A humble theory about religion and morality and what it takes to be a good person

An excellent article, heavily research-based, that shows that children brought up with no religion are better people than those brought up in religious families.

Nota bene: Buddhists, as usual, are not considered here.

Bringing up children in a secular upbringing makes them, to quote:

less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant … more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women’s equality and gay rights… [they are ] almost absent from our prison population … engage in far fewer crimes.

One cannot help but wonder, are children brought up religious despite this—or because of it? Does a religious upbringing simply fail in its goal of producing compassionate, loving, wise human beings? It does seem rather odd that, after 2,000 years, Christianity is so bad at one of its core roles. Or is this not its real goal at all? It is, in fact, quite successful at achieving its real aim: to create ignorant, cruel, bigoted, violent, and authoritarian adults?

And what does this say to those who wish to bring up their children as Buddhists?


I have to disagree even though I see his point of view. It seems the author believes that animals in the jungle are behaving in perfect harmony. Only the animal living in jungle know that it is matter of the survival of the fittest. Many of the human rights are now protected by the law. Hence the importance of the conventional religion seems obsolete. What we forgot is religions are evolve with human as a dependently originated phenomena. The religion played a major roll in it.

However in modern society the religion seems obsolete. Not only it is obsolete it has become a major threat to the functioning of the society. (with having a law)
We should examine the nature of Upadana to understand why secular upbringing is better than the religious upbringing.

Types of clinging[edit]
In the Sutta Pitaka,[6] the Buddha states that there are four types of clinging:

sense-pleasure clinging (kamupadana)
wrong-view clinging (ditthupadana)
rites-and-rituals clinging (silabbatupadana)
self-doctrine clinging (attavadupadana).

Upādāna - Wikipedia

Out of Upadana the worst culprit is the Attavdupadana. which we all are subjected to irrespective of secular or religious .
Then come the ditthupadana and the silabbatupadana for which all religions are subjected to (this include many Buddhist too) However secular people are free from this sickness.
Kamaupadana is a incurable decease in secular people and suppressed in religious people.
So when the push come to shove (critical situations) the worst behavior come from the the religious people. Secular people become more sober as they come to the realisation the draw back of sensual clinging.
What I am saying is Ditthupadana and Silabbatupadana are worse than the Kamaupadana.
Having said that there is nothing praise worthy about Kamaupadana.

Nothing. I doubt the article has any real scientific rigor. Since some of us grew up ‘secular’ and then became more empathetic with religion shows, at least for us, the amoral values of secular society were not satisfactory for us.

The EBTs provide lots of guidance for bringing up children, as do the early Christian texts (ECTs). The failure of Christians to precisely follow their scriptures does not make the ECTs of Christianity flawed.

If a Buddhist parent completely ignores bringing up their children in accordance with the five precepts as a foundation, what is the point of being a Buddhist?

The EBTs seem clear that sila (precepts) is the foundation of the way of life (eg. MN 6) and then higher practises such as ‘metta’ or ‘tolerance’ are added onto that foundation.

‘Tolerance’ is particularly a transcendent (lokuttara) practise thus probably must be used with caution by those concerned with the future of human society (rather than as tolerance is used by those who, like in the Lokavagga, seek transcendent or non-attachment from human society).


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I’ll venture a response from my “secular” up-bringing…

Not having a god “at home” means that you take authority directly where it is seen: your parents, school and police / state / government.

Also your world very much revolves around yourself, and the people that fill-it: you get to understand better that your well being (confort?) depends on the well-being of others around you, and that based on your actions this well being may increase or reduce (i.e. you suffer based on your own actions).

Now there are many different things in the make-up of my 42 years of moment-to-moment experiences that add-up to this (like being the 5th and last children in the family, coming form a modest background in France, loving parents that always respected what we wanted and never imposed their dream or wishes on-us etc)


the secular background helped me taking responsibility for myself and others, and allowed me to keep an open mind about other people or at least to not be judgmental (or not extreme when passing judgement).

Now I am not sure that if you’d ask the question any of my two brothers and two sisters you would get the same point-of-view, so may be such generalization have to be taken with caution…


Interesting that this research culminated a 40 year longitudinal study, eventually incorporating secular parenting in 2013…!

