Why Are Christians Leaving the Church? Turns Out It’s the Churches’ Fault

David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group (a Christian-focused polling organization), just released his newest book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.

So why are Christians — real, churchgoing Christians — leaving the faith later in life?

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

You can see Kinnaman’s six reasons here.

In short…

  1. The Church is too insular — They tell you everything outside the church is bad and wrong… even though young people know that’s not the case.
  2. Church isn’t important, relevant, or interesting to the younger generation.
  3. Christians are too anti-science.
  4. Christians are sex-negative, wrongly pushing abstinence-only education and avoiding frank discussions about sex.
  5. Christianity is too “exclusive” — you’re either one of them or you’re the enemy.
  6. Christians are hostile to those who doubt any part of the faith.

I have no reason to doubt Kinnaman’s findings — and keep in mind these are only the top six reasons, not all the reasons. I’ll admit to being surprised that “I just stopped believing what they preached” and “I was ashamed of the church’s stance on homosexuality” didn’t make the cut.

Here’s the takeaway from the findings, though: Christians aren’t leaving the faith because people like us are pulling them away from it. They’re leaving the faith because the Church is pushing them away.

Even if atheists never wrote another book or blog post, young people will continue to fall away from Christianity. We can always help the process move faster, though, by constantly discussing/debating these issues in our communities, challenging the lies they tell, pointing out their hypocrisy and intolerance at every opportunity, and giving brand new atheists a community to join when they leave their Christian groups.

The Church is doing the bulk of our work for us. But there’s no reason we can’t help them out.

(Thanks to Nancy for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Spencer

    You got the title wrong in the first paragraph: it’s ‘You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church And Rethinking Faith’. Not trying to be a dick, just pointing it out.

  • Anonymous

    An atheist can talk to a theist all day, everyday and tell them that their religion imposes sanctions on women, treats gay people with discrimination, threatens good people with Hell in the afterlife and that sex is viewed as sinful. They won’t buy it.

    But only when they experience this first hand within their religious prayer halls and feel the discrimination and accusations of not being a “true believer” or forced to make decisions that they’re uncomfortable with that they realize that what the atheists were saying were right all along.

    But at this juncture, the atheist community shouldn’t say a word on this exodus (pardon the pun) of youngsters from the Church. Simply show them that we have a more dependable framework to explain things. Give them a hug  for having the strength and conviction to step outside their belief system and buy them a science textbook.

  • Anonymous

    Good observation, I missed that!

  • Greg

    “I just stopped believing what they preached” and “I was ashamed of the church’s stance on homosexuality” didn’t make the cut.

    The former probably falls under 6, and the latter under 4 from what the article says.

    Anyway, is it just me or does the author of the article write as if the leavers may have a point when it came to reasons 1,2,3,5, and 6, and yet get all judgemental of the terrible pornographically obsessed culture of today in number 4?

    I do find it odd, however, that they are obsessing over things they can change about how they present the Bible. Isn’t the Bible meant to be the perfect book, and base of morality, etc.? If that’s the case you surely shouldn’t be dressing it up.

    Don’t get me wrong, in many ways I like the fact they are trying to cover over the negatives – I just wish they’d go further. Release a new Bible with all the bits that no longer count removed. That way not only would we know what they actually profess to believe in, but also the chance for future generations to resurrect the bits in the Bible they currently want to discard gets lowered.

  • Spencer

    “Don’t get me wrong, in many ways I like the fact they are trying to
    cover over the negatives – I just wish they’d go further. Release a new
    Bible with all the bits that no longer count removed.”
    Or go even further, and become atheists.

  • http://twitter.com/MyAtheistBible Anonymous Atheist

    The book sounds fascinating. Especially because it’s written by a Christian. A lot of those excuses posted feel resoundingly familiar with my own struggle as a Christian teen. I’ll have to put it on my reading list.

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    This is not a good thing for atheists. (Well, actually it is, since it’s making the world a better place – I should say it’s not a good thing for anti-theists, who only care that people renounce their ‘delusions’, and less about making the world more livable. But I digress.) 

    While I have not read the book in question, there’s another book by Gabe Lyons (the co-author of UnChristian, this book’s predecessor of sorts) called The Next Christians, who presents the truth about the celebrated ‘exodus’ from churches – it’s simply the start of a new reformation. In short, these ex-Christians you imagine going to church one day and buying scarlet ‘A’ shirts the next are doing nothing of the sort. They are rather members of that oft-mocked “spiritual but not religious” group. In other words, the evil, deluded group who’s awful acts include cherry-picking, tolerance, and desire worship beyond tradition! These people, as the unjustified focus on them shows, are the biggest problem for the anti-theist, simply because they don’t fit into neat little “they caused 9/11 / Crusades / Inquisition” strawmen. This leaving of the traditional church should not be celebrated by anyone who thinks all religion is bad, and in fact, should be praised most by the modern Christians like myself.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    When I walked away from religion and was so glad to find small atheist communities online.  Speaking from experience, that was the best thing anyone could have done for me. Post their own experiences, have well thought out answers to my honest brainwashed questions, and be there to support me, because walking away from religion can be really difficult. I know it was for me.

