Does a family need a collective spiritual life?

It is Easter Sunday as I write this, and during today’s packed and joyful service, I found myself wishing that it wasn’t so easy to let regular life get in the way of the New Life that many are so conscious of – and conscientious about – during holidays.

Most people believe in God. Addiction recovery programs such as AA have found that they don’t work without relying on Someone greater than yourself. Numerous studies have found that every member of a family is more healthy, has more friendships, and a more positive outlook on life with more regular spiritual practice. And in a family, a collective spiritual life is very influential. For example, a study by Dr. Sung Joon Jang found that children whose parents were more religious in practice were less likely to use drugs later on.

If belief was just a collective delusion, studies would have found no difference from those whose parents said “just say no” a lot. But it makes perfect sense if there really is a God who loves us enough to show us the path of life – and will help us stay on it, if we’ll listen.

Today, a growing minority – about one-third of adults according to the Barna Group –have begun to detach their beliefs from a regular spiritual practice. And some parents now assert that you can teach moral principles without religious belief. But where do moral principles come from if not from absolute truth? And where does absolute truth come from if not from the creator of that truth?

Rebecca Hagelin’s new book, “30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family,” demonstrates how simple establishing a collective spiritual foundation can be – and how important. As she says, “When everything is negotiable, then nothing is dependable.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus told a parable very relevant today: that someone who hears his words and “does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” and cannot withstand the storms of life. But, Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” – when the storms come, the house stands firm.

Does a family need a collective spiritual life?

I still remember an Atlanta friend’s surprise when I told her about some volunteer work I did as a child. She admitted that she didn’t think less religious families like mine did that sort of thing. So then it was my turn to be surprised; I was raised in a neighborhood where religion was both diverse and took a backseat to other, shared values, with no apparent harm. Crime was low, kids were well-behaved, and neighbors valued one another and the world we lived in.

I don’t disagree with Shaunti that a collective spiritual life can strengthen a family, and it’s true that most people believe in God — who said anything about “a collective delusion?” Still, I’m astonished at her inference that the positive effects of spirituality on families proves the existence of a loving God. That really flunks the logic test, and points to a complete refusal to believe that anything other than a life based on the Bible will enable a family to flourish. Living morally with or without religious structure — that’s what creates those positive effects, and that’s what a family needs. There are those like mine that focused on morality through other means, with terrific results. I have a brother who took in a teenage neighbor and put him through college. I have a sister who is known in her small town for extensive work with underprivileged young women.

Then there’s my friend Mike, a caring physician, loving husband, great father and fourth-generation non-believer. He’s close to his extremely devout in-laws, who marvel at his strong, moral fiber. One night at dinner they finally worked up the nerve to ask him: “How do you know the right thing to do?” Mike smiled politely and responded, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

These conversations are hard to have, but deeply rewarding. During a visit back home recently, I worked up the nerve to ask my most religious childhood friend if she wishes I accepted Christ as my savior. “Well, that would be great,” Zoe gently allowed, “but I don’t need you to believe what I believe.” Moral houses built on ground rich from many beliefs, weathering storms together — that’s always been the right neighborhood for me.

351 comments Add your comment


April 24th, 2009
8:19 am

Archie, here’s my twitch on the COBOL example. While many people do understand that computers require programs, they have no idea what is involved in creating a program. I have never had a non-computer person try to tell me how to write or design a program in ::mumbling:: 32 years. Over the years, I have also learned to not make business decisions for people who will be using my programs. In the education world, I was a student in the public system K-12, like many people. Like you, I think it worked pretty good when I was in school. I feel “qualified” to point to changes in the system since then that appear to not work. My take on it is usually, “can’t you just go back to teaching the way you did when education seemed to work?” Clearly, I am not qualified to see the many ways society has changed effecting schools and study today. Let me try to be clearer. Programming example-most people have never written a small clea5r set of instructions in English, much less a computer language. Education system example-most people have attended a school system.

I don’t know if it was politicians that gummed up the works. My feeling is that it started falling apart when someone started changing how basics were taught. Remember New Math? A generation of students who could not do simple multiplication tables in their heads. What the heck happened to English skills? I was taught phonetics and memorization from the first grade. Now people cannot spell or write complete sentences. Basically, I think the problem began with trying to treat all students “the same”. Now, although it is not a recent phenomenum, instead of no child left behind, we have MOST children left behind. There are not enough private schools to fix it. We must fix public schools and it will take a complete overhaul.