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Walking the Walk: New Study Reveals People Raised By Religious Hypocrites More Likely to Become Atheists Later

08-28-2018

A new study reveals that people tend to become atheists at a younger age when their religious parents are hypocritical about their faith. 

The results were published in the Religion, Brain & Behavior Journal and explores how "the extent to which behavioral models consistently live out their professed ideals" affects their children. 

"I was interested in this topic mainly because it is an extension of my overall research interest in how and why people become atheists," said study author Joseph Langston, a researcher at the Atheist Research Collaborative and a PhD student at Victoria University in New Zealand. 

"At the beginning of this project, the thought process was that, perhaps a growing number of people are becoming nonbelievers because belief was not modeled to them in any appreciable or robust way during their upbringing," Langston said.

The researchers asked 5,153 atheists how old they were when they renounced their faith and how committed their parents were in their own faith. They discovered that when parents sincerely model their religious beliefs in front of their children, they delay their decision to become atheists. 

"The average person can take away three main things from this study," Langston told PsyPost. "First, the extent to which parents faithfully model their own religious beliefs to their children, works in tandem with other processes to produce unique trajectories of the timing at which one becomes an atheist: being allowed greater religious choice seems to drive the age of atheism down, but so do elevated levels of religious conflict."

Second, people should remember that the extent to which parents exhibit sincere religious behavior doesn't account for all the reasons why someone chooses not to believe in God, Langston said. 

Lastly, religious behavior has a substantial impact on a child, even when taking into account other factors like demographics, parental quality, and religious institutions.

This latest study lines up with previous research, which found that religious individuals whose parents demonstrated sincere faith values were more likely to say they believe in the existence of God with high certainty. 

Langston and his colleagues say this topic needs more research and will continue to study how a religious upbringing affects how adults view faith later in life. 
 

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