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

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 cofounder of On Being / KTPP and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. 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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I sat down a year and a half ago to write my own essay about why I was no longer Catholic and would never again profess any organized religion. I published it on my blog, here:

Congradulations,,, with your progress.

They got the question right. We should always be asking ourselves how to be good and do the right thing. Daniel said it best, Christianity does not supply that. In my search for guidance I found modern philosophers much more helpful and any decent morality found in the Bible I could also find elsewhere. People who claim morality is coming from God, as far as I can tell, already had their morals figured out, then found verification in religion and did not look any further. It is a simple answer, and it is comfortable that a lot of other people confirm it. Those others also are not looking outside their one book.

How can you, Daniel, or anyone say Christianity does not supply a framework for being good and doing the right thing? That could not be further from the truth.

It should be obvious that you can find morality outside the Bible. But what you cannot find in abundance, outside the Bible, is a system that doesn't just identify virtuous behavior but actually walks you step-by-step to and through being good and doing the right thing too.

As for the rest of your comment, it's just a bungled mess of assumptions. One might find useful moral concepts in modern philosophy, sure. But to denounce the convictions of Christianity is to deny the truth of why we're here and why we need to behave in a way that's acceptable to our creator.

Your criticism are simply aimed (and poorly so) at man, not God or his inspired word. If you had a clue about the Bible, your comments would not appear so baseless and naive.

Well said! The collective books in the Bible have endured millennia plus & provided instruction to all answering the call of our Heavenly Father God & his Son our Lord Jesus. Study & meditate on those bibical words, find a translation or 2 or 3 and seek the eternal salvation, for this world & life are but fleeting moments in time with no rest for those who cannot enter because they died w/o accepting and believing in the ONE true Father thru the acceptance of his Son's supreme sacrifice!

You are truly delusional. Good Luck !

why is he delusional

I totally disagree with you. You are spouting childhood indoctrination.

I completely lost my faith in anything God or supernatural while in my 30s (I'm 50 now). It just didn't compute upon investigation. With all the information of the world at your fingertips young people are going to be less likely to remain religious if raised that way.

You're wrong. Investigate harder. Put your calculator away and try The Truth Project. There is plenty more if you're actually willing to investigate and not just make excuses.

The Truth project is terrible. I watched it when trying to find the best evidence for theism, and was sorely disappointed.

I agree.

If you have not found your way out of superstition, I indeed, pity you.

I agree with your statement. It took me 35 years to give up 'imaginary' faith. Now, Cosmicism is my foundation.

Joseph... there's no proof that you aren't the center of the universe no matter what Lovecraft says. In the end, if all you are is pretty much meaningless, then you shouldn't even worry about anything. Nor, should you be concerned with anyone else since they're pretty much meaningless. You are UTTERLY insignificant. Dang... that's too bad you feel so lowly about yourself. I know I'm a sinner, but I'm not insignificant! Nor, are you.

explain how water came to be originally

My only question to the atheist community is that how does one know the right from wrong? Where does the righteousness of human dignity originate from? How did we set-up the rules of social contract?

Apparently not from the holy books which justify, support and promote just to name a few: slavery, smiting of apostates, stoning of adulterers, women's subordination to men, demonizing of homosexuals, and genital mutilation while prohibiting the consumption of pork, shellfish and wine.

Edison.... you have lots of misconceptions here. First of all, you pick and choose the O.T instead of the N.T, which has been done away with if one is a Christian. Why don't you pick one subject and let's see if we can work through it. Taking things out of context, scripture twisting, false teachings (Apostates) all come into play.

However, the biggest issue I see with people who don't like rules is that they don't like rules and want to do as they wish. If there is a God, why wouldn't He have rules to live by?

Not at all familiar with the O.T. having "been done away with". Please show us where in the N.T. it says the O.T. has been done away with. If it doesn't -and it actually doesn't- that would mean YOU are doing away with it - blaspheming your holy infallible scriptures, tsk tsk tsk. What's more, jews, remember them? They are the Judeo part in Judeo-Christian; they will be so thrilled to hear you "did away" with their scriptures that you might even be in for some old fashioned stoning -and I don't mean the THC induced kind.

Treat others, animals, the Earth as you would like to be treated. If you would not liked to be raised for "meat" than don't do it to another. Cherish all life. With every decision or Y in the road take the one of least harm.


We look at more worldly definitions of right vs wrong, rather than rules handed down by people who supposedly received them from a supreme being. We ask ourselves - "Does this act help the community/society, or does it hurt the community/society?" I think that's how the rules of social contract were originally developed, because there were certainly thriving human societies long before the Bible was constructed. Human dignity (the innate right to be valued and receive ethical treatment) also stems from that.

Why should one be valued and receive ethical treatment? How do we know what helps the community? (North Korea things they're "thriving" compared to the rest of the world)

Where do we get those concerns. Why would any of that matter if God did not exist. Why would anyone have morals or think that way

Disappointed about the response to the question about choosing to have a relationship with god. As an atheist, I find the question itself wrong, and expected at least one person to point it out. There is no god to have a relationship with, whether you choose to or not.

Exactly. Relationship with any "god" is really just a relationship with self, and that's enough to bring one to peace and community if one desires.

If you are a god, then make sand out of your own words. Or, fly (through the air, like a bird) without the help of anything, but your own body.

I can understand someone being an agnostic. You can look at all the realities from your position and just say, I don't know, it doesn't seem like it to me. I can't see that relationship. But I don't get how someone can be atheist--that is be sure there is no God. I happen to be color blind/deficient, and there are some color combinations that I cannot see. I do not have the audacity to suggest that since I cannot see them, therefore they do not exist. I just recognize that I cannot see them.

prove your statement.

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.

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?