This past week, The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, an international study of almost 1,200 children between the ages of five and 12 living in the United States, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa, was published in Current Biology. The study created quite a discussion throughout various media outlets about the role of religion in shaping the morality of youth in today’s world. Their conclusions found that there is an apparent correlation in religious belief and a negatively affected sense of altruism and kindness and that children from families who are Muslim or Christian are more punitive than those in non-religious households.
With a pool of respondents consisting of 24% Christian, 43% Muslim, 27.6% non-religious, and the remaining number of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, and other groups said to be too small to be statistically valid, many have took issue with the methods in which the study came to its conclusions. I don’t seek to affirm or dispute the findings of those behind the study, as I’m sure much effort was put into administering the study, and personally, I admire that it was attempted on the scale that it appears to have been done. If anything, this study has allowed Christian parents like myself to look at what it is we are actually feeding into the lives of our children (i.e. is what I “preach” what I actually practice in front of my child?) and, in relation to that, what are my children doing in the way of exhibiting those virtues I extol.
So, if I’m not discussing that, what am I talking about? As a reader on this site, you may or may not have children, but with many people, I believe that there is a common misconception about Christian children, specifically, especially in America, and what bringing them up under the leadership of the Bible will do in their lives. With many Christian families making the choice to home-school rather than introduce their children to public schools for a variety of reasons, I have read and personally observed there is a sense that if we keep our children under our watchful eyes as parents, if we teach them all that the Bible shows to be true, and if we integrate those teachings into their daily lifestyle, that that will keep the evil out of their lives. In other words, if I just surround my child with enough good, then my kids won’t be bad. I’m here to tell you, reader, that this view is wrong, wrong, wrong! (Please note at this point: I don’t want any to think I’m “bashing” homeschooling; many in my family use home-schooling as a valid option for child raising, and it is an option my wife and I are considering. I only bring it up because some do it for the wrong reasons.)
This year, we’ve seen America’s squeaky-clean TV family, the Duggars, drug into the spotlight, regarding the actions of their son, while he was a minor in the home and as a married adult. Many viewers of their show on TLC put the Duggar’s parenting philosophies on a pedestal, so to speak, and when allegations and confessions came following incident, it shook many people… people who may have fostered the wrong perspective of what Christian teaching is supposed to do for a child in the first place. For some, “Christian parenting” becomes a checklist of what we don’t allow our children to do (“Don’t watch that”, “Don’t go there”, “Stay away from those kids”, or “Get off those violent video games”), instead of leading them in the things they should do (serve, encourage, evangelize, etc). You know, ministry!
Granted, I will be the first to tell you that parents are to be the ones to establish the rules and order in the home, not the other way around. Parents are gatekeepers to worldly influence, and there are definitely things that aren’t conducive to a healthy upbringing that I think children should not view or participate in. The standards of what is and is not permissible are necessary in every home, Christian or otherwise, so because of this, the concept of “sheltering”, as it is called, isn’t entirely a bad thing to a certain degree, as this world is often cruel and harmful to children growing up through the people around them and the media they consume. Still, “sheltering” can’t be because we think our child is inherently good and in need of not being spoiled by outside influences. When we communicate this idea, even inherently to our children, and delineate in their minds between what “we” do as a household versus what is done in the households of “them” down the street, we can lead our children to taking on the negative traits that this study seems to suggest many are already showing: being judgmental, unkind, and lacking in that sense of giving to others and serving. Basically, if we don’t watch how we do things, we can raise the jerks this study portrays (and believe me, there are jerky Christian kids as the study shows). I don’t want jerks for kids, and neither should you.
In March of this year, my son was born and he is an absolutely wonderful child. Sure, there are nights he may be overly fussy and non-cooperative, and he can definitely blowout a diaper from time to time in a way that seems unholy, but I have a great child. His big sister is seven, and let me tell you: that little lady is smart, funny, happy-go-lucky, and one of the sweetest children I’ve ever known (yes, I’m biased; I’m a parent). In my mind, it is a fact that they are good kids being brought up in a Christian worldview. Still, let me also establish another fact: both of my children are sinners, children born into sinful condition, as will be their upcoming sibling, developing within my wife as I write this. I have great kids, but they are humans in a sin-filled world, hearts in need of redemption found only in Christ Jesus. With my daughter in the first grade and my son in diapers, neither has, up to this point, accepted Christ, but you better believe that with all my power and leading, they are being taught about Christ and the teachings of the Bible and will be led to the point that decision to follow must be made. Ultimately, at the point of decision, they will have to make a choice for themselves in what way they will go. Whether that time of decision comes to them as a child or an adult, it is my heart’s desire that they will come to the point of accepting Christ as their personal Lord and Savior of their own volition and serve Him faithfully every day following. I don’t think that that desire is far off base from most any other Christian parent.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ALL THIS?
