Why Millennials are leaving the church

There’s been quite a bit of response to Rachel Held Evans’ CNN piece last week on “Why Millennials are leaving the church,” so allow me to chime in here.

Why are young people leaving the church? Very often, it’s because the church lied to them.

Specifically, it’s often because the church lied to them about the age of the Earth.

Many young Christians have been reared to believe that this concept of creation is a virtual article of faith that represents the biblical teaching. Those young Christians then go off to college, to a museum or to another source of knowledge where they may be exposed to legitimate geology and are stunned by the force of geologic evidence for Earth’s antiquity. They have been personally confronted with an intellectual and spiritual fixed great gulf that is far wider than the Grand Canyon, between their newfound scientific understanding and the religious views of their youth. Not having been equipped to handle the resulting intellectual and spiritual stresses, they all too often conclude, because the geologic evidence is so persuasive, that what they were taught about creation must be incorrect. To them, the Bible now becomes a flawed book. Sensing that they have been misled about creation by the religious authorities of their youth, they lose confidence in the rest of their religious upbringing. Such students may suffer severe shock to their faith. They were not properly taught the truth about creation, nor were they equipped to deal with challenges to their faith. Christians who are professional scientists have all heard far too many accounts of individuals whose spiritual journeys sound much like the scenario just described. Let’s have no shipwrecks of the faith of young, vulnerable, unprepared Christian youth that can be laid at the door of the pseudo-science promoted by Christians.

That’s from The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley.

Tens of thousands of millennials are among the shocked and shipwrecked former evangelical Christians who wandered into college, or into a museum, or into a library and stubbed their toe on a rock that was obviously and undeniably ancient. And then they know that they’ve been lied to.

The distrust resulting from that lie is proper, just and well-deserved. And when that lie collapses, as all lies must, those young people will be compelled to test everything they have been told and taught in church. Some of them will test everything and find some good to hold on to. Others won’t.

And so they leave.

Young-Earth creationism is a lie. That lie is chasing young people out of the church. Not just millennials, mind you, but X-ers and Baby Boomers before them. That’s why this is a recurring conversation — why we’re now seeing articles on “Why Millennials are leaving the church” that parallel the articles from 20 years ago about “Why Gen X-ers are leaving the church.”

Young people will eventually catch on that they’re being lied to. So will older people. You can only fool them with lies about geology until they encounter a rock. You can only fool them with lies about supposedly monstrous others until they encounter those others. You can only fool them with lies about the Bible itself until they encounter the Bible itself.


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  • EllieMurasaki

    Name that more tolerant place. And explain why any religion should be called upon at governmental functions at all.

  • That sounds a lot like “I want to have my cake and eat it too”.

  • Carstonio

    The idea that religious minorities “cannot accept seeing Christianity practiced” has no basis in reality. That’s just your straw man, the equivalent of “they hate me because I’m beautiful.”

    Religious freedom is not just about the individual following his or her conscience. It’s also about the society rightly saying that there should be no such thing as a normal or default religion. The one-sided tolerance you describe is the definition of intolerance, as if belonging to a non-Christian relgion was in someone’s disfavor. Religion isn’t about majority rule. What you describe is really social shame attached to religions other than Christianity.

  • Only if you believe that following Jesus is purely about where you go when you die…

  • Nick Gotts

    Evidence for this claim? I’m an atheist raised as a non-fundamentalist Christian, and I know lots of others.

  • Nick Gotts

    So Maimonides was ruling out a priori the possibility that scripture could be wrong, and placing the blame on those who interpret it as meaning what it clearly says. That’s fundamentally intellectually dishonest and cowardly.

  • Nick Gotts

    Specifically, it’s often because the church lied to them about the age of the Earth.

    I don’t think this can possibly stand as a general explanation, because religious belief and practice are also declining in most of Europe, where YECism remains the belief of a relatively small minority of Christians, and the decline has continued for decades.

  • Jay

    I still value compassion and understanding, but without a fear of judgement it takes less of the character of the religion I was raised in and more of the character of a New Year’s resolution.


    The belief that the Holy Scriptures define a time for the Creation is foolish. For one to be so ill-informed about such matters, and to be willing to make a decision that affects his or her metaphysical existence based on such misinformation, is almost too pathetic to contemplate.

