By Tom Gilson Published on December 4, 2019 • 4 Comments
A blog called Comic Sands posted a readout of reasons people leave Christianity. Based on a poll of readers at Reddit — incidentally, the most heavily atheist of all social media centers — this list is insightful reading for those of us who want to help people stay in the faith.
It’s all anecdotal, to be sure. But I’ve heard all of these often enough to think they’re probably representative, too. Their complaints fall in four categories, plus a fifth that’s less pointed.
Why They Left the Faith
Here are some sample quotes, representing those categories:
Christianity Is Irrational: “Being told to not question my faith made me lose my faith, if I cannot question what I believe in to better understand it then it wasn’t worth believing in it in the first place. Or they are hiding something they don’t want me to find out.”
It’s Prejudiced: “I gradually started to doubt my faith as I was exposed to people from different cultures and religions. I was told by teachers to be weary [sic] of people at public schools because they’re awful people who will poison my mind. As I got older the lies fell apart.”
It’s Anti-Science: “I was heavily indoctrinated with young earth creationism as a child. Stopped believing in the literal truth of the Bible in college when confronted with extensive evidence to the contrary.”
Our culture makes it so much harder on our Christian kids than it was for us when we were growing up. We’ve got to fight for them.
God isn’t Good: “Whoa, there is a LOT of messed up stuff in the bible [sic] and you would get in trouble! for reading more than just the cherry picked parts they only wanted you to know.”
Christians Aren’t Good: “I realized after the fact that Christianity did nothing to prevent the emotional abuse I had suffered by the hands of my mother growing up and my ex as an adult. In fact, faith actively facilitated it in many ways. Hence, not a reliable source of moral truth, too subject to personal interpretation.”
Faith Just Went Away: “The intellectual stuff and the reading and the Sagan and Dawkins and all the other junior atheist bro phase came later. But it started with simply feeling one day that it wasn’t real.”
Do We Believe It Matters?
My heart breaks for these young men and women. All of them say they were raised in Christian belief. All of them have walked away. I wonder what their parents are thinking and feeling. If they really believe the Christian faith matters, their hearts must be breaking, too.
There’s the crux of the question, though: Do we really believe the faith matters? Are we casual Christians, or do we hold the faith as our strong conviction?
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ tell us He is the most important person in all history. He claimed to be God, and He proved it by His wisdom, His perfect love, and most of all His rising from the dead.
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It’s a great story, to be sure. It’s also true. And because it’s true, every person’s future depends on Christ and what they do with Him. This is forever, folks. So the faith really ought to matter.
Does it, though? Do parents care? I looked for some kind of survey that would tell me what parents want most for their kids. None of them had any questions even remotely touching on spiritual maturity. It wasn’t on their radar. Even spiritually neutral options, like, “I want my kids to grow up to be wise,” were missing.
The world doesn’t expect us to care about our kids’ spiritual condition. That’s okay — we can buck the world on that. We can be counter-cultural that way. Our kids need it from us — desperately!
What Could We Have Done Any Differently?
Yet I’m sure many heartbroken parents must wonder, “We did the best we could! What could we have done any different?” I don’t know that answer; I can’t possibly know what you did in the first place. I do know that every parent has regrets over what they could have done better. I have plenty of those feelings myself, even though I can gratefully say my twenty-something kids have turned out great.
There’s the crux of the question: Do we really believe the faith matters? Are we casual Christians, or do we hold the faith as our strong conviction?
For those whose kids have walked away from the faith, I can offer one encouragement: God answers prayer. Usually it’s by bringing another Christian into their lives. That’s how it happened with my brother, when it looked like he’d never turn back to Christ, and I’ve heard the same kind of thing from plenty of others, too.
So don’t give up. Fight for your adult child! Get down on your knees and do battle! God answers prayer.
What Difference Can You Make With Your Children at Home?
Are your kids still with you in the home? Then you’ve still got direct influence. Yet you still might be wondering what it takes to make the difference — and whether you’ve got what it takes. At least I hope you’re asking those questions; if not, you’d better check whether you’ve gone spiritually numb. You dare not give up that way! You’ve got to fight and scrap for your kids’ spiritual futures, too.
The good news is, you can do it. No one else — not television, not social media, not music, and not peers — has the same influence on your kids that you do. And research — which is just shorthand for “other Christian parents’ experience” — says you really can make the difference.
Yes, You Can. Here’s How!
There are no guarantees here, obviously, but much more often than not, these things do work. If you care about your kids’ eternal future, then you ought to fighting the countercultural fight, to:
- Make your faith visible. Make church a priority. Pray at meals, and pray with your kids at other times, too. Let them see you reading Scripture. Let them hear you talking — constructively, that is! — about the Sunday sermon.
- Live a reasonably consistent Christian life. You don’t have to be perfect, but if you want Christ to matter to your kids, you must live as if you believe He matters to you.
- Encourage your kids to ask questions. The opening quote above says it all. So does the research: Kids whose questions are shut down tend to shut the faith down in return.
- Teach them it’s rational to believe. I wish I could sit down with each one of the atheists above. I could tell them why Christianity makes sense. I could explain how its “anti-science” appearance isn’t reality; how evidence and reason support the truth of the faith; how God is good in spite of what they think they know about Him.
Fight to Develop Convictions
I can’t have that conversation with them. I can’t give them that personal explanation — but you can . It’ll make all the difference in developing convictions in them. It just takes a bit more scrapping on your part. This time some of the fight is for yourself: the challenge of getting yourself equipped.
Let me suggest two starting points, both by J. Warner Wallace: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels for yourself and for teens; and for the younger ones, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids: Investigate Jesus With a Real Detective. The good news: both kids are very readable. Entertaining, too!
Our culture makes it so much harder on our Christian kids than it was for us when we were growing up. We’ve got to fight for them. If we do, there’s every reason to hope: We can avoid the heartbreak of our kids walking away.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.