Why Are Millennials Leaving the Church? The Narcissism Factor

Late last week, progressive Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans touched off what can best be described as a social media share-storm with a CNN post entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” The data does seem clear that young people are, in fact, leaving. According to the Barna Research Institute (perhaps the best source for empirical research on evangelicals), up to six out of ten young Christians leave the church permanently or for an extended period starting at age 15. Evans claims (with support from Barna and others) that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

She rightly condemns one standard church response to the exodus: the trend towards hipper church services that veer into outright performances (nicely parodied here), but then she writes perhaps the most hilarious sentence I’ve ever read about the Millennial generation:

But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennial have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

Ahh yes, I always knew that Lady Gaga’s devoted millions of “little monsters” (her name for her fans) came straight from the ranks of America’s nursing homes.  But I digress . . .

So, how can the church reach this allegedly BS-resistant age group?  The Evans prescription:

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

But is this right?  It reads to me a bit like a progressive blogger’s wish list, not a generational demand.  Moreover, it presumes quite a bit about the idealism of Millennials, that they have left the church — in essence — because the church just isn’t quite good enough for them.  It offends their tolerant, caring, giving, environmentalist sensibilities.  If the church only becomes more like them, then they won’t leave.

An interesting premise, it dramatically misdiagnoses Millennials.  I know that it’s by now a cliché for older generations to wax eloquent about the failings of younger generations, but thanks to longitudinal social science we can now actually measure changes in attitudes and beliefs over time.  Some things never change, but some things do.

What if Millennials aren’t actually all that great?  What if they’re actually pretty darn narcissistic?  In May 2012, Jean Twenge wrote a piece for The Atlantic that didn’t trigger nearly the same share-storm as Rachel Held Evans’ post, but it contained far more valuable information. Trying to determine whether Millenials were “Generation We” (caring, volunteering, civic-minded) or “Generation Me” (the Instagramming narcissists of their parents’ nightmares), Twenge compared Millennials to both Generation X and the Baby Boomers when those generations were in high school and college.  Their findings?

So we dug into the data. The results for civic engagement were clear: Millennials were less likely than Boomers and even GenXers to say they thought about social problems, to be interested in politics and government, to contact public officials, or to work for a political campaign. They were less likely to say they trusted the government to do what’s right, and less likely to say they were interested in government and current events. It was a far cry from Howe and Strauss’ prediction of Millennials as “The Next Great Generation” in civic involvement.

Millennials were also less likely to say they did things in their daily lives to conserve energy and help the environment, and less likely to agree that government should take action on environmental issues. With all of the talk about Millennials being “green,” I expected these items to be the exception. Instead, they showed some of the largest declines. Three times as many Millennials as Boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.

Millennials were slightly less likely to say they wanted a job that was helpful to others or was worthwhile to society. This is directly counter to the Generation We view predicting that Millennials would be much more concerned for others. Volunteering rates did increase, the only item out of 30 measuring concern for others that did. However, this rise occurred at the same time that high schools increasingly required volunteer service to graduate.

In other words, Millennials don’t quite act — or believe — as advertised.  Twenge notes that she’s not alone in her findings:

Those who have done in-depth studies of today’s young people, such as Christian Smith in Lost in Transition, have come to a similar conclusion. “The idea that today’s emerging adults are as a generation leading a new wave of renewed civic-mindedness and political involvement is sheer fiction,” Smith wrote. “The fact that anyone ever believed that idea simply tells us how flimsy the empirical evidence that so many journalistic media stories are based upon is and how unaccountable to empirical reality high-profile journalism can be.

So, if Millennials aren’t exactly the caring activists that progressive dream them to be, then what are they?  What do they believe?  It turns out that Christian Smith’s research has revealed some common core beliefs – held across traditional religious traditions.  He calls the belief system “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” and here’s its version of an Apostles’ Creed:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This is a belief system that efficiently produces sometimes-nice narcissists who don’t want much interference from God unless and until they face problems.  In other words, they won’t much like orthodox Christianity, with its call to “take up your cross” and “lose your life” for the sake of following Christ.

This Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of course didn’t just fall from the sky into the heads of this new generation. The problem isn’t that the church is too intolerant, it’s that it all to often tried to transmit values without teaching the reason for those values or even the basics of the faith.  By the time Millennials hit Sunday School, evangelical churches were already catering to the culture, they were already conforming to the world, and now we’re reaping what we’ve sown.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who related stories of a middle school Sunday School that featured silly-string fights and slime wars.  And this was at a rural Baptist church that progressive bloggers would see as the seat of intolerance.  In reality, evangelical churches are hardly the institutions the Left so likes to caricature.  They’re inhabited by fallen, imperfect people who not only struggle with their own sins but also sometimes feel intimidated by a hostile culture and anxious for the future.  They want to live for Christ, they want to be liked, and they want to be happy, often not in that order.

While I’m not sure there’s every been a true “golden age” for the church — we’re too sinful for that — I do know it’s tough to “train up a child” with silly string, and slime wars can’t substitute for catechism class.

The great and ancient call of the church — to repent, to turn from the self — simply isn’t palatable to this (or any) generation, until that glorious moment when the Holy Spirt softens even the hardest heart, regenerates its dead flesh, and causes it to truly beat for the first time.

Why are Millennials leaving the church?  It’s not because they’re just so darn good, tolerant, and virtuous.  In fact, it’s because they’re sinful and lost — perhaps a bit more narcissistic than the generation before, the generation that failed them.  It’s not a virtue to abandon church.

How do they come back?  The same way we all must return, through repentance and humility.  Stop waiting for church to be good enough for you.  Embrace the church because Christ has embraced it, as His bride — a bride that is often faithless but never abandoned.

Don’t play “hard to get.”  Set no preconditions.  Don’t demand that anyone win you over.  Humble yourself, pray, and come home.

  • The Town Cheese

    Thank you for this response to Rachel Held Evans’s blog entry on CNN. I read her writing a few days ago, and I had a similar reaction… mostly confusion about the self-righteous tone. I’m very glad to have read this post. Thank you for your eloquence!

  • MikeNZ

    LGBT did it for me, says it all.
    It’s not just Millennials either, I’ve got family and friends (20-60yrs) who can’t see that their support for homosexual marriage is wrong, let alone the need to repent.
    MikeNZ

    • Lee Johnson

      My family is the same way … homosexuality is considered “the good” and Christianity is bad because it deviates from that standard. Since homosexuality is good and Christianity is bad, it’s Christianity that needs to repent — that’s their thinking.

  • But Why Mommy

    I love the two last paragraphs. I have been struggling with the church of my childhood for many reasons but recently I chose to come back. It’s never going to meet all the conditions I had for what a church should be. But it doesn’t have to change, I’m the one that has to change.

    • David French

      Very well said.

    • 2happy2hate

      I agree, there’s no perfect church, but I am not perfect either. I just try to work on getting my life in order with God, so when I do stand before him I can hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, thou as been faithful over a few things.” I don’t want to hear Him say, “Take her away (because I blamed the church for turning my back on God).”

      • David French

        Approve.

  • Steve

    This is a very, very good analysis. I’m sick of seeing people worship her op-ed as if it is Solomonic wisdom.

  • Brian Webb

    Interesting that you’d say that Christ “embraced” the church as his bride. Please note, that has not happened. He will return for a pure and spotless bride. The Millennials I know are dedicated to becoming that pure and spotless bride. Deliverance and healing – spiritually and physically – are breaking out all over the world and Milennials like myself are some of the only people (and a precious few GenXers and Baby Boomers) to embrace the movements of God in the modern Church.

    If we’re leaving our churches, it’s because they have become the “Whore Church” Revelation speaks of. It’s high time the Church steps up to the plate. We’re not abandoning “The Church” because it’s not good enough, but we might be leaving “Our churches” because they’re not committed to following the standards and commands of God. “The Church” will arise out of the ashes of our “abandoned” churches. We’ve sat in apathy long enough.

  • http://karenzach.com Karen Spears Zacharias

    I never thought I would “Amen” anything you had to say but I was wrong. Amen to this post.

    • David French

      Karen, I seem to recall you had a recent run-in with Millennial devotees of Ms. Gaga.

      • http://karenzach.com Karen Spears Zacharias

        Mm…. interesting. I don’t consider it ‘recent’ or a “run-in.” I simply prefer to think of it as pointing out the obvious marketing manipulations.

  • tanyam

    I’d suggest your readers google for critiques of Smith and Twenge. Long story short: we don’t have enough data for sweeping generalizations yet. Everybody has their favorite story of Millenials Gone Bad — but up against other generations? The jury is still out.

    http://chronicle.com/article/Narcissism-Run-Rampant-Lets/123705/

  • MarkP1971

    We hosted a funeral about a year ago. It was a sad tale of a young kid just starting out who took his own life. The deceased had three sisters, and even though we as a church body tend to frown on eulogies, at least locally we have more or less been forced to accommodate. The reason that we tend to frown on them is because the funeral is a church service which points to Christ and what he has done for us, even in the midst of death. The older fear of eulogies was that the relative or friend would stand up and say what a great guy Joe was and I’m sure he’s in heaven because he was such a great guy. In other words exactly the lie that the adversary wants you to believe. And if you are hosting a funeral for an older person you will still get that every now and then and it is almost quaint. Because you can actually use that works righteousness in the sermon to point to something greater. Joe was a great guy and yet here were are at a funeral. One of the sisters at this funeral strode to the pulpit to give the eulogy. She held the pulpit for 15 minutes as she mumbled a poem she had written the previous night and said her words. The poem and the words were not what a great guy her brother was, nor were they simple disbelief and despair which would have been understandable. The entire eulogy boiled down to variations on what am I going to do now that my best buddy and chief support isn’t there. No reflection on what might have caused this child do it as hopeless as that is. Not even any proclamation on why her brother was such a great guy. Pure narcissism on why this death was a very bad thing for her personally because now where was she going to get these things. I can’t feel happy and good about myself after you did this. The grief was not over the loss of the person in the casket. It was over what that person used to do for her. It is the attitude of the prodigal on his way into a far country.

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French

      Wow. That’s interesting… Also, sobering how little we affect others around us truly.

    • Isaac

      Great job man. I’m so glad someone like you was there to judge this girl who was still probably in shock over her young brother’s death. Also, you’d probably realize that any young person is narcissistic. That’s part of being young! It’s an entire stage of development where you’re still learning about others and how you aren’t the center of the universe. Even when you were a child you acted like a child so maybe you should cut this girl some slack because her freaking brother had just died and no one knows how to handle that situation at that age.

  • David Marshall

    Personally, I don’t believe in generations. There are young fools, and there are old fools. Maybe the young fools are too busy playing video games to go to church? I have a couple of them myself, and that would be my best guess.

  • Olsenator

    I’m with David Marshall on this. I’m a millennial (21yrs old) that’s tired of hearing how I’m stereotyped. Whether it be from the Leftist idealists that think I’m an LGBT friendly, socially minded environmentalist or completely self-centered that lacks any virtue.

    Barna is correct to realize that many churches need to handle hot-button topics in a more caring and considerate manner. This doesn’t mean compromise principles, it means have a lot of dialogue. Churches need to hear out their LGBT crowd, they need to take science seriously, and they need to be more environmentally aware.

    Whether or not i fit the hypocritcal profile as the Atlantic makes me look… It doesn’t mean Rachel’s, mine or my generation’s critiques lack an ounce of credibility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Je-Dyer/100000452225827 J.e. Dyer

    Millennials are just people, to all of whom David’s last paragraphs apply.
    .

  • Matt B.

    We left the church because we’re “sinful and lost”? What a crock of shit. We left the church because of attitudes like that. Why are young people disenchanted with organized religion?

    -Because it’s often associated with bigotry, politicized morality, and the holier than thou attitude of its faithful.

    -Because there is often corruption/mistreatment in churches (catholic and mormon churches especially) that never seems to draw appropriate responses from their higher authorities.

    -Because churches often seem to be opposed to scientific viewpoints. Often telling followers that “belief” is more important than empirical evidence. People see the church as mainly one of the reasons why the rest of the world sees America as stupid.

    And then of course, we get people like you who try to dictate down to us our actions. This is like a white guy writing about racism against blacks. You don’t really know anything about the motivations or viewpoints of atheists/non-believers/churchless theists; you’re just holding up a few studies that have nothing to do with the topic in question, and then drawing your own opinion of what they mean.

    Frankly, it’s people like YOU that are driving away our generation from religion.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      “We left the church because we’re “sinful and lost”? What a crock of sh*t. We left the church because of attitudes like that.”

      That “attitude” is the basic premise of Christianity; that we are sinful and lost and need redemption. Maybe you don’t fit the bill because you are already perfect and sinless.

      ===
      “Because it’s often associated with bigotry, politicized morality, and the holier than thou attitude of its faithful”

      Unlike secular humanism, which surely does not judge others, politicize its moral code, or think of itself as superior. And unlike your post, which is surely not holier-than-thou in attitude.

      ===
      “Because there is often corruption/mistreatment in churches (catholic and mormon churches especially) that never seems to draw appropriate responses from their higher authorities.”

      Unlike corruption in secular government, which always draws appropriate responses. And unlike corruption in secular organizations, which does the same.