    However, it is sad to admit that many if not most religious do not understand the Genesis according to Scripture, neither do they understand the science that they believe threatens their belief system. Just as importantly, in similar fashion, the believers in science, who reject the veracity of Scripture, do so from their lack of understanding.

    Many of the defamers of creationism have a graduate-degree understanding of the sciences while they only have a weak elementary-school understanding of theology. With one case so comprehensively developed and the other so weakly served, how could such people honestly decide to reject God?

  • EllieMurasaki

    So how many religions should we study in depth before we can come to an intellectually honest conclusion about which one if any is true? Surely at least as many as are covered in a Survey of World Religions 101 course, which is probably the three big Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and if we’re really lucky and the course is comprehensive, Shinto, the various African-American syncretic religions (vodou, Santeria, etc) and the African religions that they draw from, Wicca and related, Baha’i, Hellenic Reconstructionism and Germanic neopaganism, and if we’re astoundingly lucky, the indigenous beliefs of Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians…

    Goodness. A truly intellectually honest study of which religion is the true one would take ten lifetimes before we even consider the possibilities of no religion being true or of there being no way of knowing which if any religion is true. Where have you found the time, JFSEB?


    “Invalid concept” is not an argument; it is a contradiction in terms. If you argue that controlling the thoughts and speech of others is in itself an invalid undertaking, then look to Government, academia, media, and all who use media to condemn first; after all, they are the biggest controllers of the public mind.

  • AnonaMiss

    Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.


    Carstonio writes: “The idea that religious minorities “cannot accept seeing Christianity practiced” has no basis in reality. That’s just your straw man,”

    Carstonio, it is the lack of tolerance from a few members of the religious minorities, which includes atheists, that have brought about the government suppression of Christianity in the U.S. It is not a “straw man” argument.

    I have not suggested a default religion. I have suggested that no one, including the government, should suppress the free practice of religion, regardless of the sect. If one’s sense of being different from the mainstream is discomforting, as you suggest as a reason the government should limit the majority from the free practice of their religion, then those who can’t adjust, should go some place where they can find comfort.

    What is this mentality that the majority should suffer discomfort for the sake of the few? Don’t you at least believe the wisdom of Spock?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Name five instances of the government suppressing Christianity in the US.


    The comfort that comes from falling asleep close to the pod.


    If you are Jewish, Israel is a Jewish state. If you are Muslim, there are many Islamic states. If you are godless, California and New York are godless states.

    As for the reason God should be called upon during government functions, any government leader, who is a member of the three Abrahamic religions, would want God’s blessing on their leadership efforts. This is a Constitutional right that government is presently suppressing.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I was thinking more ‘Wiccan’, personally. Baha’i. Santeria. Various religions indigenous to the pre-European-contact US and the pre-European-contact Africa.

    If any government leader wants God’s blessing on their efforts, they are free to ask for it–while they are off the clock and not speaking as a representative of their Wiccan, Baha’i, Santeria, atheist, and contradictory-flavors-of-Abrahamic constituents. Try again.

    California is 36% Protestant and 31% Catholic. New York is 38% Catholic, 30% Protestant. Tell me again that these are places where atheists are the majority.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, and: religious freedom includes the freedom from being forced into religious ghettos.

  • AnonaMiss

    If you are godless, California and New York are godless states.

    Which is why so many of their government officials, senators, & representatives are atheists…

    any government leader, who is a member of the three Abrahamic religions, would want God’s blessing on their leadership efforts

    So pray before the session. Don’t make other people participate in your prayer.

    Anyway, public prayer is against God’s law as revealed by Jesus Christ. Matthew 6:5-8. It saddens me how many supposedly God-fearing supposedly-Christians in this country are willing to blaspheme against God by breaking this direct admonition by Christ.

  • dpolicar

    Two things.

    First, there are also many countries where Christianity is a state religion. The U.S. isn’t one of them. Anyone who wishes to live in one of those countries is free to do so.

    Second, God does not depend on a human being to lead a group prayer to give Him permission to bless human leadership. God blesses all enterprises which are deserving of God’s blessing. Group prayer is a thing humans do for human reasons.

  • Carstonio

    The rule against prayer at government functions applies to all religions and the citizens who follow them. You’re acting like it’s an arbitrary decision to exclude only Christian prayer while including, say, Wiccan or Buddhist prayer. The principle would be the same if an atheist lawmaker wanted to deliver an invocation that explicitly claimed that no gods exist – that would also be excluded under the rule.

