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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why do people abandon the Christian faith?

Dr. Ruth Tucker, an evangelical and a former professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, wrote a book entitled: Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief. I have the book and have read it with great profit.

In a 2001 lecture to the Freethought Association of West Michigan, she gave 5 myths about those who walk away from their faith.

1) They are angry and rebellious.

Tucker says that her studies do not show this to be the case. Rather than anger, deconverts are more likely to experience sorrow and pain when they initially depart from the faith.

2) They can be argued back into faith.

She says this is very rare because the person leaving the faith "has carefully and painstakingly dissected the reasons behind this major worldview change." Committed Christians do not leave their faith without a lot of thought and soul-searching. Its not something that is done quickly or flippantly.

3)Doubters can find help at Christian colleges and seminaries.

She didn't find this to be true.

4)They abandon their faith so that they can go out and sin freely.

She found no evidence for this contention. As a matter of fact, she points out that often those who do not have faith appear to be more moral than those who do have faith.

5) They were never sincere Christians to begin with.

She rejects this because in her research, she came "across example after example of the most earnest and devout of evangelical, fundamentalist believers who became non-theists."

Evangelicals have a really hard time explaining why one would depart the faith. Most that I have encountered since my apostasy seem to opt for either reason #4 or #5. They say either I wasn't "really saved" to begin with or that a desire to commit certain sins drove me away from a belief in God. They just don't seem to be able to admit that someone who has studied the Bible carefully, and understood its teachings as they do, could possibly leave the faith for intellectual reasons.

Tucker went on to list some of the real reasons people give for leaving their faith.

1) The study of science & philosophy

2) The sense of absence of any caring God

3) The critical examination of the scriptures.

4) Disappointment in God

5) The hypocrisy of Christians

6) The perception of a dogmatic anti-feminist and anti-homosexual stance of fundamentalist Christianity.

In my case, I would say that it was primarily #3 and to a lesser degree #5 that led to my de-conversion. I would be very interested to hear from other apostates as to why they abandoned their faith.


  1. For me it was 1, 3, and 5... but mainly 3. Christians often don't get truly involved with 3 because it would be *heretical to do so. It's asking you to doubt everything, be skeptical, and that's an affront to faith--which is to believe absolutely--where there is no room for skepticism.

    But 3 leads to greater historical, archeological, and textual understandings which discredit much of the Christian claims, and when the claims don't hold up to scrutiny they fall away, and then there is nothing left to stake a claim on. Thus doubt is all you are left with.

    Granted 3 can be technically challenging, as well as 1, and many people just don't have the time or energy to get too deep into it. I've been lucky to have extra time to research and investigate things in detail, examine everything, and when I did I realized there wasn't anything which was justifiable, and therefore, my faith crumbled away.

    Not because I turned my back on it, or rebelled, or wanted to live by my own rules... I was an ardent believer who found that the holy book I predicated a belief on didn't stand up to critical scrutiny.

    The only thing left to do was make a choice: 1) Continue believing in God and my religion and having faith in it even though I knew that it was faulty--if not altogether wrong(something which would have been intellectually dishonest to do), or 2) start from scratch and begin to learn again by continuing to ask questions and search for the answers. Reason, and a stern conscience, drove me to select option 2.

    It was that simple.

  2. In my case, i kept getting beat over the head with "lean not unto thine own understanding" whenever I asked questions, even though they said God wants you to ask questions (#5). But it wasn't until I started searching the bible for answers that I found it has contradictions, errors, and myths (#3). I also found most believers didn't know what was in the bible, or even that the bible didn't exist for the first few centuries of christianity. I finally got fed up with it all and left in 1988.

  3. One think I have found is that some believers think that #2 is correct. They think they can argue me back into the faith. Now I am open to listening to any and all arguments but its very naive to think that a person such as me is going to hear something "new" relative to the problems of evangelicalism and suddenly come back. One of my former colleagues told me that I need to sit down with one of my former professors at BJU and discuss the matter. He was confident that while he did not have answers to my objections that this professor would. I laughed.

    In addition, it seems to me that the correct interpretation of Hebrews 6 is that someone like myself cannot be "renewed again to repentance." As a matter of fact, I remember the particular professor that my former colleague mentioned specifically expounding this passage that way. He said there is no use to talk to an apostate because they are unrecoverable.

  4. I keep getting numebr 5, 4, and 1 as the reasons I left Christianity. When in truth it was reasons 3 and 1 from the bottom list. I grew up a science nerd and so when my parents started going to a more fundamental YEC version, that helped to start pushing me away. Finally I just sat down and started looking through the Bible and its claims, finding all the contradictions, errors, myths and history of where the Bible comes from. That tore the last my faith away and part of me knew it would because I avoided critically studying the Bible for awhile.

  5. I get a lot of 1 and 2, a little bit of 4, and once or twice I even got a 5 from the top list. I also get a, "You just weren't around the right kind of Christians," often from people I went to church with. It's kind of funny, too, since the people questioning me will ignore everything I have to say and invent a straw me to have an argument with. So I basically don't have to participate in the conversation. And since I have no urge to evangelize for non-belief, I let them think whatever I want. My theory is that if you haven't talked to me for six months/are a random stranger and suddenly show up just to ask why I'm not a Christian any more then you're probably not my friend so I don't need you around.

    My real reasons for leaving were 1, 2, 3, and a little of 6 from the bottom list, with the addition of "history" to number 1.

    The difference I see is that the bottom list requires sincere doubt and research. That research removes the certainty required by fundamentalism. So they have to assume that it only has to do with me and has absolutely nothing to do with the systemic problems in Christianity itself.

  6. I left due to reasons 2, 4, and 5. I suppose 2 and 4 go pretty easily together though. Basically a church did something that hurt me deeply, and something I didn't believe was morally right, and believing in God's plan I had doubts that a supreme being would have purpose to plan this. 1 played a minor role as well, but it wasn't the driving force.

  7. I get a lot of 4, and 5 when they find out I was Catholic, but 3 is the reason. I decided, when I realized I was becoming the dreaded atheist, to renew my faith by reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

    I was pretty horrified by it all before the end of Genesis. I just can't connect a god of love with the slaughter of innocents.

  8. For me it was primarily 1 & 3. A critical examination of the scriptures and of science and the world around us led inexorably to the conclusion that christianity is simple mythology.

    The commands, requirements and behavior of god clearly reflects the ideas one would expect of iron age people followed latterly by those living in the roman empire.

  9. Bottom list first:
    It started with #6, which caused me to start up a full-scale #3 endeavor. Later, I began to supplement this with a bit of #1 where I realized my education had been sorely lacking.

    As for the top list, I've only experienced #2 so far, but then again, I've only told a handful of people so far. I grew up hearing these five myths pretty constantly, and so, as my unbelief grew, I kept quiet in fear of having to defend myself against my "brothers and sisters in Christ" using these myths to dismiss me.

    (And even though it wouldn't really be true, I can see how a fair case could probably made against me using myth #4...but I don't care: the past year has been pretty damn fun!)

  10. **They just don't seem to be able to admit that someone who has studied the Bible carefully, and understood its teachings as they do, could possibly leave the faith for intellectual reasons.**

    Would this be because of how the religion itself is set up? The idea in Christianity -- at least the conservative bent -- is that the Gospel is the truth, and everyone on some level admits that it's the truth. The whole Romans verse about how everything speaks to the glory of God, and people refuse to give Him the honor He deserves. Thus because Christianity is so "blatantly" the truth, there is no conceivable way that anyone could reject it on intellectual grounds. The whole concept simply isn't built into the theology.

  11. Does Dr. Tucker draw any conclusions about her findings? Does she think evangelical Christians ought to do anything about apostasy, other than, perhaps, understand it better?

  12. In my personal experience, in almost all cases it is tied to morality. I find that something traumatic happens in their life. Instead of blaming man's sin, they blame God. It can be a divorce, kids, personal moral sin, etc... I think the researcher is only analyzing the effects rather than the cause of departure from the faith. The fact that a person leaves though is absolute proof that they didn't know the love of God themselves. They had religion rather than relationship and that is always the root of the problem.

  13. ZDENNY and reading comprehension fail. Good job for proving the article.

  14. Or you just need to read C.S. Lewis, Ken ! Like you haven't done that before!

    I hate it when evangelicals use that line, especially when Lewis was to the left of many who use it. I've not read Miracles, but I like Mere Christianity because of its conversational writing-style, not so much because the arguments are great.

    Personally, I've not left theism, but, when I've been tempted, it's been because of 2 and 4-6. 6, sort of, since I'm pro-life, and that doesn't gel with feminism.

  15. I agree with the entire 6 items listed as my reasons. I left a very Fundy cult - Jehovah's Witnesses - 6 years ago. Before that, I had absolutely no critical thinking or philosophical thought in my head. I examined first my religion carefully - found deep and penetrating reasons to leave - then found most religion to be very similar - leading to a more careful examination of the Bible itself. I think that anyone who can find the Judeo-Christian God 'lovable' has never done any of the above. Love the post.

  16. I think #3 is the closest to my reason for leaving. Basically, I wandered away because, on a fundamental level, Christianity doesn't make sense to me.

  17. 3 and 4 were my reasons. I was an evangelical christian for the first 26 years of my life. It was my desire to know the bible more, to have a better understanding of my faith, that swamped the boat. I was devastated for months after words trying to find words in the bible that would tell me other wise from what I had read. I was most hurt when my mother, who helped raise me evangelical, and my father who prayed with me when I was five and 12 for salvation and re dedication, said they question whether I was ever truly saved. That hurt the most. The indication that I was just lost from the beginning.

  18. Amen! There was never a harder thing than leaving behind my biblical ideologies... I ended up dropping out of college and just going to study at L'Abri (heard of it?) for eight months. Still don't know if I will ever believe, but it's so nice to hear someone say this! It was #3 and #4 for me....

  19. I don't want to necassarily "leave the faith", but I have been to like six churches and I just don't find many fellow church goers to show the kindness and to follow the golden rule like the Bible says. And I have been increasingly more UNHAPPY since I have been going to church and become a "Christian" and born again. I know God exists, without a shadow of a doubt, but I believe the church is doing a horrible job of helping develop your quest and thirst for His spirit. I am thinking of just abandoning all organized churches altogether and reading the Bible at home. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more then the car in your garage is a rolls royce.