We all have heard the statistics before (which I won’t bore you with), but, millennials are leaving the Church in droves…
We are well aware of this; it’s what we’re unaware of that I want to look into a bit more; it’s the question of “What exactly happens to our brains when or if we stop believing there is a God?”
An older mentor of mine who was once a highly sought after Evangelical preacher has now turned Atheist said to me once, “Andy, my faith didn’t die overnight; it was more so, a death by a thousand cuts.”
This just so happens to be the vast majority of us; as only “one percent of Americans raised with religion who no longer believe became unaffiliated through a one time “crisis of faith.” Ironically, I recall hearing, repeatedly, during bible college, that “neither do we become Christians overnight; it takes, on average, 20+ times of hearing the Gospel and being engulfed in these environments until one chooses ‘acceptance.'” I can’t find the research, but this makes sense in light of the above observations.
All the while, this brings to light the question of “what happens to one’s body if they’re within the small percentage of Americans that have lost their faith almost immediately?” Psychologist Jeffrey Anderson suggests that “Religion works exactly like a drug–like cocaine, or methamphetamine–or like music, or like romantic love… All of those experiences on some level tap into rewards. The physiology is really the same.”
How Religion Taps Into Our Reward Circuits…
Personally, I can’t help but be reminded of all of the Christian concerts, festivals or conferences I attended and/or took my youth groups too; the music, the lighting, the build up… all of this was (for a lack of better words), exhilarating. Just think back to your first concert; it’s nothing different within Christian worship/culture; a 13-year-old’s mind is blown-up; confused; unable to process all of these euphoric feelings being triggered and overwhelmed simultaneously.
But, with the Businification of modern American Christianity, this also plays into any given pastors marketing plan; which is, simply put, all humans have basic needs (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, etc.), we at something-something-Community-Church will tap into your on the surface emotional needs by making you feel good (reward) when you attend our service (payment).
This is nothing different than what Starbucks does with their rewards program; or, what Casinos do to keep you coming back; or, what social media platforms do with “likes,” “favorites,” and “follows.”
These are all creating a sense of instantaneous gratification with zero to very little cost, seemingly. The cost comes from the fact that you cannot have meaning without cost. You can feel good, experience pleasure, but over time, you’ll just feel lost and empty.
(I talk more about this in an article I wrote for RELEVANT Magazine a few years back, “Loneliness in the Age of Facebook“)
Which, this partially lends explanation as to why our Church attendance has been in rapid decline. Worship services begin to appear hedonistic; prayer requests turn into gossip; prophecies are no longer encouraging and your pastor’s words become empty.
In other words, the gratifications you once felt are no longer being felt; over the course of years, your faith begins to erode…
 photos are screenshots provided by Vice.
 banner is a screenshot from the movie “The Discovery“