So, I have children, born into a sinful world who deal with sin. They aren’t freaks; in fact, I believe the Bible shows that they are normal. This the truth for all children, and they need spiritual direction if they are ever going to grow up to not be self-centered and terrible people:
Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV)And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
“In the way he should go“…the implication here is that there is any number of ways a child could go, and some of those possibilities, if not most, could be the wrong way entirely. Christian parents who are serious about doing as Scripture instructs train their children up according to Biblical standards, as they should: to have a larger focus than just themselves and serve God and other people. I know many parents whose children went down paths they would not have chosen for them, and they cling to Proverbs 22:6 for hope that someday their child will return to the Lord. I believe they should remember this verse, and they should continue to direct their child, regardless of age, back to the proper place of following Christ Jesus.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NKJV)“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of themwhen you sit in your house, when youwalk by the way, when youlie down, and when yourise up. You shallbind them as a sign on your hand, andthey shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
You see, if you are a parent, it is your responsibility to lead your children in knowing the truths of God. The Bible should be the standard in our home, and it should be used in every way we can to better lead them in the way to go. Diligently, we should bring that truth to them every single day in every single way. Can a parent do that more readily in a home-school environment? It’s possible, as one can strongly make the case for it as their instruction is almost always in your hands. Still, why must we seek to bring the truth to our children? Is it because they are in need of preservation in their inherent goodness? NO! They are in need of salvation, found only in Jesus Christ. You see, sin affects us all, and because it affects all, we must all deal with it the only way we truly can: through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:23 (NKJV)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Yes, ALL MEANS ALL, including your darling child, well-behaved and dressed impeccably every Sunday morning. Read as that passage continues, showing the only way of deliverance from that condition:
Romans 3:24-26 (NKJV)being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Now, the testing in the experiment I cited earlier was only administered in one U.S. city, so it is difficult for me to establish in my mind that it is necessarily representative of our country. Could there be distinctions in the groups and areas chosen for the study that would lead the study to certain conclusions, a “stacking of the deck” as they say? Possibly, but I said I wasn’t going to attack the study, and I’m not. Still, I do disagree with some of the apparent conclusion made by the study when I say that I believe that a view of God is essential for morality, as I see God as establishing right and wrong by authority of His Word.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Matthew 7:24-25 (NKJV)“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
I lead my children in the home, and I do my best to lead children in my church, but starting out in whatever it is I do with leading children, I know that I have a struggle. Why? Because the sinful condition of man (children included) is a state that all must come to Christ to deal with. They are as one sick in need of healing. Much of sin manifests itself in an attitudinal way, and I have seen children not having the best of days. They lash out or act out, yes, even at church. I expect this, because they are human. As a parent, pastor, and mentor, I take the instruction of God, and show them how to proceed in life in the way He prescribes is right. Are they perfect in following? No, and neither am I, even as an adult.
To any Christian parent doing their absolute best and reading that study and feeling “After all that, what’s the point?”: don’t lose heart about what is shown to be some disconnect between belief in God and morality. I believe that when a child is led properly to understand the Bible and see the need it holds for sharing Christ with others, those children aren’t the close-minded brats the study would lead one to believe them to be. They are loving, charitable, and serving, even in their young lives. I’ve seen it myself, and you can too. Some of the most mission minded Christians I’ve ever known weren’t even able to vote, but they were genuine in exhibiting Christlike attitudes. Their growth started at home by parents doing it right. Parent, lead your child to Jesus and teach them the way they should go, not because they are an angel, but because they need a Savior.
Colby Bryant currently serves as the Music/Youth Minister of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Hugo, Oklahoma, and he served as Pastor of Archey Baptist Church in Soper, Oklahoma for several years prior. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three children. He enjoys adding to his extensive knowledge and collection of movies and TV by watching and collecting as many as he can, and he gets in as much video game and tabletop playtime as his schedule will allow.
*** John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me." ***
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