From Black, White and Gray.
Several colleagues and I recently finished a study of why Christians leave the faith, and we were surprised at what made a difference as well what didn’t seem to matter. In the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing our findings in a series of posts.
To start with, let me tell you how we conducted our study. We were interested in how people who left the faith—let’s call them deconverts—explained their actions; i.e., why did they think they left the faith. In order to do this, we found a website on-line in which former Christians post their “testimonials” about their religious history. We chose 50 of these testimonials and read, reread, and reread again each one and then we discussed them as a group. Our goal was to find themes in these deconversion narratives, and several themes did emerge.
[...]All told, we found four general explanations offered by these 50 people as to why they left Christianity.
The first explanation regards intellectual and theological concerns about the faith. A full two-thirds of the testimony writers emphasized these concerns and some wrote about little else.
Some of the intellectual concerns were issues that would be faced by members of any religion, not just Christianity. For example, what is the relationship between religion and science? Does believing in one negate the other? What is the role of logic versus faith?
One man, who was a fundamentalist Christian in young adulthood, defined faith and reason as mutually contradictory, and he described his departure from Christianity as a victory of reason. He wrote: “for most of us, the battle was entirely within ourselves. It was a pitched battle between our faith and our reason, and eventually our reason just refused to be suppressed any longer, no matter what the potential consequences.”
Many other writers, though, focused on theological issues specific to Christianity. One of the issues that arose with the existence of hell and how that could be reconciled with the Christian image of a loving God. Basically, how could a loving God throw his children into hell for eternity?
A man raised as a Baptist expressed what he viewed as a contradiction between love and hell: “Would a loving father really not allow some people to have a chance and send them to hell for eternity? I don’t think so!”
One woman, who loved her grandparents, now deceased, wondered how God could condemn them for not having believed in Him. She exclaimed: “what the hell kind of jerk was God if he’d condemn people like my grandparents?”
A related theological issue regarded human suffering here on Earth. If God is powerful and loving, why is there suffering? One writer likened God’s allowance of suffering to a negligent police officer. “What if a police officer sat and watched silently as a child was murdered even though he had the power to stop it?”
Other writers attributed to God a more active role in human suffering, often pointing to His actions in the Old Testament. A former Methodist wrote of his doubts about God starting early in his life when he learned about Noah’s Ark. “The turning argument for me was actually a story that is in children’s Sunday school books – Noah’s Ark. I started to really think about the fact that God pretty much killed the ENTIRE planet.” Similarly, a former Pentecostal described God’s actions in the Old Testament as “atrocity after atrocity.”
The final frequently-expressed concern regarded the Bible and its reliability. Is it accurate? Is it believable? A former Catholic dismissed the Bible altogether. She wrote: “Science has all but proven that the Old Testament could not have happened. It is also fast proving that the New Testament is nothing but fiction.”
My friend ECM had a different take on it, commenting on Facebook:
I’m going to go out on a limb and state that most people simply don’t care.
You can refute arguments/do apologetics all day long to the run-of-the-mill village atheist, but that’s not going to do you much good in reaching the average non-believer since they’re generally apathetic about the whole project–God, etc., simply has no impact on their daily lives.
What I think would help is if *actual* Christians walked the walk a bit–I think this is, really, the crux of your problem. Too many of you say you believe in God and are Christians, but how many actually abide by the general strictures of the faith?
This has a rather disconcerting effect on non-believers and it makes people like me, who are at least open to the idea*, more wary because how can I very well take you seriously if you’re not actually practicing it? It smacks of “do as I say, not as I do.” (It also gives the media et al a hammer w/ which to beat Christians over the head with ad nauseaum, causing massive damage to credibility.)
(It doesn’t give me an pleasure in saying any of this, but there it is from someone that’s at least open to the concept.)
(And please! Please let’s not turn this into a thread on apologetics aimed at ‘showing me the light’–I know all the arguments and have gone over them a thousand times w/ the Knight via email, chat, etc., so I’m well-versed on all it.)
*I would classify myself as a small ‘d’ deist.
I should clarify: when I say “average non-believer” I am also referring to, in far too many (most?) cases, those that actually profess a belief in God and identify as Christian.
And my friend Dina wrote this:
Apologetics should be more than winning debates with athiests. Today, defending the faith ought to be more concerned with ridding the church of the crowd pleasing rot that has infiltrated it over the last century. The problem is exactly what ECM and lots of us see in professing Christians. Sadly, many many people who profess to be Christians are no different from the world, so the world views us all as either hypocrites or liars. Times may change, society may change but God and the bible does not. The bible is the only rule to direct us and while philosophy has much to offer, if it backs up the bible do we need it in the first place? If it goes against the bible, then its worthless man made opinions. The problems with Christianity started in the church, and the solution will have to start in the church as well. He did it before and He will do it again.
I replied and said that stronger, more consistent Christians are important, but I think apologetics is needed in order to build them up – because, as I’ve written before – people only act Christianly when they have reasons to believe that Christianity is objectively true.