When it comes to raising children in religion, I don’t think the problem is textual interpretation when it goes ‘wrong’. I think the danger comes with creating easily recognizable ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups from an early age. Some people have the same beliefs as you, so they’re ok, while it’s easy to lump those who don’t share your values as ‘the other’, and generate baseless fear around them. When you’re teaching a child religion, you make things black and white, and many never leave that point of view. We get caught in our own ‘in’ groups - our church, our temple, our forum, our beliefs, our texts… and become increasing blind to the real needs of other people and the world.

Anyway with no extensive research of my own to draw on, I can only speak personally. Growing up as part of a distant branch of the Sydney Anglican oligarchy, I often reflected on how strange it was to grow up ‘religious’. You are taught and ascribe to these high and lofty spiritual and moral values on Sunday but then deal with the reality of being in a family of normal humans with all their problems the rest of the week. I didn’t always feel like being truly moral was one of the main goals or messages, but more to believe the right thing, and get other people to believe. After all, you are ‘justified by faith’.

I don’t think Christianity intends to create ‘ignorant, cruel, bigoted, violent, and authoritarian’ people. Don’t get me started on my issues with it’s current teaching and interpretations (I don’t know where to start, and I won’t know where to end :smiling_imp:). But my friends and family, knowing me, knowing who I am and what I am, being some of my closest companions, and I believe, loving me, will think one of their most important priorities is informing me I’m going to hell because I don’t believe what they do - and I think that’s a problem. And Buddhists are not immune to this kind of self-righteous thinking!


Hello bhante,

This is very possible but it can never be stated as a real aim…

Shall we say that with a hierarchical power structure as happened in many religion you then have very different goals from the religion itself and the people that run it?

In short, people suddenly find themselves in power struggles or with piles of money to build palaces and they veer of the course they set themselves upon - so they become corrupted (generally gradually as they escalate the religious ladder)?

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You are very lucky if you have good parent, school, police ,state and government.
Now we know all off them are very corrupted and taking our liberty away, keeping us in the dark and feeding us ignorance.
One day we have to fall back to our old religion whether we like it or not.
Problem of us is we running around the circle without looking out side the box.
There is no any freedom in any Upadana.

See the following video just for an example. May be all the content in that video is not true but give you some food for thought,


Hello again,

That’s an interesting question.

First of all, I guess “wish” is not necessarily part of the process. Having two daughters (4 and 9) I am not trying to bring them up as Buddhist or to share anything Buddhist with them.

I’m rather trying to keep my 5 precepts (I’ve not formally taken them yet, but I’m practicing).

Now, I’m not lying to them but sometimes it’s useful to bend the truth when you have the kids in the car shouting and you want them to calm down and you don’t have the opportunity to take one aside and explain something to her…

But I have come to Buddhism with the aim to “be the changes I want to see in the world”, after realizing that I was not sharing (or even living) the values dear to me (kindness, caring for others and generally not being selfish).

Then I started giving to anyone who ask me for money on the street, or when I see people in need (something I had never done before).

And I guess that’s really it: I don’t want to force anything on to her / them (well, the 4 year old is not yet concerned by ethic at a conscious level) but I want them to see the values I hold dear in action.

And that’s true for speaking at home, helping each other and generally showing loving kindness to all living beings.

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Hello SarathW1,

Nobody is forcing anyone to eat-up ignorance.

However we cultivate a taste for it… Yet it doesn’t have to come from government or religion, it also comes from the commercial world - ads, TV, etc.

Anyhow, my earlier point was that all the authority people pointed to was real and tangible to me. So I could very easily take in the teaching about police and prison and apply that to my life there and then.

Whilst being a good person because god will reward you or you’ll go to hell when nobody can point to either is a different story.

Find out who is behind them. I am not saying they all are bad. What I am saying is do not take refuge of them.
Only refuge you have is Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

Or what :D.

Greed, hatred and delusion is the most likely culprit (deep down).

But I can’t change the world. Hey, I can’t even change my wife!.

All I can do as stated earlier is to be what I want to see in the world.

