Today’s students are an anxious bunch, with 1 in 4 college students taking psychotropic medications, according to the American Psychological Association. Mental health issues among teens and young adults have increased over the last decade, with anxiety and depression the most common concerns. This wasn’t always the case, so what has changed?

Scientists don’t have a definitive answer, and it’s likely due to multiple causes that are intertwined, including the snowballing influence of being surrounded by other anxious humans, stress from participating in social media, a constant stream of negative news, more frequent comparisons to wealthy and attractive people, unhealthy diets, vaping and other substance abuse issues, economic and financial pressures, an increase in the divorce rate, overindulgent parenting that promotes self-esteem over coping with disappointment, an excessive focus on oneself and a corresponding lack of empathy, excessive academic pressure to get into “good” colleges, stress from an increase in the available options for personal identity, the availability of an overwhelming amount of information that increases confusion, and a mismatch between the natural environment in which humans evolved and the artificial and technology-infused environment in which we live.

That’s a lot of things for a young person to contend with. Some days you have to wonder how they’re still standing. And in addition to all those trends working against today’s kids, there has been a decline in religion and religious schools, which provide a sense of purpose and a community with shared values such as peace and gratitude that serve as a bulwark against life’s challenges. Regardless of one’s belief —or not — in a higher power, there’s no denying that scientific studies of religion and spirituality are generally supportive of their mental health benefits.

Most religious schools aspire to educate for wisdom, wonder and joy — virtues that are lacking in modern life. Pursuing these calls us to thoughtfulness. Contemplating the mystery of how the universe began and the vastness of creation promotes humility. The amount of energy needed to create all that is seen and unseen is enormous, and you come away with the sense that there is something greater behind it all. This puts our lives into perspective, giving us needed rest from our hyper-connectedness and self-absorption, which yield to awe and gratitude that help us see life as a gift.

“The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility. ... The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle,” Albert Einstein said. There’s comfort in the fact that physical laws govern the universe. There is an order to things, not just in the physical realm, but in the social, economic, political and moral realms as well. Truth isn’t relative to one’s personal circumstances or culture. Some things are universally true, good and beautiful.

No matter where you live or who you are, isn’t friendship still among the noblest of human arts? In what culture are charity and mercy not virtues? Can you name a government that is immune from corruption? “Relativism,” Robert Littlejohn wrote, “permits each person to define his own version of each of these values, resulting in a world in which six billion people are each encouraged to live according to unrelated and even opposing definitions of notions that are fundamentally important to civic harmony.”

A fundamental contradiction of modern, secular education is that in its effort to be neutral with regard to viewpoint, it promotes relativism to the point in which there are no standards with which to evaluate the other points of view and perspectives that relativism values. This leaves students even more confused, and understandably anxious.

It is impossible to teach students from a neutral worldview. Even the worldview that says all worldviews are equal is taking a position. Religious education done well promotes a particular view of the world, examines alternative views and explores doubts. It gives students a place to stand while they explore what they believe. Modern education is more like quicksand, where students find themselves quickly buried and unable to see anything. Religious education provides a place to stand and a light to shine in the search for truth.

This sort of liberal religious education differs greatly from the religious fundamentalism that has become popular in the last few decades. Religious fundamentalism adopts the mentality of scientism, which says science is the best or only way to see the world, and applies it to religion. It promotes dogmatism and certainty over the humility and peace that the world’s major religions have long promoted, and has contributed to the decline of religion and religious schools, which have much wisdom, wonder and joy to offer to an increasingly anxious world.

(36) comments

Obadiah Plainsmen

Wonder who wrote this?

"At this point, it is necessary to reveal a little inside information about how scientists work, something the textbooks don't usually tell you. The fact is that scientists are not really as objective and dispassionate in their work as they would like you to think. Most scientists first get their ideas about how the world works not through rigorously logical processes but through hunches and wild guesses. As individuals they often come to believe something to be true long before they assemble the hard evidence that will convince somebody else that it is. Motivated by faith in his own ideas and a desire for acceptance by his peers, a scientist will labor for years knowing in his heart that his theory is correct but devising experiment after experiment whose results he hopes will support his position."

