On Hitchens, Apologetics, and the Strangeness of Christianity

So Christopher Hitchens is dead. Waste no time speculating about his end, or what happened next. It is empirically unknowable. While Hitch’s pen was a sharp one, and I occasionally read his work, I confess I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to his antagonism toward religion, apart from reading the first 60 pages of God is not Great. No new arguments there, so far as I could tell.

For a time after the book was released Hitchens took to debating well-known Christian apologists in public forums. Of course Hitch thought Christianity—and religion in general—was more a force of darkness than light. The first few pages of the book let readers know that in no uncertain terms. His critics often retorted with comparative claims, saying things like, “Yes, Christians have done some bad stuff, but Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin were atheists, and behaved far worse than any of ours ever have.” Perhaps, but when we start comparing body counts, nobody looks appealing anymore.

Apologetics, be it of the positive or negative sort, has never much appealed to me. Not sure why. I slogged my way through [Read more...]

Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Fundamental Importance of Apologetics

Part 1 in a series on deconversion.

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.  From a methodological approach, in-depth studies of convenience samples, such as this, work well for generating explanations of a phenomenon, but they are not well-suited for testing them.  (I.e., low external validity).

Before going any further, however, let me point out different ways this type of work can be done. We examined what people said about their experience, pretty much taking it at face value that they were describing how they experienced their departure from Christianity. Another approach would be to deconstruct what they said, and not think about the content of their testimonials but rather to explore why they might have given the testimonial the way that they did. E.g., what was their underlying motive? Yet another approach would be to collect more data about deconverts and look for more “objective” correlates of leaving Christianity. This approach might look at age, educational experiences, life events, and so forth—seeking correlations with deconversion.

Each of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately we need all of them to understand deconversion fully. As you read these posts, just keep in mind that we’re examining peoples’ own understanding of their experiences, which may be influenced by where they are placed in society as well as a desire to present themselves positively to the other members of the website. So, on to the data.

All told, we found four general explanations offered by these 50 people as to why they left Christianity.

The first explanation regards [Read more...]


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