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Friday, June 7, 2013

Listening to Young Atheists

By Nancy Pearcey • June 7, 2013, 02:57 PM

The Atlantic has an excellent report on a survey asking why young people are leaving the Christian church. The survey was conducted by Larry Alex Taunton of Fixed Point Foundation, and the college students surveyed included members of Secular Student Alliances or Freethought Societies. Most of the students had been raised in Christian churches and families.

The survey found that the main reasons young people abandon Christianity are intellectual. Most churches, for example, try to keep young people engaged through intense emotional experiences instead of answering their questions. The survey showed: 

[Young people] 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. 

The survey also found that the high school years are typically the decisive period. "Ages 14-17 were decisive," the survey found. "For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief."

We learn that young people are getting many of their ideas from the internet and other new media. The survey showed:

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism. When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism --people, books, seminars, etc. -- we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the "New Atheists." We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.

We learn that, not surprisingly, young people's choice for atheism is affected by growing up in families that claim to be Christian but do not live it out. The survey showed: 

The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one. With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father.

Finally, young people expressed respect for Christians who are genuine in their convictions. The survey showed:  

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." 

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