Observations on the Op-ed "How Secular Family Values Stack Up."

This is not a typical blog for me but a family member sent me a link to a very thought provoking piece regarding secular family values. Professor Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College writes a very good op-ed for the LA Times on “How secular family values stack up.”  He introduces to us his opinions on research into the growing populations of “Nones,” those with no religious affiliation and how they are raising their children.  

Taking his opinion, I am encouraged by the results.  I think most of us would be concerned about how this growing population might impact our culture in a negative sense.  The results point in a totally opposite direction.  Zuckerman notes “None” parents are very attentive to grounding their children with morality and values.  He identifies that among the values taught to these children include, “rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.”  As a trained Boy Scout leader, I applaud the work of these parents and as a parent myself, I know how important these values are and I concur wholeheartedly.

But where exactly does this value system spring from for the parents and children?  Zuckerman continues, “For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule.”  Now pardon me if I stop and scratch my head on this one.  The Golden Rule?  The same words of Jesus recorded in Luke 6:31, you know, “Do to others as you would have them do to you (NRSV)?”  The same golden rule that the good folks at Religioustolerance.org have identified in the teachings of many of the world’s religions outside of Christianity?

I recognize those words may come across as more snarky than I intend but to base one’s morality and ethic on what is an ancient, religious tenet of many faiths and conclude there is no religious influence involved in how these folks raise their families seems a bit disingenuous.  Maybe it is just me but shouldn’t religion get some credit?  And while there is plenty of other debate about whether the Founding Fathers were Christian (a debate I am not going to enter here), one would be hard pressed to say that Christianity has not influenced the culture and morality of much of western civilization and certainly the United States specifically.

Zuckerman is not finished however as he goes on to write, “‘One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics.”  I think it important to note too that atheist don’t make up a large part of the population and that “Nones,” while they may not have a religious affiliation, this does not mean they have no religion or that they are agnostics and atheists, they are what they are: non-affiliated.

Most of us with religious training understand the shortcomings of Constantine’s Christendom as opposed to Jesus Christ’s Kingdom of God.  The effects of Christendom allowed any citizen of the state to declare oneself “Christian” without actually converting.  This idea has been past down through centuries and with “deconstruction” taking place in post-modernity, this construct is also breaking down.  Not all in prison who declare a “faith” are declaring they are converted.

As I said at the beginning, I am encouraged by the results of the studies, to know young people in families with no religious affiliation are being taught key values and morality.  It is only right to recognize they are also being raised in “the village” and not in a vacuum and this village is one which has been formed by religious values.  


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