Religious Kids are "More Punitive" Than Their Nonreligious Peers, Says Study

Religious Kids are "More Punitive" Than Their Nonreligious Peers, Says Study
Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

As the Bible says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" 

But science is paying no mind, conducting its own judging with a new study that found children who grew up in religious homes are habitually less generous and more judgmental than their secular or atheist counterparts. The study, published Thursday in scientific journal Current Biology, also concluded that religious families typically assumed they would register opposite results.

"Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than nonreligious parents," study authors wrote in the abstract. "However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children's altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children's altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior."

Study researchers measured generosity through a game in which participating children decided how many stickers they were willing to give to classmates. Religious students also tended to view other's actions as nastier than their nonreligious peers did, and suggested they were worthy of greater punishment.

The study looked mostly at members of the Islamic and Christian religions, but also included a small number of Jews, Buddhists and Hindu children as well. It involved nearly 1,200 students from around the world, including the United States, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, South Africa and China.

At least one expert, however, has questioned the study. Ronald Stewart, headmaster of New York City's prestigious York Preparatory, and who teaches an ethics course, said he had his doubts. He cited the broader-mindedness of modern society, at least in urban settings where the vast majority of U.S. citizens reside. 

"There seems little difference between the religious and the nonreligious in acceptance of other students and a generally non-judgmental approach," Stewart told Mic. "I have this feeling that statistics can produce any result you want."

The findings will likely still come as a blow to the scions of the American Christian establishment, which has long preached against secularism and promoted Judeo-Christian morality as the foundation of the country's society. Televangelist and 1988 Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson has suggested that on his television show, The 700 Club, that atheists could be suffering from "demonic" influences and that children should be kept away from them.

As U.S. citizens skew less and less religious, the debate over who owns morality will likely inspire renewed passions in years to come. 

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Jon Levine

Jon Levine is a staff writer at Mic, covering politics and people. He is based in New York and can be reached at JLevine@mic.com.

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