Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series where I break down courses offered at PragerU and expose some of the misdirection they're peddling. Each course is readily available to everyone (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
Debunking Courses Offered At PragerU #4: “Why Even Atheists Should Teach Their Children About God"
You'll remember from a previous article pertaining to religion, I have no problems at all with religious belief systems or spirituality in general. Whether you’re a Christian, Satanist, or Pastafarian, so long as your beliefs don’t hurt anyone and you don't force them down the throats of everyone else through political legislative tactics, then believe in what you want. I’ve always felt a majority of America's belief systems have decent ideological cores—i.e., don’t kill, don’t steal, take care of your neighbor, etc.—but whenever power, money, and personal ideals take over in mass-organization, that’s when the wheels start to fall off.
So, it’s with this attitude that I delve into this course offered by PragerU titled “Why Even Atheists Should Teach Their Children About God.”
To keep things clear, all statements from the video will be in bold, and my responses will be in italics. I'm going to apologize in advance that the first section is a little dry as I can only work with what I'm given. I promise the lies and brainwashing will commence shortly.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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As a therapist (Erica Komisar, LCSW, clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, parent guidance expert who has been in private family practice in New York City for more than 25 years), I’m often asked why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents. One explanation, almost surely the most neglected, is declining interest in God and religion. I see the consequences of this in my practice almost every day. And this is not merely my personal observation. A 2018 Harvard Study involving 5,000 people examined how being raised in a family with religious beliefs affects the mental health of children. The study found that kids who attended a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was also associated with higher rates of volunteerism, lower probabilities of both drug use and early sexual initiation, and has a sense of purpose.
One of the things that is important to keep in mind when reading the results of this Harvard study is the fact that it consisted mainly of white female children of relatively high family socioeconomic status, and therefore might not be generalizable to a broader population.
As someone who has always been middle-class (having topped out at $40,000 in a single year … once), I can tell you that income and socioeconomic status have a massive impact on mental health. When you are confronted with having to choose between getting your medication or paying your power bill, it takes a massive toll on your overall wellbeing.
By removing all ethnicities but one—and using this as your reference—the results are going to be slanted. In the instance of how ethnicity can cause disparities in the results (in both positive and negative positioning), the 2010s saw major epidemiologic studies being done that show how race directly impacts levels of depression. Some of these studies that have been done suggest black people have a higher prevalence of depression, while others have shown that black people have a lower prevalence of depression than their white counterparts.
These differences have led to what has been termed the “Black-White Depression Paradox.” In 2017, David M. Barnes, Ph.D., and Lisa M. Bates released a paper showing that the overall literature review they did yielded 34 articles reporting 54 relevant outcomes. The results showed that black people have a lower prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in eight of the nine comparisons observed. In contrast, black people have higher levels of psychological distress (in terms of “high distress” and mean scores) than whites in 42 of the 45 comparisons observed.
The final summation was grim at best stating that the systematic review of the epidemiologic evidence supports the existence of a “double paradox” by which black people’s lower prevalence of MDD relative to whites’ is inconsistent with both the expectations of social stress theory and with the empirical evidence regarding psychological distress. Efforts to resolve the Black–White depression paradox should account for the discordant distress results, which seem to favor artifactual explanations. If these results in the realm of mental health can cause so much variation to studies in the psychological community, then it’s incredibly difficult to not understand how this would drastically impact the results of the study in this video used as proof by Komisar. Also, given that a 2014 Pew Research piece showed that when breaking down church attendance by ethnicity, that more black citizens attend church once a week (47%) than their white counterparts (34%), also shows that the conflation of religion and depression only further confuses the existing paradox mentioned above.
Yet, despite all the evidence that religious involvement leads to positive behaviors, Gallup reports that the US has seen a 20% decrease in attendance at formal religious services in the past 20 years. In 2018, the American Family Survey revealed that nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion. From a purely psychological point of view, this is not a good trend.
20 years ago from this data would be 1998. When looking at history, this seems to be the time when the internet (and its ability to help knowledge proliferate on a scale that had never been seen before) began to explode in America.
A 2000 Commerce Department report showed that internet access in homes had risen from 18.6% in 1998 to 26.2% in 1999, and 41.5% by August that same year. That report also showed that 51% of all American homes had at least one computer. The proliferation of knowledge and ideas has always been a bane to the existence of organized religion. It’s like when the human species at large discovered that if you are standing outside in the rain during a bad thunder/electric storm, you could be hit by lightning, and it had nothing to do with the wrath or vengeance of God smiting his enemies. At that point, something which was previously thought of as “fact” becomes a parable.
Nihilism—the belief in nothing—is a rich fertilizer for anxiety and depression. In contrast, the belief in God—a guardian figure who loves us—is an invaluable source of support and comfort.
OK, so now we’re leaping from atheism to nihilism? These are two completely different philosophies. Atheism is the rejection of a belief in God or spiritual beings. Nihilism is the belief in nothing … in a pathological way. A true nihilist has no loyalties. A true nihilist condemns existence itself. It’s like trying to compare Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty with magician Penn Jillette.