So I try to stick to that, and if I can help others along the way great, but I’m not going to (try to) change them against their will (I am generally against fighting lost battles - which is why I last shaved a number of years ago ;-)).


I respect your decision however your latter statements does not tally with this.
If you really think Buddhism is good why do not share it with your children.
You said that you have great respect for your parents as they taught you the right values.

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I am not trying doesn’t mean I am not sharing with them :D.

Sorry for the confusion.

I’m not trying to share Buddhism with them but the 4 years old knows Namo tassa because she hears it when I listen to dhamma talk etc. The 9 years old knows even more because I answer her questions about life and evrything (and she’s in a catholic school).

So they get some of it (or a lot, not sure), but it’s not an active part of the education I give them. That’s a by-product of living together.

In my experience, a Christian upbringing often went along with an authoritarian/strict father family dynamic where kids were taught that doing what they were told would result in success and happiness. Therefore it was your own fault if you were unhappy, and people who had problems or were not successful had brought it on themselves by disobedience. The scriptures said you should pity these people, but you got the message that they were not really worthy of compassion.

Some studies suggest that there may even be a biological/neurological correlation between people with conservative views and those with more liberal views.

Students who reported more “conservative” political views tended to have larger amygdalae, a structure in the temporal lobes that performs a primary role in the processing and memory of emotions. In addition, they found clusters in which gray matter volume was significantly associated with conservativism in the left insula and the right entorhinal cortex. There is evidence that conservatives are more sensitive to disgust and the insula is involved in the feeling of disgust On the other hand, more ‘liberal’ students tended to have a larger volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a structure of the brain associated with monitoring uncertainty and handling conflicting information. See also https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201104/conservatives-big-fear-brain-study-finds

Was the brain’s development affected by upbringing, or is the neurology an inherited trait? A traditional Christian upbringing, with some its its focus being a “black and white” view of the world, a world where fear and punishment are foundational, and a perception that there are those that follow Christ, and there are those who are not going to be ‘saved’, as Cara pointed out, the “others.” Some studies seem to indicate a correlation between fear as a central emotion, and conservativism. Then, there’s just the idea that there is a spirit god that mediates what happens to oneself, and one’s world, which is in itself delusional, and can be a basis for fear and anxiety. Add this to what may be biological /neurological contributors, and you may have a deluded, angry, self-centered person.

So, its seems there good reason to believe that strict religious homes, can, in some cases, create personalities akin to some personality disorders, with splitting and black and white thinking, and an inability to process people and information in a clear and balanced way.

To the extent that a Buddhist upbringing mirrors any of the above traits ( ie "that person is sick because of his bad kamma; “slum dwellers’ bad kamma placed them there”) the same result might occur. But, on the whole, an informed Dhammic upbringing would seem to be the antidote for the splitting and deluded thinking that might occur in traditional religious families. Even taking biology into account, a Dhammic upbringing would seem to me beneficial in almost a clinical way in developing children and young adults that have empathy, compassion, and an ability to see the world in a realistic framework

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~50+% of “Christians” (I daresay I would expand this to include “‘religious’ people in general”, but that is stepping outside of my own experience so I won’t) these days, in the West, actually grow up completely secular. My family I grew up with is allegedly Presbyterian. Do we ever go to Church? Is “God” ever even mentioned in our household? No. And this is an allegedly “Christian” family.

Western hegemonic Christendom is gone in both traditionally Catholic and traditionally Protestant societies in Europe and the New World. I question if the authors of this article understand that fact, understand its extreme relevance to the social studies they are participating in, or even understand what Christendom was at its zenith, and why being raised “Christian” today is not the same thing as being raised “Christian” even 40 years ago. Indeed the very nature of what people consider “Christian” has changed so much in the last 100 years that I most people now operate with completely anachronistic ideas about Christianity and what it is to be a Christian.

The doctrinal framework of much of mainstream Western Christianity (or as I call it: “media Christianity”) has been replaced with various secular socio-political values originating in politics: leftist, right, liberal, conservative, etc. The so-called “Religious Right” in America is a testament to this phenomena. Couple this with the disruption and uprooting of traditional social structures associated with High Christendom and we have a post-Christian society where post-Christianity, mistaken for Christianity in-line with what has traditionally been practiced, is the norm, not Christianity.

