secular children

14 Feb

I’m the youngest of four siblings and the only one not baptized.  As the story goes, by the time my parents got to me, there was a new minister at the church.  Knowing that my parents didn’t attend, the minister said something to the effect of, “I will baptize this one was long as you promise to raise her in a Christian home and attend church regularly.”  My parents chose instead to keep me as the family heathen.

I was grateful that my parents only ever encouraged me to learn about other religions and attend services with my classmates.  Now with kids of our own, John and I have often talked about how we can give our children access to different faiths so that they can make a choice if they so feel.  There is so much faith can offer humanity.

But could it be okay, beneficial even, to be raised without religion?  This recent article in the LA Times by Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, makes some interesting observations:

My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture — confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts.  Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.


The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging.  Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers.  When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study.  Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

As for my so-far secular children, today had its ups and downs.  They’re both stuffy and congested enough to make sleep mildly miserable, with low-grade fevers that make them more likely to throw a tantrum if given the wrong “special fork” to eat breakfast chickpeas (why not?).  So this afternoon we stayed in and used all the stickers.  (Yes, that is my infant daughter playing with a pipe cleaner…*sigh*)

IMG_7792 IMG_7794

When asked what color Valentine she wanted to make for Daddy, Ari replied with conviction, “Black,” grabbed a piece of construction paper, and started sticking.  We eventually compromised on her second choice of yellow (though I noticed her unstick several hearts disgruntledly).  I hate to curtail Ari’s artistic expression, but the prospect of our two-year-old handing John a black heart felt a little morbid.

Happy Valentine’s from our family to yours 🙂


13 Responses to “secular children”

  1. Mary Ann Panarelli February 14, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    I’m not sure the distinction of secular and religious is as dichotomous as the research you quoted suggests. Having raised secular children in the sense that they did not attend church, they still saw me attending church with episodic regularity, so are they “secular”!?. They did not attend much past age 8 or so because they did not want to, and I was not impressed with the children’s programs and instruction available.

    Now though, I attend a church where children are embraced and actively receive messages of love and support from birth through high school and beyond. Within this church I see the one thing that is often hard for secular children and teens to find elsewhere…a community of caring adults, a safe place to discuss questions and fears with peers, a place where they grow up together, and learn the value of taking care of each other, both within the church and in the larger world and community. Of course, it is also a church which openly and repeatedly values “discernment” meaning that it freely admits no one KNOWS the answers and we are all searching respectfully together and as individuals. Whereas my children resisted the very idea of attending church, my grandchildren ask to stay overnight on Saturdays so they can go to church on Sunday. So I am not sure the question ends at religion or secular thought.

    I think within both you may find benefit…if it is the right church for you (I need one where doubt is valued as much as faith) the right community for you (I need one that is grounded on helping feed the hungry, house the homeless, welcome all) then you may find real benefit for you and your kids. Or, if there is someway to find a community that duplicates on a regular basis what you found in the yayas for you and the petite yayas, then secular could offer freedom of thought and still have benefits of caring community. Searching for both is hard, and so worthwhile.

    • annaojesus February 16, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Hi Mary Ann,

      Thanks for commenting. I’ve been thinking of your words a lot. Good points regarding the evidence…tricky because we really can’t completely evaluate how this generation of children are turning out until they, well, “turn out.” And, I agree, from what I’ve observed, there are many religious institutions that go to great measures to not only welcome but help facilitate the inclusion of children.

      I appreciate what you wrote about discernment because I think the lack there of is what I often fear. I cannot help but put my guard up when I start hearing “this is truth,” which of course does not improve dialogue on my part.

      One of our greatest struggles is trying to find and establish a community that duplicates the yayas on a regular basis. We have found some local individuals, but not a true community of the same strength and openness.

      Thank you again for writing. I’m so happy you’ve found such a trusted community that you share with your grandchildren!


  2. Secular mom February 14, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    Thanks for the link! We’re 100% secular and haven’t ever talked about “God”.

    So far so good (2 & 4). We have plenty of morals and community without religion!

    • annaojesus February 16, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

      Awesome to hear! Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Kerry February 14, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    We are asking ourselves these same questions. My husband and I are looking for a secular organization to join, to get the sense of community that a church/synagogue offers – minus the God equation….something our kids could embrace as well, but it has been hard to find. There are many secular people in our community, so that has helped. Good thing to write about…..thanks!

    • annaojesus February 16, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

      Hi Kerry, I’m so glad we’re not alone in this 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment! I wish you luck on your quest!

  4. Erin Zoller February 15, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    We feel exactly the same way, Anna. In the 6th grade my parents joined the Unitarian Universalist church. This was THE greatest way to combine a secular upbringing, a sense of belonging to a group/community, a place to ask questions, a place to learn about ALL world spiritual traditions, a safe place to change and challenge beliefs and question our understandings.

    I am actively raising humanist children to be doers and helpers and servants of humanity. As it exists here and now. To be moral and empathetic and moved to do good in this life. I cannot say they won’t be called to a different tradition, but I at least hope to give them the foundation to be wonderful people who help make their communities and their world better than when they found it.

    • Erin Zoller February 15, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

      Ah, let me specify… I am actively raising humanist children within Unitarian Universalism.

      • annaojesus February 16, 2015 at 12:48 am #

        I cannot wait to meet your humanist children in March, Erin! Thank you for your note!

        I think it’s actually pretty remarkable that your parents joined the Unitarian Universalist church when you were “older” and it had such positive, integral effects on you and your family. Encouraging also for me, in that I don’t necessarily need to make these decisions completely now…we can all still be growing (which I suppose is a fundamental aspects of some faiths anyway 🙂 )


  5. Jenna A February 15, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

    i’m a fairly secular child with a proclivity for black similar to Ari’s 😉

  6. eli_ede February 19, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    Interesting post…!

    I grew up in a secular household but am now Christians. Personally, the big divide came down to having humility and to whom the humility should be attributed to (reason for having it). I can’t speak much about the institution of church or any other religions, though… 🙂 Still working on my humility part… haha

    • annaojesus February 20, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

      Oh, I like your logic! In terms of humility, I think we all could work on it, right? Thank you for sharing!

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