I am often asked by parents, “how do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Fake it.” There are many things you don’t tell your children the full truth about. For instance, if your children hear about a tragedy that has occurred in your community, you tell them that it will never happen to them. We don’t have a crystal ball and cannot know that bad things will not happen to our children, yet we reassure them with a hopeful narrative. The same applies to believing in God and heaven. Even if you believe that when your life ends, your bones turn to dust and you are gone for eternity, such beliefs don’t help children, they only scare them and create anxiety over death and dying. Belief in a benevolent God and a heaven does help children with their fear.
It’s this exact reason as to why when I was a stepfather, both my ex-wife and I held the belief that we would introduce her child to many different spiritual paths and allow her to explore each as she got older. It’s completely understandable to not want to scare a child into an existential crisis at age 11, and I understand that children need upsetting news to be candy-coated sometimes. This is why I feel it’s more beneficial to raise a child with the concept that there can be a plethora of different afterlives.
To say to a child “if you don’t read this one book and complete the formula of X, Y, and Z, then you won’t attain this heaven that is housing all your loved ones for eternity,” seems a bit more negative. If you tell them about different versions of heaven, the afterlife, The Summerland, etc. then it comforts them in knowing that almost guaranteed they’ll see grandpa again someday, somewhere.
In our age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence, and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope. It is far better for kids to use their imagination constructing something positive—such as a God who cares about us—than the dark, nihilistic idea that there’s no creator and protector, and no purpose to our existence.
I find it bemusing why Komisar would use a school shooting as an example, especially when the specific lie she alluded to earlier was by telling your children that they will never suffer any kind of tragedy in the community. If you have your child utterly convinced that they are somehow protected from the extreme slings and arrows that life can send their way, and then those children are involved in a school shooting, it’s destroying your credibility. Now they know that unspeakable horrors can befall them, and therefore everything else their parents told them is most likely a lie. Also, Komisar again smashes the different philosophies of atheism and nihilism into an indistinguishable mess.
I am also frequently asked how parents can instill gratitude and empathy in their children. Again, the best answer is involvement in organized religion. All traditional faiths encourage gratitude and empathy as antidotes to entitlement and selfishness. These are the building blocks of strong character. They also protect against depression and anxiety. Additionally, religion provides children a chance for community. Being with people who share their faith can act as a buffer against the emptiness and isolation of modern culture. This is more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones. And religion helps teach children mindfulness, a sense of self-control, and discipline. Your young children might not know they are entering a house of worship, but they do know they’re supposed to act in an appropriate manner when they are there. They have to relax their bodies and calm their mind.
For the most part, I do agree with Komisar. Most faiths do have a central core of being a decent human being. Whether it’s the concept of loving thy brother as thyself or something like The Rule of Three, almost every religion out there has something to it regarding empathy and taking care of your fellow man. This central core in the ideology of mindfulness and discipline is also on display in much the same way as empathy is when it comes to these belief systems as well. She’s also correct in the fact that if your child does have gratitude for the world around them and is confident in themselves because of a strong character, they are less likely to suffer from several different mental illnesses, including depression, as being a member of a strong community can fight it.
The only issue I have with this section is the fact that Komisar feels that it must be organized. To me, a sense of spirituality is an incredibly personal thing. Because the level of inner-personal strength that can come from a connection that’s made between a person and their chosen deity can be incredibly powerful, some of the most devout followers of a faith that I’ve ever met have never felt the need to meet with their kind in some public way.
It is true that if you feel ambivalent about God and religion your children will likely follow your example. However, if you practice religion or send your children to religious school knowing it is good for them, you might surprise yourself and get something meaningful out of it too. In other words, your children may bring you back to faith. It’s certainly worth an extended experiment for their sake and for yours.
This is just a missionary-style sales pitch from PragerU.
Consider one more argument: if you take the idea seriously that your children should be free to choose or reject God and religion, they need to be exposed to God and religion. How else will they be able to make a free and informed choice? We live in a competitive, stressful society that idealizes materialism, selfishness, and virtual rather than real human connection. Having a religious community and a belief in God is the best antidote to all that. Whether children choose to continue to pray as adults is something you cannot control. But at least give them a chance to believe in God and find comfort in religion. They deserve it. I’m Erica Komisar – end out.
Had she not made this ending about a Christ-based faith specifically, I agree with her in almost every regard. If you want your child to be introduced to the idea of spirituality, then by all means go for it. Yet again, as long as it isn’t one viewpoint meant for the purpose of indoctrination.
I’ve known some people who were introduced to a belief system as a child and kept it through life because it met their spiritual needs. I’ve also known people who were introduced to a belief system as a child, and by the time they were educated adults, it had become one of the most detrimental aspects of their entire existence.
Everyone’s life experiences paint the tapestry that comprises their morality into adulthood, I can’t imagine giving your child the largest palate available as being harmful.
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