Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Relative Unimportance of Non-Christians

Part 4 in a series on deconversion.

Going into this study of deconversion, I figured that interactions and relationships with non-Christians would be an important cause for people leaving. After, we’re sociologists, and we study how peer and friend relationships affect so many things.

However, in the narratives themselves, there were surprisingly few references to non-Christians leading the writers away from faith. We counted only eight in the fifty testimonies that we read. For example, one writer had a non-Christian friend loan him a book arguing against Christianity. Another had a family member who advocated against Christianity.

Far more commonly, non-Christians were mentioned as supporting the writers’ decisions after they had left Christianity. For example, the website from which we drew the narratives endorsed and supported the decisions of former Christians, but it did not seem to initially bring about these decisions.

As such, the narrative writers rarely described individuals outside of the church as helping bring about their deconversion. Rather, they described new relationships with non-Christians (exemplified by their participation in an online community for deconverts) as the consequence, not cause, of changes in their beliefs.

Why might non-Christians be mostly absent from these deconversion stories? One answer might be the insular social networks of some Christians, for several writers spoke of having had relatively few interactions or relationships with non-Christians. For example, a woman raised in the church wrote that she did not even know what the word “atheist” meant until she was in her twenties.

Generally speaking, then, [Read more...]

A Story of Turning the Other Cheek

A problem with moral standards, whether rooted in Christianity or otherwise, is how to express them in a cultural context. That is, are we doing something because we think it’s right to do or because it’s socially-normative behavior. (And I realize that the two need not be separate). As such, sometimes we understand the morality of behavior more clearly when it goes against cultural expectations.

Here’s a story from NPR several years ago that illustrates it. It tells of how a man responded to being mugged. The “proper” response to being mugged is to 1) be safe and 2) contribute to the mugger getting caught or hurt. Instead, this victim expressed love.

It starts: [Read more...]

A Favorite Conversion Story

I was talking with a good friend about deconversion, and we commiserated that it’s a depressing topic. He told me of one of his favorite conversion stories, which I had read years ago and loved for its power and authenticity. It’s from the autobiographical writing, in Traveling Mercies, of Anne Lamott.

She was going through a very tough time in her life, addicted to cocaine and alcohol and just having had an abortion of a child conceived in an affair with a married man. In the week after the abortion, she took to bed with alcohol and pain medication. She writes (p. 49-50):

“After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there–of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about [Read more...]

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Problem of Responding Badly to Doubt

Part 3 in a series on deconversion

Does Christians’ bad behavior cause people to leave the faith? When we started this research project deconversion, I assumed that the most frequently-referenced cause would be Christians’ misbehavior—something along the lines of “I left the Church because Christians don’t act like Christians.” After all, this “Christians don’t act like Christians” narrative is extremely popular among Christian writers.

A majority (42 out of 50) of the deconverts that we studied did mention frustration with the Christians they knew, but it usually wasn’t misbehavior, per se, rather it was something that I never would have guessed: Frustration with how their fellow Christians reacted to their doubts.

The way that Christians react to the doubts of others can, inadvertently, amplify existing doubt. Many of the writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.

For example, a former Southern Baptist, rather harshly, identified this tendency among the Christians that he had known: [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X