The Advantage of Faith

August 14, 2006

Bush-loving Baldwin Brother Stephen has found Jesus and now he’s on the warpath for your kids!

“I’d always imagined Jesus was the sweet, cuddly, loving dude, and suddenly I find out he makes Conan the Barbarian look like Conan the wimp,” he says. “He didn’t come with a guitar singing Kum Ba Yah. Jesus brought a sword to the earth, and he is still swinging it.”

 As for Baldwin himself, “God has called me to go and make disciples of the youth of America. That is what I am going to do. And if you try to stop me, I am going to break your face.”

Now, I’m really not up for Baldwin’s brand of ole time religion. But I do anticipate grappling soon with whether and what kind of spiritual beliefs to impart to my son. I enjoyed reading Elisa’s earlier post and thread on the topic of church-going.

I wanted to approach it from a slightly different angle: introducing and cultivating faith in a child as a means of giving them an effective coping strategy during stressful times.

Founder of sociobiology Edward O. Wilson told Salon that religious belief is an evolutionary adaptation: a variation among humans that favor their survival. His version goes like this:

“Religious belief itself is an adaptation that has evolved because we’re hard-wired to form tribalistic religions. Religion is intensely tribalistic. A devout Christian or Muslim doesn’t say one religion is as good as another. It gives them faith in the particular group to which they belong and that set of beliefs and moral views.”

Reading the news every day, it’s hard to argue that religion isn’t tribalistic. Witness James Dobson emerging to defend Mel Gibson! Blechhh. Brothers in the tribe, indeed!
While I’d like my son to experience a sense of belonging to a group who share his values and interests, I know he can find this outside of organized religion. However, I do see religious faith as adaptive in another way that is more compelling to me:

Doctors and scientists once avoided the study of spirituality in connection to medicine, but within the past ten years, some experts have made significant findings. Studies show that spirituality and faith can help to promote good health and to fight disease by the following:

  • offering additional social supports, such as faith-based and spiritual groups
  • improving coping skills through prayer and a philosophy that all things have a purpose.

I saw this premise in action during the slow cancer death of my 11-year-old nephew. Familial support made a difference to my sister, but it was her faith that really got her through the dark times and over the abyss. She shared her spiritual beliefs a great deal with her son, and I know it helped them both in their respective struggles.

I want to give that to my son. The “how” is where it gets tricky.