Young Adults Leaving the Church

Christian Piatt, author of such books as Banned Questions About the Bible, has two posts up at Red Letter Christianity about why young adults are leaving the church: Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church and Four More (Big) Reasons.

My first thought after glancing at these is: hasn’t it always been this way? I used to hear a bit of common wisdom in the Episcopal Church: young adults quit going to church only to come back once they become parents. Now that we’re keeping closer watch on the numbers of the “unchurched,” maybe we’re just noticing it more.

Piatt suggests that “Young adults today are the most un-churched generation in a long time.” That’s probably true, but only because we’re still feeling the effects of the Second Great Awakening and the rise of Evangelical Christianity. Before this period, the majority of Americans were probably unchurched, particularly in the south.

Be that as it may, Hemant points out that many of Piatt’s reasons are self-serving. He never even hints that some might leave the church because they are told they must give intellectual assent to certain historical and scientific propositions that are simply not true.

Hemant comments:

My guess is that most of you are thinking Piatt forgot the most obvious reason people leave church: They figured out God doesn’t exist. [...]

As fun as it would be to pat ourselves on the back and give ourselves credit for Christians leaving the church, we don’t deserve it. Turns out the Church just keeps shooting itself in the foot.

It seems that Christianity cannot fail, it can only be failed.

I’ve noticed this pattern with any number of groups. Once a member has left, or has become unpopular, they are quickly branded as “not a real” member of whatever. For example, as George W. Bush’s poll numbers plummeted, it was very amusing to hear certain conservatives explain why he was “not a real conservative,” despite having previously argued that his election was a victory for conservatism.

Any failures on the part of a conservative can never be the fault of the ideals of the conservative movement. There’s always some way to shift the blame, and avoid facing the idea that maybe movement conservatism just doesn’t work as a political philosophy.

At least Piatt isn’t pretending that all those that have left the church were never really Christian, although there is a bit of condescension towards those who think Christianity is not relevant. But he’s still shifting the blame towards everything but the doctrines and traditions of Christianity.

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  • Schaden Freud

    I seem to remember seeing something similar (including absence of references/sources/statistics) a while ago. It was a bullshit opinion piece then and it’s a bullshit opinion piece now, and possibly copypasta to boot. All I see there is a guy trying desperately to avoid admitting that people leave the church because the church fails them.

    On the other hand though, I can see why you’d find it hard to admit your organisation’s failings when your organisation markets itself on its supposed infallibility.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I left religion when I realized how very badly flawed religion was, how it made promises that it couldn’t deliver — and those promises didn’t involve selfish demands for a better life for me, but heartfelt pleas for someone else to have a better death. God apparently didn’t care how much someone was suffering, although it would have been so easy to ease them into a sleep from which they wouldn’t awaken.

    Later on, I came to one more conclusion which wiped any hope of ever rejoining Christianity: No truly loving god would ever invent Hell, let alone arrange a system in which 99.99% of all people to ever live would be condemned there. Easily preventable eternity in torment and being loved are mutually exclusive. Christianity is broken.

    • Paul

      You are right about the issue of a loving god creating hell. I think this is why the universalists sprang up, not being able to accept the disconnect between a loving god and the ethnic cleansing he performed of both groups who the Jews fought and mankind in general. The god of the bible most clearly resembles a psychotic 2 year old who rather than screaming slaughters huge numbers of people or orders his chosen people to do it for him.

      If people were not raised with this from early childhood on, they would never accept it as more than a primitive and silly myth, with followers who should be “deprogrammed”. We saw this reaction to many of the “cults” of the 60′s and 70′s and more recently to people believing that allah was going to give them 72 virgins is they sacrifice their lives while slaughtering infidels. To those not raised in islam, this would be laughable if it didn’t lead to the slaughter of many people.

      Leaving the church when we are old enough to see through the bible’s improbably “miracles” makes perfect sense. What concerns me more is that when they have children they tend to go back to inculcate these fairy tales into their babies. Why would you immerse them is the muck of religion when you have already figured out that its all bullshit?

  • David Cowan

    Paul: “Why would you immerse them is the muck of religion when you have already figured out that its all bullshit?”

    As someone raised in a very religious community, here is what I get whenever people realize that as a parent I refuse to perpetuate nonsense.

    “You have to have faith in SOMETHING.”
    “Let them make up their own minds.”
    “Whether or not you believe it, it’s part of our culture and they should know it.”
    “Why take away their childhood?”

    And here are the unspoken reasons that parents tell their kids nonsense that even they don’t believe:

    “It was good enough for me.”
    “My family and community will be pissed if I don’t go along.”
    “I don’t know the real answers, and these are easy.”
    “I don’t know how else to keep my kids in line.”
    “What, next you’re going to tell me that I have to tell my kids the truth ALL the time? That’s crazy talk.”

  • Noelle

    I have to agree with the first point. Your real marker is if there are fewer young families as church-goers these days. Not sure how’d you even find a reliable stat on that.