Why do some christians give up belief?

January 15th, 2012 in making disciples. Tags: , , , ,

We’re taking a look, over a few posts, in why it is getting harder to make disciples in the western world, and why more christians are dropping out.

This post looks at the many different reasons why christians stop believing, and is based my discussions with atheists on forums and blogs over the past six years, and on accounts people give of their own ‘deconversion’ on mainly atheist websites. (These are not too hard to find.)

Some just drift …..

We are familiar with Jesus’ story of the different types of seed, representing different hears of the good news. Jesus said that many people stop believing because life just overwhelms them. Whether it is too much success and fun or too many worries, some people just drift away without necessarily deciding not to believe. You don’t find too many of these stories on the internet because they are not really committed to unbelief, they just sort of ended up there. But this would be one of the most common stories of loss of faith, especially for people who have just left school or just started full time work.

You can imagine that some of these people may not have taken this course if the christianity they experienced was more relevant to their daily lives, or if they had a strong set of relationships with christians who continued to care for them and keep in contact.

…. but others have reasons

The internet deconversion stories are probably not representative (because the people who volunteer their stories are probably much more committed unbelievers than most), but they give a taste why some people stop believing. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Many were brought up in christian, or church-going, homes, but never really believed it or understood it. I imagine this would be a common occurrence in a country like the US, where a form of christianity is part of the culture, or among teens who have attended youth groups with their friends.
  • Perhaps the major reason for disbelief is the Bible. Many were brought up to believe the Bible contained no errors, but as they discovered problems and apparent errors, they could no longer believe what they had been taught and they could see no middle ground, so they felt compelled to renounce belief. Some came to this conclusion via reading the work of critical scholars who pointed out differences in the Gospel accounts and difficulties in believing some accounts are totally accurate.
  • One particular aspect of the Bible that has caused many people to doubt are the killings, some would say genocide, apparently commanded by God in the Old Testament. Surely no-one today could believe such things?
  • Other issues have been the apparent conflict between Genesis and evolution, difficulty in believing in Bible miracles, especially the virgin birth and the resurrection, the doctrine of hell and judgment, and some ethical commands in the Old Testament which seem quaint and irrelevant, sometimes quite repugnant, today.
  • For others, the obvious evil and suffering in the world seemed to indicate that a good God could not exist, or he wouldn’t allow this. Christians doing some of these evil things was a particular problem for some.
  • Some people felt that religion just didn’t do anything for them. They never felt God was there, never felt they were in relationship with him, they didn’t feel the world was any different. Some experienced a form of christianity (often described as fundamentalist or Pentecostal) that they found very strange, to odd to really identify with.
  • For some it was just unresolved questions, nothing all that major, but just little things that didn’t add up.
  • Finally, some looked at world religions, and religion in general, and felt that this diversity indicated there couldn’t be a God.

I have observed ….

  • Some might say that these people were not believers in the first place, and undoubtedly this is true of some. But many were pastors, preachers, evangelists, Bible college teachers; many prayed, read their Bibles, shared the faith with others and apparently believed quite fervently.
  • Some people left the faith after some crisis, some moral lapse on their part, or after getting involved in behaviour patterns frowned upon by christians, but many left after a long period of slowly increasing doubt.
  • For many, probably most, finally ‘coming out’ as a non-believer was a relief and gave them a sense of freedom. But there are others I have met for whom this deconversion was a very difficult step emotionally. Some feared hell even after they stopped believing in christianity, others felt disloyal and bereft. Some prayed fervently for a long time, asking God to give them faith and answer their doubts.
  • Virtually all the stories I have read and heard speak much of the problems with believing christianity is true but nothing of the reasons why christian belief is true. I have found it almost universal among atheists that they focus on the negative and almost never recognise both sides of the question.

As one who has also faced many of these doubts, I have a lot of sympathy with some of the people whose stories I have read or know. I do not doubt that many of them gave up belief because they genuinely could see no alternative. I have continued to believe because I think the evidence is much greater, and many of the negative arguments are mistaken, but I can understand someone coming to a different conclusion, especially if their reading is one-sided.

I’m sorry ….

I’m sorry if all this sounds terribly negative. But I think we can’t ignore this issue. Love compels us to assist young christians and ex-christians where we can, and the first step is to recognise the facts and understand.

I can’t help wondering

I can’t help wondering how different all this could have been if churches and youth groups engaged more honestly with these issues, not giving glib and poorly based answers that give christians a sense of security that will easily evaporate when challenged, but rather training young christians to face doubt and difficulties and to have the knowledge to develop truthful responses. This might include christian teachers and leaders considering whether the doctrines and behaviours that alienate are indeed right, or can be presented in a more sympathetic and realistic manner.

