Thursday, April 26, 2007

Study Reveals Religion's Positive Influence on Kids... Who'd Have Thunk It?

Melinda Wenner at LifeScience .com reports that a study has found that children actually benefit from the environment of faith in a family setting. In a study of more than 16,000 children, Mississippi State University sociologist John Bartkowski and his colleagues asked the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 children to rate them on self control and frequency of poor or unhappy behavior.

Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development. ...

The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services—especially when both parents did so frequently—and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.
Not surprisingly, secularist sociologists and others are perplexed at the findings:

But as for why religious organizations might provide more of a boost to familylife than secular organizations designed to do the same thing, that’s still somewhat of a mystery, said Annette Mahoney, a psychologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, also not involved in the research. Mahoney wondered: “Is there anything about religion and spirituality that sets it apart?”
And of course, the old canard that religion is an oppressive and stifling influence is still offered as a counter to the study's findings:

It’s also possible that the correlation between religion and child development is the other way around, he said. In other words, instead of religion having a positive effect on youth, maybe the parents of only the best behaved children feel comfortable in a religious congregation.

“There are certain expectations about children’s behavior within a religious context, particularly within religious worship services,” he said. These expectations might frustrate parents, he said, and make congregational worship “a less viable option if they feel their kids are really poorly behaved.”
The links in the article predictably point to articles arguing for evolution against the creationist views of certain Protestant groups. Another article that discusses the positive effects of religious attendance on health and life-expectancy is replete with provisos and disclaimers. Other articles in the chain of links alternately affirm and reject the power of prayer on health. And of course, the site also has the obligatory 'Shroud of Turin is a Fake' article.

It is not surprising that there should be bewilderment that faith plays a positive impact on children's lives. It seems that many in the scientific community, perhaps mainly in the sociological sciences -- including the fields of psychology and psychiatry, fail in the attempt to consider religion neutrally. Religion has become viewed as the enemy to many in these fields.

After all, religion proposes absolute truths and immutable values that require assent. In a cultural climate that sees any restrictions on hedonistic headlong plunges into the river of licentiousness as oppressive and somewhat perverted, it is natural that a study revealing a positive role for faith should seem illogical and incomprehensible.

The methods of science are not necessarily evil or wrong in and of themselves. Yet the politicalization of science too often leads to the promotion of relativistic goals and attempts to quash systems that accept the existence of real truths and values. As a parallel, consider the effect on law and jurisprudence when all reference to natural law is excised.

In any event, those of you with children can take this study as validation that you can pray in front of your children, go to and take them to church, and even let them see you walk into the confessional. It won't harm them or stunt their intellectual growth.

Who knows? Faith might actually become the foundation that gives coherence and meaning to their lives.

Who'd have thunk it?

No comments: