Patton, by his own admission, has a fascination with those who leave the Christian faith. He has done a number of posts on the subject with his most recent being, "How People Become Evangelists Of Uunbelief” Or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic. In the post, he says: I have found that the two primary reasons people leave the faith are 1) intellectual challenges and 2) bad theology or misplaced beliefs. . He finds five steps in the process of apostasy:
Step One: Doubt
Here is where the person begins to examine his or her faith more critically by asking questions, expressing concerns, and becoming transparent with their doubt. This doubt is not wholesale, but expresses an inner longing to have questions answered and the intellect satisfied to some degree. Normally this person will inquire of mentors in the faith, requesting an audience for their doubt.
Step Two: Discouragement
This is where the person becomes frustrated because they are not finding the answers. They ask questions but the answer (or lack thereof) causes them discouragement. Their church tells them that such questions are “unchristian.” Their Sunday school teacher says, “I don’t know. You just have to believe.” Others simply say, “That’s a good question, I have never thought of it before,” and then go on their way on their own leap-of-faith journey.
Step Three: Disillusionment
Now the person begins to become disillusioned with Christianity in general and proceeds to doubt much more deeply. They feel betrayed by those who made them believe the story about Christ. They feel that much of their former faith was naive since not even their most trusted mentors could (or would) answer basic questions about the Bible, history, or faith. In their thinking the intellect has become illegitimized and the church is therefore an illegitimate contender for their mind.
Step Four: Apathy
At this point in the journey, the disillusioned Christian becomes apathetic to finding the answers, believing that the answers don’t exist. They are firmly on their way to atheism, agnosticism, or pure skepticism but don’t have the courage to admit it to themselves or others. Many times those in this stage live as closet unbelievers, believing it is not worth it to come clean about their departure from the faith. They want a peaceful existence in their unbelief without creating controversy. Therefore, they are content to remain closet unbelievers.
Step Five: Departure
At this stage the fact that they have left the faith has become real to them and they are willing to announce to the world. Because of their sense of betrayal, they feel as if it is their duty to become evangelists for the cause of unbelief. Their goal and mission becomes to unconvert the converted.
Since we have a number of de-converted Christians who read this blog, I would be interested in what you think of Patton's five step process and if it aligns with your own personal experience. I would also be interested to hear if you think there is anything the church or Christians could have done to keep you from walking away? Patton believes that the Church needs to deal with issues in a deeper way and not just merely dismiss them. I commend him for that opinion.
I tend to think, however, that most Christians don't really want to think very deeply. Their Christianity makes them "feel-good;" it tells them they are special and that God loves them and watches over them. It provides them with a good social outlet (and in Southern Baptist circles a lot of good food!) where they can be around people with similar beliefs. It provides a support network when problems in life, such as sickness and death, arise. Why would they want to challenge all of that with examining carefully the basis of their religion? The simple truth is that most don't. In addition, they are usually told that doubts arise from Satan and the solution is to resist the Devil, pray harder, read the Bible more, and be faithful to the all the services of the church. If there is something that you don’t understand about the Bible or theology, just have faith and God will explain it all to you when you get to heaven.
As I look at his five step process, it seems to me that I experienced only 1) Doubt, 3) Disillusionment, and 5) Departure. I did not experience #'s 2 and 4. As far as anything the church could have done, I doubt it but it would have been nice to see them try. Instead, my local church simply ostracized me and demonized me. In their mind, I am like Judas.
I look forward to hearing other's comments about their experience. BTW, my friend and fellow apostate John Loftus, recently had a post on this subject and I see he has received 218 comments on it. In addition, I have recently become aware of a book entitled: If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them By David R. Sanford. Some other books on this subject which I have read include: Leaving the fold: testimonies of former fundamentalists, ed. by my friend and fellow apostate, Ed Babinski; Walking away from faith: unraveling the mystery of belief & unbelief by former Calvin College professor Ruth Tucker; Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity by my friend and fellow apostate, John Loftus; Beyond Born Again: Towards Evangelical Maturity by theology professor, Robert Price (available to read on-line; Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith by former Billy Graham associate, Charles Templeton and the book by my new friend and fellow apostate Ken Daniels, Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary (available to read on-line). And as I mentioned in a previous post, Ed Babinski has compiled a list of books by former believers.
That should provide a lot of data for anyone who wishes to investigate the reasons why Christians leave the fold. I would love to see a doctoral dissertation done at one of the leading evangelicals seminaries on this topic.