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Why I’ve Raised My Kids Without Religion

Photograph by Twenty20

You may have seen the recent news about a study published that found children raised in religious homes are less altruistic and more prone to punitive behavior. What does this mean, exactly?

In the simplest of terms, it means children who are taught to practice and follow religion are less giving to others and more likely to punish people they believe are "bad."

While I know that's a giant umbrella to shove every religious family under, it speaks to a growing trend of hatred and intolerance that by and large comes from some of the most faithful believers.

As a child growing up in a gay home, I experienced some of that vitriol first hand. It wasn't the Atheists who picketed and protested on street corners, calling homosexuals dirty, and sinful, claiming they were "the reason God invented AIDS." Rather, it was those who went to church every week, confessed their sins, professed their love for a savior, and claimed to model family values.

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My early experiences left me uncomfortable with religion. I spent a few years exploring my options as a young adult, but by the time I was in my late twenties, I knew religion was not a part of my family package. My husband and I decided to raise our children without a church, and we've never looked back or felt remorse for our decision.

Believers have said to me that they worry about my sons' souls, their eternal salvation, and have complained that I am damning them, and myself, to a hereafter of fire and brimstone. I guess I'll take my chances.

Without religion, I've (somehow) managed to raise my sons, who are now nearly 18 and freshly turned 16, to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, helpful, and curious individuals. I'm not just waxing rhapsodic, either; my sons are really wonderful people.

What many fail to realize is that it is possible to be kind and loving, to choose the universal right, to work toward self-improvement and cultivate a generous spirit without religious dogma or doctrine to guide us.

We don't practice religion because we don't need an outline for how to be good people. We've found that we can do it, and do it well, all on our own.

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We've lost many friends because they feel threatened or disgusted by our lack of religious devotion. They've told us we are immoral, or evil, all because we don't follow their faith. It strikes me as strange, especially because they sound a lot like those extremists on the news, keeping our country at war because we don't believe what they believe. I guess it's all about perspective.

It makes me sad that there are still so many who claim to be "saved" and yet, in the same breath, teach hatred of those who don't practice or hold the same values as they do. Intolerance is an ugly, ugly thing to witness.

And now we can see, through the lens of science, that it has long-term implications for children who are raised with religion. They have the capacity to be less tolerant of others, less willing to give, and more likely to demand retribution for things they define as "wrong."

That doesn't sound like any kind of celestial existence to me.

The thing is, I don't hate religious people. I don't even hate religion. I just don't believe it's right for me and my family. Now that research correlates unkindness and a lack of empathy with those who are raised in religious homes, I can't help but feel a tiny bit vindicated.

Maybe, just maybe, there's more than one way to reach the top of this mountain we call life. Maybe we can be good people regardless of what faith we follow (or don't). There's so much possibility, but it all starts with acceptance. There are so many paths to travel — we don't all have to walk in the same unyielding line.

I know there are many good, faithful, religious people out there (many of my friends fit this category) and it may feel unfair to generalize everyone based on a study. I'm not doing that here, but I am saying this: stop telling me your way, the religious way, is the right way for my family. There's evidence to the contrary. Instead, let's start loving each other more than we are judging one another. When we start from this basic principle of goodness, it's hard to go wrong.

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