How Secular Family Values Stack Up: A Response

By Natasha Crain

Last week, there was a fascinating opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times titled, How Secular Family Values Stack Up. The author, Phil Zuckerman, is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College.

When I say “fascinating,” I mean that as in, “there are so many misconceptions about religion and morality in one article that it makes for a fascinating case study–a case study that Christian parents really need to read.”

I rarely pick apart a single article on this blog because I like to focus on bigger picture topics. But this particular piece is worth looking at in detail because it hits on so many subjects that are misunderstood by non-believers, and often times by Christians as well. If you have older kids who can read and understand the original article, it would make a great piece for them to evaluate from a Christian perspective (and you can use this post as a discussion guide).

Quotes from the article are in bold, and my response follows.


Zuckerman starts by providing data on the increasing number of American adults and young people who claim to have no religion (a sad but true fact). After establishing that there will likely be more and more secular people in this country, he poses the central question his article seeks to answer:

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So how does the raising of upstanding, moral children work without prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Quite well, it seems. Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

As a Christian, I find this to be a most bizarre characterization of the purpose of religion and the nature of the spiritual life.

Why does Zuckerman think religions assert that secularists are dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless? From the Christian perspective, a person without Jesus is spiritually dysfunctional (not in right relationship with God), but not necessarily behaviorally dysfunctional, which is the subject of this article.

Here’s what so many secularists (and often Christians) don’t get. God gave everyone a moral compass (Romans 1:18-23). From a Christian perspective, anyone can exhibit good behavior in relation to that objective standard. That means a person does NOT have to believe in God in order to acknowledge and act according to those moral standards. The moral compass is within people whether they choose to believe in the Source of that compass or not. This misunderstanding underlies the entire article.


How Secular Family Values Stack Up: A Response