Leaving Your Faith Behind: Three Young Atheists on Why They Turned Away from Christianity

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 6:55am
Leaving Your Faith Behind: Three Young Atheists on Why They Turned Away from Christianity

Why are atheism and agnosticism on the rise? And what does it take to go against your family's faith? Three young atheists discuss how they began to question their faith and what it was like to leave the church.

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Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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What is the path from God to no god?

John Hockenberry leads with this intriguing question as part of The Takeaway's week-long series "Young Nation Under God?" As you'll hear from these three young non-believers, one's personal identity is intertwined in these former Christians' origin stories and family faith.

Daniel Munoz, Amber van Natten, and Emily Peterson give voice to why atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in the U.S. Now more than 25 percent of of millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) have left organized religion. They offer insights into the challenge of actively leaving their traditions behind and why they are compelled to do so:

"The more silent people were about their nonbelief, the more shameful it was to be outed as a nonbeliever."

How is your faith changing over time?

Like philosopher Alain de Botton, they also see some good in religious traditions. Amber van Natten looks to Buddhist principles, meditation, and yoga. Daniel Munoz says that he draws from the Catholic lessons of his past:

"People in my group know that religion offers people some very valuable things. But, there's a lot of stuff we disagree with. In fact, personal relationship with God, even the rituals. So we're trying to find the parts of religion we do see as valuable, like communion, brotherhood, sisterhood, and keep that but get rid of the superstition. Stuff we think is morally unacceptable."

Want to talk about the changing role of religion in American life. Join John Hockenberry today (Friday, October 18) at 2:00 pm ET to participate in a live online chat. How has your religious identity changed? Does faith still play an important role in your life? Are you concerned that young people are leaving religious institutions? Whatever questions or comments you have, add your voice to the conversation.

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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40Reflections

Unfortunately when I heard this piece on The Takeaway John Hockenberry reiterated a rather plain misrepresentation of the Pew research findings in a way I've encountered repeatedly. The implication is that the group called "nones" represent atheists when it merely is a rather crude and artificial construction containing atheists, agnostics, people who have no position and even people who don't belong in any particular category of denomination but most of whom, never the less, are religious. In Pew's figures, plainly stated in both the text and in the graphs that Pew, atheists are the smallest component of "nones" at 2.4%, agonstics are 3.3% "noting in particular" entirely outstrips atheists by coming in at 13.9% of the "unaffiliated". Even looking at the percentage in growth of the overall percentage, atheists show a growth of .8%, also a smaller increase than either agnostics or "nothing in particular". That .8% is smaller than the increase in the "other faith" among the larger group which is affiliated with a religious group, which starts out much larger and shows a 2% increase in the survey. Of all of the groups which show any increase, atheists are the smallest and show the smallest percentage of increase, yet this Pew analysis is always presented as if it showed enormous increases for atheism when the survey figures, even when cited in those claims, shows anything but that.

Being someone who Pew would include in that group, being something of a freelance monotheist-universalist, I really take offense at being put in a category which I don't belong to for the benefit of an ideological position I don't agree with. It is done so often by people citing the Pew results that it is either a rather lazy repetition of a previous misrepresentation without actually reading the Pew analysis or it is intentional. Whatever it is, it is bad journalistic practice to not have actually understood what was cited.

I would point out that there's a huge difference between "leaving organized religion" and "turning away from God." Many people who leave organized religion do so because they have faith in God, but not in those who have decided to speak in His name.

As an example, I see no way anyone could be a Christian, yet belong to the Westboro Baptist Church. I don't need a hate-spewing preacher or a pedophile priest to stand between me and God and tell me how I should live.

Christians turned Atheists is a fallacy! The word Christian is used very loosely. Anybody who called himself/herself a Christian ought to carefully read the Parable of the Sower in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 13. If you call yourself a Christian does that mean you are a Christian? A Christian who is truly born from above will never to be an Atheist, Buddhist, Moslem or whatever. If a person turned to become one of these, it means that the person has not been given to the Son by the Father. Hence, you are lost. The Lord Jesus Christ said in John 6:39, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." Believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ is not transferrable from parents to loved ones. You must believe it for yourself! Therefore, search the Scriptures!

This is a lot more common in older people who have more confidence in their ability to think critically even if it means swimming upstream. I applaud youngsters for taking the plunge but without the experiences that life throws at them, they may be missing the bigger picture. http://www.faithbeyondbelief-book.com/

What plausible hardcore evidence does the atheist community have for claiming that there is no God?

I am lost. My problem with this forum on atheism: I can't decide how to feel if there is no god. I mean, doesn't that miniaturize the potential meaning you can find in life? Maybe I should replace the word, "miniaturize" with eliminate. Isn't there a possibility that the universe was created and that it will some day disappear? And once I entertain that notion, then surely I can suggest that it really makes no difference whether I find a cure for cancer or become a serial killer. I mean this stuff where people say they don't believe in god but they do believe that it's still important to treat people well. I ask, why should we treat people well if in the end, the whole universe--everything--is going to disappear? I'm not saying I should mistreat people; I'm just saying it doesn't matter what I do.
It's 2:09am. I can't sleep. I have to get up sometime tomorrow because I have a job that starts at 12 pm. I work 4 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Man. I am feeling exactly the same way as you

Jesus loves all of you more than you could possibly imagine

Look at the life of Jesus. He defies every religious doctrination of the Jewish faith back then. He breaks the sabbath. He shows love for the lowest of people who are "religiously setback". For example prostitutes, Romans, who were despised by the Jews, tax collectors. Etc. even the disciples weren't church going radicals. They were a basically a bunch of low life's seeking for answeres. So it is impossible to say Christianity is a set of rules you should follow because Jesus is the face if God and he loved everyone equally.

God cannot be proven. And I think that is what frustrates most of you. If you cannot see it or prove that it exists then it must not exist. You believe in science and try to look for all the answeres logically. But you could not possibly logically explain the creation or the existence of a creator. It is just way too perplexing for our minds to comprehend. So you say it must not exist because you can't prove it. Did you ever think that you mind is limited I mean we cannot fathom an infinite universe because we see an end to all things. I even start to feel a little crazy trying to think where the universe ends. And if it does what's outside of that? Our minds can only process so much. Thus it would seem logical to say there is no God. But you have to think if there is no God then why would ever wonder about what life is really about or what is our purpose. Have you ever wondered is there more to life than just this?

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