    So I completely agree, the best thing we can do is continue to ask the questions that make the religious uncomfortable to try to jump start their skeptical thinking, and to have a place for the ones who are doubting to land, here online, because the road to atheism is a very lonely one.

  • Conspirator

    The church’s stance on homosexuality could also fall under #1.  4, 5 and 6 also cover it a bit.  So if people were asked to either rank or pick one item out of a list, then they could have chosen any of those for homosexuality.  

  • Anonymous

    The most interesting thing to me about this list is that all these things are pretty inherent to Christianity, and to most religions. I mean, come on — they’re losing members because they say they’re right and other people are wrong? What are they supposed to do instead? Anything that fixes this (acknowledging uncertainty, giving individuals the chance to find their own answers) necessarily undermines the religion.

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    The best thing you can do to increase religiousness, that is. I only became any more than a ‘Christian-by-birth’, so to speak, after being challenged and doing honest reflection of my beliefs. And from what I’ve seen in the online community, that reaction is much more common than a 360-degree turn to atheism.

  • Augusts Bautra

    The books title is misleading. It really shouldn’t be “rethinking”, but “finally thinking”

  • Anonymous

    Young people have always left churches in droves.  The thing that is different is that fewer of them are going back once they get married and have kids.   

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    Indeed, young people are finally moving from blind faith… and into their own, deeply committed, and thought out spirituality. Oops.

  • http://twitter.com/godwinslaw1 GodwinsLaw1

    You put “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church” instead of “…and Rethinking Faith” in the first paragraph link.

  • http://smoothjazzradio.podbean.com SpitefulFox

    Looks to me like the article’s author tried sugar-coat all six of them and make all 6 reasons out to be “society’s fault” for corrupting the youth instead of the church’s fault for pushing them away.  #4 was definitely the most blatant about it, though.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, he seemed fairly neutral and even understanding of the other reasons. But his hyperbole and condemnation when it came to sex threw me off too

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    baby steps, “spiritual” is better than “religious”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    that’s a shame.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    360 degrees makes a full circle… ???

    Religiousness? People are walking away from religion and finding humanism, atheism, deism, pantheism and spirituality.  I don’t see anyone leaving church and becoming more religious.  Maybe more spiritual, but I would much rather be surrounded by people who find god in nature, than folks who take the bible as the strict word of a malevolent god.

    Having atheists being out and normal and online helped me. Maybe it won’t help everyone leave the myths behind, and that’s okay.

    There is no way you have done a peer reviewed double blind scientific study of the entire ‘online community’. If you have, please post it. I would love to see how many people who were logical enough to doubt the myth and but be dumb enough go right back to it.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a matter of degrees. You can still hold certain principles without instilling extreme guilt in people, having excessive punishments or simply being overly dogmatic.  But certain sects of Christianity (mostly in the US) have become completely insane in the last few decades.

  • Anonymous

    There is nothing thought out about it. It’s simply undefined, nebulous feelings. Religious feelings are very literally like drugs. They make people feel good. That’s all it is

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    I am not talking about a study I did myself, rather the results of UnChristian’s research and the followup by Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians.

    And yes, the 360 degrees was a mistake. That’s rapid posting for you…

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    Not for the anti-theists, no. Spiritual people in time form their own established religions (or more likely religious sects), and because of the reformations which come with spirituality, the new religions are less easily strawmanned. It is better for everyone else, because with these new religions comes less chance of hateful dogma (hell, etc).

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    I can hardly imagine something more thought out than the intricate attempts made to defend religion and spirituality. Correct may well be a different matter, but there’s definitely much thinking involved. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    Fixed! Thanks.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    Fixed! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Apologetics has never been anything but pseudo-philosophy and an exercise in logical absurdities and fallacies. Its only chance to declare victory is be so ridiculous as to make the other side give up because it doesn’t want to read the BS anymore.

    And spirituality we’re talking about here certainly isn’t arrived at by thought. People just leave the overly organized trappings behind, but keep the ill-defined feelings they have about “higher powers” and such. So they believe in something supernatural, but can’t really say what exactly. A lot are also into it not because of any theology, but for the community with other people

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    Delusional thinking does not lead to a more “livable world” – unless you think the current mortgage/banking crisis is just fine and peachy…

  • Erp

    Also why are the Unitarian Universalists losing young people (or at least people willing to officially be members since several times as many people claim to be UUs than are on the rolls)?  The only option there might be 2. 

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    “Release a new Bible with all the bits that no longer count removed.”