      Without defining “mistreatment” its hard to say quite what you mean (you seem to include doctrinal disagreement in this, based on your overall statement, which I would disagree with). It is also hard to figure out what would count as “appropriate” in your book. Or who the higher authorities are.

      ===
      “Because churches often seem to be opposed to scientific viewpoints. Often telling followers that “belief” is more important than empirical evidence. People see the church as mainly one of the reasons why the rest of the world sees America as stupid.”

      Are you unaware of Christian philosophers, physicists, biologists, and other scientists and thinkers? Are you unaware of their (often freely available) published works? Are you unaware of the medieval era and the birth of modern (physical) science out of Christian philosophy? I wouldn’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks about America’s collective intelligence. I’d worry about how silly your views about the relationship between religion and science are.

      ===
      “And then of course, we get people like you who try to dictate down to us our actions.”

      I think we have the heart of your disagreement here in this quote. You reject authority. You don’t want someone with authority telling you what’s what, what to do, what not to do, etc. Rules are for chumps! This is the practical side of millennial narcissism.

      ===
      “This is like a white guy writing about racism against blacks.”

      A rejection of objective realism; you believe truth is only in the eye of the beholder and that the eye has more to do with it than the fact. A curious claim to make, since you are doing precisely this same thing in the opposite direction. Are you the author? Than how can you really know anything about his position?

      ===
      “You don’t really know anything about the motivations or viewpoints of atheists/non-believers/churchless theists; you’re just holding up a few studies that have nothing to do with the topic in question, and then drawing your own opinion of what they mean”

      Are you sure about this? I suspect he knows more than you think.

      ===
      “Frankly, it’s people like YOU that are driving away our generation from religion”

      This is like a white guy writing about racism against blacks. You don’t really know anything about the motivations or viewpoints of Christians.

      • ambrs57

        Good take down of an arrogant and silly rant. He doesn’t seem to get that the issue here is not religion, per se. I don’t know that most of us are that concerned about whether or not kids like this are coming to church. The real issue is Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus tells us that we are all sinners and he calls us all to radical repentance and commitment. There is nothing more humbling. Millennials or anyone else who imagines that they are not sinful and in need of repentance have just shown their holier than thou attitude in spades. Nobody gets to true spirituality, a genuine relationship with God, apart from confronting the moral depravity of their own heart, confessing it and repenting of it, and receiving the crucified and risen Christ. Apart from that, church affiliation is nothing. It takes a true narcissist to imagine that he or she is so morally and spiritually exalted over the rest of us poor schmucks as to not have any sins worthy of confession and repentance.

        • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

          I think the modern problem is the same as the ancient problem; we think too highly of ourselves. I certainly think too highly of myself too often, and it bites me every time.

          All of our media is directed to us as though we deserve good things in life by our sheer existence. We are advertised too; we are all in possession of luxuries our ancestors never dreamed of. And in the end, instead of being thankful, we just expect more as if it were our right.

          I can definitely see now why prosperity is dangerous; it sets itself up for its own demise!

      • EmpiricalPierce

        “That “attitude” is the basic premise of Christianity; that we are sinful and lost and need redemption. Maybe you don’t fit the bill because you are already perfect and sinless.”

        And that attitude is poisonous. Everyone has within them the capacity for good or evil. To teach people that they’re hopeless sinners who can’t do anything right without Jesus is both abusive and false.

        “Unlike secular humanism, which surely does not judge others, politicize its moral code, or think of itself as superior. And unlike your post, which is surely not holier-than-thou in attitude.”

        Judging people is necessary, and an inclination to think of oneself as superior to others is an unfortunate flaw in most people. However, humanists are not the ones trying to impose unquestionable authoritarian control by shutting down all opposing viewpoints and questions with “because God said so, now get in line or be tortured for all eternity in hell”.

        “Unlike corruption in secular government, which always draws appropriate responses. And unlike corruption in secular organizations, which does the same.”

        Corruption is inevitable in any institution with power, and must always be watched for and fought against. However, the structure of the church is deliberately resistant to accountability by placing the accountability of its leaders exclusively in the hands of a nonexistent supreme being. Priests, pastors, and other such religious leaders can then do whatever they please, and anyone who calls them on it can be decried as “sinful” and “going against the will of God”.

        “Are you unaware of Christian philosophers, physicists, biologists, and other scientists and thinkers? Are you unaware of their (often freely available) published works? Are you unaware of the medieval era and the birth of modern (physical) science out of Christian philosophy? I wouldn’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks about America’s collective intelligence. I’d worry about how silly your views about the relationship between religion and science are.”

        Sure, science can do whatever it wants and be appreciated… So long as it stays well out of the cordoned off area marked “FOR RELIGION ONLY” where it might learn something contradictory to religious doctrine, such as the age of the universe and common descent. Most Christians do not give involved in areas of science that so strongly show that reality contradicts the wild speculations of ancient tribes that they hold sacred, but those that do have learned to partition their mind in such a way that they never fully pursue the facts they learn to their religious dogma destroying conclusions.

        The fact that scientists have shifted from being largely religious in the early days to largely atheistic in the modern day should be troubling to you. The more people learn, the more likely they are to conclude that God does not exist, or at the very least that no religion in this world accurately describes It.

        “I think we have the heart of your disagreement here in this quote. You reject authority. You don’t want someone with authority telling you what’s what, what to do, what not to do, etc. Rules are for chumps! This is the practical side of millennial narcissism.”

        I reject unaccountable authority. Every rule and law should provide a reasonable explanation for itself consistent with evidence provided by reality or be scrapped. Religion is the ultimate unaccountable authority that condemns all challenges. It is long past time it was scrapped.

        “A rejection of objective realism; you believe truth is only in the eye of the beholder and that the eye has more to do with it than the fact. A curious claim to make, since you are doing precisely this same thing in the opposite direction. Are you the author? Than how can you really know anything about his position?”

        It’s not a rejection of objective realism. It’s an accusation that the author is ignorant of reality.

        “Are you sure about this? I suspect he knows more than you think.”

        Given the wide variety of absurdly false and hateful myths about atheism and nonbelievers that come from the devoutly religious, it has a good chance of being true. But to be fair, I have not read enough from this particular blogger to say whether or not he falls into that group.

        “This is like a white guy writing about racism against blacks. You don’t really know anything about the motivations or viewpoints of Christians.”

        Actually, most American atheists, such as myself, were formerly Christians. We largely became atheists not because we were ignorant of Christianity, but because we got to know it too well. Reading the Bible and learning about religious history and the origins of Christianity was the death knell of my belief.

        I spent all of my first decade and more than half of the second decade of my life in the church. I am much too familiar with a wide variety of Christians, which is another significant factor in why I no longer am one.

        • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

          “And that attitude is poisonous. Everyone has within them the capacity for good or evil. To teach people that they’re hopeless sinners who can’t do anything right without Jesus is both abusive and false.”

          It is the basis of the Christian message that we are imperfect. None of us have any hope of becoming perfect on our own in any sense. This is not poisonous, it is self-evident. Human history is not kind to human optimism.

          ===
          “Judging people is necessary, and an inclination to think of oneself as superior to others is an unfortunate flaw in most people. However, humanists are not the ones trying to impose unquestionable authoritarian control by shutting down all opposing viewpoints and questions with “because God said so, now get in line or be tortured for all eternity in hell”.”

          On the contrary, humanists are just as capable of imposing their own authoritarian views on others. There have been many secular authoritarian regimes in the past 200 years. Most of them have also been violent and horrifying.

          ===
          “However, the structure of the church is deliberately resistant to accountability by placing the accountability of its leaders exclusively in the hands of a nonexistent supreme being. Priests, pastors, and other such religious leaders can then do whatever they please, and anyone who calls them on it can be decried as “sinful” and “going against the will of God”.”

          That’s a case for a rule of law instead of a rule by will, not a case against Christianity.

          ===
          “Most Christians do not give involved in areas of science that so strongly show that reality contradicts the wild speculations of ancient tribes that they hold sacred, but those that do have learned to partition their mind in such a way that they never fully pursue the facts they learn to their religious dogma destroying conclusions.

          The fact that scientists have shifted from being largely religious in the early days to largely atheistic in the modern day should be troubling to you. The more people learn, the more likely they are to conclude that God does not exist, or at the very least that no religion
          in this world accurately describes It.”

          It is not troubling at all in the sense that I think it somehow disproves Christianity, any more than the eugenics movement of the 19th and 20th century did. Eugenics was shown to be an error in philosophy, not science. The same is true today, as we remain as human as ever.

          The Christian religion is strikingly good in describing the world, especially the human soul. As far as “ancient tribes” go, Aristotle is as relevant today as ever, and he precedes Christianity by 400 years. In fact, modern (physical) science is built upon his four causes. So much for the idea that the ancients are inferior because they are ancient.

          ===
          “I reject unaccountable authority. Every rule and law should provide a reasonable explanation for itself consistent with evidence provided by reality or be scrapped. Religion is the ultimate unaccountable authority
          that condemns all challenges. It is long past time it was scrapped.”

          Religion has been scrapped by secular governments. The Germans did it, and the Russians and the Chinese. I need not comment on the horrors that arose from this. Christianity does have accountability.

          However, you are arguing in a circle. If you reject the Christian God, of course there is no one to be accountable to. You can’t then say that you reject the Christian God because Christians aren’t accountable in what they say or do. A thing cannot be its own cause.

          ===
          “It’s not a rejection of objective realism. It’s an accusation that the author is ignorant of reality.”

          Not at all. The original text I responded to suggested that it is somehow impossible for a white person to comment on black people because you have to be a member of the group to do so. This is not objective realism; it is pure subjectivism. This is a textbook example.

          ===

          “Given the wide variety of absurdly false and hateful myths about atheism and nonbelievers that come from the devoutly religious, it has a good chance of being true.”

          Given the wide variety of absurdly false and hateful myths about Christianity and Christians that come from the devoutly atheistic, it has a good chance of being true.

          ===
          “We largely became atheists not because we were ignorant of Christianity, but because we got to know it too well. ”

          Perhaps I’m wrong, but I seriously doubt what you say here. I suspect you became an atheist because you didn’t have questions answered; because things bothered you that you refused to let go. That’s all fair. But don’t tell me its because you know -too much- about Christianity. There’s simply not enough time to do so. Who have you read to “know it too well”?

          ===

          “I spent all of my first decade and more than half of the second decade of my life in the church. I am much too familiar with a wide variety of Christians, which is another significant factor in why I no longer am one.”

          Ever spoken with an Eastern Orthodox Christian? Perhaps a Coptic one? Ever read the medieval Scholastics like Aquinas or Anselm? Perhaps the disciples of the disciples? Iraeneus or Polycarp? Ever read the Anglicans, like Chesterton and Lewis? Maybe Catholics like Tolkien or Feser? Ever read the modern apologists like Craig, Strobel, Zacharius, Mooreland, etc? Christian physical scientists like Newton or Ross?

          There may be a wider variety of Christians than you know.

          I spent the first twenty years of my life (and these extra six on top of it) in the Christian church, going through periods of doubt. But the one thing I absolutely do not doubt is that my experience did not make me “too familiar with a wide variety of Christians”. It could be that your experience is different, but I suspect it is similar to mine (which is similar to many people I speak to).

          • EmpiricalPierce

            “It is the basis of the Christian message that we are imperfect. None of us have any hope of becoming perfect on our own in any sense. This is not poisonous, it is self-evident. Human history is not kind to human optimism.“

            Perfection is an abstract concept that does not actually exist in reality, since there is always some way or another that something can improve – and if something can be improved, it is by definition not perfect. That said, we humans will never be perfect, but contrary to your
            indictment against human optimism, the world is getting better. Have you ever read “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” by Steven Pinker?

            http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/0670022950

            The notion that our world is going to hell in a handbasket,
            as the old saying goes, is an illusion produced by human tendency to be myopic and overly focused on the negative. This is exacerbated by our modern news system that focuses on tragedies over happy stories and has in recent generations gained ever easier access to current
            events on a global scale. Despite the negativity that surrounds us, our world is a much happier and less violent place than it has been historically.

            -

            “On the contrary, humanists are just as capable of imposing their own authoritarian views on others. There have been many secular authoritarian regimes in the past 200 years. Most of them have also been violent and horrifying.“

            Before we go any further on this, it is necessary to
            define humanism. Of course, than can be difficult since the word can mean different things to different people, but in my case, I would call myself a rational humanist; in an effort to keep it brief, my belief system can be boiled down to two central tenets:

            1. “Good” is defined as human happiness, and “evil” as human suffering, and to be moral is to seek to maximize happiness for people while minimizing suffering.

            2. Any edict, law, morality, etc. that is based on a falsehood will inevitably run counter to human happiness sooner or later and cause pointless suffering, and thus said laws and such must be based upon reason and verifiable reality.

            That said, find me an authoritarian regime based upon
            those tenets and I will be quite impressed. And on the flip side, tell me how many theocracies you can find that AREN’T authoritarian.

            -

            “That’s a case for a rule of law instead of a rule by will, not a case against Christianity. “

            Please elaborate.

            -

            “It is not troubling at all in the sense that I think it somehow disproves Christianity, any more than the eugenics movement of the 19th and 20th century did. Eugenics was shown to be an error in philosophy, not science. The same is true today, as we remain as human as ever.

            The Christian religion is strikingly good in describing the world, especially the human soul. As far as “ancient tribes” go, Aristotle is as relevant today as ever, and he precedes Christianity by 400 years. In fact, modern (physical) science is built upon his four causes. So much for the idea that the ancients are inferior because they are ancient.”

            Science offers us facts, but not morality. It is our morality that shapes our decisions on how to best use the facts science has given us.

            As for Christianity being good at describing the world, especially the soul… Why don’t you read “A Ghost in the Machine” by Adam Lee, and then tell me what, exactly, your evidence is that souls exist and what purpose they serve?

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-ghost-in-the-machine/

            For the rest of the world, I’m also interested in you explaining, for example, why it is “strikingly good” at describing a global flood that didn’t happen,

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Global_flood

            An exodus that didn’t happen,

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus

            And a story of Jesus so riddled with contradictions and
            historical inaccuracies, it is obviously only vaguely based on a historical person (or persons; it may be a composite character) at best?

            http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_carlson/nt_contradictions.html

            -

            “Religion has been scrapped by secular governments. The Germans did it, and the Russians and the Chinese. I need not comment on the horrors that arose from this. Christianity does have accountability.

            However, you are arguing in a circle. If you reject the Christian God, of course there is no one to be accountable to. You can’t then say that you reject the Christian God because Christians aren’t accountable in what they say or do. A thing cannot be its own cause.”

            Hold up: The Germans did not scrap religion. Quite the contrary; Hitler was a self-declared Catholic who quite eagerly used Christianity’s long history of anti-semitism to fuel his agenda, and the Christian majority that composed the Germans were all too eager to lap it up. Here’s an interesting collection of quotes:

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Hitler_quotes

            And my personal favorite: “I have followed the Church in giving our party program the character of unalterable finality, like the Creed. The Church has never allowed
            the Creed to be interfered with. It is fifteen hundred years since it was formulated, but every suggestion for its amendment, every logical criticism, or attack on it, has been rejected. The Church has realized that anything and everything can be built up on a document of that sort, no matter how contradictory or irreconcilable with it. The faithful will swallow it whole, so long as logical reasoning is never allowed to be brought to bear on it.“ —Adolf
            Hitler, from Rauschning, _The Voice of Destruction_, pp. 239-40

            As for the Russians and the Chinese: They may have scrapped religion, but they did not scrap irrationality and blind faith. Instead, they chose to worship the Communist ideology and sided with it even in the face of contradictory evidence. Case in point: Lysenkoism.

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lysenkoism

            Law and accountability are human constructions designed to maintain order and help us cooperate with each other. Accountability was created by humans, for humans, and can only be enforced by humans. The problem with religion is when it creates a nonexistent entity, claims that only this nonexistent entity has the power to judge and enforce accountability, and then sets up religious leaders who are only accountable to something that isn’t even there.

            -

            “Not at all. The original text I responded to suggested that it is somehow impossible for a white person to comment on black people because you have to be a member of the group to do so. This is not objective realism; it is pure subjectivism. This is a textbook example. “

            Not quite. It was about, and I quote, “This is like a white guy writing about racism against blacks.” A white man with little to no experience with racism is unlikely to accurately describe racism against black people, just as someone who has never eaten chocolate will be hard pressed to describe its taste. It’s not necessarily impossible; you may be able to construct a reasonable approximation by understanding well-expressed secondhand accounts, but it’s a lot more difficult if you don’t have any firsthand experience.

            -

            “Given the wide variety of absurdly false and hateful myths about Christianity and Christians that come from the devoutly atheistic, it has a good chance of being true.“

            Myths spread by atheists have a looooong way to go before they’re anywhere close to the number, spread, and intensity of myths spread by Christians.

            That said, the only one that comes to mind is “Christians are stupid”, which is indeed unfair. I still remember just how far I would twist my mind into untenable logical pretzels to deny evidence and maintain my false beliefs before my Christianity crumbled under the weight of reality. It’s to be expected; the vast majority of Christians have been indoctrinated into the religion from early childhood, and the church wastes no time entrenching the belief as deeply as possible. People will go to amazing lengths to deny what’s right in front of them if the alternative is to uproot a belief that has been planted into the core of their mental framework. It’s a failing all humans share, and one that can only be fought if you have the knowledge of human psychology to know about it and the self-awareness to recognize it within yourself.

            “Perhaps I’m wrong, but I seriously doubt what you say here. I suspect you became an atheist because you didn’t have questions answered; because things bothered you that you refused to let go. That’s all fair. But don’t tell me its because you know -too much- about Christianity. There’s simply not enough time to do so. Who have you read to “know it too well”?

            Ever spoken with an Eastern Orthodox Christian? Perhaps a Coptic one? Ever read the medieval Scholastics like Aquinas or Anselm? Perhaps the
            disciples of the disciples? Iraeneus or Polycarp? Ever read the Anglicans, like Chesterton and Lewis? Maybe Catholics like Tolkien or Feser? Ever read the modern apologists like Craig, Strobel, Zacharius, Mooreland, etc? Christian physical scientists like Newton or Ross?

            There may be a wider variety of Christians than you know.”

            On the contrary, I became an atheist because my questions were answered, and the answer was all too often that the Bible is false, illogical, and morally repugnant.

            As for Christian variety, at one point in my youth my parents spent over a year “church-shopping”, so to
            speak, and I got exposed to a number of different denominations with absolute, unwavering faith in irreconcilable ideas about what God wants. This was perhaps the first real crack in my faith; a curious search on the internet revealed to me that there are tens of
            thousands of denominations in Christianity that split off over differences in doctrine. They covered the whole spectrum of beliefs and ideologies. I found it highly confusing that the supposed objective Word and Way and Truth of God could be used to justify virtually any position you care to name, from the benevolent to the monstrous.

            Of course, with the benefit of hindsight I recognize now that it’s because the Bible does not contain any holy truth; it’s just another book written in ancient times by fallible mortals trying to make sense of the world with their limited knowledge. And if I learned anything from my literature classes, it’s that even the simplest mortal writings can be read a thousand different ways depending on the interpreter.

            As for who I’ve read, of the ones you’ve listed, I’ve got Aquinas, Lewis, Tolkien, Craig, and Strobel. How about you? Have you ever read any agnostic or atheist writers, or do you only read books by people who will reinforce your beliefs instead of challenge them? Some of my recommendations include:

            John W. Loftus’s “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity” – http://www.amazon.com/Why-Became-Atheist-Preacher-Christianity/dp/1616145773/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

            Guy P. Harrison’s “50 Simple Questions for Every Christian” – http://www.amazon.com/50-Simple-Questions-Every-Christian/dp/161614727X/

            And a number of books by Bart D. Ehrman, like “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” – http://www.amazon.com/50-Simple-Questions-Every-Christian/dp/161614727X/

            “Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament” – http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Scriptures-Books-that-Testament/dp/0195182502/

            and “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” – http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Apocalyptic-Prophet-New-Millennium/dp/019512474X/

            Or, if you want something you don’t need to buy to read, how about something by Richard Carrier?

            http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

            If you can read that and give me a coherent explanation for how Matthew and Luke do not blatantly contradict each other, you will have my undivided attention.

        • 2happy2hate

          “And that attitude is poisonous. Everyone has within them the capacity for good or evil. To teach people that they’re hopeless sinners who can’t do anything right without Jesus is both abusive and false.”
          Then why do people murder, commit suicide, spread hatred and commit other heinous and inhumane acts? I have known people who have been diagnosed with having psychotic behavior and want to change, but they say they can’t help themselves. I also had friends who have taken their lives because they were tired of being depressed and felt that medical treatment was futile. If we have the capacity to do good on our own, then why the, “good” in us won’t overcome the evil?

          • EmpiricalPierce

            Like I said, everyone has capacity to spread happiness or suffering to others around them. Some people choose to behave selfishly and callously disregard the way their behaviors harm others.

            Though I should clarify that my statement overreaches slightly by saying everyone; it is indeed possible in some cases for a person to have their capacity altered. For example, there are multiple documented cases of brain tumors significantly altering the personality of those afflicted; In Kenneth Heilman’s Matter of Mind: A Neurologist’s View of Brain-Behavior Relationships, he discusses a woman who underwent a sudden and dramatic personality change (shortened temper, loss of interest in long-term planning, increased promiscuity, etc) and was found to have a large brain tumor growing from her pituitary gland. When the tumor was surgically removed, her personality snapped back to her old self just as quickly.

            Why did I include that story? To emphasize that while it may sometimes be true that people can lose the capacity to control their actions, such happens for natural reasons, not supernatural ones. Assumptions of gods, demons, and other such superstitious nonsense is the same road that leads to exorcisms and witch burnings.

    • mel mariner

      I’m okay with you not coming. I’m also very glad that you do not represent anyone but yourself of your age group. Not to mention I am very keenly aware that you look down on me thereby breaking your own moral code that “holier-than-thou” behavior is really bad. And if education is something that you value, I would suggest that you study up on the differences between a Mormon church and an Evangelical church or a Mormon church and a Catholic church. They don’t even belong in the same religion but that point is probably lost on you.

      What I conclude is that in order for you to come to church we have to in reality be less sinful than you, in other words perfect. Well that ain’t never going to happen. Churches are made up of the same kind of sinners that sit in bars. Why aren’t you yelling and cussing at them?

    • 2happy2hate

      I understand your reasons for leaving the church (people and place of worship); however, “church people,” are sinners like everyone else, with the
      exception that they’re forgiven. Thus, you shouldn’t care about what
      “church people” have to say because they have neither a hell nor heaven to place you in. ALL of us have to come to know God for ourselves. It’s one thing to leave the church, but it’s entirely different when you make a conscious decision to abandon Christ. What will you say to Him when you have to stand before him on judgment day? Are you going to blame the church for turning your back on God?

      • Nemo

        Does becoming a “Real True Christian” result in a change in a person in the here and now? If so, then examining the behavior of Christians to test the validity of the Bible is totally acceptable. If not, then your claim of being “born again” is completely unfalsifiable. What would you say to God on Judgement Day if you found at that Jesus was merely his second to last prophet, with Muhammad as the last, and you about to be cast into Hell for not groveling properly? Would you suddenly be overwhelmed with reverence for Allah?

  • Dawn

    I’m a baby boomer who left the church many years ago after experiencing spiritual abuse in two different denominations. During that time, I saw many evangelicals who thought they were superior to non Christians. Talk about narcissism.

    When I left, 20 years ago, I had to empty my mind of everything that THEY taught me. I stopped watching Christian TV and listening to Christian music. I read my Bible from beginning to end and couldn’t get enough of it. I read and prayed for several years, left an abusive marriage, got a job and raised my kids. I learned to hear the voice of God and what HE had to say to me for MY life, which was the opposite of what the Church said. Every now and then I will visit a church, but rarely. I don’t have any more longing to belong to a group. I have my friends of Faith and I know who my God is. I am not against Church and I do understand its place in our society. Something has got to change in American churches. I truly don’t believe this is what God had in mind for the gathering of his people. We need simplicity in our Faith.

    • 2happy2hate

      We need to KNOW God for ourselves! The Bible does tell us don’t forsake to assemble yourselves… pray and ask God to lead you to a Bible based church.

      • Joshua Gibbs

        “The Bible does tell us don’t forsake to assemble yourselves…”

        “Going to church” is not what that verse is referring to (see below).

        “pray and ask God to lead you to a Bible based church.”

        There are no scripture-based churches. The entire modern concept of church is non-scriptural. Read Already Gone by Ken Ham and Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola.

        I agree with you that the church is worth saving. The institutional church has much to offer the Body of Christ, but they are not the same thing. The church cannot be saved unless it realizes that.

        If nothing else Christians should be involved in church so they can change it. We need a second Reformation.

  • John

    I’m 25 and this is bullshit. Attitudes like this that are the reason I and so many people my age stopped going to church. We still want spirituality in our lives, which is why meditation and spiritual/metaphysical study groups are so popular now with Millennials, but we don’t want the dogma and people telling us how to live our lives. The part about us needing to come back to the church “through repentance and humility” made me laugh pretty hard. You guys are so out of touch.

    • Jim

      and you just confirmed the entire article.

      • David French

        I know, Jim. I thought he was being ironic, but maybe not.

  • John

    I’m 25 and this is bullshit. Attitudes like this that are the reason I and so many people my age stopped going to church. We still want spirituality in our lives, which is why meditation and spiritual/metaphysical study groups are so popular now with Millennials, but we don’t want the dogma and people telling us how to live our lives. The part about us needing to come back to the church “through repentance and humility” made me laugh pretty hard. You guys are so out of touch.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      A little long, but I hope you come back and are able to read this. I think it will challenge you right where you need it in a poetic and succinct way:

      “Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too
      little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found
      our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has
      not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument,
      that there has been in the past, or will be in the future,
      such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself,
      there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against
      the modern version of that improvement.

      The vice of the modern
      notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned
      with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting
      away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth,
      it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions,
      into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming
      to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty.

      When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of
      something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms.
      It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down
      a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut.
      Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal
      who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools,
      in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined
      as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine
      and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous
      scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense
      of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human.
      When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism,
      when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has
      outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality,
      when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form
      of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process
      sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals
      and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas.
      Turnips are singularly broad-minded.” -GK Chesterton

      Don’t be a turnip.

  • Sterling Ericsson

    Wow, this article is rather offensive.

    I’m not a part of the church because I see it for the controlling, racist, sexist, homophobic organization that it is. It is plain to see that religion is the cause for practically every problem in the world today.

    I still believe in God, but I believe in a God that actually loves people.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      I don’t know what church you’re talking about, but I certainly haven’t been to one that is “controlling, racist, sexist, homophobic … and the cause for practically every problem in the world today.”

      Now, I think most churches have rules, but you might find this controlling. And most churches – like those before them – are against eugenics and race theories that were espoused by 19th and 20th century philosophers and politicians. Christianity had all but annihilated slavery in the West. It took secular humanism to bring it back after the medieval era.

      I think most churches are probably sexist in your view precisely because they notice a distinction in the sexes. To do so and to act accordingly is not sexist. What -is- sexist is erecting artificial standards for the sexes (like declaring them identical).

      Christianity teaches that homosexuality is an abomination. Why? To answer that, why not start with Plato or Aristotle. Neither of them were Christians, but they both opposed homosexuality as barbaric. Since they aren’t Christians, and you think religion is “the cause for practically every problem in the world today”, perhaps we can consider them neutral ground.

      Any problems you don’t think are caused by religion today, by chance?

      ===
      “I still believe in God, but I believe in a God that actually loves people.”

      If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. -Augustine

      It isn’t any particular revelation that the God you believe in is exactly the God you want there to be, who defines love and hate just as you do, who has the same rules as you do, etc. Ultimately, our tendency as human beings is to put ourselves as our God. But it doesn’t matter one little bit that we believe in something or how strongly we believe it; it matters whether what we believe is true or not.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      It is plain to see that religion is the cause for practically every problem in the world today.

      -I hope you are deliberately exaggerating. Religion is a problem, but it is certainly not the cause of even most problems today.

      • Sterling Ericsson

        Most wars and violence are caused by religious beliefs. This is just a historical fact. Sure, there are other factors, but religion is always one of them.

        • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

          Most wars and violence are caused by religious beliefs.

          -Utter nonsense. The present Syrian war wasn’t caused by religion, it was caused by class. Neither World War was caused by religion. Neither the Mongol conquests, the Rwandan genocide, or the Congo Wars were caused by religion. The Iran-Iraq war and Algerian Civil wars did have religious overtones, but the former seemed to be more about oil and the latter about democracy. Your statement might be true for 16th-early 17th century Europe, but it hasn’t been true for a long, long time, as far as I can see.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            WWI obviously was just a mess. That’s the big criticism for it that historians always note, that it was just meaningless.

            But WWII was certainly aggravated by religion. Hitler specifically used the Christian beliefs of the German populace to spur support for his actions.

            There are many examples of recent religious wars, especially when it gets wrapped up in ethnic discrimination. The Lebanese Civil War is a prime example. The entire conflict between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis leading up to the Nagorno-Karabakh War are another. The wars in Yugoslavia i’m not even going to touch. So many religious, ethnic, and political issues there.

            The entire Sharia conflict in Nigeria is almost exclusively based on religious differences. And then there’s Israel and every country around it. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that one.

            Whether it be Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity, religious conflict and violence is everywhere.

          • theophilus166

            there are at least 60 countries currently at war, and these conflicts involve nearly 1,000 different groups. When you say that most wars are caused by religion, I doubt you could even name 5 current wars, let alone the causes behind them.

          • Sterling Ericsson

            Didn’t I name 4 up above?

  • Al Cruise

    What your to blind to see is that Jesus has also left the church you describe here. Are you Neo-Calvanist? Your post is just old school cult talk. Sounds like listening to Jim Jones or David Koresh. Use threats,shaming and guilt to keep the clan together. Jesus is leading this movement not you.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      You’re accusing the author of being a Jim Jones clone and being a part of a Christ-less church all in one tiny response? That’s not the best way to disagree with someone…

  • Charles Hodsdon

    A blog that I think best describes the unchurched person. not the rose colored glasses of the original article, or the harsh slap of this on, but a legitimate analysis. http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/04/15-characteristics-of-todays-unchurched-person/

    Also, where do we get our definition of church? From the bible or from centuries of tradition? Remember how Jesus felt abut those who stood on centuries of tradition. Barna did another study that showed that a majority of church goers have more in common with the Pharisees than with Christ, and I think that is what people of any generation are rejecting. Even modern evangelical leaders like Francis Chan are having “Martin Luther moments” where they realize that the big “effective” churches they have built look nothing like what we read about in Scripture. Maybe more modern day Martin Luther’s need to stand up and remind the church that she has played the harlot, and needs to make major changes if she is going to carry out the mission of the Friend of Sinners whose name she claims.

  • axelbeingcivil

    I think you’ll find that this “moralistic therapeutic deism”, as you call it, is pretty much a descriptor of 90+% of the laity of most religions; the sort of people who go to churches on Sunday and never think about it again.

    The reason most people are abandoning religion is because we live in a society where the central focus of religious community has disappeared, where many cultures and religions mix together, and where access to information has never been higher. Combine that with church leaders frequently being exposed as hypocrites, with churches backing politicians whose stances are seen as insane by most younger people, with church leaders taking stances that are blatantly opposed to scientific learning, etc…

    The complaint that the subsequent generation is increasingly narcissistic, that it’s less intelligent, that it’s more prone to violence or disobedience, etc. has been around since time immemorial. Even Plato lamented such things in his works several millennia back. It’s the complaint of the old that the young aren’t carbon copies of themselves.

    The accusations are nothing new. The world goes on as it has.

  • ambrs57

    Good article. Evans misses the boat on a number of fronts, in my book. As usual, she sees pretty much what she wants to see, rather than what is actually there. Note that the Barna group is not the best place for empirical information. Sociologist Bradley Wright has discussed its shortcomings and offers a more empirically accurate, and hence, more optimistic take on the state of Evangelicalism and youth. Check out his books and blog – http://brewright.com/

  • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

    From what I gather from the hateful comments, your analysis was spot on and people don’t like it pointed out.

    • BWF

      Here’s some advice: Just because an idea is unpopular doesn’t make it true. It may be the case that people are disputing the analysis because it isn’t very well thought out.

      • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

        I never said it was true because it was unpopular, merely that it confirms the truthfulness. This is an important distinction. The tone of the comments is right in line with the analysis of the article. There is little respect, just lots of “this article is what is wrong with Christianity”. If the article were untrue, the dialogue would be far more respectful, even if there were disagreement.

        Like I said, it is not true because it is unpopular; its truthfulness is simply reiterated by the tone of the comments.

  • Azaria

    This article is the EXACT reason young people like me don’t go to church. The church and the people who go there are insanely judgmental. Not only that, but the whole premise of Christianity is ridiculous. Even if Christianity became a gay-loving, tolerant, nice church that embraced every lifestyle and every person, most young people still wouldn’t come because we find the whole idea of a man who came back from the dead who is now our god who is going to judge is later laughable. People like you are threatened because you’re now in the minority, and you don’t like the fact that millennials are thinking for themselves and actually believing in science, not a book that was written 4,000 years ago.

    By the way, I’ve seen your other blog posts about millenials and the way you look down on us with such a superior attitude is disgusting. You know your kids are millennials too, I hope you don’t think of them in the same way you think of everyone else my age.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      Everything else aside… the Bible wasn’t written 4000 years ago, dude.

  • BWF

    I agree with tanyam’s comment; even with Smith and Twinge’s work on the subject, this is still very limited data. Furthermore, the rhetoric of your post seems to go further than the mere data and to actively belittle the Millennial generation for having been born in the wrong timeframe.

  • Levedi

    First, you’re cherry picking your data. There are multiple studies on the Millennials and some of them come to diametrically opposed conclusions. You just picked the one that supported your view of Millennials as narcissists and dismissed the one you didn’t like without supporting your claims with evidence.

    Second, I’ve met the founder of the Barna group – he spoke at my university’s full faculty meeting a few years ago and he is not a liberal Christian as you imply. This is one of the reasons the Barna study has a narrower definition of Christian than nearly any other polling mechanism that looks at American religiosity.

    Third, the Barna group’s methodology was significantly more finely tailored than that of the study you cite, which makes its findings more trustworthy. Read _UnChristian_ the book that resulted from the study. The methodology section is gorgeous – if only more Christians were careful with data in the same way.

    Fourth, I’m not a Millennial nor a scholar of demographics. But I do teach Millennials and my anecdotal experience confirms that many of these young people are speaking quite literally when they say they “can’t find Jesus at church.” If you’d actually read the Barna group’s study, you’d know that this generation is actually quite interested in spiritual matters. They are far less likely to be atheists than my own generation for instance. As the Barna study showed, the lack of substantive spiritual education is a problem in both liberal and conservative churches and its driving teens and twenties away. They’ve figured out that it doesn’t take church to be nice to other people and they’ve figured out that many of their churches aren’t interested in actually helping people outside their narrow cultural bubble.

    Finally, no Millennials are not really good critical thinkers as a rule. (I teach them – they’ve been badly damaged by the school system we older generations imposed on them. The fault is ours.) But it doesn’t take a genius to get fed up on the baby food that passes for preaching in most churches. And when a substantial portion of a generation stands up and says “I’m tired of your hypocrisy and meaningless ritual” perhaps it’s time to take the log out of our own eye, before we stone them as heretics. After all, Jesus had the same complaints about the Pharisees.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      I disagree with parts, but I -do- agree with this: “But it doesn’t take a genius to get fed up on the baby food that passes for preaching in most churches.”

      I don’t think the solution is to remove religion from the church though, but to justify it. Ask hard questions, teach hard topics, engage people intellectually where we’re so used to being engaged emotionally; teach apologetics, philosophy, theology, history in churches; that sort of thing.

      • Joshua Gibbs

        The above poster was not suggesting that we “remove religion” from the church – which is really just a euphemism for removing God. She would probably agree with what you posted as part of what reform should look like. I know I do. What’s missing from your assessment is practical teaching; usable preaching on personal morality (especially in regard to loving non-Christians and people with same-sex attractions in a practical, instead of purely theoretical, way), scripture-based church discipline for mature believers, intensive discipleship programs for babies in Christ, serious training in evangelism that is securely founded on scripture, real help for the local community, ways to build fellowship with other Christians (such as pre-modern all-day “church”, complete with morning sermon, picnic, fellowship time, evening service, and a communion/potluck “love feast”) and private schools for church members – with active parental involvement. I’ve been going to a very good gospel-preaching and (selectively) bible-believing church since I was a baby in the faith (I’m 5 years old now!) and one thing I’ve learned going to a good church (one that is mostly of sound doctrine and is not only not anti-intellectual but is actually pro-apologetics) that long is that you can keep learning theoretical stuff forever. There is no end to theology because our God is infinite and apologetics is ongoing because knowledge continues to increase. I love sound theology and good apologetics, and we need them desperately, but if you aren’t putting all that knowledge to good use there’s no point. “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2 KJV. While we are in the world we are at work and not play, though even soldiers get time to rest. “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” – John 9:4 KJV “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12 KJV “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 8:15 KJV

  • Jerry Lynch

    Perhaps this has been and always will be true but this created division of Left and Right within the Church cannot be pleasing to God. Two types of flawed humans who think of their way as The Way banging heads in front of.the world while at the same time procaiming there is One Truth. (Is that a liberal or conservative idea I just voiced?)

    Heisenberg Uncertainty Theory: looking for a wave or a particle, we will see what we want to see. Millennials are this or that by filter. “Look at how blind and stupid those Progressives/Evangelicals are and have studies to prove it.”

    This debate is just more fodder for the sinful pleasures of feeling superior and right in our prejudice thinking. Just another way of burning bridges and increasing divisiveness. What else does it accomplish? It is down the rabbit hole with a tank.

    If you are one who feels the End Times are nigh, all the signs are there, remember what it says in Revelation: the Chruch’s love for many will grow cold and It will be one of complaint. Just a remnant of faithful will remain. The yeast that will help fulfill that prophecy I see as political involvement. Perhaps that remnant will be those of the invisible Church, having left all its organizations for its friendliness with the world (translated enmity with God).

  • therufs

    I know what’ll bring millenials back to the church: talking about them instead of to them! Nice work, sir.

    • mylifeasprose

      see also, talking ABOUT them instead of asking THEM why they leave the church.

  • Dingdong

    Narcistic Millenials maybe, but I reckon there is more of it in the churches in the form of males who inhabit the pews. We are all selfish to a degree. The challenge is for the church not the millenials – they are the ones leaving and its not entirely their fault.

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      Females can be selfish too, so I’m not sure why you singled guys out here, considering the majority of church membership in the West belongs to females.

      Even still, I don’t understand how selfishness would drive someone to -stay- in a church quite like it would drive people to leave one.

  • Ray Hallman

    It all about what we want. It should be all about GOD and what He wants. after all He is control. The main reason people leave church is personal sin, theirs. If the church is not preaching the Word of God and reaching out to a lost and dying world go find one that is. God does not honor excuses, which are nothing more than the skin of truth wrapped around a lie

  • EmpiricalPierce

    “Here we have your misunderstanding. Two misunderstandings actually. That something is “abstract” does not mean it does not exist in reality. All of mathematics is an abstraction. Would you suggest that mathematics does not actually exist in reality?

    Additionally, If something can be improved, it moves towards something. That “something” is called perfection.

    Take a triangle. Sure, no physical triangle quite meets the standard of a perfect triangle, but all physical triangles approximate it. The perfect triangle, while not physical, is certainly real. If it wasn’t, we’d have no standard to judge physical triangles with.

    This is the thinking of Plato. In Aristotelian philosophy, there is no abstract but real “perfect triangle”, but triangularity itself is the formal cause of every triangle, and triangularity defines the perfect form.”

    I did misspeak, and I apologize for that. To revise my statement, it is an abstract concept that is nonexistent in the sense that it is impossible to achieve. Though to
    be fair, that can be weaselly depending on how you define perfection; if your idea of a “perfect triangle” is one that has three sides, then by definition all triangles are perfect. If it’s one that has three sides of equal length, then all equilateral triangles are perfect.

    But does perfection have no regard for the triangle’s other potential properties? Whether it is forged out of metal, or drawn in graphite, whether it is small or large? Do these factors have any bearing on perfection, and if so, what attributes does a perfect triangle have? Is “perfect” really the right word to use to describe a triangle with three sides, considering that without three sides exactly, it isn’t even a triangle at all? A triangle with four sides is not an imperfect triangle, it is a rectangle.

    I’ll concede that “perfection” an individual’s concept of perfection may exist, so if that’s what you’re arguing, there you go. But if you’re looking for an absolute, objective perfection, you’re going to be disappointed. What does it mean to be a “perfect” human? Ask a thousand different people and you’ll get a thousand different answers. An absolute, objective perfect does not exist due to being a logical impossibility, just as omnipotence does not exist due to it
    being a logical impossibility (for example, an omnipotent being should be able to both create a rock that is impossible to move, and move it… but if the rock is moved, then it was not in fact impossible to move, thus omnipotence is logically impossible)

    -

    “By what standard is it getting better?”

    By a standard that says a world populated by an on average less violent, better educated, and healthier humanity is an improvement over past circumstances. Or do you not think those are improvements?

    -

    “But suffering often leads to growth of character, refinement of person, better views of life, and sometimes even greater happiness. Additionally, temporary happiness and long-term happiness are often produced by different things. What does humanism prefer? And why? The standard you gave me talks about “the most happiness”. How do you quantify happiness? And what about happiness at the cost of others?”

    Suffering is not the only route to personal growth and is thus unnecessary (unless you’re going to equate suffering to things like exercising and studying to become healthier and more knowledgable, which is a rather odd way to define suffering). Long term happiness is preferable by grace of being long term. Happiness is difficult to quantify, but a good starting point is making sure everyone’s basic needs (such as food, shelter, and health) are met.

    Happiness at the cost of others always depends on context; for example, lots of Christians complain that allowing homosexuals to marry is an assault on their marriages, but considering that their definition of marriage is based on the Bible and don’t hear nearly so much complaining from any of them about people being allowed to have unbiblical divorces (and in fact, many of them enjoy being able to have one themselves), it’s likely their
    estimated unhappiness at homosexuals being allowed to marry is imaginary or grossly exaggerated.

    This is further supported by the fact that those who know and are actually friends with homosexuals support their right to get married, whereas those who don’t are people who spend most of their time sequestered in a bubble designed to reinforce their prejudice and have their opinion of homosexuality largely shaped by those who seek to falsely demonize it. Given the evidence suggesting that opposition to homosexual marriage is based upon unreasonable bigoted ignorance, it’s better to make homosexuals happy at the cost of pissing off
    bigots.

    Of course, any moral system, no matter how simple in theory, will always be difficult in practice. Unless you think you have a better idea? Perhaps the Bible, with its tens of thousands of irreconcilable interpretations?

    -

    “1. Religion is dangerous; secularism is not.
    2. Religious people are less intelligent than secular people. (refutation: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=20
    3. Religion should be destroyed.
    4. Jesus never existed.
    5. Happiness is the purpose of life.
    6. Only physical things exist.
    7. Our minds are just meat computers.
    8. Science is the only way we can know things. “

    1. People are dangerous, at least potentially. Religion, with its deliberate promotion of ignorant faith over knowledge makes people even more likely to be dangerous through delusional ignorance to the point of deadliness. Faith healing and witch burnings are a couple
    charming examples of what humans are capable of when they have no regard for logic or evidence. To be fair, ignorant faith does not need to be religious in nature to be dangerous; Lysenkoism is a good example of ignorant faith being indulged out of worshipful deference to communism instead of a god.

    2. I already covered this one. Religion is designed to exploit common flaws in human thinking, and even the smartest of us will twist ourselves into untenable logical pretzels to protect a false belief that has been planted in the core of our identity, especially if it’s been with us since childhood.

    3. The end of religion would be a net positive, yes, but it must be destroyed with words and reason. Violence is both cruel and counterproductive.

    4. Was there some rabbi named Jesus who existed in ancient times and wound up on the wrong side of the local authorities? Sure, that’s not unreasonable. Was there a godman named Jesus who performed miracles and absolved us of some bloodline curse called “sin” with a
    sacrifice which, according to Matthew, caused an earthquake and mass resurrection that is not corroborated by any reliable sources? You’ve got a long way to go to demonstrate that as even remotely likely.

    5. It is up to each person to define his or her own purpose, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who don’t want to be happy.

    6. That’s a bit off. It’d be more accurate to say “nothing
    supernatural exists as more than a hypothetical concept”.

    7. I prefer the term “emergent phenomena”, but the notion that our minds have nothing to do with souls is correct. Again, if you disagree, I direct you to read Adam Lee’s “A Ghost in the Machine” and then tell me what evidence you have for the soul’s existence and what purpose it serves: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-ghost-in-the-machine/

    8. It’s not the only way, but it’s far and away the most reliable one we’ve got.

    -

    “And then there are all of the apparent Bible contradictions. Do you find it strange that for nearly 1800 years, the best minds in the world didn’t see these contradictions? But all of a sudden they are just everywhere in the Bible? Does this not raise any suspicions whatsoever?

    Now, I’ve seen lists of Bible contradictions before, and at one time I took them seriously and really investigated them. A friend once posted an image that showed hundreds of contradictions. So, I went out and searched out about 20% of them at random. I was afraid he was
    onto something.

    And then I realized none of the contradictions were actually contradictions at all. All I had to do was read the chapters. I felt cheated. You might to.”

    It’s not that people never saw the contradictions. It’s just that for thousands of years, the religious majority had the power to imprison, torture, and execute heretics and apostates who dared question religious dogma. And beyond that, for thousands of years we lived in abject ignorance compared to the modern day, where not only has our understanding of physics, biology, astronomy, psychology, archeology, etc. improved by leaps and bounds, we also now have the printing press, computer, internet, and other inventions that make vast amounts of knowledge and ideas easily accessible to more people than ever before.

    Never before have people had both the right to speak so strongly against religion and such a vast depth of human knowledge to draw upon to support their arguments. The result? The world now has a larger percentage of deists, agnostics, and atheists than ever before in recorded history, and if the past few generations are a reliable indication, humanity will become even more irreligious in the future.

    As for there being no contradictions, it’s true that some people get overeager in pointing out oddities in the Bible, but the notion that the Bible has no contradictions whatsoever is absurd. The only way to believe that is to twist your mind into untenable logical pretzels concocting preposterous scenarios of what is technically possible, and then deciding to believe in the exceedingly unlikely constructions because you have committed yourself to siding with whatever agrees with your religious presumptions, no matter how remote the possibility.

    Of course, if you disagree, I invite you to provide reasonable explanations for the contradictions I’ll be listing later in my reply.

    -

    “So we’ve come to “Hitler was a Christian”, eh?

    We’ve descended to PZ Meyer-level blithering incoherence then. That’s a shame. Hitler was absolutely not a Christian of any stripe. He followed none of the creed and none of the beliefs. He may have called himself any number of things for political gain. But somehow the Russians and Chinese (who were declared atheists), sneak by your radar and weren’t acting on their beliefs, but Hitler was?

    Hitler acted on eugenics, the secular humanist scientific movement in academia that existed for half a century before him. Speaking of happiness, this is precisely what eugenics had in mind: rid humanity of all physical imperfections by destroying physically imperfect people. Evolution in action! Chesterton wrote on the dangers of this topic for both interpreting history and reasoning morality before Hitler rose to power. Oh, and Chesterton -was- a Christian: http://gutenberg.org/ebooks/25

    Hitler also acted on the nationalism and pressure of a defeated Germany that was ripe with hatred and the desire for revenge. Surprise! Christianity teaches that that type of behavior is bad! That’s why Hitler had so many Christians imprisoned in concentration camps; for
    speaking out against it.

    Keep in mind that I don’t normally respond to “Hitler was a
    Christian” buffoonery. It is usually a waste of time, because of what it reveals in the person who uses it. I’m hoping it doesn’t work out that way this time.”

    So we’ve come to “no True Scotma- er, Christian does X”, eh?

    The problem with “no True Christian” arguments is that if we listened to everyone who said someone wasn’t a “True Christian”, then we would have a grand total of zero Christians in the world. Like it or not, the Bible is a massive book with a wide variety of contradictory messages that can be used to support just about any position you care to name.

    Supporting Hitler’s actions with the Bible is easy: Just say, for example, that Matthew 5:18-19 means the old testament still applies (whether it does or not is a matter of interpretation, but there are millions of Christians who will tell you it does), and then use any of the vast quantities of old testament verses showing that God is A-OK ethnocentric genocide. Presto, a mass murderer with Biblical support! In fact, you can find support for eugenics in Leviticus 21:16-24 which encourages people to shun the handicapped. Add in Romans 13:1-4, and it becomes unbiblical to oppose Hitler because all people in authority are placed there by God.It looks like Hitler’s Nazi regime was very much so Christian.

    I’m sure you can easily cite verses that contradict these positions, but it comes at the cost of showing that the Bible is self-contradictory. Here, I’ll get you started: One of the shunned people in the Leviticus passage are people damaged in the private parts (verse 20, “stones broken”), supported by Deuteronomy 23:1. God has since made a complete 180 from shunning eunuchs to apparently favoring them in Isaiah 56:3-5 and Matthew 19:12. It’s nice that God’s decided that eunuchs are actually pretty cool guys, but why is a perfect God changing his mind in the first place? Maybe because the Bible was written by mortals without divine inspiration, and the ones who wrote the earlier verses were more hateful than the ones who wrote the later ones?

    Regarding the Russians and Chinese: The problem with trying to assign the credit or blame for various events to atheism is that it is not a comprehensive belief system; it is simply a lack of belief in gods, and neither supports nor rejects a stance on any other issue.

    Comparing atheism to Christianity is apples to oranges; the counterpart of atheism is theism (and in our particular case, the counterpart of your Christianity is my Rational Humanism), and it’s just as inaccurate to say “X was caused by theism” as it is to say “X was caused by atheism”. I’ve never heard a Christian (or any other religious person) say they were inspired to do X because they are a theist; they do it because they are a Christian/Muslim/Hindu/insert theistic belief system here. Similarly, saying the Russians and Chinese were inspired to do what they did due to their atheism is inaccurate. They were inspired by their communist ideology.

    Trying to tack eugenics to secular humanism is quite a claim. Unlike associating Hitler with Christianity and Catholicism, made absurdly easy by his abundant appeals to Christianity in his speeches and his usage of the centuries of anti-semitism produced by the Catholic
    church, I haven’t heard any quotes from people saying “the best way to human happiness is to murder people who don’t meet our standards” and then providing logical support for such a claim, like answering the questions “how do we define the eugenic standard?” and “you
    realize that all sorts of defects, minor and major, are constantly generated by mutation, right?” and most importantly, “has it not occurred to you that killing off people that don’t meet your arbitrary eugenic standard is going to make tons and tons of people extremely angry and unhappy?” So no, it doesn’t sound like something a person concerned with promoting human happiness through reason and logic would do.

    Finally, as for Hitler oppressing other Christians, that’s nothing new. Are you aware of the Thirty Years War and other such shining examples of Christians throughout history slaughtering each other over theological differences? How about the religious tests of colonial America, where theocratic colonies would fine, imprison, torture, and execute colonists who had the “wrong” Christian beliefs? The vast majority of Christian persecution throughout history has been at the hand of other Christians.

    -

    “The rest of your responses are from “rationalwiki” and “infidels.org”. RationalWiki is horrendously bad. Here’s but one article refuting in profound detail the rigor of that website:

    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20

    I understand why you think the way you do now; you read this stuff and believe it because it supports your worldview. Might I suggest instead that you read actual primary sources? The nonsense you are feeding your mind with (if your myriad of links to it is any indication) is only doing you harm. Wikipedia can be bad enough; Rationalwiki has absolutely no accountability. Remember
    accountability?”

    That’s a fair criticism against Rationalwiki, but it comes across as absurdly hypocritical considering that you’re the one trying to support the Bible as not merely reliable, but written by a perfect God despite this claim being contradicted in numerous places by reality and even the Bible itself.

    Consider the fact that the Bible asserts a global flood happened within the past several thousand
    years, a claim flatly contradicted by the existence of fragile geological formations that would not have time to form in the time between the alleged flood and now, the white cliffs of dover which would not have sufficient time with clean water to acquire their distinctive color if they had been stained gray with silt within the past several thousand years. Or how about ancient cave paintings
    dated to 10,000+ years ago that would have been washed away if the caves had been flooded? And if you’re a young earth creationist instead of an old one, hoo boy. The Bible has such atrociously little credibility, it’s amazing you can even see the speck in Rationalwiki’s eye past the enormous redwood forest covering the
    Bible.

    I see you also gave Infidels nothing more than a passing mention. That’s a shame; you missed some great stuff. Here are some highlights:

    1. Was Jesus born in 6 AD, or some time before 4
    BC? More importantly, why don’t the gospel authors agree if they were divinely inspired? (For an in depth examination: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html)

    2. In order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, Luke says that everyone had to go to the city of their birth to register for the census. This is absurd, and would have caused a bureaucratic nightmare. The purpose of the Roman census was for taxation, and the Romans were interested
    in where the people lived and worked, not where they were born (which they could have found out by simply asking rather than causing thousands of people to travel). Can you offer a more compelling logical explanation for this besides the obvious one that Luke’s story is a fabrication?

    3. John’s first encounter with Jesus was while both of them were still in their mothers’ wombs, at which time John, apparently recognizing his Saviour, leaped for joy (Luke
    1:44). Much later, while John is baptizing, he refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and “the Son of God” (John 1:29,36). Later still, John is thrown in prison from which he does not return alive. John’s definite knowledge of Jesus as the son of God and saviour of the world is explicitly contradicted by Luke 7:18-23 in which the imprisoned John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is coming, or do we look for someone else?” Has John suddenly gone senile, or is this an indication that a later author who edited the account failed to spot the plot hole he created?

    4. Matthew was very fond of fulfilling prophecies that do not, in their original context, refer to Jesus. Why did Matthew include them in his gospel? There are two possibilities:

    a. The church says that the words had a hidden future context as well as the original context, ie, God was keeping very important secrets from His chosen people.

    b. Matthew, in his zeal to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, searched the Old Testament for passages (sometimes just phrases) that could be construed as messianic prophecies and then created or modified events in Jesus’ life to fulfill those “prophecies.”

    Fortunately for those who really want to know the truth, Matthew made a colossal blunder later in his gospel which leaves no doubt at all as to which of the above possibilities is true. His blunder involves what is known as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey (if you believe Mark, Luke or John) or riding on two donkeys (if you believe Matthew). In Matthew 21:1-7, two animals are mentioned in three of the verses, so this
    cannot be explained away as a copying error. And Matthew has Jesus riding on both animals at the same time, for verse 7 literally says, “on them he sat.”

    Why does Matthew have Jesus riding on two donkeys at the same time? Because he misread Zechariah 9:9 which reads in part, “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

    Anyone familiar with Old Testament Hebrew would know that the word translated “and” in this passage does not indicate another animal but is used in the sense of “even” (which is used in many translations) for emphasis. The Old Testament often uses parallel phrases which refer to the same thing for emphasis, but Matthew was evidently not familiar with this usage. Although the result is rather humorous, it is also very revealing. It demonstrates conclusively that Matthew created events in Jesus’ life to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, even if it meant creating an absurd event. Matthew’s gospel is full of fulfilled prophecies. Working the way Matthew did, and believing as the church does in “future contexts,” any phrase in the Bible could be turned into a fulfilled prophecy!

    -

    “I’ve read Ehrmen before, and I disagree with him on a number of issues, but I always enjoy a good Ehrmen vs fundamentalist atheist debate when Ehrmen tries to convince the atheist that yes, Jesus really did exist.

    I’ve read Loftus too. It has been a while, but I remember it
    basically reading like a pop atheist book; heavy on indictment, but unreasonable.

    I’m also knowledgeable about what books didn’t make it into the Bible, and I’ve read the ancient accounts.”

    Regarding Jesus’s existence, see 4 in your myth list, above.

    As for books that didn’t make it into the Bible, what’s your stance on apocrypha? For example, how about the books that the Protestant sects consider apocryphal, but the Catholics/Eastern Orthodox do not, like Tobit, Wisdom, and 1 and 2 Maccabees? Are those books divinely inspired or not? If they are, aren’t the Protestants heretical for rejecting them, and the Protestant Bible needs to be corrected immediately? If they aren’t, then why did God let his divine guide for humanity get bogged down with false texts for over a thousand years? If the Bible is vulnerable to that, is it possible that the
    Bible still contains apocryphal books, and we don’t know which ones? Are any of the books currently considered apocryphal by all sects actually divinely inspired, and we just don’t know it?

    • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

      “I did misspeak, and I apologize for that. To revise my statement, it is an abstract concept that is nonexistent in the sense that it is impossible to achieve. Though to
      be fair, that can be weaselly depending on how you define perfection; if your idea of a “perfect triangle” is one that has three sides, then by definition all triangles are perfect. If it’s one that has three sides of equal length, then all equilateral triangles are perfect.”

      Are we really debating the definition of a triangle? Adding a new adjective like “equilateral” does not change “triangularity”.

      ===
      “But does perfection have no regard for the triangle’s other potential properties? Whether it is forged out of metal, or drawn in graphite, whether it is small or large? Do these factors have any bearing on perfection, and if so, what attributes does a perfect triangle have? Is “perfect” really the right word to use to describe a triangle with three sides, considering that without three sides exactly, it isn’t even a triangle at all? A triangle with four sides is not an imperfect triangle, it is a rectangle.”

      No, it doesn’t have those other attributes in mind, because are not discussing material cause but formal cause. The -form- of a triangle is what we are talking about. As things approach this form: (180 degrees/three sides) they approach perfection. I still can’t believe we’re debating the definition of a triangle, to be honest. Not much use in arguing about perfection in other things if we can’t even get this down.

      ===
      “By a standard that says a world populated by an on average less violent, better educated, and healthier humanity is an improvement over past circumstances. Or do you not think those are improvements?”

      The world may be healither, I’d give you that, but only in first-world nations and only in some measures. We certainly worry more about health than ever before. As for the rest, I’d disagree. We are not better educated; we are simply more inclined to think so. And we are not less violent; we just don’t know where to look.

      ===
      “Suffering is not the only route to personal growth and is thus unnecessary (unless you’re going to equate suffering to things like exercising and studying to become healthier and more knowledgable, which is a rather odd way to define suffering). Long term happiness is preferable by grace of being long term. Happiness is difficult to quantify, but a good starting point is making sure everyone’s basic needs (such as food, shelter, and health) are met.”

      You make a lot of claims, but I’m curious to know why those claims are the correct ones. None of them are brute facts as you seem to think they are.

      ===
      “Happiness at the cost of others always depends on context.”

      And the definition of that context is the crux of the matter, and the part we’d disagree about, and the thing which ScienceTM cannot tell us.

      ===
      “1. People are dangerous, at least potentially. Religion, with its deliberate promotion of ignorant faith over knowledge makes people even more likely to be dangerous through delusional ignorance to the point of deadliness. Faith healing and witch burnings are a couple charming examples of what humans are capable of when they have no regard for logic or evidence. To be fair, ignorant faith does not need to be religious in nature to be dangerous; Lysenkoism is a good example of ignorant faith being indulged out of worshipful deference to communism instead of a god.”

      Your definition of faith is perfectly opposite of the correct one, which may explain the fact your worldview on the matter is perfectly opposite of the truth. From http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2012/10/struth.html:

      “Faith is a mid-13cent. word meaning “duty of fulfilling one’s trust,” from Old French feid, foi, “faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge,” which comes in turn from Latin fides, meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” the root being fidere, “to trust.” To have faith in something is therefore to put your trust in it. Hence, if you trust scientists to perform their experiments and interpret and report their results correctly, you are said to have faith in science. (Although, more correctly, you have faith in scientists. Expressed that way, some may come to doubt their faith to the extent they know human nature.)

      Thus, faith is simply the Latinate equivalent of the Germanic truth. When this is understood, we also understand what Cristoph Cardinal Schönborn meant when he said that the Church too rejected “blind faith.””

      ===
      “2. I already covered this one. Religion is designed to exploit common flaws in human thinking, and even the smartest of us will twist ourselves into untenable logical pretzels to protect a false belief that has been planted in the core of our identity, especially if it’s been with us since childhood.”

      This is false. Religion is another name for Philosophy or Worldview. Granted, it has God in mind, but even Socrates and Aristotle admitted to a First Cause and Prime Mover. Of course people may try to “exploit common flaws in human thinking”, but this does not discredit all Philosophy, all Wordlviews, and all Religions, anymore than bad science discredits all science and bad writing discredits all authors.

      ===
      “5. It is up to each person to define his or her own purpose, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who don’t want to be happy.”

      So you believe in free will, then?

      ===
      “6. That’s a bit off. It’d be more accurate to say “nothing supernatural exists as more than a hypothetical concept”.”

      Not really. Jerry Coyne for example posits that everything is explainable by sheer matter. He’s a pretty prominent atheist. Materialism/Physicalism/Scientism is the most common attitude in modern atheism, and it embarrasses modern atheist philosophers, to their credit.

      ===
      “7. I prefer the term “emergent phenomena”, but the notion that our minds have nothing to do with souls is correct.”

      That’s incorrect and based on a complete misunderstanding of terminology. See http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/03/whats-matter-with-matter.html:

      “And among the natural forms, there is a distinction between inanimate and animate. The inanimate is moved; the animate moves. An animate form is in Latin anima, which means “life” and is often translated “soul.” To ask in Latin whether a living thing has a soul is to state a tautology. The same, I am told, is true in Greek, where anima is rendered ἐνέργεια (energeia) sometimes translated “energy.” Amusingly, one may test empirically whether a soul exists by checking whether a thing is dead.”

      The soul is the formal and final cause of a rational animal. See Aristotle, Aquinas, Feser, or any other Aristotelian. I’m not too fond of Cartesian dualism, which is where you are getting your definition of soul from, I would guess (most moderns do). Hylemorphism makes much more sense, as do other forms of dualism. In either case, a mechanistic explanation leaves far too much to be desired.

      ===
      “8. It’s not the only way, but it’s far and away the most reliable one we’ve got.”

      What scientific experiment have you run to confirm that statement?

      ===
      “It’s not that people never saw the contradictions. It’s just that for thousands of years, the religious majority had the power to imprison, torture, and execute heretics and apostates who dared question religious dogma.”

      I call BS on this. You’re free to prove the claim, but I think you’ll find it exaggerated to an extreme.

      ===
      “So we’ve come to “no True Scotma- er, Christian does X”, eh?”

      No, we haven’t. We’ve come to “the word ‘Christian’ means something”. If it doesn’t mean anything, how can we debate it? And if it -does- mean something, why can you ignore it and turn anyone you don’t like into a Christian to condemn Christianity as a whole? If you want to play this game, I’ll just pick all the bad guys I can think of in history, show where they didn’t believe in God in some writing of their’s, and call them devout atheists who represent atheism. You wouldn’t like that very much, because I’d be neglecting what they may have -actually- believed in favor of what I’d -prefer- they had believed to support my position.

      To do so would be utterly irrational, which is why I don’t do it.

      • EmpiricalPierce

        “Are we really debating the definition of a triangle? Adding a new adjective like “equilateral” does not change “triangularity”.”

        Don’t look at me. You’re the one who felt inclined to describe a polygon with three sides as a “perfect” triangle instead of just, y’know, a triangle.

        -

        “No, it doesn’t have those other attributes in mind, because are not discussing material cause but formal cause. The -form- of a triangle is what we are talking about. As things approach this form: (180 degrees/three sides) they approach perfection. I still can’t believe we’re debating the definition of a triangle, to be honest. Not much use in arguing about perfection in other things if we can’t even get this down.”

        Or maybe they just approach being a triangle, whereas said things were formerly not triangular before achieving three sides and 180 degrees. Saying it’s a “perfect” triangle implies that there exist “imperfect” triangles. So does that mean rectangles are “imperfect triangles” for having the wrong number of sides and degrees? Is a right angle an “imperfect triangle” for missing a side that, if added to connect its two end points, would make it a “perfect triangle”? Is everything that is not triangular an “imperfect triangle”? Perhaps an “imperfect triangle” requires the intention to make a triangle and then failing to properly do so, and the result of said failure is an “imperfect triangle”?

        Why not just call them triangles and be done with it? What’s the point of arbitrarily adding the descriptor “perfect” to what should be a binary, yes/no situation? Something is either triangular or it isn’t.

        -

        “The world may be healither, I’d give you that, but only in first-world nations and only in some measures. We certainly worry more about health than ever before. As for the rest, I’d disagree. We are not better educated; we are simply more inclined to think so. And we are not less violent; we just don’t know where to look.”

        The world is only healthier in some places… As opposed to the world being highly unhealthy everywhere, as used to be the case if you go far back enough. And as for education, the human race as a whole has a greater amount of knowledge than it did thousands of years ago, which should be plainly obvious by the fact that you are using a computer to speak nigh instantaneously with a stranger across the globe. As for where to look for violence, try Europe: The dramatic decrease in European warfare over the past several decades is an unprecedented level of peace in recorded European history. Violence, suffering, and death used to be an everyday part of life.

        So relax. The world still has significant problems, no doubt, but we’ve got it easy relative to people throughout history.

        -

        “You make a lot of claims, but I’m curious to know why those claims are the correct ones. None of them are brute facts as you seem to think they are.

