Why Did You Leave Your Religion? Take This Survey So We Can Find Out

If you were once religious but you’re not anymore (hello, ~97% of my readers!), Michael Caton would appreciate it if you’d complete a 10-15-minute survey where you explain what caused your mind to change. All responses will remain anonymous.

He’ll be posting a summary of the results online soon enough. It’s not scientific, but it’ll be interesting to see what the trends are!

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.

  • Thalfon

    The poll seems to only want people who are/were in the US. I didn’t realize this until the second page, might be worth mentioning in the post.

    Also, I really didn’t see anything on the first page that would actually have matched my views at all. I left religion because I couldn’t rationalize the idea of a god with the way that the world was. It wasn’t anything immoral about the church’s teachings (in fact, I rather respect the pastor who was there at the time). I didn’t say much about my atheism early because it didn’t seem like the sort of topic that was worth bringing up.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    You might want to tell him that his Judaism section is flawed. I picked Reform Judaism (it’s not Reformed, which is a mistake on the survey) because it was the closest, but I was raised Conservative and then Reconstructionist (which is a small sect). I’m not surprised Reconstructionist wasn’t on there, and really there’s no reason for it to be, but Conservative really needs to be. There are three main sects of Judaism, and it would be nice if all there were on there.

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    YES. I came here to comment because there was nowhere to leave feedback in the survey itself. I was raised in Conservative Judaism, too. I clicked “other” because it’s just as inaccurate to say I was raised as a Reform (not Reformed) Jew as it would be to say I was raised as an Orthodox Jew.

  • Disenfranchised?

    Like Thalfon, I also live outside US. It would be helpful if you made it clear before the link that this is a US residents’ survey.

  • Jon

    I think some of the questions needs some work. For the “Why didn’t you tell anybody about your beliefs” (or something close to that) for me, it would’ve been that I didn’t know enough about ‘my’ religion to say for sure; but I don’t think there was an option for that sort of thing.

  • MURupert

    Yeah, one of the 3%.

  • Anat

    There was a response about learning certain topics such as science or psychology. I think this should be close to our case – religious claims did not match a scientific description of the world.

  • Anat

    And I was raised by secular Jews who let me understand that Orthodox Judaism was important and in some ways proper (as long as you weren’t too much into it) and might be sort of true, or some aspects of it were. I marked both Orthodox Judaism and other.

  • Lamont Granquist

    I guess I’m in that “3%” because I never had anything to leave…

  • linda barker

    Please specify above the fold that he only wants to survey US residents. Thank you.

  • Kent Mason


  • xagaros

    Thanks Hemant! I appreciate everyone who contributes data. This is likely the first of several surveys but we have to start at a fairly restrictive level to avoid getting overwhelmed.

  • eskomo

    Has skilled labor gone the way of the horse and buggy? No option for that in parents education level.

  • Tina

    My significant other says he’s a “non-denominational Christian”, I put Orthodox Christian since I really didn’t know what to classify him as…

  • Anna

    I can’t fill out the survey since I’m one of the lucky 3%, but several of the questions seem awfully specific. Who remembers exactly what age they were when they first said or thought a certain thing?

  • CandyPerfumeGirl

    ive never been really religious. Believed in a higher power the same way I believed in santa clause but grew out of it. Never made sense to me and just seemed very counter-intuitive. I was never capable of that much self deception

  • Coolred38

    Orthodox Christian isn’t the only kind of Christian to be is it? How about Sunday Christians and week day Agnostics?

  • Buckley

    I too wish there was a place to leave a comment. My story is a combo of things and I could only choose 1 reason as to why I deconverted. Problem is that it is complex. I was raised by a Catholic adoptive father and a Presbyterian biological mother. Both were Christian in name only (yet my mother was adamant in her belief which is more Christian Spiritual than any organized belief.) There was never any attempt to make me go to any specific church (Catholic or Presbyterian). My mother said over and over that we should be what we want. I was never baptized anything so I guess I was always a non-believer but didn’t realize it. As a family we only ever went to Church on Christmas or Easter and that stopped by the time I was 16. My brothers became Catholic because of marriage, but I don’t think they are Big “C” Catholic, they do it for the marriage.

    As for accepting who I always was, it was a series of events and a person who showed me that it was OK to leave behind all this mythology. So again, the survey didn’t take into account multiple causation. For me it was not one single thing I can point to that led me to where I am today.

  • bigcabba

    my mom received a degree in religion. that wasn’t an option in the survey. seminary and the-like should have been listed when asked about parents/guardians area of education.

  • Agrajag

    You really think 97% of your readers started out believing, then left the faith ?

    I’d be surprised if 97% of your readers are atheist at all ! And quite a few of us no doubt has never had any faith.

  • kelemi

    Or Temple Jew or Golf Course Jew?

  • Angelo Angela

    I’d love to take this survey, but I’m not an U.S resident.

  • Jordan

    Actually, in the introduction to the survey it says that is intended for US residents.

    I agree, I had trouble finding answers to choose from. I just started to find god and religion improbable and impractical. Most of the church leaders I have known have not been bad people.