    Citizens who act in an official capacity in government don’t have the same right to religious expression in that role that they do when they’re on their own time. That’s because they’re representing all their constituents, not just the ones who follow the same religion. Whichever religion is in th majority is irrelevant. It’s the same general principle as a workplace that bars employees from proselytizing to co-workers on company time. We don’t elect our lawmakers to promote any particular religion. Under your principle, football referees and baseball umpires would be allowed to wear team jerseys on the job, giving the appearance of bias.


    The rule against prayer at government functions is a suppression of the free practice of religion. Your argument merely makes a case for government suppression. My arguments have been in favor of the complete freedom to practice one’s religion, including at government functions. If one’s public display of his or her religion is offensive, the voters will vote them out of office. Thereby, the process will be self-limiting without government interference.

    In the workplace, the employer is entitled to all the time for
    which he or she pays employees. Just like in limiting cell-phone use, an employer is within his or her rights to demand full attention to the work of his or her employees. If they disagree, they have the option of working somewhere else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    We the people of the United States are the employers of all government employees, including the elected ones. We have a right to all their time while they’re on the clock. Which means their religion must be off the clock.


    From that perspective, we should put it to a vote. How do you think that would shake out?

  • LoneWolf343

    1.) Abortion
    2.) Obamacare
    3.) Gays
    4.) Communists
    5.) Gay Communists

  • EllieMurasaki

    It would shake out exactly how it’s shaking out now: with the majority insisting that the government should be Christian and the various minorities unable to do anything about it.

    By the way, what books did you read during your study of theology of the various non-Christian religions you must have studied in order for your acceptance of Christianity to be intellectually honest?


    You obviously have not read the Declaration of Independence or the Papers of the Continental Congress.

    You must be echoing the false declaration of Obama. A man, who two days ago, told the country that Savanna, Charleston and Jacksonville were cities on the Gulf of Mexico.

    This principle addresses the rest of your comment: “Ask and ye shall receive.”

  • dpolicar

    1) All of my beliefs above predate 2008, so if you want to dismiss me as ignorant you’ll have to attribute my ignorance to someone other than Obama.

    2) “Ask and ye shall receive” does not imply “…and if ye do not ask, ye are fucked.” God does not withhold blessings from the worthy just because nobody said the right words.

    3) I’ve never read the Papers of the Continental Congress, it’s true.

    4) I haven’t read the Declaration of Independence in quite a few years.

    Looking through it again now I find nothing to indicate that Christianity is a state religion. There’s a reference to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” to the “Creator” of men, and to the “Supreme Judge of the world,” none of which specifies Christianity as a state religion.

    The rest of the document is steadfastly secular… indeed, when they declare their independence, they do so “in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies,” not in the name of any divinity, and certainly not in the name of Jesus Christ.

  • Carstonio

    Offensiveness has nothing to do with it. One principle of neutrality is that an appearance of a conflict of interest is effectively the same as a conflict of interest. That holds for journalism, for contract bidding, and for regulatory agencies. The point is for the system to work equally for everyone regardless of who they are.

    That’s the same role that government plays with different religions. Having an elected official open a meeting with a sectarian prayer is no different in principle than if police officers proselytized to motorists when ticketing them, or if DMV employees targeted people of other religions for two-minute spiels when issuing licenses.

  • I don’t think of McGrath as a typical Christian. I think he views the Bible as a flawed human work that can somehow lead people to God (but if the Bible is a flawed human work, then what is the reasoning behind God’s existence not being the invention of men?).

  • What about Gay Communists getting their Abortions paid for by Obamacare?

  • Beroli

    In any case, I don’t understand how the statement “The Bible is not a
    history book” in any way excludes the possibility of Jesus not existing,

    Non-sequitur. The statement “The Bible is not a history book” doesn’t exclude the possibility that Enopoletus Harding is a purple giraffe. And yet if you’d responded to Abel with, “Are you saying I’m a purple giraffe?” it would have been just as overtly stupid and obnoxious as what you did respond with.

  • “Enopoletus Harding is a purple giraffe” is possible if the Bible is a history book and it is possible if the Bible is not a history book. Jesus not existing is possible if the Bible is not a history book and is not possible if the Bible is a history book. You use bad logic here.

  • Beroli

    You chop logic to dodge a point here. As usual. I hope you’re impressing yourself, ’cause I doubt very much you’re impressing anyone else.

