Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Young Christians Leave the Church

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church - The Barna Group 9/28/11

Very revealing study of young teen and twenty-somethings and the reasons they no longer attend church. The answers are quite dramatic and really get to the heart of the matter, in my opinion. (Aside from the 3 main issues with christianity: A, it isn't true and can't be proved. B, it would be awful even if it were true. And C, even if it were true and not awful, there is still no reason to push it on anyone else.) Jerry Coyne over at Evolution is True has some great remarks as well on this study, but let's delve into all six reasons to see if we can't get a good idea of the issues concerning modern christianity and its struggle to retain membership with youth...

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

It's very obvious that the church goes out of its way to suppress outside opinion. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the most serious threats to modern religions is the invaluable resource of the internet. Instant access to information on any topic and connections to people who aren't in your inner circle to compare and contrast philosophies. Talking with other people makes other view points seem more reasonable than your church would have you believe.

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Shallow experience at church. This is something I struggled with as a young person as well. Fighting the constant feelings that you are wasting your time there, that church is boring, and the sense that there seems to be no real feeling in it by anyone in the congregation.

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

The church is antagonistic to science, there is no way around this. We know it to be the case, with meddling into science classrooms with creationism/intelligent design, to denying evolution and climate change to an extent that they threaten national policy on these truly important issues. Young people see it. They see the evidence that makes sense to them and then they hear the church ramble on with the conviction that they alone know all the answers without any justifiable proof. That just doesn't fly anymore with people. It's off-putting.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Sexuality and social judgement by the church is a constant hinder to social progress. There are real serious issues with underage pregnancies, STDs, homosexuality, etc., and the church prevents people from tackling these issues with statements of rigidity. No sex until you are married. Condoms are evil. Being gay is a sin. These stances prevent young people from being properly educated about their own sexuality and in turn, leads to issues that can destroy their lives. Young people are going to fool around as they begin to understand their bodies. Studies show that christians "experiment" as much as non-christians, so the fact that these kids aren't prepared for it, aren't given options and an understanding of what they are getting themselves into, leads to very serious consequences. Teen pregnancies, marrying someone you may not love just to satisfy the church - leading to high divorce rates - feeling bullied or having to hide your sexuality. It's no coincidence that pornography is a major issue with religious people, they have the same feelings as everyone else but have no way to deal with them publicly or realistically. The constant judging of sexuality is a real problem that can be avoided if it is dealt with in an adult manner.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Religions, by nature, are exclusive. Each is the only true way to heaven, happiness, eternal life, salvation, etc. Other religions are false, because we say they are. Don't even listen to them either, because they are of the devil. Don't give credence to any dissenting opinion as it is evil in the eyes of god. Religions are cults, only the "in-crowd" will be saved. All others will suffer and die and be tormented for eternity. They make it sound so good if you just join them and give up your rational thinking and believe without any evidence.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

It is the very nature of religions to shun dissenters, skeptics and people who question the validity of their extraordinary claims. The bible my mother gave to me when I was a teenager, the NIV bible, has a prologue that basically states that as you read the bible you will no doubt find passages that don't make sense or that contradict other verses. In these cases, it states, that the reader should just ignore their inner feelings and understand that god will reveal himself to you in time and in his own way. Do not question the inerrancy of the word of god, because it is true and good. (except it is not, when you actually read it). They have built-in fail safes against doubters, that you are fighting inner demons and if you do doubt, you should instead have more faith to counteract your feelings. It is a logical (or illogical?) vortex that sucks you in and continually reaffirms blind faith over reason.

These are very stark admissions against christianity (although these really can be applied to all religions in the same manner). The culture is such that it cannot adjust to modern times, modern issues, modern scientific advancement and instead tries to squash inquiry, dissent. Serious questions and issues are never dealt with in a manner that is intellectually honest and open, adult and realistic. It is because of this that religions are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. As young people realize there is more to this world, that there is more information and knowledge about the universe (and from better, valid sources), that there are other ways to treat people who may be different from you that is not antagonistic, they begin to see a world that can be better for all people. A world without the judgment, deceit, and dangerous rules, a world open to discourse and exchange of ideas. A world without dogmatic religion... and it looks pretty good.

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