Friday, May 22, 2015

Why are (young) people leaving the church?

A recent Unbelievable show discussed the 'problem' of young people leaving the church. It followed the pattern of other similar discussions I have heard in the past, whereby it turned out that the 'ex-christian' made a lifestyle choice or had a sexual orientation which was seen as incompatible with the teaching of the church they attended, and so they felt alienated and had to leave. In this case, the guy was gay and believed he had to make the choice between being part of a church or having a meaningful sexual relationship with another man. His natural urges for sex and companionship won, as you might expect. So he left the church and lost his faith in God, more or less in that order. It wasn't the lack-of-faith issue that was the reason he left, it was kind of the other way about.

I've heard interviews with other ex-christians, like John Loftus for example, where the pattern was broadly similar. In Loftus's case (as I recall), he had an affair with a woman in his church, then was surprised to discover that the church rejected him rather than accepting him as the sinner he was and trying to bring him back into the fold. He left the church, somewhat disgruntled, and it was this that ultimately pushed him towards rejecting Christian belief.

This pattern of people leaving the church is broadly what the church wants to hear. People leave because of their own moral shortcomings. In other words, its not the church who is at fault, is is the unrepentant sinner. The initial sin (nothing to do with belief) is followed by other bad choices and further sins that so cloud the former believer's way of thinking that they eventually become deluded and ultimately reject the God they used to believe in.

For many Christians, this is the only deconversion sequence that really makes sense. Indeed, I once heard a minister, when he heard of someone in his congregation losing faith, whose immediate reaction was "I wonder what he's been up to...?"

I suppose, within the Christian mindset, this is the only option that makes sense. Someone who truly believes in God, and furthermore has a real personal relationship with him, cannot, simply cannot come to believe that the God they know does not exist. Well, they cannot, unless they are deceived and deluded, and that will only happen if they are a habitual and unrepentant sinner...

The thing is, there are others, who haven't 'fallen' into sin, who haven't had affairs and who haven't made lifestyle choices that are incompatible with the teachings of the church, who still lose faith. The church doesn't really know what to do with them.

If they truly seek to fix this problem, the church inevitably starts looking for the faults within the church that are the reason the people leave. Of course, the faults must be within the church, for there is no way that it could be the God concept that is flawed. The church can't really ever face the possibility that the leavers could be right and those who stay are in the wrong. As soon as they admit that possibility, the collapse is inevitable. Or at least it was in my case.

With hindsight, the greatest single factor that contributed to my eventual lack of faith was simply considering the possibility that I could have been wrong about God. As soon as I questioned God himself, things began to unravel.

Why are (young) people leaving the church? Maybe they've honestly considered the central beliefs of the church and found them lacking. Maybe they're right to leave. 

1 comment:

luschen said...

This is it exactly! To me it is like the Creation Institute or whatever wondering, "why are so many young people believing in evolution these days? Do we need to make our message more exciting? Add some new graphics?" Nope, sorry, it is just that your message is incorrect.