People Raised by Religious Hypocrites More Likely to Become Atheists at Younger Age

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A recent study has found that children of parents who less consistently model the tenets of their faith are more likely to become an atheist at a younger age.

The study, published by the journal Religion Brain & Behavior, featured data from surveys of thousands of atheists who were asked about the age they no longer believed in God or Gods.

The respondents were also asked about the "credibility-enhancing displays" (CRED) of their parents as well as other factors that might have played a role in their decisions to abandon theism.

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According to, the researchers found that when parents engaged in more credibility-enhancing displays of their faith — such as treating other people with kindness in accordance with a faith in Christ or feeding the homeless — their children became atheists at a higher age than parents who did provide provide as many credibility-enhancing displays to their children.

As past research has suggested that exposure to credibility-enhancing displays is an "important variable" for predicting who does and does not become a religious believer, the researchers sought to make more clear if credibility-enhancing displays impact when a person rejects religious beliefs they held during childhood.

The research uses a large sample of formerly believing atheists to draw up two analyses that assess the "ability of CREDs to predict the age at which an individual became an atheist."

In the first analysis with a sample size of 5,153 atheists, the researchers found that credibility-enhancing displays of faith are "positively associated with a delay" in the age of atheism and stated that "family-level religious variables" moderate this relationship. Those family-level variables include religious importance, religious choice and religious conflict.

In its second analysis with a sample size of 3,210, the researchers found that credibility-enhancing displays "remained a stable predictor of Age of Atheism," even while controlling for demographics, parental quality, religious variables, relational variables, and institutional variables.

"Overall, while findings support a robust relation of CREDs to atheistic outcomes even when controlling for many other variables that influence religious transmission processes, they also highlight the importance of considering how such other variables modify the impact of CREDs on (non)religious outcomes," the research states.

The study was led by Joseph Langston, a researcher at the Atheist Research Collaborative and a PhD student at Victoria University in New Zealand. Other authors of the study include David Speed, assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick in Canada; and Thomas J. Coleman III, a researcher at the Brain, Belief, and Behaviour Laboratory at Coventry University in England.

Langston told PsyPost that credibility enhancing displays have shown to be "rather important" when it comes to one's acquisition of aspects of religious culture. However, the concept of credibility-enhancing displays remains "relatively new" and something that needs to continue to be investigated.

"At the beginning of this project, the thought process was that, perhaps a growing number of people are becoming non believers because belief was not modelled to them in any appreciable or robust way during their upbringing," Langston said. "But insofar as social learning processes and family dynamics are crucial for the transmission and acquisition of culture, religious or otherwise, there are other socialization agents that play into how effective such learning and dynamics are at producing religious continuity between parents and their offspring."

Examples of those of other socialization agents at play could be whether or not a person grew up in a two-parent household, whether or not a kid's parents shared the same religion, the strength of relationship between child and parents, whether or not children were allowed to make their own religious choices growing up and whether or not children's views conflict with that of their parents.

Although there are other factors that can play into how and when a child stops believing in God, Langston asserted that "CREDs still had a very robust impact on age of atheism."

"[T]heir [statistical] significance was not eliminated from our analyses even when comparing them to the influence of other agents of religious socialization, such as variables representing the influence of demographics, parental quality, family-religion aspects, 'relational' variables, and religious institutions," Langston was quoted as saying.

The recent research comes after another Religion Brain & Behavior article from last year highlighted data suggesting that religious believers who were exposed to credibility-enhancing displays from their parents were more likely to believe in the existence of God.

"There is one thing that probably could have been made more clear in our paper, and that is why we chose to use 'the age at which a person became an atheist' as our dependent variable," Langston said. "If we were to design a study that was superior to ours, then for that study we would have collected a large sample of non believers and believers. Then we would be able to do direct comparisons between those two groups."

Earlier this year, a Barna study released a survey that found that Generation Z is the least Christian generation in American history, with only four out of 100 American teens having a biblical worldview. Thirty-five percent of Generation Z teens identify as atheist, agnostic or not affiliated with any religion.

In an interview with The Christian Post earlier this year, Jonathan Morrow of the Georgia-based Impact 360 Institute apologetics ministry explained that parents really should be helping kids establish a routine in their lives that centers around obedience to faith and involvement in the church.

"Practices of Christian life are important because we become what we repeatedly do," Morrow explained. "This isn't to earn salvation or to earn God's love but you won't grow if you don't practice your worldview. Many Christians just discard their worldview because they don't practice it. They don't share their faith. They don't read the Scripture. They don't get involved in a small group or they don't do those consistently so their faith kind of wilts and withers over time."

Langston said that he and his colleagues will continue to research the influence of credibility-enhancing displays.

"We have another study, which is currently under peer review, which is based upon this same data set, and there we pursue very similar questions regarding how social and family influences operate for atheists who were once believers," he said. "Our most central finding shows two patterns of influence toward atheism, what we call religious 'over' and 'under' socialization."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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