    What – Jefferson Bible 2.0?

  • Skeptic

    I think what we can do is give them a place to be.  For a long time young people left or abstained from church but they drifted back a later because there was no place for them to find a new community to thrive in.  That is what is becoming different now.  Things are getting better and non belief is slowly becoming ok if not fully accepted.  

  • Anonymous

    Even if atheists never wrote another book or blog post, young people will continue to fall away from Christianity.

    Hmmm, maybe, to a point. However leaving the church is only the first step in the road away from religion. Remember that large parts of even the so-called “unaffiliated” people in the US actually believe in god. Certainly getting away from organized religion is a step in the right direction, and someone who says they are “spiritual” is less likely than the church-going kind to think they have some divine mandate to decide on people’s civil-rights, science subjects and control over their own uterus.

    However you haven’t actually fixed the problem until you get rid of the faith-virus. Someone who just drifts away from church because they find it unpalatable is still vulnerable to returning because they have not made the “this doesn’t make sense/this lacks evidence” transition. Even if they don’t go back to the church they can fall prey to other forms of irrational thinking. Go to the Huffington Post sometime and you’ll find thousands ot people who would likely define as “spiritual” or even agnostic/atheist but who stoutly defend homeopathy and rave about the evils of vaccination.

    It’s irrationality that’s the disease, religion is just the main symptom. So people who drift away from the church need to find a community that values rationality highly and is happy to welcome newcomers. It’s not just a matter of helping people leave the church, it’s a matter of helping people arrive at a worldview that makes religion a non-starter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    As a self-identified anti-theist, they’re not “our biggest problem”, they’re just annoying, since trying to pin them down to anything is like trying to nail jello to a wall.   I write them off as “mostly harmless”…unless they keep voting Republican/Tea Party…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Masters-Hiatt/1089954620 Elizabeth Masters Hiatt

    I can relate to many of those reasons for drifting away from the church in the first place. Politics is really where it began for me. I couldn’t stand the conservative christian stances on gays, military action, taxes, etc and that got me thinking. When I tried to dig deeper and see if there was any way that I could make my religion work in a way that I found acceptable, I realized that it was a whole lot of hog-wash. These reasons are important to atheists because I’m not sure how many christians just up and realize one day that the whole religion is wrong. I think that it is often a gradual realization that things are not as they have been told. I would be willing to bet that for many of us it started with sex. Not because we’re the lust crazed “worldly” heathens that the church likes to rant about, but because we fell in love, had sex and noticed that the planet didn’t fall apart, that we weren’t miserable, and that maybe the bible isn’t the only source of wisdom out there. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Xanthe-Wyse/100002655015112 Xanthe Wyse

    the ones that stay remain in their insulated bubble where they think science, the internet etc are evil.  Noticed ones in the forum that don’t go to church (they don’t believe in ‘churchianity’ and are ‘non-denominational’) – doesn’t stop them from being ignorant bigots though

  • JamesB

    As one who left the church about eighteen months ago and just recently realized I really have no reason to believe anymore, I can say that the strongest influence after I left was an atheist friend who did nothing but listen and lovingly encourage me during my time of doubt and questioning. I was never cajoled or proselytized. I, for one, plan to model his friendship and help others I know who may questioning their Xianity.

  • JamesB

    Just getting up the nerve to leave in the first place can be frightening enough. I know because I have been there. There is a huge temptation to return, maybe to a different church or homegroup or whatever, but it’s there. I, for one, didn’t explore atheism right out of the gate because it frightened me. As I mentioned below in this thread, a caring atheist friend was the biggest key in helping me see in my own what was and wasn’t true, not only about atheism but my beliefs in general.

  • Robert

    I don’t really understand most of those reasons… The only reason to not be a Christian is that you don’t have enough evidence to be, and that’s exactly why I’m an atheist.  Christians can’t substantiate their claims.  Even if Christians were a group of welcoming, interesting, pro-science, non-prude, welcoming, and kind individuals it wouldn’t change the fact that their truth claims are vacuous.

    The reason I *believe* what I do is evidence. The reason I *oppose* what I do is consequence… The author is ignoring the former and observing the later.

  • Robert

    dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge

  • Ima Freethinker

    Thanks you, @Stev84:disqus . First para especially, so very well said!

  • Insofaraswhat

    I don’t quite agree.  This may be the case in urban and suburban areas, but in rural communities I see a new trend: very large, non-denominational blurrily-named, feel-good non-churches that are distinctly Christian in a give-us-your-money kind of way. They have names like The Journey Church, The Vineyard, The Greenleaf, etc. 

    Well, it gets them away from mainstream religion which is a good first step. 

