Holidays that began literally as "holy days" have become shopping and vacation opportunities. Chairs at Sunday brunch tables fill up, while pews in Sunday church services get emptier. A fifth of Americans – and one-third of Americans under the age of 30 – mark "none" as their religious affiliation, according the Pew Research Center.
Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, in Claremont, explored findings like these in his Los Angeles Times op-ed article, "How Secular Family Values Stack Up," in January, and his new book "Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions."
Can people be moral without being religious? Do children growing up godless -- "god-free" -- behave as well, as ethically as those who go to Sunday School?
For Zuckerman, the answer is clear: Godless can be good.
The Times readers aren't so sure. Zuckerman's essay generated hundreds of thousands of page views, shares and likes. It prompted more than 400 comments, letters to the editor are still arriving, and tweets are circulating, five weeks later. Many parents were reassured by the piece; others were infuriated. Nonbelievers and believers offered arguments about parenting, cited contradictory data and debated the exact meaning and origin of morality.
So The Times decided to continue the debate. On Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. PST, Zuckerman will join me at Times headquarters for a live video discussion about secular parenting, secular living in general, and the questions readers want answered.
Zuckerman's most provocative finding may be that the secular aren't just good, they're better than the faithful. Secular teens, for example, care far less about what their peers think than religious teens, for example. As for grownups, he says nonbelievers are inclined to be less vengeful, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant than the religious. Moreover, as of the late 1990s, more convicted criminals in U.S. were believers than non believers – the latter made up less than half of 1% of the U.S. prison population, a number much smaller than their percentage of the population.
As a parent, Zuckerman admits he has had his own share of angst about passing a lack of faith on to his children, but then the data quelled his doubts: "Could I possibly be making a mistake raising my kids without religion? The unequivocal answer is no."