There’s been a lot of alarmist stuff written recently about the potential detrimental effects of religious teaching on young people. But the research suggests religious faith can lead to greater levels of wellbeing, writes Michael Jensen.
If you want to get a snapshot of contemporary parental anxieties, then you need only look at a few school websites.
Years ago, schools pitched themselves to mum and dad as places where John and Joanne would fulfil their potential, and become successful. Achievement was the emphasis.
But we live in more disturbed and anxious times. The mention of achievement is always there, of course, but a new theme has emerged. We now want our kids to be resilient and happy. We want them to experience wellbeing. We want John and Joanne not simply to know how to succeed, but how to fail and come back.
A few years ago, my own kids came home talking about some characters they’d been introduced to: Connie Confidence, Gabby Get Along, Pete Persistence, Oscar Organisation, and Ricky Resilience. I was intrigued. We had nothing like that in the 1970s! It is all part of teaching children to manage their emotions and thought patterns well.
This training in resilience and wellbeing is all soundly research-based. But what is fascinating is how prominent in all the studies religious faith and spirituality are as a key indicator of wellbeing and overall happiness.
In April 2015, the NSW Department of Education and Communities released its “Wellbeing Framework for Schools“. The document encourages schools to consider the wellbeing of their students holistically, including fostering what it calls “spiritual wellbeing”. It says:
Spiritual wellbeing relates to our sense of meaning and purpose. It can include our connection to culture, religion or community and includes the beliefs, values and ethics we hold.
While this is all expressed in a suitably neutral way as a government document, it also tells us what the studies show: that having a spiritual belief system is strongly related to a sense of wellbeing in young people.
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