  • Newavocation

    Being a former longtime UU, it seemed at least in my case, that they want to stand for everything which equates to standing for nothing. Sort of a polite form of cruelty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593675787 Glenn Davey

    Man… this place is like a breath of fresh air after trying to have a conversation over at Pharyngula. What a bunch of angry potty-mouths…

    <3 Friendly Atheist

    *gives out free hugs*

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I’m with you. It’s probably the result of being a lifelong atheist, but I have no emotional attachment to religion and have a hard time imagining deconverting for any reason other than the fact that it just didn’t make any sense. I guess it’s because I never experienced Christianity as being harsh and oppressive. I live in a liberal area, and I’d have my pick of ultra-progressive churches if I wanted to become a Christian, but I just can’t get over the supernatural stuff. It’s difficult to imagine starting to believe in things like that. The only reason to be a Christian would be if it were true, and I find their supernatural claims ridiculous and their rituals bizarre. The people might be friendly and progressive, but the religion itself strikes me as deeply, deeply weird

  • Anonymous

    So does this mean that all these apostates have perversely decided to have “meaningless” lives?

  • VonVesthell

    This may have been mentioned in some manner and I may have misread or misunderstood some of Hemant’s post, but the tone of this article seems to be wrong. The author of this book has presumably presented a very realistic and thoughtful explanation to the declining enrollment of American youths within the Christian church community. As an atheist I found it to be an immensely positive step for Christians to reevaluate their community in such a way. I feel as though the article should be praising this rather than what I see as nitpicking and gloating. Introspective evaluations like this will ultimately nudge people in the right direction and we should do more to encourage this behavior.

  • Jesse Sigal

    As a young male who was formerly a conservative jew by birth, the main reason I stopped going to religious functions was number 2, it just wasn’t interesting or relevant. The reason I think this was is because the other reasons didn’t really apply to the brand of religion I was subscribed to, and the whole doubting god just came later after I had time to think. I believe that this is also the most prevalent issue for a younger generation, because being honest, we are a little more than slightly shallow. The no sex issue is also probably one of the larger drivers as well if I were to venture guess.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never been religious.  I wasn’t raised in a religious household and England tends to view religion as something vaguely embarrassing that some people do, like Morris Dancing.

    I can appreciate how the reasons listed might push people away from church if they were taken their by family members.  The church being insular, irrelevant, anti-science, sex negative and against questioning and doubt might well push people in the church away and prevent those outside the church from becoming interested.  

    What I don’t understand though is the church’s attitude to attracting new members.  If they lose people surely this could be balanced by attracting more people to replace them but I don’t see any effort to attract anyone from outside the church to join up.  Even those Alpha courses of the mid naughties were aimed at those who had already decided to give the church a go.

    Ah well, all the better for society if they do fail to keep and fail to attract members.

  • Greg

    Exactly! Obviously what they remove would likely not be the same things Jefferson did, but that’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to see these Christians who claim ‘such-and-such’ no longer matters, actually do.

  • Greg

    Such a miracle might be usable as an argument for a god’s existence!

    I’ll take every small gain I can get. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Alpha courses are still running. Come “explore” the meaning of life with half truths, outright lies, and a fixed destination in mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I’m an anti-theist and I see spiritual as a step in the right direction. Spiritual is more personal and if they keep it personal I have no serious problem with them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Spiritual but not religious is so much better than religious. I’d definitely count that as progress. Yes, it usually means wishy washy cherry picking, creating a frankensteins monster of faith, but it is a personal individual faith. Not a faith that lobbies against science or civil rights! And not a faith that warps morality.

    If all religious people became spiritual but not religious (rather than atheists) we’d have a more rational compassionate world. Atheism would be better, but if you don’t win the jackpot a consolation prize is still a prize.

  • Farrentarrel

    CoE unfortunately doesn’t need to put to much effort into attracting new members.  For some bizarre reason a large amount of our countrymen despite not believing in god and having never been to church outside of a friends wedding mark CoE on their census forms giving the church sway it doesn’t deserve.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

     I’ll admit to being surprised that “I just stopped believing what they preached” and “I was ashamed of the church’s stance on homosexuality” didn’t make the cut.

    I’m assuming the latter falls under the “sex-negative” thing.  I am absolutely unsurprised about the former not making the cut, though!  As we have seen time and time again both from those who “believe in belief” on one side and from SBNR types on the other side, whether someone thinks religion is a good thing seems to be orthogonal from whether they believe in any given religious truth claims.  Certainly there seems to be at least some correlation, but it is probably a rare bird who thinks that church is awesome and God is real on one day, and then believes that church is crap and God is phony on the next day.  I expect for many people, one or the other comes first.

    And someone who believes church is awesome but comes to realize God is phony is not necessarily going to leave, at least not right away.  It ought to lower the bar towards them realizing all the reasons church is crappy, though, and then one of the six reasons comes into play, I would imagine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    This is simply a strawman that you are creating, the-quiet1.  Sure, plenty of us anti-theists see SBNR as not good enough, but very very few of us see it as not in any way better than full-on religion.

