Link: a series on deconversion

So many friends have lost their faith that ‘deconversion’ is an issue of existential importance to me. I came across this interesting (unfinished?) series on it by Bradley Wright et al. These scholars examined fifty deconversion stories on a website of ex-Christians, and looked for patterns and convergences in the self-descriptions of why people had left their faith.

They found a lot of the subjects emphasising intellectual problems with Christianity – from the genocide of Noah’s flood to the unfairness of hell. (I suspect that this would not hold true for a more representative and less computer-savvy, wordy sample.) Another common theme was God failing them – not answering prayers, not being true to his promises, not being apparent in any real way. The third main theme was other Christians responding tritely to their doubts. That makes me angry – I can imagine what they’re talking about. Believers who cannot appreciate the problems with Christianity have no business being unsympathetic or dismissive of their brothers and sisters who can. Ironically, so many evangelicals, particularly, would be dismissive of doubt in their zeal to not allow in a sliver of unbelief – and yet this response has only pushed doubters further out of the fold.

The academic article is available free from the Journal of Religion and Society.

It’s my theory that this study misses the silent majority of deconverters, who would not be able to articulate their drift from Christianity so clearly and for whom social factors are just as important: teenagers not fitting into their church youth group; adults finding churches to be uniformly disappointing.

6 thoughts on “Link: a series on deconversion

  1. Hey Nathan, I wonder if the two different reasons (theirs and yours) actually work simultaneously. That is if you are in a community of reasonably intelligent compassionate people it is easier to put passages that paint God harshly or silence from God on hold. Something that you might be prepared to deal with later seeing that everyone else around you has been able to deal with it.

    Sometimes I wonder if church is the oxygen tank you get given as you take the plunge into the underwater world of Christianity. The role of the church should be to help you swim without it instead it tends to make you dependent on it then, like you pointed out, as soon as the family moves somewhere new, the teenagers don’t want to join the parents on Sunday morning or their is a fall out in relationships with others in the church, out goes the faith as well as the fellowship.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    I haven’t totally deconverted yet, but I’ve given up completely on churches. Where is the tolerance of theological diversity within Evangelical churches at the local level? Where do the social justice and shalom Christians who want to champion the poor and the powerless and challenge the systems of oppression and injustice stand in most Evangelical churches?

    I have found so much hostility both in Evangelical churches and on the internet that after Easter 2011, I just stopped going. In January 2012, I closed down my previous blog in utter despair. It’s pointless.

    Most churches are churches largely of the status quo. Why is it that so many Evangelicals are hostile to any discussion on gay rights and same-sex marriage? Why are so many Evangelicals hostile to Pacifism and a shalom understanding of the Gospel? Why do so many oppose equal rights for women in their churches?

    I don’t expect that Evangelicals will accept most of these things (apart from a tiny minority of left progressive evangelicals), but what I should expect from Christians who claim to be “born from above” is civility, compassion and understanding, even when they disagree.

    Some people simply leave the churches because they feel rejected by the Christian community and, if they have often suffered rejection, they are unlikely to come back (even when they can forgive) because they don’t want to be “kicked in the guts again”.

    John Arthur

  3. John, glad you’re blogging again. I think too many are rejected by the Christian community. Yet on the other side, churches bother more than anyone else does with people with problems. Not always, just more than the rest of society.

  4. Chris, your metaphors are always interesting and your thinking always original! My ecclesiology is quite opposite to your oxygen tank metaphor, though it rings partly true for me. The church is not just the tank… it’s the imperfect embodiment of the kingdom – or it should be. (I can’t fit that into your picture. 🙂 )

  5. PS: A further thought – my ecclesiology has to then explain John’s experience of the church (above). The church’s failure to be the church leads to… a churchless faith?

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