Thursday, June 16, 2011

Falling away: “Explaining Deconversion from Christianity” from Journal of Religion & Society

(Note: The Journal of Religion & Society is a cross-disciplinary, electronic journal published by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University.)

“Explaining Deconversion from Christianity: A Study of Online Narratives”, by Bradley R. E. Wright, Dina Giovanelli, Emily G. Dolan (University of Connecticut), and Mark Evan Edwards (Oregon State University)

“Why do people leave religion? An estimated one-third or more Americans drop out of religious participation or affiliation at some time during their life.”

Based on their study of 50 autobiographical narratives written in 2005 by former Christians (most of them between 20 and 50 years old, and predominately middle- and upper-class), these authors identified four reasons for deconversion:
(1) Intellectual and Theological Concerns;
God’s shortcomings;
Interactions with Christians; and
Interactions with non-Christians.
Intellectual and Theological Concerns
“Some writers contrasted Christianity negatively with other conceptualizations of knowledge, such as science, education, and everyday common sense.”

“The writers sometimes experienced tension and anguish as they sought to reconcile their religious beliefs with other forms of knowledge – wanting to believe in one but unable to explain away the other. Ultimately they felt logically compelled, almost against their wishes, to reject Christianity.”

“More specifically to Christianity, numerous writers expressed concerns about the doctrine of hell and the existence of human suffering. Eternal punishment did not fit with some writers’ belief in a loving God, and so they viewed the existence of hell as evidence against the existence of a God worthy of devotion.”

“The problem with hell was not its existence, per se, but its implied injustice. The writers did not understand, for example, why God would condemn people who had no access to Christian teaching.”

“Similar to objections about hell – suffering in the afterlife – some writers rejected God’s allowance of suffering in the current life.”

“Many writers condemned the Bible as inaccurate, offensive, and generally not believable.”
God’s Failures
“Some writers believed that God existed, but they rejected him because he did not help them, especially in times of trouble.”
Interactions with Christians
“The most frequently mentioned role of Christians in deconversion was in amplifying existing doubt. The writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.”

“Ex-Christians were not only critical of fellow parishioners, but also of clergy’s and church lay-leadership’s failure to address the doubter’s questions.”

“Christian hypocrisy was also mentioned occasionally. Some writers told of harm done to them by Christians. For example, a former Pentecostal Christian, and now self-described Hellenic pagan, spoke of her “mistake” in dating a Fundamentalist Christian and how she felt abused by him.”

“Other writers commented on general, amoral behavior among Christians. One wrote that extra-marital sex was rampant in the church that he attended.”
Interactions with Non-Christians
“The narrative writers rarely described individuals outside of the church as helping bring about their deconversion. Rather, they described new relationships with non-Christians (exemplified by their participation in an online community for deconverts) as the consequence, not cause, of changes in their beliefs.”

Read the complete article.

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