    You might be confused because sometimes people comment that fundamentalists have a more epistemologically consistent worldview than moderates.  But that doesn’t mean we want all the moderates to turn into fundamentalists!  It is more a philosophical observation than anything else.

    I’m sorry, but you are just plain wrong on this one.

  • Valhar2000

    You know, I think you’re right. I’d like to see if there has been any change in the tendency to become more conservative when one has a family of one’s own, or a change in how that extra conservatism plays out, or both.

  • Valhar2000

    And sex and drugs, of course.

  • Gus Snarp

    Many people (but certainly not all, and not necessarily most) who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious” do so because they don’t realize that non-religious is not synonymous with evil, or even that the option of non-belief really exists. Or they’re simply afraid to confront their real lack of belief head on, because acknowledging what they truly (don’t) believe means risking Hell if they’re wrong, or not getting Heaven if they’re right. That can be a hard hurdle to overcome. And many of them will find that their vague spirituality will eventually fall away to complete non-belief.  While I certainly want such people to continue to progress and to reach a point of considered non-belief, I’m quite happy that they’ve cast off the shackles of religion even if they stay stuck in their intermediate position forever.

  • Gus Snarp

    If you don’t see it, you’re not looking in the right places. I don’t think we have the evidence to say one transition is the more common than the other, and my gut instinct and personal experience leads me to the opposite conclusion from you. We can’t both be right, but we can both be wrong. I don’t think either of us knows. There’s also the question of which kind of questions and who’s asking them and just how old the person being challenged is. When I was a young adult I might have said just what you did, but I never stopped asking questions and challenging myself, and that eventually led me to atheism.

  • Gus Snarp

    Actually, you weren’t talking about a study at all, you were talking about your own anecdotal evidence from personal experience. 

  • Gus Snarp

    I think the best thing we can do is simply to be out about our atheism. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to call ourselves atheists, or even ask questions of religious people, let alone be confrontational, but simply to exist and honestly acknowledge that we don’t believe. Asking questions, arguing in the proper circumstances, even being more confrontational can be good things too, and I’ve nothing against them, but what people transitioning away from religion need is role models and non-religious social opportunities. They need to know that non-belief is an option. That atheists exist and are not the evil straw men religious leaders have long made us out to be.

  • Anonymous

    For me, it was a combination of all of these 6 reasons, along with simply not
    being around churchgoers anymore.  I didn’t become an atheist until much later, the first step was just not going to church anymore.  My family wasn’t particularly
    religious, but I was dragged to church every Sunday.  I even went to
    Sunday school and the church youth group as a kid.  It was a pretty
    moderate, middle-of-the-road congregation, but I noticed all of the
    things mentioned in these 6 points.  I had no interest in church, so as
    soon as I moved out of my parents house I never went back. 

    With the friends I made in my adult life, religion or church just never
    even came up, I guess because I prefer to surround myself with rational
    people.  I didn’t really question the existence of god when I was being
    dragged to church, but after being away from church and not really
    thinking about it for several years, it was easier to just look at the
    claims made by Christianity and reject them solely on the fact that they
    are ridiculous.  I never had an atheist epiphany, it was more like I just gradually grew more embarrassed that I ever fell for it on the rare occasions when I thought about it.  Kind of like looking at past fashions you wore in photos in the high school yearbook.  You don’t realize how stupid those acid washed jeans looked at the time, because everyone was wearing them.  But in retrospect….jeez.

    I think the brainwashing aspect of religion is so strong, that it is easier for people to question and dodge around these outside aspects of religion, rather than simply attacking the central premise head on.  But these side issues can cause enough cognitive dissonance that it can lead people to question the very existence of god… eventually.  It is just a lot easier to do that when you aren’t constantly surrounded by people who profess to believe.  So I think the trends that brought this book to be are a good thing, because the more younger people leave the church, meet other people, and find other ways to pass the time, the less likely they will be to return.

  • Greg

    I think the brainwashing aspect of religion is so strong, that it is easier for people to question and dodge around these outside aspects of religion, rather than simply attacking the central premise head on.

    My personal experience is that that is spot on – at least for some people. I was the kind of person that thought free will was the ultimate knock-down argument to the problem of evil, and accepted that a god existed just like I accepted the earth rotated around the sun – those trustworthy adults had said it therefore it had to be true (maybe that was because I was quite young when I started considering the question).

    The things that really got me questioning god were often small things, like ‘how does heaven work?’ When you think of all the very men people who should be there, shouldn’t there be practical issues involved: I mean, there were some people I knew that liked me, but I could hardly stand them. Surely they’d want to be around me in heaven, but I wouldn’t want to be around them. (And vice-versa). Or else I’d ruminate on why there were so many religions, or something like that – I kind of attacked it from side on, and before I knew it I didn’t believe. Couldn’t have told you when that happened though!

