This isn't about the famous "New" atheists we've all read and know: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, et. al. This article explores the young men and women who, through serious self-reflection and examination of their religions, have rationally left behind Christianity and become nonbelievers.
Here are some of the highlights:
They had attended church
Most of participants [in the study] had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.
The mission and message of their churches was vague
These students heard plenty of messages encouraging "social justice," community involvement, and "being good," but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: "The connection between Jesus and a person's life was not clear." This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.
They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life's difficult questions
When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: "I really started to get bored with church."
They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously
Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn't try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: "Because you believe it." Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: "I really can't consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn't trying to convert me." As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.... How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"
Ages 14-17 were decisive
One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.
Poll Shows Fivefold Increase in Ranks of U.S. Atheists
The survey also shows a downward trend in the number of people who say they are religious.
A new poll suggests that 1 in 20 Americans now call themselves atheists, a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005. The Religion News Service reports that, to go along with the jump, just 60 percent of Americans now identify as religious, down from 73 percent the last time the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism poll was taken seven years ago. The decline has also been felt in many other countries around the world, including double-digit drops in several European and North American countries.
American Atheism is rising and Christians don't like it
Young Americans in the 18 to 25 age group are more likely to accept Evolution. Among Americans over 40 the majority believe in creationism.
Young Americans are less likely to go to church; the decline in Christianity is happening mainly as each new generation is less inclined to be religious or to believe in God. Some deconversions happen among older people as well though. As the proportion of atheists increases, ordinary people will increasingly get to know atheists and will increasingly see that we are moral.
Actively promoting Humanist morality and showing that we are trustworthy human beings may help reduce prejudice.
Some deconversions in the United States and elsewhere happen because atheists show believers their faith is irrational but most happen because people see this for themselves. Adults, even intelligent older children and young teenagers, if they hear or read a non-Christian folk tale, piece of mythology treat it as fiction.
When people have been told persuasively from early childhood to believe the bible not all see the similarity between biblical and other mythology but increasing numbers see this. Shrill atheism may increase the rate of deconversion marginally, it certainly makes atheists more confident. Even if New Atheism were to stop (which is unlikely) the steady erosion of Christian faith will continue.