Do Children Need Religion?


Do children need religion in their lives?

We live in an ever-changing world where technology rules, violence persists, entitlement and narcissism reign, and traditions and respect seem to be old fashioned notions.

Kids are connected within seconds to each other through texting and social networking — but have we lost touch with humanity somewhere along the way?

After the recent U.S. election, the only clear conclusion is that we are an extremely divided people.

So how do we teach our kids about morality, and goodness, and kindness, and acceptance? How do we ‘get back’ to each other with open hearts and open minds? When will we collectively learn that we are all connected? When will we understand that the suffering of our neighbor is own our suffering?

What ever happened to loving thy neighbor as you love thyself?

Is religion the answer?

One mormon mom says, “Regardless of my beliefs, I live this religion because it makes me happy and helps me raise my kids now–in this life, every day–even if there were no heaven.”

Another mom shares her story of being raised non-practicing Jewish, but now teaching her kids about their religious background. “I’m still not religious, but at least I know more about what it means to be Jewish, and my kids do, too. When they move out into the world, they’ll have an identity to either embrace or push against. But at least there won’t be a question mark in the “religion” slot.”

While an atheist dad states, “If my son is going to be in a sexually charged situation when he’s older, I want him to be smart enough to use a condom without fear of eternal damnation.” In addition, he shares, “Teach your kids facts instead of mythology. Science is the foundation of what happens in the world around us, and kids need to learn it.”

Along these lines, children’s educator Bill Nye shared his views on evolution vs. creationism. In a video blog that went viral, the “Science Guy” explains his take on what’s wrong with teaching creationism to our kids.

“And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people like engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

According to Parenting‘s recent survey of more than 1,000 moms and dads in the U.S., the majority believes religion is the key component in building a strong family unit.

In fact, 69% said religion is essential to establishing moral foundation.

And when asked about the five most desirable character traits for children, the parents said:

  • 59% Honesty
  • 44% Strong self-esteem
  • 42% Kindness
  • 41% Good manners
  • 31% Strong work ethic

For many parents, they want their children “to believe in something,” and therefore taking their kids to church helps them cultivate these desirable traits.

But for me the above traits, and morality in general, can be taught without religion.

Having been raised Catholic – yes, Catholic school and all – I have grown to vehemently deny the dogma.

- noun
A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

For me, there’s too much dogma and not enough God in religions.

Why is still OK to openly discriminate against the homosexual community? Why can’t girls and women strive to be the highest leaders in the church I grew up in? Why is it OK for my church to decide what I can do with my reproductive health and my body? Why is ‘our’ God better than ‘your’ God?

The list of questions/rules goes on…and the dogma kills it for me.

So how do I plan to teach my three kids about morality, then, you ask?

First of all, I believe in god (a.k.a God, goddess, the Creator, whoever) and my kids do too…but not the needy and judgemental one I grew up knowing.

Within my own family-of-five, we treat each other with kindness, honesty, gratitude and respect. We don’t name call, we know that violence is never the answer, we make eye contact when talking to one another, we use manners, and we show gratitude for our blessings. And this is how we treat our fellow (wo)man. We have not used any religious teachings in order to cultivate these desirable traits.

I encourage my kids to tap into their creative power, and I foster their self-esteem every day in hopes they will use their free will for the betterment of society, and to create the life of their dreams.

My kids will know about the truths of science and they will accept everyone for who they are — regardless of beliefs, ethnicity, race, sexual preference, gender, class, appearance, and so on. They will know that we are all connected, and there are more similarities than differences in the human race.

And let me tell you, if any of my children came home with derogatory or prejudice sayings/beliefs about any group of people, there would be “hell” to pay.

For me, limits and rules repel the very essence of spirituality. What works for me might not work for my kids. I’m living proof that being baptized and raised in a certain religion doesn’t always ‘work.’

And if my kids choose to be atheist, I will be OK with that too. It wouldn’t be my choice for them, but again, it’s not my choice.

Have I got it right? Only the good Goddess knows! But I can tell you that my children have morals and I don’t think they’re “missing out on anything.”

Sound off! Do you think it’s important to raise children with religion?

