Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Proved? Children formed by religion are less moral. (UPDATED)

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 12, 2015

In an article in The Guardian on a new study of moral behavior in childhood, it seems as if religious children have been proven to be less moral through a simple redefinition of terms. This, of course, is the same thing that has been going on for a few generations now in society as a whole.

The study found, for example, that religious children (Christian and Muslim) are more “judgmental” and therefore “less altruistic” than kids raised with secular values. Never mind that one religion might encompass a more perfect understanding of the natural law than another. I am not interested in a Christian vs. Muslim debate. What I want to know instead is how an ability and willingness to form judgments makes one less moral.

If making moral judgments, and being willing to shy away from or even punish those who exhibit behavior judged to be immoral, is reported as proof of an underdeveloped or even distorted moral sense, this can only mean that those conducting the study do not understand the nature of morality. They also seem baffled by the fact that religious parents regard their children as more sensitive to the needs of others. But you see it all depends on what we think people really need.

Morality is exhausted neither by the modern doctrine of inclusiveness, nor by associated measurements of empathy, nor by the prejudices of modern secularism. It goes without saying that these prejudices seem uniformly good to those who hold them. But the fact that they are now culturally dominant tells us nothing about morality. To the contrary, while all cultural dominance creates a problem for such studies, our contemporary modern form of behavioral dominance actually creates a disqualifying problem.

When the only moral standard is the rejection of moral standards, any study of morals will be hopelessly mired in a vast logical gap.

The reality is that every culture tends to recognize some aspects of the moral law—that is, the natural law—quite easily while being completely incapable of recognizing others. But authentic or definitive moral judgments must be formed within a deeper and more complete understanding than what this or that culture provides. Worse still, it is particularly fatuous to adopt—as the canons for any reasonably objective moral study—the personal values of the researchers.

Now, where do we find this deeper understanding? Where do we find a vision of morality that can transcend our own chronic limitations? Where is the standard which actually enables us to rise above prejudice and graduate to the exercise of a firm moral judgment?

Hint: Not among those who conduct studies to prove that secularism provides a better foundation for morality than God.


On November 11th, a knowledgeable reader commented:

One need not extrapolate from a study of how children share stickers to determine how religiosity affects actual altruism. The empirical literature is replete with analyses of broad-based data sets that show a positive (or at worst, neutral) correlation between religiosity and real-life charitable giving/volunteering—even when only secular donations and activities are included.

He offered the following references as examples:

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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