  • Nikita


  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    On your question about what political party you are registered as, Virginia does not have registration by party. I don’t know whether any other states also do it that way. You don’t have an option for that.

  • Tel

    The options really don’t account for everyone. Would “several of the above” and “other”, even without space for elaboration, be so hard?

    It’s also annoying that the N/A option is always buried in the middle of the list.

  • Len Tucker

    ” Your gender and orientation: ”

    Would have been nice if they’d include all orientations and not just include pedophilia in the other groups. Oh well- I am heterosexual too…

  • L.Long

    Did not like this poll at all. It was very difficult to pick an answer. as the choices where limited and they seem to be focused on a set of outcomes.

  • Tainda

    Does my one year while I was 7 count as being formerly religious? :)

  • Jacques den Heijer

    Reading stuff that belongs in horror tales was enough for me……rather then believe in scientology………NOT

  • grindstone

    Yeah, not a well written survey, IMO. Maybe a test run first?

  • Anat

    Doesn’t Orthodox Christianity refer to the Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc)?

  • Matthew Schumm

    Same here. I was nominally religious very early on but never really believed in a God.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I wouldn’t assume without any data. It would be an easy survey to set up. I’m always surprised that there are any theist readers to atheist sites at all, except for the occasional troll. I never read religious blogs, but I could be wrong and therefore I would need numbers before making any conclusion about the makeup of the readership here.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Texas doesn’t either. But I know how I regularly vote and how my parents vote so I used that as an answer. But it does assume that you have to be registered in a party to vote in primaries which isn’t the case in many states. One of many problems with the survey. Hopefully this is a first round and will be fixed later.

  • islandbrewer

    “Inane trolls like Emmet” was not one of the options when I took the survey.

  • islandbrewer

    Mosquey Muslims or Manhattan* Muslims?

    (*The drink, not the borough.)

  • The Captain

    Tried to take the thing, but apparently I’m also one of the 3% that have no options to select “never was religious in the first place” in this poll.

  • Stev84

    I didn’t really “leave”. My indoctrination never worked. I never really believed the stuff in the first place and always considered the Bible just stories.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    Virginia allows anybody to vote in any primary, as long as you only vote in one party’s primary for any given election. I’ve been known to vote in Republican primaries when I had a strong opinion about the results of their race.

    I think the question would be better phrased as “If your state has party registration, what party are you registered as?” and have a “not applicable” option.

  • tubi11

    So is the 3% religious readers, or non-religious readers who never really were and so had nothing to leave? Or both? I’m the latter.

  • Artor

    Yep. I couldn’t finish the first page, because the options relevant to me just weren’t there.

  • Lamont Granquist

    My parents were both atheist/agnostic, though, so I really never went to church, never read a bible, etc. To me, the whole “leaving your religion” phenomenon angst and process is as alien as religion itself.

  • CandyPerfumeGirl

    yeah i also dont think that 97% of readers who are atheist now have been religious. Just statistic wise that doesnt sound right.

  • MisterTwo

    Not sure whether it matters to your results, but regarding the question about children living with me or not, my children lived with me until they were grown. I chose “they don’t live with me” because that’s true, but I don’t know whether that answer helps you understand what it is you wanted from that question. I get the feeling you weren’t expecting people over a certain age to be taking the survey.

    Regardless, I will be interested in the results!

    Also, my church was non-denominational (or un-denominational: Church of Christ) and is not a mainline Protestant denomination. I chose “other protestant” because that seemed to be to be the closest. I suspect that answer was close enough for your survey.

  • RowanVT

    Why? The majority of people in the USA, for example, are religious. Vast majority, in fact. If you’re an atheist in the US, then you were most likely religious at one point.

  • DKeane123

    As per the other commenters, my reason for initially doubting religions were the conflicting claims of truth – couldn’t really find the appropriate box to check.

  • Sweetredtele

    Why is it why I “left” when I didn’t really join-I was forced to do it.

  • hunglikeahuman

    instead of multiple choice it should be essay form. mine was because i found out there are over 3000 religions and most are based off of each other and are edited alot throughout time, and also how most people become the religion of the region they were born.

  • Alba Fonte Barraco

    I never left I never had it I believe in nature, and education. we are all from the earth, lets take care of thi world in a positive way.

  • ZenDruid

    Does believing there was a monster under my bed qualify as a religion?

    I heard stories about the Baptists’ god and decided right then that I’d rather be saddled with my own bogeyman than theirs, keeping in mind that the object of the exercise was to grow out of such foolishness. And so I did, sooner rather than later.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    Please indicate your marital status…

    Widowed, remarried was not included.

    This study needed open-ended questions. And I’m not sure how scientific it is when the participants are self-selected.

  • Theatheist Inme

    Why does the choice in #19 say, “SHE did not finish high school” when asked about parent educational level??? How about just “Did not finish high school.”?