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  1. María

    I couldn’t agree more! We’re raising three boys based on universal beliefs like respect, responsibility, love for life and mankind. I respect parents who raise their children within a religion but I think that we should encourage them to be free-thinkers with good guidance

  2. For us – yes, it’s important to raise our children with religion.I’m not blanketing all Christians as wonderful people, but if we all loved each other the way God loved us – this world would be a better place. Treating each other with respect, loving your neighbor as yourself, raising children to be responsible, not running your mouth and gossiping, doing charity and volunteer work…I could go on and on. I don’t quite understand the “free-thinking” movement. I don’t intend to restrict my children’s thoughts just because we believe in God. We are teaching them the Bible stories to start, but we cannot force them to believe it or to live it. All we can do is be the best examples to them and pray they follow our lead and we do right by them and God.

    • P.S. The “needy & judgmental” God you speak of I’m assuming is the God of the old testament. That all changed after Jesus :)

      • Karen

        It really didn’t. I grew up in the Catholic church as well, until it occurred to me how annoying their concept of a god is. A supposed “higher power” requiring absolute service and devotion doesn’t at all appeal. The need for constant worship with the threat of punishment for those who don’t comply sounds pretty insecure to me. If it is indeed a supreme being it shouldn’t need my fawning all over it to feel good about itself – just as well, because that’s never going to happen.

        I raise my kids to be ethical, caring people who put others’ needs ahead of their wants because it’s the right thing to do for one another. If a person is good only because of the threat of some made-up consequences they aren’t truly a good person at all, just a scared one.

  3. Debs

    I believe it is important to raise a child with religious principles. Sadly, I have seen too much evidence of unruly & immoral behaviour from children who haven’t been taught the latter. Personally, the free-thinking idea or phrase that ‘if it feels good, do it’ doesn’t wash with me. Society as a whole is on a slippery downhill slope due to lack of spiritual value. It is a shame that you only understood religion through being baptized and being raised in a certain way rather than having a personal experience & understanding.

  4. Courtney

    I appreciate the time it took in writing this article. The topics of raising kids with a religion and showing them how to treat others who practice a different religion or have different beliefs is very important! It’s an issue that should be discussed between a husband and wife before they decide to have kids, “how do you think we should raise them? I agree or I don’t agree and here’s why.”

    I have a very similar story to yours, I grew up Catholic and I never really felt God’s prescence. I was baptized, had my first communion but never really had a faith. My past church was, in my definition, religious, meaning they practiced many traditions to the point where others were more focused on properly executing the tradition than a relationship with God. In college I went to many different churches and have found one that has shown me the possibility of having a relationship with God. It’s not about setting rules for what I can and cannot do, it’s about putting Him first in your life, including Him in your decisions, like a Father or Mother. He helps to guide my journey in this life.

    So personally yes, I will be raising my children with “religion” in that they will know what I believe, Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and if you believe in what He did, you will go to heaven. I will teach them about bible stories. I also, plan to teach them about different religions and cultures. I grew up in a diverse area and LOVE celebrating with my friends of different backgrounds. It is ultimately God’s and my child’s decision if he/she will choose to believe what I believe, but it will still be taught and be a key element in helping to raise my kids. I will teach them about morality and good manners. I will also teach them why it’s important to treat others as you would yourself or your family, why honesty is the best policy, why having a strong work ethic is great, and I will first turn to the bible to show them why these characteristics are for their well-being. I will not shelter but educate my children.
    Again thank you for this article!

    • So well said, I agree 100%! We go to, really, a non-denominational church. We don’t practice infant baptism or do communions the way Catholics do – we dedicate our babies to God in the promise that we will raise them in a Christian home and teach them about Jesus and the Bible. What they do with those teachings is up to them. We cannot force “religion” on them at all, nor would I want to. We will also be teaching them about other people and cultures and religions as God created us all and loves us all, and so should we!