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

    Presumably they just spend left-over Christian credit and assign meaning even though, as Dawkins tells us, there is none, at the end of the day. Who needs to ground meaning in anything, though?   :P

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewF

    In my experience (in churches in Aus and the UK) reformed evangelical churches have lots of young people – especially the central London church we were at. It seems that it’s the more liberal leaning churches that are on the decrease.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve wondered if people could lose interest in Christianity because it bores them too much. I’ve noticed that many children want to read about Harry Potter, discuss the stories with their friends and see the movies so badly that they will even defy their parents to do so.

    By contrast, children generally don’t want to read about Jesus unless their elders make them.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    There’s some speculation that liberal churches are declining because they don’t require much of anything from their members. The sorts of young people who are attracted to highly structured, demanding environments, therefore, are going to leave those groups and join up with churches that actually require them to do something and put a little effort into their religion. It’s possible that a lot of it comes down to personality type. I think there has been some evidence that the types of people who practice fundamentalism are basically attracted to authoritarian leadership. I wonder if it just comes down to a certain segment of the population basically wanting to be told what to do.

  • Anonymous

    What people need is to be vaccinated against religions ideas. 

  • ACN

    Or, more likely, they’ve figured out that they get to assign meaning to their own lives :)

  • AmyC

    That’s funny. I actually enjoy both groups, it just depends what my mood is. The Pharyngulites do an amazing job of shutting down trolls. When they don’t have some inane commenter to shut down, they often have very enlightening and productive conversations.

    However, it is softer over here at Friendly Atheist. It’s easier for first-time commenters here. I think I just have a soft spot for Pharyngula because it was the first atheist blog I started reading after deconverting.

  • ACN

    It’s pretty sneaky isn’t it?

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I’ve always thought that religion doesn’t come naturally to children. Sure, you can get them to accept the supernatural claims as fact, but religious behavior is another thing entirely. I think very few young children display religious behavior without prompting from adults. How many six-year-olds, for example, spontaneously erupt in prayer or start writhing on the floor in religious ecstasy? When I’ve seen footage of evangelical church services, it’s generally the youngest children who seem the most normal.

    That’s why churches work so hard to make their messages “fun” for children. Generally, younger kids don’t have any concept of their own mortality, and all of their emotional needs are (hopefully) fulfilled by their parents. They don’t need a big Daddy-in-the-Sky because they have mothers and fathers on earth to take care of them. I can’t imagine Jesus would have any intrinsic emotional appeal for a child who is already getting all of her needs met by the adults in her life. I’m sure that’s why the churches try to make that dry material attractive and palatable, so that when the child inevitably learns that her parents are not Superman and realizes that everyone dies, the rituals and theological claims will seem warm and comforting.

  • Anonymous

    Funny, I often have to go to Pharyngula to get a break from commenters here. I find that here there’s so much more acceptance of things I consider to be unethical and contrary to justice. There, I know that there’s a whole group of people who won’t stand for those things either. It’s quite a relief.

  • Not Harry Potter

    I have always been skeptic of studies.  I want to know how they did their research.

    In this case, the research was done by a group that has a vested interest in keeping people in the church – hardly unbiased.  Further, they seemed to do both interviews – which require honest interpretation – and online polls – which require questions that don’t ignore certain possible responses.  There appears to be plenty of opportunity to “shape” the results into something palatable for their audience.

    I note that all 6 of the top reasons are carefully crafted to lead to action – and a lot of that would be something this particular organization is prepared to assist with.

    What I don’t see in the research is the reason why there are so many atheists – religion just flat doesn’t make sense.  The evidence against it is overwhelming (by its absence!)

  • http://the-quiet1.tumblr.com the-quiet1

    Go look up UnChristian then. The book focuses on such a study, and that’s what I base my conclusion on.

  • Anonymous

    When I was a xian, I would take my nephew to church. He’d always have these handouts/coloring activities. One week it was 3 check boxes about whether he had made a ‘decision for Jesus’: the options were yes, no, and I need some time to think about it. He was five or six at the time, mind you. I saw that he chosen the third option which honsetly made me proud because when I saw that handout I felt uneasy that they were pushing a decision like that on a kid that young. The thing is, my nephew would go to church with me cuz he liked hanging out with me on the ride to and from, and because he got to play with other kids, but I always got the sense that he didn’t buy the Jesus stuff. I could tell he thought it was strange. Smart kid. He was ahead of me, but I won’t be too hard on myself since I was thoroughly indoctrinated from birth.

  • Anonymous

    You need to know THE date you became an atheist or else you’re not a ‘true’ one. ;-P

  • Anonymous

    I know the date I was born.  Does that count?