  • QuestioningKat

    I did not like this survey. As a second time atheist – dropping my childhood religion of Christianity and then dropping a second spiritual view of New Thought decades later there was no option to clarify which deconversion I was referring to. The questions seemed to make the first deconversion seem more relevant since it was a traditional religion. Also, there was not an option for not having enough information for question 2. I wish there was a space that I could clarify my answers. Looking over the survey, I’m certain the reviewers will come to all the wrong conclusions.

  • Guest

    To add to the other comments–I am neither straight nor LGBTQ, I’m asexual. And I know there are others on this site who identify as genderqueer in various ways.

  • UWIR

    More than 3% of Americans are atheist. Couples of different religions complicate things, but suppose 3% of couples are atheist. Their children would surely be over-represented in the next generation, so much more than 3% of atheists would be raised by atheist couples. On top of that, just because someone’s parents are Christian, that doesn’t mean it’s completely accurate to describe them as religious, even if they go to church.

  • UWIR

    Not that I completely disagree with you, but an atheist commenting on a Christian blog isn’t quite like a Christian commenting on atheist blogs. It’s for from a perfect analogy, but it’s a little bit like the difference between someone who doesn’t golf posting on a blog for golf enthusiasts, versus a golf enthusiast commenting on the blog not aimed at golf enthusiasts. You don’t have to be an atheist to appreciate Mehta’s support of SOCAS or condemnation of religious excesses. Even if you’re a religious fundamentalist, you’ll still agree with Mehta when he’s criticizing one of the religions other than yours.

  • Jordan

    Wasn’t impressed with a few questions like ” How old were you when you first consciously doubted (even internally, to yourself) the validity of your religion or the existence of its deity or deities?”

    These are two completely separate things. I tried to reconcile my religion with my views (e.g. science in general, equality for LGBT people, the rights of women, no sex before marriage, contraceptives etc.) for quite some time. I then started to question the things that I was taught, the misdeeds of the various religions, the unfairness of “God’s Plan” and “Everything for a reason”. Then I started to try to imagine all the religions as being one and that mankind had just misinterpreted God’s intentions. Then I started to search out answers to some of the philosophical questions I had and eventually came to the conclusion that there was no God. So I (and I would guess like many) questioned my religion long before I questioned the higher power.

    Also, the first couple questions with about 15 different things and no ability to choose more than one. I mean, really, what rational skeptic wouldn’t look at most of the things on those lists as reasons? Pretty tough to chose the most important or influential.

  • ShoeUnited

    Did the survey. Some of these things I hadn’t thought about in years. Interesting how I fall in with the results.

  • ShoeUnited

    I do, but I’m weird that way. I can remember the day(s) that things occurred that I find significant. I remember what I was wearing, time of day, what the weather was like, etc. Don’t remember the day of the month, but I remember the month and the year and little details that don’t matter.

  • Anna

    Memory is a fascinating thing! My memory is pretty spotty before the age of 6, and it only really solidified into adult-like memory when I was about 10. I might recall the year something happened, but I would be unlikely to remember the specific details you mentioned. Generally, I get a sense of when something happened based on where I was and who I was with at the time, ie: that embarrassing incident with my tights happened in my fourth-grade classroom, so I must have been 9 years old.

  • Savpunk

    Exactly. My first step toward atheism was to examine if it was just Christianity that I didn’t believe in, not to simply throw out God. I actually spent two years reading about and thinking about other religions before concluding that it wasn’t Christianity I was having trouble with, but the whole kit and kaboodle of religions- all of the gods, goddesses, devils, demons, spirits, souls, afterlives, heavens, hells, reincarnations – whatever they had, I just couldn’t buy. There was no one important or influential thing; it was simply the result of a great deal of logical contemplation.

  • jfigdor

    Bad survey.

    1) No UCC option when UCC is the largest liberal church denomination
    2) No option to choose any European language other than Spanish
    3) No option to choose “philosophy” or “religious studies” or “journalism” or “English” as majors, despite the fact that these are prevalent majors.

    Then I stopped taking the poll. It felt like nobody bothered to think this thing through all the way.

  • Malcolm Dodd

    Like all humans,
    I was born an atheist. Later, my parents decided to infect my brain with the
    Religionitis® virus at an RCSC® (Roman Catholic Sleaze Corporation) Sunday
    school. At age 8, because of
    asking too many awkward questions, I was thrown out; I then began my second
    phase of atheism, which I call POST-THEISM, I have never wavered from that day
    to this 62 years later.

  • Belaam

    Not the best survey. Several questions didn’t have answers applicable to my situation and no “none of the above”. Also, a clear use of the pronoun “she” in asking who raised you. Seems to discount the fact that some people are raised by men.

  • mdoc

    The biggest issue with the survey is that it is geared for young people. There are missing options in answers where none will fit.

  • AllisonGranted

    The issues I had were with the mashing of gender and sexuality together. No option for non-binary people, no option for asexual people, who don’t always identify as LGBTQI.

    The question about what religion I was raised as didn’t actually apply, there should have been an option for no religion. I actually became a born-again christian in high school, via peer pressure. The assumption that all children are raised religious that are religious is a bad assumption.

    Those are just the few that bothered me. There are a great many more that others have brought up that I agree with as well. NOT a good survey by a long shot.