  5. Megan

    But why are you teaching your kids morals? Who established morals? What defines what is good and bad, right and wrong? If your answer isn’t God, THE God, and his commands, then you subscribe to a morally relativistic worldview. Which is fine, I guess, but when your kid punches his brother because that’s what was right to him at the time and it expressed his emotions, I’m not sure you have grounds to correct. Relatively, in his world, that was right. Who are you…or this completely arbitrary “Goddess” (don’t get me started on that), to tell him otherwise? There is either absolute Truth, or there isn’t. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Karen

      You can teach your children that it’s wrong to put themselves and their needs above others’ well-being and comfort. If you have to use a sky wizard as reasoning for not punching someone then you are a really scary person who I’d never want to be around. Also, I’m going to “get you started” – why is the idea of a feminine component to your sky wizard so offensive to you?

      • Please, please, please, pardon my ignorance, but what is a “sky wizard”? I’m picturing an aviator crossed with Harry Potter crossed with Zeus, and I’m not sure if that’s what you mean.

    • Shannon

      Here’s another way to think about it. When my son punches his little sister, I could either tell him that what he did was wrong because this is against God’s commandment to love one another as He loves us and failing to follow his commandments leads to bad consequences for HIM (my son), possibly even threatening his salvation. Or I could say to my son, “Look at your sister’s face. She’s hurt because of your choices and actions. You have hurt a human being and you are responsible for making things right.” Why do religious people see valuing THEIR possible salvation as more honorable than valuing the reality of the person standing right in front of them? It’s so short-sighted to think that without religion, we can’t figure out right from wrong. Discussions of morality and virtue occurred in Greek philosophy which pre-dated Jesus and occurred outside the influence of Jewish philosophy. All social, communal species (wolves, chimpanzees, etc) have established social orders and behavior codes which enable animals capable of killing each other to leave together (mostly) peacefully. The concept of right/wrong is not the sole domain of religion.

  6. Jenny

    Thank you for this article. Last night, my atheist husband and I (raised Catholic) answered religious questions from my 5-year-old. (All stemming from the Pledge of Allegiance’s unnecessary and exclusionary “under God” line. How would you feel if your kids heard “under Shiva” or “under Allah” every morning?)

    It is interesting on so many levels. Morality is not dependent on religion, and it is dangerous to try to make it so; if one questions religion, do they also question morality? It also links atheists with immorality, which is ignorant and wrong. Fear of a God or Hell doesn’t make produce genuine respect or love or compassion. Those are independent emotions.

    Millions of people from so many different religions teach their children that theirs is the one, true religion – but someone is wrong. Even if their is a higher being, the doctrines and dogmas are not compatible. Someone is wrong.

    I suppose I identify as agnostic now – willing to admit that I’m not sure what to believe; that religious institutions have always been and continue to be powerful political bodies with political and financial goals; that spirituality is nice but unnecessary to a full, healthy, loving life. I don’t have all the answers, and I won’t tell my children that I do. Religions are varied, man-made, derived, and translated. And anyone that claims to have the one, true answer is lying, even if they don’t realize it. We make our best choices. We love and respect. We don’t know the answer. And that that is okay.

    To truly educate, rather than indoctrinate, our children, we must allow for the possibility that we may never know the answer.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  7. Thank you for posting this. Morals and religion are not mutually exclusive! After all we all know people who identify with a certain faith but who don’t act the way they preach. But I know many many more people who are kind, respectful, treat others with honesty, care and compassion, regardless of their religious beliefs.

    Some of my closest friends have taught me so much about living your life in an honest and authentic way, and they identify as atheists. And my Christian friends are so wonderful too! They are happy and kind people and I love them dearly! Negative christian ex-friends of mine haven’t been so nice. I’ve encountered a lot of gossip and judgement, and I have encountered those outside of church. It’s just a people thing.

    I really feel like the truth I connect to here is that your behavior and actions are choices. Whether you back it up with religion is up to you. My morals are exactly the same now as when I was in church every week. I’m happier away from that environment because my old church was so negative and money focused.

    If Jesus had never said “Love They Neighbor”, does that mean you’d treat others however you want? Common sense says no, right? I don’t subscribe to “if it feels good do it”. I actually don’t think I know anyone like that. Maybe I did when I was about 20 years old but everyone grew out of it when they remembered actions have consequences.. another common sense fact not given to me by religion.


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