  • That’s not an argument.

  • ToTripoli

    JFSEB: So you’d be alright with someone calling to Lucifer during a government prayer, yes? Or Krishna, or one of the old pagan gods?

    The problem is, of course, that government officials in the US are not supposed to promote one religion over any other. Praying aloud to the Christian God during a government function is promotion of religion (besides being in violation of Jesus’ teachings about not praying in public & making a show of your faith).

    The fact that you support anti-blasphemy laws is also very telling. You do realize that, then, people could be arrested for saying “Oh my god,” or even “holy cow,” right? Jokes about religion would be banned. Criticizing religion would be banned. Free speech would go right out the window, as would the Establishment Clause (since anti-blasphemy laws would be an endorsement of religion by the state). Why do you hate the First Amendment? Or is it just that your faith is so fragile, you can’t take even the slightest criticism of it?
    As a person of faith myself (non-Christian), I have no trouble with criticisms of my belief system. But then, my faith always gives way to scientific evidence if the two cross paths.

  • ToTripoli

    “I know lots of others” isn’t really representative of every atheist, though.
    I lived in the South for half of my life, and most of the atheists I know are from fundamentalist Christian families – mostly Southern Baptist & Gospel Baptist, with a few Charismatics in there.

    Personal experience differs, you know.

  • Nick Gotts

    Of course I know personal experience differs – that’s why I asked for evidence – properly constructed and conducted surveys of atheists, for example. I would expect different results in different places – I’m not at all surprised you know a lot of ex-fundie atheists, because “the South” (it’s rather telling that you assume everyone is from the USA – I’m from “the South” too, meaning southern England in my case) is stuffed with fundies. Britain isn’t, and YECism is fairly rare outside recent immigrant communities – but atheism has been growing rapidly here and throughout most of Europe.

  • Tina

    Atheism is a collective name given to those who reject entirely all claims to supernaturalist explanations of humanity and the universe. Only the superstitious continue to demonize atheists. Christian brain software used for centuries to con and subdue the illiterate masses, especially in America, has unfortunately been very successful, making it very difficult for many to let go of the crutches provided by the purveyors of false religion. Clinging desperately to outdated superstitious apocalyptic dogma does not bode well for the future of humankind.


    Of course I would not be alright with someone calling to Lucifer during a government function. It could only happen once; after which, the official would be voted out of office if not forced to resign. As I said before, it is a self-limiting process.

  • ToTripoli

    Actually, I don’t assume everyone is from the USA. My grandparents are 1st-generation American (from Ireland), and at least half of my friends are from outside the US.
    I simply assumed that combining “the South” with “Southern Baptists” would get the point across that I was referring to the southern US, but I could have worded it better.

    At any rate, I think I misunderstood your statement in the previous post. I was sleep-deprived, so apologies.

    I think “fundie” & YEC households are highly likely to push the younger generation toward atheism & agnosticism.
    I’m not saying that the majority of atheists have fundamentalist backgrounds, just that those backgrounds have a tendency to breed atheists once the members find out they’ve been lied to.

  • ToTripoli

    It was an example. You conveniently ignored the others, I notice.
    Also, on what grounds would the official be forced to resign? Worshipping Lucifer – or even pretending to – is not illegal. In fact, it’s protected by the First Amendment.

    The US has a secular government & basis of law, as stated by the founders themselves. The citizenry may be largely Christian, but that does not make it a “Christian state.”
    I am not saying that only Christians should be barred from calling on their God during government functions; I’m saying that public prayers from ANY religion have no place during secular government functions.

    Incidentally, Jesus had some interesting things to say about public prayer – namely, that his followers shouldn’t do it, because it’s what hypocrites do to make a show of their faith.

  • Nick Gotts

    Thanks for the gracious apology, and I in turn apologise for falsely attributing an assumption to you. But again, like Fred in the OP, you’re just telling me what you think. Without some actual evidence based on more than personal anecdote and hunch, what’s the good of that? It could be that in fact, a larger proportion of people brought up in liberal Christian households than in fundamentalist ones end up as atheists. The social costs of rejecting Christianity are likely to be lower for such people – their families and friends are less likely to cut them off, for example. They are also more likely to be encouraged to explore and discuss their doubts – which won’t necessarily lead to those doubts being resolved rather than to atheism.