From 2007 to 2014, the rise of those non-religiously affiliated, or “nones,” rose dramatically from 16.1% to nearly 23%. During this same time period, those who identified as Christians dropped from roughly 78% to 71%. In perspective, this means that nearly one quarter of the U.S. population identify as agnostic, atheists, or just unaffiliated with any religion. This percentage is larger than the percentage of Catholics, at 21%, and Mainline Protestants, at 14.7%.
In contrast, nearly 91% of the U.S. population was raised with some sort of religious upbringing. Changing, or abandoning ones sectarian practice, particularly as a member of a fundamentalist faith, also means confronting the teachings and beliefs, which subconsciously drive decisions and behaviors. To walk away is almost unconscionable.
Christian apologist, Alex McFarland, offered ten reasons he believes millennials are leaving the faith, which include the usual apologist’s beliefs of the “breakdown of the family,” ”militant secularism,” and the “cultural abandonment of morality.” But McFarland, and his fellow apologists, is clearly not listening to people who have left the building.
Chet DeRouen left the Assemblies of God because, “I became ill of the ‘us and them’ narrative,” he said. “Those Catholics this...those Baptist that…. Oh those deceived Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were, under our breath, the only ‘real’ Christians.” DeRouen now identifies as an agnostic with a “hard lean” toward atheism.
Wendy Danbury, raised as a Presbyterian, said the turning point for her came after years of questioning. But when a Sunday School teacher went on a diatribe about how ridiculous it was to believe in evolution, Danbury said, “His sarcastic, demeaning tone gave me a stomach ache. A few weeks later, Chernobyl blew up, and the vague, distant, ‘Oh, yes, isn't it too bad’ response that Sunday just sealed the decision. [My husband and I] did not return.”
The irony of McFarland’s “cultural abandonment of morality” argument after nearly 80% of white evangelicals voted for a candidate like Trump, is dumbfounding. But therein lies part of the problem. Many churches don’t see their own hypocrisy. As writer, and evangelical Christian, Sam Thielman, said following the election “…the words of Jesus are apparently worthless to people who are angry that immigrants might be made citizens without suffering enough.”
The Washington Post reported that 14% of people surveyed said they had left their church by mid-November over a disagreement of their clergy’s support of Donald Trump. This has been an on-going problem for conservative churches as, “liberal to moderate evangelicals have been leaving their churches because they disagree with the Christian right,” according to the article.
Many feel alienated from their religious upbringings because their church doctrine doesn’t provide a place for them. “The first time I remember being told I couldn't [do something] because I was a girl was when I wanted to become an altar girl. It made no sense to me,” said Margo Raine.
Ladd Casillas echoed Raine’s thoughts. “I left ‘God’ when I realized ‘God’ despised the core of who I was as a gay man. How can you believe in anything that doesn't believe in you?”
Author and activist, Lisa Salazar, said of her experience as a transgender person, “Transitioning was a transformative process,” which caused her to disconnect from the religious dogma. “It's hard to go back to something that seems superficial after one has experienced the indescribable," Salazar said. No longer a churchgoer, Salazar still believes in Christ and considers herself a follower.
Many “nones” have simply disconnected from organized religion altogether. Life coach, Dixie Gillespie, said, “After many years of deepening my own spiritual practice and my connection to my own soul and to the divine that most refer to as ‘God,’ I find nothing attractive about religion or definitions of spiritual ‘right’ and certainly don't need rules set down by man to have a conversation with God.”
The reality is that many people are becoming more disillusioned with the hardline dogma still touted by television evangelists as “truth,” which doesn’t match the reality people experience in real life. Gay marriage didn’t cause the world to implode; following all the rules doesn’t produce the “abundant life” promised from the pulpit; and choosing a hardline Biblical doctrine against scientific evidence isn’t logical. Or as one weary reader wrote to me, “I believe in God. The rest…eh.”