        And the definition of that context is the crux of the matter, and the part we’d disagree about, and the thing which ScienceTM cannot tell us.”

        Regarding suffering: If suffering was the only way to personal growth, then people in, say, North Korea have far more character than pretty much everyone in more peaceful places. Which I guess is technically possible, having never met North Koreans, but it strikes me as statistically improbable, to say the least. Also odd is that this discussion on suffering started with you taking issue with my claim that we should aim to reduce suffering as much as possible. Are you implying that we should not be working to reduce suffering? Perhaps you’d like to defund cancer research and shut down all the hospitals?

        For the other claims, it’s my subjective morality, though the core of it is as close to objective as morality can get. At our core, humans almost always have some similar desires (I don’t want to be murdered, I don’t want to be robbed, etc.), and it’s likely that civilization began when a group of people said to each other “None of us want to be murdered/robbed/etc, so let’s agree not to do that to each other and protect each other from enemies that would do it to us”. Of course, civilization’s basic agreement is not always honored, hence the need for law, punishment for crimes, and such. And things get much trickier the further from the core you go, but that’s an inevitable difficulty all societies must face as best they can.

        -

        “Your definition of faith is perfectly opposite of the correct one, which may explain the fact your worldview on the matter is perfectly opposite of the truth. From http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20

        “Faith is a mid-13cent. word meaning “duty of fulfilling one’s trust,” from Old French feid, foi, “faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge,” which comes in turn from Latin fides, meaning “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” the root being fidere, “to trust.” To have faith in something is therefore to put your trust in it. Hence, if you trust scientists to perform their experiments and interpret and report their results correctly, you are said to have faith in science. (Although, more correctly, you have faith in scientists. Expressed that way, some may come to doubt their faith to the extent they know human nature.)

        Thus, faith is simply the Latinate equivalent of the Germanic truth. When this is understood, we also understand what Cristoph Cardinal Schönborn meant when he said that the Church too rejected “blind faith.””

        First, a heads up: The link you provided is broken.

        Faith is a word that gets used in a lot of subtly different ways in our society, but there’s a key difference between reasonable faith and blind, unreasonable faith (or dogmatism, if you prefer). For example, I’d say almost all of us who live peaceful lives have faith that when we go to sleep, we will wake up after we’re done resting. Sure, it’s possible that a crazed murderer might sneak into our houses and slit our throats while we’re snoozing, but such possibilities are extremely unlikely, so having faith that we will wake up is reasonable.

        Contrast that with, say, young earth creationists who will reject mountains upon mountains of evidence demonstrating that their belief is utterly absurd, yet they will deny reality because their emotional commitment to their faith outweighs their intellectual honesty. Tom Bartlett, when discussing the followers of Harold Camping’s doomsday cult, highlights this curiosity of human nature rather well:

        “What happened after May 21 matches up fairly closely with what scholars of apocalyptic groups would expect. The so-called disconfirmation was not enough to undermine the faith of many believers. From what I can tell, those who had less invested in the prophecy were more likely to simply give up and return to normal life. Meanwhile, those who had risked almost everything seemed determined to reframe the prophecy, to search the scriptures, to hang on to the hope that the end might be nigh.” (http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/5983/a_year_after_the_non-apocalypse%3A_where_are_they_now/)

        The more people invest themselves in believing something, even if reality itself stands in flat contradiction to them, the more likely they are to double down and assert their beliefs all the harder in the face of their obvious wrongness. This is how religion persists even in the developed world, where we now have plenty of evidence to highlight the inconsistencies, absurdities, and falsehoods in religious texts: Religion preys on the young, ignorant, credulous, and distraught, and seeks to make people emotionally dependent on it so that their emotional commitment will deny mountains of evidence that a calm, logical, and neutral mind would clearly see as demonstrating religion’s falsehood.

        Sure, you could say I have faith in science. But considering that science makes appeals to logic and evidence instead of emotion, and that using the scientific method has resulted in leaps and bounds for our understanding of the universe, I dare say faith in science is far more justifiable than faith in a religion.

        -

        “This is false. Religion is another name for Philosophy or Worldview. Granted, it has God in mind, but even Socrates and Aristotle admitted to a First Cause and Prime Mover. Of course people may try to “exploit common flaws in human thinking”, but this does not discredit all Philosophy, all Wordlviews, and all Religions, anymore than bad science discredits all science and bad writing discredits all authors.”

        There is a virtually inseperable association of the words “god” and “religion” in the minds of most people. I prefer to keep religion distinct from philosophy in saying that only the former mandates the existence of a god/gods. And if you disagree, could you please humor me on this one? I think we’ve got enough semantic squabbles going on already.

        As for the first cause, I’m familiar with the cosmological argument, and it has two significant issues. The first is that if we’re going to assert that it is indeed possible for something to exist without a cause (thus preventing the infinite chain of gods creating gods), it’s just as reasonable to suggest that the universe itself is uncaused with no need for a God to create it. Second, even if you’re correct in saying this means a God exists, that is only an argument for deism, not for Christianity or any other religion.

        There is a world of difference between arguing that “this universe was created by some sort of otherwise unknown God” and arguing that “this universe was created by Yahweh, a God with a son named Jesus who simultaneously both is and isn’t the same being as Yahweh, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Yahweh also has a penchant for blood sacrifices and is obsessed with what humans do while naked, which you can read about in this book he dictated to an ancient tribe in the middle east. Oh, he also loves you, but he’ll have you tortured for eternity if you don’t obey him.”

        -

        “So you believe in free will, then?”

        Philosophically, no. In practice, it’s irrelevant. Sure, philosophically speaking everything that happens is the result of a chain of cause and effect reaching from all the way in the past into the unknown future, but behaving as though this means life is meaningless is a pretty idiotic way to react. I’d rather be “fated” to decide that life is enjoyable regardless and make the most of it instead of being “fated” to decide that it means I might as well do nothing whatsoever, and so I do the former. I’m enjoying the ride and am determined to make the most of it, and that won’t change based on whether or not free will exists.

        -

        “Not really. Jerry Coyne for example posits that everything is explainable by sheer matter. He’s a pretty prominent atheist. Materialism/Physicalism/Scientism is the most common attitude in modern atheism, and it embarrasses modern atheist philosophers, to their credit.”

        Not familiar with Jerry Coyne, so I can’t comment on how much sense he does or doesn’t make. And looking up at what I’ve typed so far, I’m inclined to drop some points for the sake of downsizing the argument.

        -

        “That’s incorrect and based on a complete misunderstanding of terminology. See http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20

        “And among the natural forms, there is a distinction between inanimate and animate. The inanimate is moved; the animate moves. An animate form is in Latin anima, which means “life” and is often translated “soul.” To ask in Latin whether a living thing has a soul is to state a tautology. The same, I am told, is true in Greek, where anima is rendered ἐνέργεια (energeia) sometimes translated “energy.” Amusingly, one may test empirically whether a soul exists by checking whether a thing is dead.”

        The soul is the formal and final cause of a rational animal. See Aristotle, Aquinas, Feser, or any other Aristotelian. I’m not too fond of Cartesian dualism, which is where you are getting your definition of soul from, I would guess (most moderns do). Hylemorphism makes much more sense, as do other forms of dualism. In either case, a mechanistic explanation leaves far too much to be desired.”

        Link’s broken again. That aside, trying to say that life is the soul is just another battle of semantics. When I say “soul” I am indeed referring to the popular conception of the soul as sort of supernatural component of the mind. But if a soul is a creature’s life itself, as you suggest, does that mean everything that lives have a soul? Does this mean all living creatures are sent to either Heaven or Hell? I’m going to need a better idea of what it is you believe here if we’re going to have a meaningful discussion about it.

        -

        “What scientific experiment have you run to confirm that statement?”

        Said the theist, as he used his computer’s internet connection to discuss philosophy with a stranger across the globe.

        -

        “No, we haven’t. We’ve come to “the word ‘Christian’ means something”. If it doesn’t mean anything, how can we debate it? And if it -does- mean something, why can you ignore it and turn anyone you don’t like into a Christian to condemn Christianity as a whole? If you want to play this game, I’ll just pick all the bad guys I can think of in history, show where they didn’t believe in God in some writing of their’s, and call them devout atheists who represent atheism. You wouldn’t like that very much, because I’d be neglecting what they may have -actually- believed in favor of what I’d -prefer- they had believed to support my position.

        To do so would be utterly irrational, which is why I don’t do it.”

        So what does Christianity mean, then? Should I ask you? Or perhaps I should ask the pacifistic Quakers, or the fire and brimstone Fundamentalists, or the Joseph Smith following Mormons? Perhaps the Baptists, or the Catholics, or the Anglicans, or the Methodists, or the Unitarians, or the Lutherans, or the Eastern Orthodox, or the Calvinists, or the Pentecostals, or the Charismatics? If I went back in time to the civil war, I’m sure I could find plenty of Christians on both sides of the slavery argument ready to argue that the other half didn’t have “True Christians” with plenty of Bible verses to back up their position. Should I believe the abolitionists because they were on the winning side, even though the states of the Confederacy were composed of highly devout believers, and the southern, formerly slaveholding states continue to have the highest percentages of self-declared Christians in the US today?

        As I said before: If one of the criteria of being a Christian is that you must not have someone else saying you’re “not a True Christian”, then our world has zero Christians in it. And like it or not, all throughout history there have been tyrants, murderers, slaveholders, and other despicable people who did what they did because they confidently believed they had God’s endorsement. Hell, you don’t need to look any further than the genocidal rampages of the Israelites written in the Bible to see that!

        Does this mean Christianity is nothing but a source of evil? Not at all. As I’ve said before, Christianity can inspire people to both wonderful benevolence and monstrous depravity. This is not surprising, giving the massive amounts of contradictory verses that can be used to support virtually any position you care to name (like the ones supporting a eugenic mindset that I pointed out). But to try and take credit for the good while shunting off all the evil as “not True Christians” is disingenuous.

        “But wait!” You might say. “Doesn’t the same apply for atheism?” Not at all. As I said before, comparing atheism to Christianity is apples to oranges. In the case of the two of us, atheism is to theism as Rational Humanism is to Christianity. I am not motivated to anything I do by my atheism any more than you are by your theism; it is my Rational Humanism and your Christianity that guide our moralities. This really is not that complicated, and I’m just rephrasing what I said before, so I’m not sure what you’re failing to understand.

        Religious tyrants throughout history also did not justify their evils through appeals to theism in general, but to Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism, etc. Likewise, assigning the evils of Stalin or Mao to atheism is a misattribution; they did not commit their evils in the name of atheism, but in the name of their brand of Communist ideology.

        -

        “…”

        Wait, I could’ve sworn there was a lot more after this. Well, I could understand if you cut it off for the sake of downsizing the debate; It’s quite large, and I am on the verbose side. I’m disappointed, though; I have yet to receive even a single coherent answer on the issue of when Jesus was born: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

        But surely for someone who has so confidently asserted that the Bible does not contradict itself, this problem can be easily explained to not be a contradiction at all? By all means, enlighten me.

        I’m also disappointed you ignored all the other contradictions and absurdities I brought up, plus the discussion on apocrypha, but I’m willing to let that slide if you can answer the issue of Jesus’s birth.

        • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

          “Don’t look at me. You’re the one who felt inclined to describe a polygon with three sides as a “perfect” triangle instead of just, y’know, a triangle.”

          I don’t have time to respond any further to these, but I wanted to take this to task once and for all because it is frustrating that something so simple can’t be agreed upon.

          Perfection: from Latin “perfectio”, meaning “to finish” or “to bring to an end”. Directly related to the Greek “telos”; thus related to final causation and purpose (think of someone doing something “for their own ends”). From Aristotle’s Metaphysics, perfection is that:

          1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;

          2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;

          3. which has attained its purpose.

          A perfect triangle fits under (1), but all are intertwined. This wordplay stemming from a lack of understanding of basic terminology (“perfect triangles” are a staple of basic western philosophy; like philosophy 101), means you will likely misunderstand what I talk about on other topics too.

          • EmpiricalPierce

            I understand quite clearly. It was blatantly obvious from my earlier posts that when I used the word “perfection” it was in the sense of definition 2, but you think it proves something if you go “nuh uh! Definition 1 exists, so there!” Getting into a semantic squabble over definition 1 does nothing for definition 2, which should be pretty easy to understand, but I guess not. Well, I suppose I could join you in using definition 1 of “perfection”, but I expect I’m going to get awfully tired of overusing the word on thoughts like “I’m going to go open the perfect door to my perfect refrigerator and get some perfect milk to pour into my perfect cup!”.

            But there’s something else I understand even better: Your utter failure to address the contradictions I brought up, like the contradiction of Jesus’s birth that has been waiting without response for a while now: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

            I understand quite well. Your fearful subconscious, completely incapable of handling something that will put a crack in your emotionally held religious beliefs, averts your gaze. I’m not surprised; not a single Christian has provided a marginally coherent answer to this question aside from the obvious (and to a Christian, unacceptable) “it just plain contradicts itself.” Lots of Christians like you also suddenly find themselves lacking the time to continue a discussion if I insist they address an error in the Bible that they are incapable of resolving.

          • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

            “Getting into a semantic squabble over definition 1 does nothing for definition 2, which should be pretty easy to understand, but I guess not.”