Obadiah Plainsmen

And one more:

It's not really a question of who is biased, but which bias is the correct bias with which to be biased!

Boyce Rensberger

Congratulations on finding an obscure book of mine. Yes, it was I who wrote that, in a volume called How The World Works. I stand by it. The key point is that good scientists don't publish those hunches and guesses unless and until they have found strong evidence to support them. Reputable scientific journals don't accept articles without convincing evidence.

There is another word for hunches and guesses. Hypothesis. Without a hypothesis, there is nothing to test.

Obadiah Plainsmen

You want a pilot that relies on hypothesis(hunches & guesses) to fly you through a storm or a pilot that knows where they are heading?

Boyce Rensberger

I want a pilot who doesn't count on a mythical supreme being to make everything right.


Today there are some 4,300 religions of the world's, this is according to adherent, an independent, non-religiously, affliliated organization that monitors the number and size of the world religions. Side stepping the issue of what constitutes a religious adherent divides religions into Churches, Denominations, Congregation, Religion bodies, Faith group, Tribes, Cultures, and movements.

Here are some 20 largest religions and their number of believers. Take your pick...

1: Christianity (2.2 billion)

2: Islam (1.5 billion)

3: Nonreligious ( Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.2 billion)

4: Hinduism (1.1 billion )

5: Buddhism ( 535 million)

6: Chinese tradition religion ( 394 million)

7: Primal indigenous (300 million)

8: African tradition & diaspora (100 million)

9: Sikhism (30 million)

10: Juche (19 million)

11: Spiritism (15 million)

12: Judaism (14 million)

13: Bahai (7 million)

14: Jainism (4.2 million)

15: Shirito (4 million)

16: Cao Dai (4 million)

17: Zoraostrianism (2.6 million)

18: Tenrikyo (2 million)

19: Neo paganism (1 million)

20: Unitarian universalism ( 800,000)

All those religions are man makes, tomorrow there will be 5,000 religions or maybe more, so whichever people belief all are similar ideology, because humanity are one root and one destiny.

Boyce Rensberger

Lumping all who call themselves Christian into one religion makes little sense. Christianity is divided into hundreds of smaller sub-religions, not just the big three umbrella groups--Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. Some of the subdivisions have diametrically opposed theologies. The predestination of Calvinist groups, such as the Presbyterians, is radically at odds with Lutheranism.

And, of course, within Islam there is the famous split between Sunni and Shia, not to mention smaller Muslim sects such as the Sufi. Within each of these are numerous denominations.


Growing up in northern New York we had nuns come to the public school - for Catholics; Protestants had ministers. That did change, eventually we were given time off to go to our respective church for religious education and eventually that was stopped too. Catholics were even given time off, once a month, to attend a Novena. I really doubt it changed any of us. And in the lower grades were even rated on religious education, but as long as you attended you received an A. Had nothing to do with whether you agreed, disagreed or leaned what was being taught.

For me it was my parents, they were as honest as "Honest Abe". My mother was not Catholic and my father never went to church.


Apparently, Tom has never heard of separation of church and state.


I've attended both sectarian and secular schools. Had I written this column, my comments would have been the opposite of Tom's. Wisdom, wonder and joy were found in secular schools. There was a faux open-mindedness at the sectarian schools. They were open to talking about ideas that contradicted the tenets of the faith but mostly to show how those ideas were incorrect. The religious folk seemed to think they had Truth on their side. In my experience, the secular schools were much better at inculcating curiousity and a love of learning for the sake of learning. The sectarian schools were the most apt to engage in relativism, usually centered on the assumptions of their particular creed (to be fair, they seemed to think that was the opposite of relativism).

What you see depends upon where you stand.

Boyce Rensberger

Excellent comment. The more science I learn, the more I am filled with wonder and awe, more than in many of the theists with whom I discuss the natural world. Many have few questions about how things work. If you attribute phenomena to miracles, you need ask no further questions.

Also, I'll put the ethics of non-believers I know up against the ethics of theists.

Moreover, I want atheist pilots flying me through a storm.


Yeah, right on! Those dumb _ss Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, et al... What a bunch of troglodytes and goobers. Name one thing -- just one -- they've ever done to advance civilization. Boy, they really put a big ol' knot in my scientific shorts.


