Are morality and spirituality forever linked in our culture?

Does a family need a collective spiritual life? Shaunti Feldhahn, a right-leaning columnist, writes the commentary this week, and Andrea Sarvady, a left-leaning columnist, responds.

Shaunti Feldhahn
During a packed and joyful Easter Sunday service, I found myself wishing that it wasn’t so easy to let regular life get in the way of the New Life that many are so conscious of – and conscientious about – during holidays.
Most people believe in God. Addiction recovery programs such as AA have found that they don’t work without relying on someone greater than yourself. Numerous studies have found that every member of a family is more healthy, has more friendships and a more positive outlook on life with more regular spiritual practice. And within a family, a collective spiritual life is very influential. For example, a study sociology professor Sung Joon Jang found that children whose parents were more religious in practice were less likely to use drugs later on.
If belief was just a collective delusion, studies would have found no difference from children whose parents said “Just Say No” a lot. But it makes perfect sense if there really is a God who loves us enough to show us the path of life – and will help us stay on it, if we’ll listen.
Today, a growing minority – about one-third of adults according to the Barna Group – have begun to detach their beliefs from a regular spiritual practice. And some parents now assert that you can teach moral principles without religious belief. But where do moral principles come from if not from absolute truth? And where does absolute truth come from if not from the Creator of that truth?
Rebecca Hagelin’s new book, “30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family,” demonstrates how simple establishing a collective spiritual foundation can be – and how important. As she says, “When everything is negotiable, then nothing is dependable.”
Two thousand years ago, Jesus told a parable very relevant to today: That someone who hears his words and “does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand,” and cannot withstand the storms of life.
But, Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” – when the storms come, the house stands firm.
Andrea Sarvady
I still remember an Atlanta friend’s surprise when I told her about some volunteer work I had done as a child. The it was my turn to be surprised: She admitted that she didn’t think less religious families like mine did that sort of thing.
I was raised in a neighborhood where religion was both diverse and took a backseat to other shared values, with no apparent harm. Crime was low, kids were well-behaved, and neighbors valued one another and the world we lived in.
I don’t disagree with Shaunti that a collective spiritual life can strengthen a family, and it’s true that most people believe in God – who said anything about “a collective delusion?” Still, I’m astonished at her inference that the positive effects of spirituality on families proves the existence of a loving God. That really flunks the logic test and points to a complete refusal to believe that anything other than a life based on the Bible will enable a family to flourish. Living morally with or without religious structure – that is what creates those positive effects, and that’s what a family needs. There are those like mine that focused on morality through other means, with terrific results. I have a brother who took in a teenage neighbor and put him through college. I have a sister who is known in her small town for extensive work with underprivileged young women.
Then there’s my friend Mike, a caring physician, loving husband, great father and fourth-generation non-believer. He’s close to his extremely devout in-laws, who marvel at his strong moral fiber. One night at dinner they finally worked up the nerve to ask him: “How do you know the right thing to do?” Mike smiled politely and responded, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
These conversations are hard to have, but deeply rewarding. During a visit back home recently, I worked up the nerve to ask my most religious childhood friend if she wishes I had accepted Christ as my savior. “Well, that would be great,” Zoe gently allowed. “But I don’t need you to believe what I believe.”
Moral houses built on ground rich from many beliefs, weathering storms together – that’s always been the right neighborhood for me.

Andrea Sarvady (ASarvad@gmail.com) is a writer and educator specializing in counseling, and a married mother of three. Shaunti Feldhahn (scfeldhahn@yahoo.com) is a conservative Christian author and speaker, and married mother of two children. Contatc then at Universal Press, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

Joe Rutherford