Q. My husband and I are appalled by the materialism and greed in our culture. We’ve lost close relatives recently and this has made us wonder about the purpose of life. Both of us are searching spiritually. We’re attending a church and taking our children with us. Will this help our children grow up to be less self centered and less materialistic? Does faith affect morality?
A. You are not alone in your concerns about our culture or in your search for spiritual meaning. Research evidence shows that religious faith helps children. Stanford psychologist William Damon says children are “openly receptive to spiritual ideas” and long for a faith that will provide them with a mission in life. Children thrive with a faith which teaches concerns larger than self. Such a faith enables children to weather difficult and even traumatic life events.
Faith can help keep children and teens out of trouble. Researchers have studied not just what causes crime but what predicts virtue. A “spiritual sense” is one of the factors predicting moral behavior in children. The National Commission on Children agrees with these findings. They state “through participation in a religious community - in communal worship, religious education, and social action programs - children learn to assimilate the values of their faith. For many children, religion is a major force in their moral development; for some it is the chief determinant of moral behavior.”
How much does faith determine morality? Obviously there are many good people with no faith and many people of faith who are immoral but over all people of faith are more honest and law abiding. They also are more compassionate.
Researchers have found a clear connection between faith and generosity. A Gallup Survey showed that Americans who never attended church gave away 1.1 percent of their incomes while weekly church goers were two and a half times as generous. Twenty-four percent of the population gave 48 percent of all charitable contributions. Those who were spiritually committed also volunteered their time to help the poor, sick or elderly more often than those who declared no faith.
Active involvement in your faith supports the values we all would like to see grow in our culture such as:
· Nurture of families and family life.
· Close relationships across generation lines; a community of people who celebrate the significant moments of life with you and miss you when you’re gone.
· Children learning empathy, self discipline, honesty, generosity, caring for others.
· Children and adults living the virtues of kindness, faithfulness and love.
· A spiritual understanding that God cares for us and is with us.
You’re on the right track in becoming active in a church. According to the researchers you and your family will be happier and healthier than your unchurched neighbors. More importantly, you will find peace of mind and meaning and purpose to life as you continue to seek God.
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46