington Post Wilcox reported that:

On average, religion is a clear force for good when it comes to family unity and the welfare of children — the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives. Research, some of it my own, indicates that on average Americans who regularly attend services at a church, synagogue, temple or mosque are less likely to cheat on their partners; less likely to abuse them; more likely to enjoy happier marriages; and less likely to have been divorced.

Dr. Wilcox also reports:

when it comes to kids, the research tells us that religious parents spend more time with their children. Indeed, the Deseret News/Brigham Young University American Family Survey tells us that parents who attend religious services weekly are more likely to eat dinner with their children, do chores together and attend outings with their children, even after controlling for parental age, gender, race, marital status, education and income.

While these studies don’t show that Christianity is true, it is interesting that it has inherent benefits on the individual. In fact, it benefits the community.

As I have reported before, Christian missionaries have been deemed racists, imperialistic, and intolerant, but the truth of the efforts of missionaries has some very interesting seemingly unintended consequences: liberal democracies to name just but one. Realistically, the benefits of religion are replete.

Some of the benefits include:

  • increased literary rates
  • mass education
  • civil rights
  • education for  women and the poor
  • better health
  • lower infant mortality
  • lower corruption
  • mass printing
  • liberal democracies

These positive increases in social indicators has been discovered by the work of Dr. Robert Woodberry.  Woodberry, a sociologist, used statistical analysis to uncover the benefits that Protestant missionaries bring to an indigenous people group. 

Here is a video answering the question “What good is Christianity?”: