Well, well. It looks like religion really isn't necessary to raise ethical children. According to an article for the LA Times, Vern L Bengtson, a professor at USC who has been doing a generational longitudinal study of families, has added secular families to his studies in recent years, when he discovered that non-religious demographics were growing. His findings are quite enlightening:
Many non-religious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study. The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterised by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.
...non-religious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of ‘questioning everything’ and, far above all, empathy.
The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the ‘cool kids’ think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into ‘godless’ adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.
So, it seems that we finally have actual data to dispel the myth that religion is necessary in order to instill ethical moral decision-making skills.