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?

My story.....

So, my grandparents, parents, and overwhelming vast majority of my relatives/friends are christians.
I was baptized and confirmed before going to college.

I was in college ministry when I met a sly pastor.
He would tell me how people misunderstand him and that he's hated for no reason.
I've given the benefit of doubt (and pastor's wife was ill so I felt bad for him).

After we went to a huge Christian conference in New York (people came from all over the states and nations or continents).
I saw him yelling at a poor volunteer cause he said he wasn't allowed to assign the room to mixed gender unless they're a family.
Pastor and his wife had foreign exchange students living together, so they were a family, but he was totally classless in way he handled it.
He also pressed us to arrive early, so that we can secure rooms closest to the conference building (otherwise you'd have to arrive from different hotels).

After the blessing time, I've posted appreciation letter on the church website.
Pastor P (let's call him this) approached me, complimented my writing and asked if he could elaborate more for "his favor".
I simply told him that I'll give him the rights to my article and that he can post.
He insisted that I have to post myself to have people's sympathy.
So I did.
Even when my parents disagreed on it (they saw this pastor using my writing skills for his benefit), but I was more sympathetic towards him and his wife (who was ill as written before).

When he was leaving, he insisted that his ministry should remain exclusively college-associates (otherwise joining with the elders would disintegrate, Pastor.P thought).
Pastor P ordered the student committee to speak strongly (and carried out in an absolutely impolite/rude way) against the main pastor (reverend).

I have lost a dear person (also a church person, christian let's say) to lung/colon cancer not too long ago, so I gave Pastor P and his wife whole-hearted gifts. Pastor P reminded us that we have to keep in touch and went as far as saying that the reverend has "guaranteed" his pastor position should Pastor P comes back.

Fast forward, we get a new pastor, Pastor L. Now, Pastor L is simply delightful, a true servant of God.
He would often talk to me and also asked for feedback and suggestions about out college ministry.
I loved, followed him like my father and a true pastor.
Oftentimes Pastor L would go out of his ways for the sake of the other church members.

As an appreciation, I tried to be more friendly and talked way more than my usual self (I can talk for hours when we first meet, but generally i'm reserved on the first few meetings but can be super nice once we become friends).
Our college ministry (or rather student committee) did wrongdoings.
Firstly, when the church asked 7 willing participants to notify early (cause summer seats quickly fill up) so that they don't have to pay for extra late fees.
Willing missionaries (mostly comprised of student committees), confirmed much later date, so the church asked only a few to join (less seat for the outlined budget).
They absolutely insisted on going to Mexico missionary, so the church incurred extra unnecessary $2,000 to $3,000.
This absolutely disgusted me.

Without a word of apology or a slightest bit of remorse, they went and came back (and would not shut the hell up whatsoever about how fabulous they are, as opposed to the work of God).

Lastly, they ostracized me for trying to be friendly.
What they'd typically do is.... using bible study&focus group times to play meaningless games, and I wanted to speak about the walk with Christ..... of those sort.
When I got tired of them being shallow, I stopped joining in their time-wasting mini-games and spoke about us breaking cliques and talking about faith (In other words, spending time meaningfully).

They pointed fingers at me of how I was being difficult to have fellowship with.
Another thing is that I am not from a rich family. So i'd be hesitant to go out to eat at an expensive restaurant after bible study/focus groups. They started to shun me.
They'd talk behind my backs mostly (way too many people have even spread rumor that I was gay, based on how I dressed).

There is a guy 3 years older in the ministry that had nasty impression on me.
He's so cocky, acts like a douchebag (no pun or false insult intended).
Whenever I greet him, he'd ignore me.
Once I was talking to the leader of our ministry in restroom.
Boom! this guy comes, let's call him S.
Out of nowhere, S started talking to the leader (whom I've been talking to).
S did it in a way to show he was bluntly ignoring me, speaking louder and louder.
I said, "hi!" but he talked louder after that.
So S ticked me off, and I said, "why don't you greet me?"
and S responded, "Why do I have to greet to the likes of you?"
Dumbfounded but a but angered, I said, "wouldn't it be nice to at least

In summer retreat, I invited a friend (whom I haven't seen for years) and hardly anybody approached my friend to warm up and fellowship. Again, they'd schedule those meaningless games while taking out prayer meeting or bible seminars.
I can accept that, but when I went to bed rather early (in their standards, around midnight) to prepare for the following day's early prayer meeting (voluntary), they'd all call me out in the group of how i'm being so hard to socialize.
One person went as far as pointing out, "if you are unwilling to fellowship and get to know your brothers and sisters, why the hell did you join this retreat?"
I was left absolutely dumbfounded as they are the ones screwing the retreat schedule and were being so unprofessional (by staying up all night but irresponsibly waking up late).

Eventually I was so fed up with people trying with their harsh words to defame/slander/hurt me, so I left.
Not to claim that i've been a true Christian, but when I had members of the church not attending, i'd call them to implore them to just come (and I tried to be friendly when they came).
When I stopped coming, nobody but a few asked what's wrong.

Anyways, here is how I perceive Christianity from my experiences.
They're cowards...
Though I can say not for every Christians, but normally they speak loud but are utter cowards when it comes to admitting their mistakes and apologizing to straighten things out.
So called "sisters" were so unwilling to have fellowships with "brothers".
If any of the church member approach me, ask for time together, I am willing to do so (unless you've wasted my time).
When brothers approach sisters for fellowship, it's out of god's love, not to hit on them.
Sisters talk grandiose about how they wanna evangelize to the ends of the earth, yet are unwilling to open their minds to ignore the gender factor (meaning treat brothers as if they're your sisters and have no intention of flirting with you).
Now, I get christian being careful, but it's different from being cowards.

Church should be where I should feel safe, relaxed, heart-warmed but it has been the opposite.
When Sunday comes, I cannot help but think, 'who'd talk behind my back? would I be left alone with everyone associating in their own cliques?' etc.

Rather than having this insurance of heaven-after-life-for-eternity, i'd rather just live by my moral standards (which is more ethical than most of hypocritical christians I've dealt with).

I'm very sorry for your experience socially. You've hit on a number of issues where Christians fail to truly follow the commands to love one another sincerely and love God purely. Micah 6:8 "He has shown thee, o man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God."

There are many sincere Christians who do show God's love, but we are all in process. I hope you can find that you can show love for others even when they sometimes fail you. We all fail many times.