  • Anonymous

    LOL, point taken.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that they consider anyone who disagrees with any thing their idol says a troll. It’s totally impossible to debate any topic without being jumped by loud mouth testosterone driven jocks. It’s far more adult and civilised over here.

  • Anonymous

    Amazingly, Kinneman left out the main reason why Christians are leaving the faith.  They simply don’t believe in the existance of a god.

  • Hopefulhelper

    I am a whole-hearted Christian, but before anyone gets upset, I want to say that this website has been a great resource for me. I have quite a few athiest family members, of whom I haven’t been able to connect very well with lately. I also have a few friends who have left church and turned to atheism. I’m not saying they were right or wrong in doing so, but I would like to learn more about atheism. I’ve never been able to understand it and it always seemed such a depressing outlook, but I want to be able to talk to them again and understand their choice. I want to see if it was something wrong with the church, if so, what I can do to help, or if not, what I can do to better understand. Please help if you know what some other reason ( smaller ones, that maybe weren’t listed above) that would convince a person to leave, and if it is something fixable, what can Christians do to help?

  • Anonymous

    If one keeps tearing away at the ragged edges eventually, given time, there will be no warm centre.

  • Keith Pinster

    I’ve been saying this same thing for a long time.  The thing that we can give these people is a place to go. One thing that keeps people in the church (I’ve heard this time and again) is that people are afraid to be ostracized, but by giving these people a “safe haven” to go to, we are making it possible for people to leave their religious communities and not feel alone.

    This also plays into another thing that I’ve been saying for a long time.  When we discuss (read: argue) with xians on blogs, I think it is extremely important that we stay reasonable and rational with our arguments.  We need to stay away from any sort of strawman arguments or fallacies. Let those religiots prove how unreasonable they are while we prove how reasonable we can be.  We have these discussions not to convince someone who thinks they can actually talk someone into believing their delusional superstition in a blog, but for the audience; those people who are on the fence and looking for answers.  We want to show the people who are reading these blogs that being an atheist doesn’t mean beating people over the head with emotions to get them to submit, but inspiring people to actually think for themselves and just ask the rational, logical questions.  We already know that xians can’t win in a logical, reasonable, rational debate, so our job is just to show that to our audience.

  • Keith Pinster

    So, you’re saying that people asking questions about how there can be hundreds of contradictions, inconsistencies, logical fallacies and flat out lies in a “holy book” which has been interpreted thousands of different ways and mistranslated hundreds of times, yet written by a “perfect god” actually *caused* you to be more religious? 

    And you are saying that the UnChristian actually supports your assertion that people are being driven back to the church?  Even when, in chapter 2, page 24, it says that in 1996 only 15% of “outsiders” were unfavorable toward xianity’s role in society, when at the time of the study, that number jumped to 38%.  If you got the impression that this study is showing that xianity is on the rise in this country, you truly are delusional my friend.

  • Keith Pinster

    Actually, it appears that the article, and the book he is talking about is not about why people are abandoning “the faith”, but abandoning the church, which are two very different things. Abandoning the church is, in most cases, only the first step to clearing the delusional out of one’s mind.

  • Rosemary

     This only happens when the seeker does a biased investigation:  only looking at material that supports Christianity or provides “answers” for the questions that they believe “atheists” ask.   This is essentially an argument from relative ignorance.

    The opposite happens when people investigate the religion from both inside and outside.  In this case, it is very rare to find that a person’s religion of birth is strengthened and supported.  This is an argument from comparative knowledge.

  • Rosemary

     The so-called increase in religion appears to be almost entirely an artifact of the fact that conservative and bigoted religious people have more children than liberal and educated people. Religion is not increasing as the result of converts in the industrialized world (although this is the case in economically and educationally under-privilded communities and nations).  It is increasing because of  the fertility of religious people (who are  usually anti-birth control and relatively ignorant about sex in general.

  • Rosemary

     Phyngalla was (and still is) aimed at educated biology students. For that reason it does not suffer fools gladly, especially those have either failed high school science or never took it but try to tell those with many more years of training that THEY know better then them.  This kind of arrogance from ignorance is not well received in any university level discussion group.  Personal “revelation” cuts no ice among the educated.

  • Rosemary

     Not quite.  They will be happy to talk to you if you can show that your understanding of the biological science is equal to or greater than theirs.  If you demonstrate that you do not have this level of knowledge then they, quite understandably, don’t think you are worth talking to because you don’t have sufficient knowledge or understanding to make sensible and informed comments.  If, however, you do have this knowledge and challenge Myer’s opinion, then they WILL listen to you.  They will then do what science always does:  try to find fault with your argument.  If they can’t then they are delighted to have been presented with a new idea or fact.  That is how science works.