For science, the church has typically held back advancements than helped.


veritas, What would you say are some of the best examples of religion contributing to the store of human knowledge? Not religious people, but religion itself. What do we know now that we didn’t know 2,000 or 4,000 years ago thanks to religion? Any advances in mathematics? Geology? Chemistry? Psychology? Medicine?


Hey, pub... Why you wanna bust my nads? Ol Boyce was the one suggesting “believers” are somehow intellectually and morally inferior to non believers. I take issue with that suggestion. Religious institutions per se may not advance scientific study and discovery, but neither is that religion’s primary role. Throughout history, however, religious people — “believers” — have been at the forefront of science, literature, music, philosophy, yada, yada, yada. It’s curious why you and Boyce and your ilk have such a hair trigger on this stuff.


Wait, you claim Boyce and Public have" a hair trigger on this stuff." Really? It is you who immediately go off and try to accuse others of things their posts do not imply.

Boyce Rensberger

Theists are not necessarily intellectually inferior. You're right that in ancient times believers have made major contributions to science. Newton even spent a lot of time studying the Bible for numerological clues. But that has been much less true in the last two centuries. The vast majority of scientists today are not believers, mainly because they see no good reason to believe in supernatural claims that have no evidence. Scientists, as you may have heard, are hung up on this notion that you should only believe stuff that is supported by a great deal of evidence.

tneumark2000 says 51% of scientists do believe in a higher power of some sort.


Your list is identical to mine. A null set.

I didn’t mean to upset you with the link to the video mocking homeopathy. I apologize for that.


Mr. Neumark, I’ve always appreciated your links to academic papers. I wish more people would cite their sources. Could you cite your source that “most” religious schools aspire to educate for wisdom, wonder, and joy? Thank you!

Boyce Rensberger

The problem with religion is that it calls on adherents to believe in the supernatural. As yet there is no serious evidence, much less proof, that anything supernatural exists. So to believe in the supernatural, one must surrender at least a portion of one's rational mind. That is the slipperiest of slopes.


As the saying goes, the non-existent and the undetectable look very much alike.


As the saying also goes, "Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink."


Speaking of belief and drinks, have you ever seen the Mitchell and Webb skit about homeopathy?


A slippery slope, perhaps, but to many, one worth traversing. Viewing the infinite magnificence of the universe as nothing more than a gigantic example of S#1T (Stuff) Happens seems to many of us a self-restrictive and unsatisfying conceptulazation of man and the universe.


Appeal to Consequences: Concluding that an idea or proposition is true or false because the consequences of it being true or false are desirable or undesirable. The fallacy lies in the fact that the desirability is not related to the truth value of the idea or proposition.


And,oh yeah, I left off the observation that you have the ability to cloud the clearest of issues. But what the hey, you seem to be having a good time. I’m good with that.


Hey, if you’re happy believing in something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and don’t care if it is true or false, I’m good with that. Why do you get so hot-n-bothered when someone points out the obvious?


"Mental health issues among teens and young adults have increased over the last decade, with anxiety and depression the most common concerns. This wasn’t always the case, so what has changed?" Empathy. Awareness. Lessened stigma. (My take on this topic would've been much shorter.)


" Most religious schools aspire to educate for wisdom, wonder and joy — virtues that are lacking in modern life. " There is ABSOLUTELY no proof this is the case.


I would suggest that there is more proof that most religious schools aspire to indoctrinate their students to not believe anything outside of the church, and not to apply critical thinking skills to anything within the church. Don't question, just obey.


And I would suggest you are wrong.


Which part (opinion piece)


forty years ago I went to a secular high school and into college, as did most of my friends and fellow students, yet we did not have the same anxiety (or at least it wasn't treated). So blaming the lack of religion seems pretty much without basis. Religion can bring community TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT RELIGION but it also creates additional friction and alienation to those who do not.


(1) no, anxiety wasn't treated appropriately and (2) if people don't believe, why would they be participating in religion? It would be irrelevant. What would be the source of "friction and alienation"?


friction and alienation comes about when you are a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, atheist or whatever in a Christian-dominated society.

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