            You missed the entire point of the entire discussion by not understanding the definition. Don’t pretend that you understood it. You said: “Don’t look at me. You’re the one who felt inclined to describe a polygon with three sides as a “perfect” triangle instead of just, y’know, a triangle.” This confirms you misunderstood.

            “I understand quite well. Your fearful subconscious, completely incapable of handling something that will put a crack in your emotionally held religious beliefs, averts your gaze … Lots of Christians like you also suddenly find themselves lacking the time to continue a discussion if I insist they address an error in the Bible that they are incapable of resolving.”

            Since you know the answer already, I don’t see any point in responding. You know my subconscious better than I do! If no other Christian has ever been able to respond to your claims, then that’s a lot of really dumb people throughout history.

            But now that I understand you are simply trolling, I think I’ll remove myself from the thread. Have a nice day!

          • EmpiricalPierce

            No, you’re not dumb. You’re just emotionally invested in denying reality, or else you would actually address the point of Jesus’s birth instead of dodging it every single time.

            Of course, none of that is important if you can squabble over semantics about triangles and perfection with the best of them!

  • PrivateLoverOfGod

    I think I’m not technically a Millenial (I’m 30), but I also a few years ago stopped regularly attending church. I actually had a few reasons, some known by others, some I kept more private. This is honestly the first time I’ve been completely open about all the reasons, but after reading this article and the comments, I kinda feel like it bears talking about. And I apologize in advance for how incredibly long this is going to be.

    As background, I had basically been raised in the church. Technically, my family didn’t go when I was born, but by the time I was like 3 or 4, we had started attending faithfully. From that moment on, I was always a church-goer, though as my family matured in its Christianity, we got frustrated with the doctrines we were hearing, and shortly after I started college, we broke off and started a new church, my father being the pastor and I being the music minister. That church is basically not affiliated with any denomination, and has also maintained a small, living-room, teaching-style mentality, even to this day.

    Externally, most people would understand this reason. I had started dating someone who had identified as agnostic at the time, and after dating me for a little while, she started coming to church with me. She was very interested in my beliefs and asked me questions all the time. She even made an attempt at a prayer with my father, and publicly stated she had converted. However, privately to me, she shortly thereafter admitted she wasn’t truly convinced and had mostly been trying to keep my family from judging her. She wasn’t happy, and after I graduated from college and moved out, I lived far enough away that it wasn’t feasible to maintain my attendance at my family’s church. For a time, I attended another church that I really enjoyed, but without my family there to possibly pass judgment for her lack of enthusiasm and belief, my now-fiancee stopped going with me, and without her along, my attendance dribbled off until I finally stopped going altogether, except for certain holidays or rare occasions that I’ll go back to my family’s church. I did marry her, and she has finally even extended her lack of belief to being a self-identified atheist.

    One may wonder why I followed through on marrying her (or stayed with her once she finally verbalized her non-belief), and I won’t lie and say the thoughts haven’t crossed my mind too, but the fact is that I’ve done a *TON* of praying about it, and I haven’t felt any less love for her or leading to leave her. For whatever reason, I have some role to play in being in her life, and she in mine. We have discussions, even arguments at times, over religious topics, but basically, her lack of desire to attend church soured me on it, and I stopped going as well (she never asked me to or pressured me to, I made the choice on my own).

    But that leads to the more private reasons that I haven’t even told her before. Inwardly, especially as I got to my late teenage years and through college, I had started to feel increasingly awkward when it came to certain expressions of the faith I knew I held. It’s not that I was doubting my belief, it was that I couldn’t be all gung-ho like some teens/young adults can be where they go on and on about Jesus and their love for Him. For me, my faith was a fairly private thing. I never could randomly approach someone my age in a mall and strike up a conversation about my faith (something that I was on the receiving end of once). In my area of music ministry, I saw how listless and rote everyone was when singing. Hymns and praise songs were nothing more than syllables and melody, not actual words sung with feeling. Entire church services were little more than going through the motions. Even modern Christian “praise and worship” music was repetitive and thin on anything of substance. All in all, the modern church was becoming boring and unfulfilling for me. I mentioned above I did briefly go to another church by myself, and that one was a great deal better, but since it was so far away and I didn’t know anyone there, it got less and less ideal to keep going.

    Frankly, I just felt dissatisfied. I still believed in God, but I was having a real difficult time reconciling the desire to go to church with how unhappy I was actually doing so. I finally gave it up, figuring one day I’d find a better one and start up again.

    And then, I finally started opening my eyes. Not to church, but to belief. My wife, after seeing openings here and there, started bringing up topics that were potentially challenging to someone of faith, asking me where I stood on them. At first, I either dodged questions or else gave the same rote, canned responses from my years of church-going, but one day, I suddenly realized how empty I was when it came to real belief. All I was doing was parroting what I’d heard. So I started reading Bible verses pertaining to these questions anew, reading blog posts and articles beyond just comforting reassurance, and doing some real critical thinking, and started formulating real beliefs of my own, rather than just assuming whoever had said something I remembered was right. Many of those beliefs ended up staying the same, but stronger since I had arrived at the conclusion myself, but others have shifted.

    I’m not the same man I used to be, and some fundamental and/or evangelical Christians may think I’ve drifted in the wrong direction. Me, I think I’m stronger for it, and whether I’m right or wrong, the beliefs are mine.

    I’m still a Christian, and I don’t see that changing. I still have a deep-seated belief that God exists and loves me, and I love Him. But I think that where I am now, it would be hard for me to attend just about any church. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to find other Christians I could relate to, but the problem is that most Christians I interact with would probably see my beliefs (and who I’m married to) as non-Christian, and either try and change me or just not accept me. Those who are my closest friends right now are pretty much non-religious.

    To me, that is a stunning and saddening state of affairs in the modern church. I don’t necessarily want the church to go all light and fluffy, but at the same time, I think a lot of pastors let their desire to not be seen as “light on sin” by fundamentalists cause the church environment to be too judgmental, and it drives away people (even other Christians) who don’t want to be lumped together with them.

    What would it take to “bring me back”? I’m honestly not sure. I do enjoy going to church, by and large, and I would love to find a good one close by me, but it would take one that understood the message of love and acceptance I think Jesus truly taught, and could reconcile that message with the ideas of faith and grace. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but we honestly aren’t “reaching” anyone with harsh judgmentalism. There’s room for a shift without sacrificing doctrine.

    • Joshua Gibbs

      “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to find other Christians I could relate to, but the problem is that most Christians I interact with would probably see my beliefs (and who I’m married to) as non-Christian, and either try and change me or just not accept me.”

      Marrying her was wrong, in fact dating her was wrong, but staying with her is definitely right.
      “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

      You are dead on about the evangelical church being obsessed with condemning people. Ironically we have stopped all biblical forms of discipleship and church discipline at the same time. Makes you think.

  • EmpiricalPierce

    Hrm… My Disqus is saying you replied to my latest post, but I can’t see it. Did you delete it, or is Disqus bugging out?

  • Josh B

    I feel like David’s article is as judgmental of progressives as Rachel’s was overly idealistic. Objective observation would lead you to believe that the current structure (some combination of practices, traditions, beliefs, functional forms of community, etc.) is not resonating to the degree it once did with 20 to 40 somethings. Likely you conclude there are multiple reasons why, all varying in scale and intensity to the individual’s background.

    The moment you want to lump a large group of society into a category because you are frustrated with the current outcome, I think you have cut yourself off from being part of a healthy solution. Yes, we likely are all concerned that faith practices are not functioning in the same way or to the same degree. There is a transition in society occurring. It has happened before and will happen again.

    What is important is that we do not have to be fearful of the transitions, nor to we have to make each situation into an us vs. them, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil competition.

    People desperately want a spiritual community where they feel at home. In the same way people have incredible diversity in how they choose to live in their own physical homes, why would we expect it to be any different when it comes to faith practices, community, beliefs, etc.?

    So what has emerged is a part of our society that no longer feels at home within the current structures… What does that say about them? Why do we have to judge them for not feeling at home in our spiritual community/faith practice?

    I would say there is a group that is actively exploring what it would be (beliefs, practices, community life, etc) for them to feel at home with their faith in context of what they know, believe, and the way they want to share life. I have no judgment against them any more than I do for those that still feel at home in their current faith community.

    Within the broader faith community, we should be able to allow diversity in love. Jesus certainly modeled it.

    It is so easy to assume that because we create such thorough frameworks for understanding God and this world that we are fully correct in all our conclusions/doctrine/practices. We are looking at a snapshot in time, and each of us in our own little way is relying on our own experience and thoughts and the experience and thoughts of those who walked this before us. To limit God, church, and faith to such clearly definable practices and beliefs, is really to say that we understand it all.

    There is mystery. There are boundaries to what we know, and what we faith. There is ample room to let love soften the edges, and allow us to give the full range of grace to those exploring another side of who God is and how faith may function.

  • antimule

    You can trash “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” until cows come home, but I think it is actually less wrong than a version of Christianity one typically encounters. Let’s see:

    >>1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.<>2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.<>3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.<>4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.<>5. Good people go to heaven when they die.<<

    As opposed to what? Evil people Going to Heaven just because they believe in Jesus? Jews murdered in the Holocaust going to Hell because they didn't accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior?

    And you wonder why "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" is popular.

    Also speaking of accepting Jesus as lord and savior take a look at Matthew 25:31-46. It is fascinating that for all the talk about belief in the Bible (and admittedly there is a lot of it), the most detailed description of final judgment is all about social responsibility and nothing about beliefs.

  • dustin saylor

    Sadly you don’t get it. The church has been loosing members by the thousands for three generations now and will continue unless they stop preaching the world is flat so to speak. I don’t think any one who leaves the church is not wanting to truly follow something and give their live to it, they just don’t buy into the message of the church at this point in time.

    Give something to the people that they can truly believe in, that makes sense and is new and fresh with the times. It is a new age and the church is still holding onto old believes and ideas that just simply don’t work anymore. The youth are hungry and starving for a message to believe in and christ message is enough but it needs to be new, fresh, real, and put in a way that makes sense to people in todays world. Jesus did it in his time and now it is our job to have the courage to be silent, humble and listen to God and step out into a new way of understanding.

    Keep preaching this message and keep watching churches close their doors.

    I am all for the a community of people coming together and giving their lives to a message, to a vision. A vision in which all beings are one with God and that we are all in peace and understanding. That will only come when we have the courage to step into the new and be reborn not only as individuals but as a collective.

    Evolution makes more sense in how God created this physical world than taking the creation story literally… until you stop preaching the world is flat you will continue to watch people not show up sunday morning…

  • Kevin Ford
  • Nemo

    I was raised in a very conservative church. No silly string or slime in Sunday school for me. My pastor’s daughter boasted in a 2008 class we shared in high school that Obama would not be President because the birther lawsuit would stop him. We read all parts of the Bible, including the parts that mainstream Christians try not to talk about. You know the ones.
    Why did I deconvert? I think it began when an acquaintance in high school pointed out to me that millions of people have a different religion than I do, yet I am convinced that my “experiences” were true and theirs were demonic lies. If I truly look at things honestly, I have never encountered a miracle. Nice things, yes. But a truly supernatural event which blatantly flew in the face of science and nature? No. In my childhood, I prayed that Muslims would realize how deluded it was to think Allah revealed himself to Muhammad, that Buddhists would realize that reincarnation has no evidence to back up its claims, that Wiccans would stop believing in a Mother Goddess. As an adult, I added one more set of supernatural beliefs to that graveyard.

  • Nemo

    I was, for much of my life, a devout Missouri Synod Lutheran. I truly believed the Bible was perfect and true, that Jesus was part of the Triune God of Abraham, and that I would not die when my body ceased to function. I could go into detail about my deconversion process, but ultimately, it led to a simple question: why do I reject the claims of Joseph Smith who could not produce his golden tablets for witnesses, roll my eyes at the idea of telekinesis, and think it ridiculous that a barbarian thug like Muhammad would be given perfect truth, yet declare that the words of the Bible are obviously true with everybody knowing this (Romans 1:20)? When I couldn’t give a serious answer to that, atheism just became so easy.

  • Grant Lankard

    I’m an atheist who I admit used to have a very intolerant view towards anyone who had any type of religious faith. I’m trying to become more tolerant of other peoples’ beliefs but this article triggered two of my pet peeves, the idea that the religious are inherently better than the non-religious and the idea that the older generation is inherently better than the younger generation.

    I don’t understand how not having religious faith makes somebody narcissistic. By being an atheist, I’m acknowledging that I don’t know who or what god is, what his/her purpose is, what his/her reasoning for creating mankind or even if he/she
    exists. By belonging to an organized religion, you’re pretending that you’re so smart that you have the answers to all of this. Who’s more narcissistic?

    On to my second point, the idea that the older generation is somehow better than then younger generation… This generation upon graduating from college, is facing greater competition for lower paying jobs that offer less benefits then their parents’ generation, while be forced to work longer hours. On top of this, we’re generally racked with, on average, 2 or 3 times as much student loan debt as our parents, something that will cripple us economically until we’re well into 40′s. When we complain about it we’re called narcissistic, entitled, and lazy by the older generation.

    Listen to the arguments for universal healthcare… “the younger generation just wants everything handed to them on a silver platter.” Your generation had healthcare. Why shouldn’t ours?


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