I usually try not to get too into these kinds of things, because I have many friends and family with many different beliefs and I do my best not to offend them. But every once in a while, a little gem like this study comes along and deserves a little bit of a "DUH!" reaction.
So, The Barna Group, a group that studies the "intersection of faith and culture", published an article titled "Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church". The article comes from a five year project with the goal of creating a more durable faith in today's children. While I can give one great reason I don't go to church, I suppose I could easily come up with six or so that lead me to Atheism. Many of those reasons are actually covered in this survey, which I find humorous itself. Common sense issues that have lead the "flock" to stray from the church that have been issues for 20+ years now. Way to get out ahead of it, guys!
Anyway, here are the six categories and some breakdowns of how the group(s) surveyed answered.
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
- 23% answered “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” completely or mostly describes their experience with the church.
- 22% answered “church ignoring the problems of the real world”
- 18% said “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful”
I'm pretty sure nobody in the real world is shocked by these clusters of answers, and there really isn't much to say about this. Religion tells us what we should and shouldn't do in all aspects of life, and kids tend to get annoyed by that kind of overbearing protectiveness. I personally find myself in the 22% that says church completely ignores the problems in the real world, but the problems of the world I see are very different than the ones I saw as a child.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
- 31% responded "church is boring"
- 24% said "faith is not relevant to my career or interests
- 23% noted "the bible is not taught clearly or often enough"
- 20% said "god seems missing from my experience of church"
Shocking revelations in this category, I know. People are bored by listening to a preacher carry on for an hour, telling them what to do instead of an hour of discussing what's going on in the world and what we think about it. Hasn't anybody ever noticed that when you TELL people how to behave, they ignore you completely. But, if you let them think they've come to the answer themselves, they tend to feel more personally connected to it? That was rhetorical...the answer is "no" when it comes to church.
Also, I think the bible should be taught clearly in church or "bible study". I think more people would find that they completely disagree with the vast majority of the things in the bible, not least of which is how to properly keep slaves, how to divide the spoils of war (how to rape your victims' women), how to blindly follow the voices in your head and kill your children, and other such timeless lessons. So, I agree with these kids, but not for the reason the survey would like.
With regard to god being missing from the church experience, that's not really shocking either. Again, it's hard to feel the presence of any higher power at 9am on a Sunday with a priest or preacher re-enacting rituals from the dark ages. Many churches try to dress up what's going on by having christian rock music, energetic sermons, and free donuts and coffee after service, but the truth of the matter is the only thing I miss are the donuts.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- 35% claim "Christians are too confident they know all the answers"
- 29% say "churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in"
- 25% believe "Christianity is anti-science"
- 23% have "been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate."
No real surprises here. Though, I think it would shock most catholics to find that the Pope's science advisors (the guys in the cool black and red robes) actually believe in evolution. In fact, they find it very difficult to argue against evolution given all the things we've learned about "junk" DNA (parts of DNA from other species we still have in our own), the germ theory, nuclear science, astronomy, etc. It may also shock people to know that these same scientists, employed by The Vatican, also believe in the "big bang" theory and global warming!
So, it seems the church isn't always anti-science. But its members sure are. In ever increasing numbers, ignorant people go on TV and write editorials and articles in news papers and magazines, trumpeting the evils of modern science. How science is here to steal your childrens' innocence with HPV vaccines, and teach them all kinds of immoral things about sex and sexuality with the "gay agenda" and free condoms everywhere. But I can promise you, if you sit down and read just one single article about any of these topics in any scientific publication (I like Nature, Nat. Geo., the The New England Journal of Medicine), you'll actually find that research is being done to understand and improve life by leaps and bounds. I just find it ironic that the very people science is helping today with blood pressure medication, cancer treatments, and vaccines against once deadly diseases are the same people crying for the abolishment of scientific study.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- 17% feel they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”
- 40% said the church's “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”
Well, now you've gone and done it. You've stepped in a hornet's nest with this question, Barna Group. The church's teachings on sexuality, and the opinion they disseminate is so backwards and out of date that almost all psychological associations warn that they can and will lead to self-destructive behavior, not the least of which is suicide. And if you think gay people are the biggest victims here, you're wrong.
While the church speaks out emphatically against gay individuals in every forum it can, it also shames young people into thinking they've done something so morally reprehensible when they've had sex out of marriage, that they need to feel guilty and ashamed. And this doesn't just mean intercourse, either! Nope, you can't masturbate either. Because that's a sin so great, it was actually called out in the bible itself.
What the church fails to recognize in these modern times of understanding, is that sexual impulses are a sign of a healthy and fully functional person of sexual maturity. We as a society tend to put limits on what we consider "normal" sexual behavior, which we are beginning to understand more and more that "normal" is completely meaningless. But the church remains steadfast in its position. You can not have sex, you can not protect yourself from STD's while having sex (unless you're in the worst effected regions of Africa), and you absolutely can not use birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
But there's good news in this answer. 40% of young adults surveyed agree that the church is full of it, and doesn't understand sexuality in a modern world. So, there's hope for the future yet.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- 29% said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”
- 22% answered “church is like a country club, only for insiders”
Well, be thankful you live in the 21st century. Because not very long ago, President Kennedy had to go on national television to answer allegations that him being president was part of a catholic conspiracy. Yep. Distrust, misunderstanding, and out-right hatred for other religions or beliefs run rampant in nearly all religions. And for good reason! It's right there in almost every holy scripture.
In fact, being "wrong" is so heinous in the church's eyes, that they fully believe a non-believer (or wrong believer) will burn in torment for all eternity. Yeah, that's right. They believe the divine creator of the universe spend the past 14.7 BILLION years plotting to torture you for eternity. But remember, the church teaches you that even though you're going to burn for eternity, god loves us all.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
- 36% Not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church”
- 23% having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith”
- 18% answered their faith "does not help with depression or other emotional problems”
Look, if you're having problems with depression or other emotional problems, you need friends and maybe a psychologist. You don't need a man in a magical robe with a hotline to god. I promise. You need to surround yourself with people that love and support you, even if you don't believe in the same ultimate answer you do.
And it's good to have intellectual doubts about faith. Faith, by definition, is believing in something that there's no proof for! I have intellectual doubs about whether I put on deodorant in the morning or not, so doubting a belief system invented in the dark ages to explain where we came from and give meaning to life? Yeah, go ahead and doubt that!
Finally, I once made the mistake of asking "hard" questions about church and the religion I was brought up with. Over the years, the questions got harder and the answers only got simpler. When you ask a priest or preacher why millions of kids die of hunger and disease every day, or why babies are born with defects, or why god only delivers miracles for a tiny percentage of the population that so desperately need them, they will eventually come to the conclusion that "We don't know what god's ultimate plan is". Well, I'm not satisfied with that answer, and clearly neither are at least a quarter of the people going to church every week.
So, the question becomes this. Does the church double-down, tighten the reigns, and adapt to the changing world? Or does it enforce the existing rules with an iron fist? Does church become a recreational and mostly social activity in the future, or does the church keep fighting the tide of people waking up to the real world around them? I'm not sure, but I don't think the prospects are very good for the church. Every day people realize that the bible is wrong in so many aspects of life, and they begin asking why bother if the very book their religion is based on is wrong. And that makes me happy.
Bonus: If anyone reads this and would like to read more factual evidence for evolution, and many other foolish misconceptions people still have about the real world, check out http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-qa.html