I wonder if giving kids a “moral foundation” based on religious conviction is a good idea >

I have observed something over the past couple years that is very thought provoking for me. People I know who leave the religion of their childhood appear to have a strong likelihood of losing their moral bearings. So many I know have become moral drifters, making up their values as they go along and often getting swept up in a sort of adolescent ethical confusion. Men and women who begin to act like 18 year olds during rush week.

This makes me wonder if it's a good idea to teach children morals and ethics from a religious perspective even if the parents are strongly religious (I believe very strongly that children need to be taught values, morals and ethics generally speaking). Should we be telling our children to behave a certain way "because it says so in the Bible" or "because it makes God happy" or "because you'll be rewarded in heaven"? If a list of Bible references is the only thing a child gets when he asks why he shouldn't take that thing that doesn't belong to him, what happens when/if he questions if the Bible holds any authority in his life? Or if the threat of eternal punishment no longer holds any weight because she doesn't believe in hell anymore, where does the motivation to do right ultimately come from?

I'm less concerned about this when it comes to adolescents because whether religious or not, every child must work through these things for him/herself. I'm thinking about it more when it comes to adults who leave their religion to some degree or another as adults.

This interests me as someone who doesn't really "buy into" the type of religious moral teaching that I received as a child and am now trying to reformulate my moral and ethical compass and it especially interests me as a mother. These aren't loaded ponderings either, I'm genuinely wondering because I really don't know.


9 thoughts on “I wonder if giving kids a “moral foundation” based on religious conviction is a good idea >

  1. I can’t wait to hear the responses to this. Such a burning question you bring up. I wonder if we were to go back to the argument of human decency, kindness and goodness. I saw a bumper sticker today that said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” I found it really thought-provoking, and while those are certainly biblical principles, I’m quite certain that going “through the back door” as it were, that is, giving our children space to think critically on their own, is much more meaningful and lasting of a technique than the fear-based indoctrination of our past. Much more could be said on this. I have to make salsa and ceviche, and such is my spiritual calling at this very moment, but I will check back OFTEN to see what responses you get to this. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  2. our conversation at cafe vino sparked this as well as a recent IM conversation between me and David sparked by the artofmanliness.com site. 🙂

  3. You’re probably fine so long as they vote Republican… ;)I wonder if it would help to speak more of moral action than moral values or convictions. It has always been the moral actions of my family that stick with me and impact my own choices. I feel like I had something deep to say, but I think I’m out of brain power for now, so I’ll leave it at that.

  4. Makeesha, I’ve been asking these questions too, for the very same reasons you are. I often ask my dh who grew up with no religion and has no religious convictions to this day, “why are you such a good man? What motivates you to be good?” Watching with interest for future comments.

  5. Though most religions teach solid moral and ethical beliefs, those beliefs hold true even between the most opposing religions. Christians, Taoists, Buddhists, Jewish, Pagan, (insert another of the long list of religious bases here), pretty much all teach the same morals, just to satisfy different higher powers. No need to add in something that could cause the confusion later in life if the religious beliefs sway or change. Good is good, and bad is bad. Keep it simple. It’s not good solely because God says it is. It’s good because it’s the right thing. It isn’t bad because it goes against what Buddha teaches. It’s bad because it is harmful to you or others, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally.That’s how I teach my daughter (well, more or less. She’s only two so getting into the semantics with her is rather pointless right now). The concepts of religion are going to be hard enough on her with myself and her mother having different beliefs. No need for me to make that impact something else in her life.But, that’s just my two cents. =)

  6. I have raised two daughters who are now in their twenties. The morality I apparently taught them had little to do with the Bible or what I said and a lot to do with what I did. When I caught my youngest shoplifting, we went back into the store and I encouraged (OK, made) her confess what she did and return the item. I also had the customer service person tell her what can happen with people who are caught stealing. Evidently that lesson “took”. A couple weeks ago she caught her 5-tear-old with a candy bar in his pocket snatched from the check-out aisle. She did with her son exactly what I did with her a couple decades earlier. That made me smile. We parents can exert powerful counter-cultural positive influences on our children in the areas of body-image, sexuality, generosity, justice, and finances through our actions and reactions. It never ceases to amaze me what my daughters remember and have carried forward into their lives — and what they have completely forgotten. I could go on and on and on with this but will spare you all … unless asked.

  7. What helped me transition from a strict moral base to primarily an ethical one is that the original structure God established in the Garden was primarily concerned with consequence to the self. “Eat and you will die.” If we add grace to that mix, it means that I can’t fundamentally change who I am (still good) but I can destroy myself. This shifted everything for me and to how I taught my kids. We talk a lot about how things like lying and stealing affect them personally. Forgiveness is an act of restoring not just the relationship with the other but with the self. When we lie, we are the one’s holding the lie. We have to live with it as much as anyone else. Surprisingly they got it.

  8. This is an extremely good question. Although, for the most part, I stayed with the religion of my parents, I found the sense of “the Bible tells you so” mentality incomplete for my own “moral compass.” I would highly recommend “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Stanley Hauerwas as a good start for truly understanding the Christian Ethic. In the book he argues that most moral understandings within Christianity are too abstracted from the actual world. For instance, we do not believe abortion is wrong because the “bible tells us so,” but because that is what we as a community have come to understand as what we believe God would have of us. Hauerwas makes the argument that these choices will be different for different religious communities, but I do take issue to “must work through these things for himself/herself.” No child works through these things alone, and to say that a child makes his “own” decision is, in my opinion, one of the worst lies that the west has bestowed upon it’s people. We are always influenced by our predecessors to a larger extent than we would sometimes like to think.

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