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What Led You to Become an Atheist? Some Surprising Answers

What leads people away from religion and into atheism? That’s the question that fascinated Larry Taunton so much that he launched a nationwide series of interviews with hundreds of college-age atheists.

His question was simple: “What led you to become an atheist?”

The answers were surprising, creating a completely unexpected composite sketch of American college-aged atheists. Here’s a summary from his article, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.”

1. They had attended church: Most of them had a church background and had chosen atheism in reaction to Christianity.

2. The mission and message of their churches was vague: While there were many messages about doing good in the community, “they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ and the Bible.”

3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions: Churches did not address questions like creation versus evolution, sexuality, reliability of the Bible, purpose of life, etc. Messages were bland, shallow, irrelevant and boring.

4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously: This is summed up in one student’s response: ”I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”

5. Ages 14-17 were decisive: Most embraced unbelief in the high school years.

6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one: Although all gave rational reasons for becoming atheists, for most there were powerful emotional reasons too—usually associated with suffering.

7. The Internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism: Instead of being “converted” through the popular New Atheists, most were influenced by Youtube videos and website forums.

So, what are the lessons for a stronger Christianity? Taking the above points in order:

1. The church has to evangelize its own as well as those outside. We can’t assume that just because kids go to church, they are saved and thus will continue to attend. Our first mission field is our own family and church. This also puts huge onus on professing Christians to believe, speak and act consistently because many who left the church were turned off by hypocrisy within it.

2. Our messages must be clear and Gospel-centered. All doctrine, practice, service and devotion must continually be tied to the center of the Gospel, Jesus Christ’s person and work.

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davidmurray@churchleaders.com'
Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary. He is also Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. David is the author of Christians get depressed too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page. You can read his blog at HeadHeartHand.org/blog or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray. David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 4 months to 17 years old, and they love camping, fishing, boating, and skiing in the Lake Michigan area.