What passes for Christianity today, in the West, in my experience, is largely contemporary political rhetoric utterly unrelated to former Christian discourses. This is what happens when a religion is in decline in a society. Perhaps Christianity will have a renaissance. Perhaps it wont. Buddhism has been in severe decline enough times, and yet it is still here.

Without tests, verifications, to see what extent any actual religious tradition, Christianity or not, was actually practiced in any of these households, I don’t see how this study can claim the results it allegedly claims.

Similarly, how does one get to define what is “actually religious”? That is a very important point for studies like this. Saying grace before meals? Does that make one a Christian? What is actually being said at a given grace? Is it a Christian grace or does the father say something incoherent about Jesus being a Republican*? Is saying you are religious the same thing as being religious? Is thinking you practice Buddhism the same thing as practicing Buddhism? Food for thought.

*this actually happens!

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Here’s what the Buddha said about bringing up children:

(i) they restrain them from evil,
(ii) they encourage them to do good,
(iii) they train them for a profession,
(iv) they arrange a suitable marriage,
(v) at the proper time they hand over their inheritance to them. DN 31

I thought it was interesting that morality was 1) AND 2). I think if there isn’t any particular instruction (or perhaps even if there is) children tend to follow the morality of their parents, friends and society the older they get.

With metta


probably a good illustration of that mindset (an episode of the ‘World’s strictest parents’ show)

[quote=“LXNDR, post:18, topic:4555”]
probably a good illustration of that mindset (an episode of the ‘World’s strictest parents’ show)
[/quote]It is also a brilliant example of newer “folk religion” vs the historical precedents for a religion, which, in turn, is perhaps relevant to those interested in EBTs.

The woman’s opening speech about Satan is the most telling, as Satan, or more accurately, “the Satan”, is not an exceptionally important or frequently spoken-about figure in earlier Christianity. In addition, the “Devil” is a blatantly Northern European addition to Christian cosmology. Yet these very figures, hypostatized as real supernatural forces in the minds of these Christians, seem to utterly govern the religiosity of the first couple in the video. This late addition to the faith in question, this medieval accrual of this devil figure, who pre-dates Christianity in his mythic origins, who is thus questionably linked to earlier Christianities, utterly dominates their life and how they see their religion.

I think ‘secular’ as ‘not belonging to an ideology’ is a slghtly misleading term. There is a certain secular ideology in the West, and it has pretty clear-cut values: anti-nationalism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-global warming attitude, antio-homophobia, anti-sexism, etc. I personally know quite a few secular Nazis and Communists who would reject at least several points in this agenda, and I would argue they still should be classified as ‘secular’. However, we are pretty uncomfortable with this idea, because, frankly, the mainstream secular Western ideology is a thing, and they don’t belong to it. Moreover, this mainstream secular ideology serves as the basis for the Western society, so its value propositions are widely recognized as default values of the Western nations and this is how the conventional ethics of the West are negotiated and established.

(Almost) every religion also has its social dimension that we could denote as ‘ideology’. It is no wonder that these ideologies may contain value propositions contradicting the mainstream secular ideology and thus the mainstream Western values and ethics. So, I wouldn’t be very harsh on the Christians, we perceive some of them as ignorant, cruel, bigoted , violent, and authoritarian mostly because we are Buddhists and, more importantly, some of us are accustomed to the mainstream secular ideology and ethics. If we were not Buddhists, or if we were, say, hardcore Communists or fundamentalist Christians or Muslims, we would be more okay with many Christian values and would perceive many mainstream secular people as ignorant, cruel, bigoted and whatnot. Ah, ‘thicket of views’, ain’t it?

Looking at the article from this viewpoint makes its major claim tautological and a bit ridiculous. It actually amounts to saying ‘Look, children raised up in secular families are more secular’. If we were living in a Muslim country and consider the Islam-based ethics as the basis for a healthy society, we would be writing articles like ‘Surprisingly, Muslim-raised Children Are More Muslim.’ Of course, if one would want to, one could do it, but I somehow think that it doesn’t make any sense :slight_smile:

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