Religion can have a very positive impact on family values, and it can just ass easily have a negative impact on family values. The basic fact is that every religion has its very good and rounding points and it has its share of flaws, regardless of which religion you encounter. Religion can teach discipline, honor, a sense of pride, a sense of right and wrong, and introduce children to a very strong and honoring commitment like no other.
Extremism has been proven to lead to behaviors of hate and intolerance. Any religion throughout history can be proven to have had extremists which brought about an act of intolerance and hate. This, of course, is not really the point of religion. Religion is supposed to act as a guide for behavior, to extend honor and caring to the fellow human race and to ground us in a sense of chronic and undeniable love. When religion is used as a weapon of hate, there can be no good in that.
When religion teaches families to reach out to suffering and pained individuals, to accept people without judgment, this can be a wonderful thing. However, religious values are only religious values when there is respect. Without respect all we are teaching children is that we do these kind things to please God and to prove to those around us that they are in their bad place because their religion is incorrect.
There are ample instances where help and relief are offered to people in need that is contingent upon a conversion. What message does this send to our children? Help only those that belong or want to belong to the same belief system. Religious outreach that helps just to help is really the meaning of religion. This sends the message to our children that helping someone in need is the right things to do in the eyes of God and the eyes of humanity.
Insensitivity to other’s religions teaches intolerance. Each domination believes that their religious views are accurate. Teaching our children, regardless of religious affiliation, that those who believe differently aren’t right in their beliefs teaches intolerance.
The institute for religious tolerance ran an experiment a few years ago that revealed interesting results. If we place a Jewish child, a Christian child, and a Muslim child in the same room with a Buddhist child and simply observe them, they are likely to ask each other questions about their differences with genuine curiosity and understanding. Their parents were placed in the same room, and within three minutes a religious argument broke out. Ten years later those same children were introduced again to each other and encouraged to ask each other about religious beliefs. The children were now between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Within five minutes they were arguing rather heatedly about their religion. Somewhere in those ten years they learned religious intolerance. This experiment was done with nearly every religious sect, including Wiccans, Hindus, Islamics, and Druids. There were a few others as well, but those listed were the central focus of the study. As children they were all able to hold reasonable and honest and caring discussions with each other concerning religious orientation. As near adults, they had lost all respect for each other’s varying beliefs.
If we were to say that religion is the inspiration behind family values and that religious families have stronger family values than non-religious families, then in effect we are saying that atheists and non-practicing religious families have a lower standard of family values. Atheists and non-practicing families are perfectly capable of teaching their children very strong family values. They are able to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, their obligation to help their fellow human, the way to treat animals and respect for their parents. Their explanations may be different, but the values are still the same.
Religion can teach children wonderful things. And there is no denying that religion can stimulate family values. The way that we view religion and religious tolerance shapes the views our children have and how they will religiously interact with the world. It is a parent’s job to introduce their children to value of diversity and to avoid undermining other religious views in the world while teaching them the splendor of their own religious views.