    I suspect you imagine that they should treat you with “respect”, simply because you are expressing an unverified opinion that society has, until recently,  politely refused to challenge on the grounds that is it “religion”and therefore above reason.  This authoritarian position is immature and is grossly unacceptable in an academic community.  Live with it!  If you want to be “respected” then talk to other religious people who agree with you, or will at least listen to you politely before telling you that you are going to hell because your version of god and idea of the requirements for eternal life are all wrong.

  • Rosemary

     I haven’t read the relevant report so I do not know if the information was contained as the result of an open-ended question that was categorized post hoc or whether it results from the forced choice of categories that the researchers decided might be relevant.  In the latter case, the prior notions of the researchers bias the results in favor of their world view.

  • Rosemary

     Me, too.  I had no “bad” experiences of my old religion.  I simply investigated the basis for its belief system – and it failed – miserably.  I had no honest choice but to reject it as  indoctrinated and wish-fulfilling nonsense.  What happened to all the people who took this route to non-belief?

  • Rosemary

     Religion is socially taught and maintained.  Take away the social support network and the group-think that supports crazy ideas and the delusions lack support.  They fall easily when pushed by facts and logic when there is no longer irrational socialization preventing such realizations from taking root.

  • Sabi

    “Dr Antogai God has truly given you a gift. Since I known you for some years now, you have shown me many results. I was homeless, on the verge of a divorce, broke, and jobless. Now thanks to your help… I have my own house, new truck, new job, and marriage better than ever. You truly is a gift from God.I will advice any in need of help to contact him antogaispelltemple@yahoo.com

  • takean

    I know this article is old, but I believe it to be very truthful and I found many of the comments below very insightful. . While I’m sure I wouldn’t fit well in here due to my belief…I do agree with all 6 of these reasons…and even more. Throwing aside who is right and who is wrong…the problem is very plain and simple…the church is the church’s worst enemy. Actually, technically its religion. If you want to look at it in a biblical aspect…the scribes were religion’s worst enemy during the “new testament”. And it still holds true today. I can’t tell you how discouraging it is to see people profess one thing and do another…lie, cheat, steal, hurt, etc. But you have to agree on one thing, whether your are christian, other, or atheist….and that is that all people are human. We all are guilty of all that crap…no matter who we are…and will keep doing that crap till we pass on sadly. Its just fact.

    I do like this site…will have to check it out more often. Its not that I’m doubting anything with my belief and so I’m investigating… it is that I found this topic very insightful and it appears there are other articles here as well worth reading. I think a lot of people here are very intelligent in their critique of different religions. I’m not here to push my belief on anyone…because that’s not what I believe in. So please don’t start sending up red flags. And I’m not trolling either…though, typically a troll will claim that they aren’t trolling. But I digress… I honestly found this article very insightful as I stated above.

    (and I’m not here to convert ppl either…so don’t worry or flame me plz :)

  • takean

     I’m not sure if that is really the reason. It may be the outcome…but several steps in between take place before the final choice was made. I believe the article is spot on with the reasons…and I believe it because I see it a lot. The church is it’s own worst enemy. I believe “most” churches are led by people who are not fit for ANY type of management/leadership position. And I don’t mean this as spiritual..I mean these people wouldn’t even make good managers and such in real working businesses.

    As far as in doubting God…well, I believe the last step is definitely fulfilled due to a lack of knowledge. I love Mark Twain…and he hits the nail on the head with his statement: “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every
    case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have
    not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand
    from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

    This understanding goes with anyone, christian, jew, atheist, etc…anyone without a solid foundation of actual understanding (being obtained by personal investigating), will always be on shaky ground.

  • takean

     Having 2 children myself I do see that religion is sometimes boring to them. Its hard to say why since this is an aspect that most Americans grow up at least hearing once in their life. Its similar to knowing that there are other much older movies out there that are really great…but for their time. Its not that they are bad, but our kids today feed on the new and amazing…just as we did during their age. To a degree the church has floundered with growing in this aspect…but usually its just because they are ignorant or hell bent on sticking with tradition and rules/regulations. However, I do know that other people, even children… without hope in poor countries do not have the experience as we do. They do not struggle with believing.  It is not difficult to teach Jesus…not because of a lack of intelligence on their part…but because of a need they have for him that gets fulfilled. Maybe Americans are spoiled…and as most Europeans believe…we are all too consumed with me, myself, and I.

  • takean

     Just got done reading a very old article written by Rupert Hughes from 1924. You can view it here at: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/rupert_hughes/why_i_quit_going_to_church.html.

    But it further proves as to why people leave the church. While his article was very insightful…leading me to investigate many aspects of the Bible (not saying I agree 100%), I found the comments he included below from letters sent to him (after his watered down published version in Cosmopolitan) to be a real reflection of how many Christians react towards people who disagree with them. Some I find embarrassing to say the least. As stated already….the church is it’s own worst enemy.


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