In coming posts I will address many of these issues – what I believe are reasonable answers, but also how we need to re-think how we make disciples. If we care for people who find themselves unable to believe any more, we will want to find ways to help them before it comes to that. Watch this space!

And please share your experience or observations.

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  1. what difference does it make if they believe or don’t . it is their choice so mind your on business . I personally got so sick of all of it I stopped believing !

  2. For 24 years I walked the hard road of Christianity, with a lot of suffering, hurt, persecution, and rejection. This was not caused by those in the world, but was caused by today’s Christians. Being poor, I had no voice as Christian and I was always considered as an outcast like all the other poor. It is a proven fact, that Christians who are poor are treated like floor rags by the wealthy Christians, and this made me decide to leave the path of Christianity. The way poor Christians are treated is not God’s doing, it is totally man’s doing, which is most evil. It was because of 2 Pastors that I lost everything in 1989, yes even my family, and all I was told is that I must forgive and forget. Yet as they carried on with their wealthy lives, I had to live and survive in the sea of poverty. I did not give up my faith, and I believed things would get better. But I was wrong, things just got worse. Today, I still believe in God’s Living Word, but I do not believe in Christianity today, because Christianity today is most certainly false. Christians have absolutely no idea what perfect love and unity is all about. Today it is the most confusing and divided religion in the world. Christianity is no longer a calling, it has become a money making career for the rich, and the poor are left outside in the cold. With this, I will challenge any wealthy Christian with the Truth of God’s Living Word, and I will put them to shame for who and what they are. I might be poor, but I am not stupid, nor am I demon possessed as many will claim. They have not only made a mockery of Christianity, but they have also made a mockery of God and His Living Word. Therefore, I do not want to be associated with Christianity today, because then I will most certainly end up in Hell.

  3. Someone once said they are not going to church because there are too many hypocrites,. but I would rather go to church with them than go to hell with them. Family and church family can hurt you the most. I was one of the best (only by God’s will) youth directors in my state/organization, had a gospel singing group, taught church classes then a pastor came that his wife was jealous of me and satan came up out of the floor of that church and the war was on. A lie was told on me. I backslid for 4 years. I went into deep dark sin and almost lost my family. I finally realized I was counting on my own strength and not depending and waiting on God. I didn’t realize how immature I was in the Lord until that happened. I didn’t realize to listen to scripture and put on the whole armor of God and fight that spiritual battle!! I fell on my face and cried unto God to bring me out of that pit. No…no flowers sprang up or angels sang..but hell come up out of the ground and heaven came down and the battle was on!! I kept my family and like Esther..I swung open the doors of the church to the elders and told them what happened and they listened and believed me. God doesn’t look at your money, he wants your whole heart and life..even unto death!! I am not wealthy by no means and I don’t know your whole situation but I have had to learn to keep my eyes on Jesus and not on others because if I did, I wouldn’t make it. They have to answer for themselves. Turn yourself away from them as the word tells us. Ask God to pick you up and set your feet upon his rock of salvation and lead you to where HE wants you to go. Take back what satan has stolen from you!!! GET UP!! Put on the armor of God. Pray for those who have hurt you so you won’t hate but move forward and God will bless you like you’ve never been blessed before!! Know the word of God so you won’t be deceived!!! And remember, there are good Christians left. (tho I am not perfect) I believe I am one and if I can be trusted, then surely there are other ones out there that love God and can be trusted. Don’t separate yourself from finding a good congregation or start your own if God moves on you to do so.. The bible says a man that separates himself from the congregation is selfish. When you’ve done all to stand…stand..stand…stand…

  4. Hi Charles, I’m really sorry you’ve had bad experiences of christians and the church. Bad stuff happens, but I hope you aren’t cut off from people who are truly following Jesus.

  5. Thank you for your most blessed message.

    True Christians are few and hard to find, and that true Christian I found in you.

    May you be blessed and strengthened in your daily walk with Christ Jesus.

    Charles Allen
    Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful article.
    I grew up as a Christian but started having difficulties with it as a teenager. I’ve been involved with it on and off as an adult but I never was a real believer and eventually gave up on it. I haven’t been to church in almost 10 years.
    There isn’t a simple one line answer as to why. At the very root of it is my dislike for the religious way of thinking. I prefer rational thinking and I don’t trust faith very much. Because of that, I think that no matter what religion I was born into, I would have issues with it. I pick on Christianity because that is what I grew up with and am familiar with.
    Specifically in regards to Christianity, there were two primary reasons for my difficulty with it. First is that I do not believe that Jesus was God and secondly, I realized that I do not want to be like Christians are. Most Christians are pleasant people but they (most of them anyway) are dishonest about what they believe and what they actually have as Christians. They make claims about themselves that are not true.
    I have had numerous failures of my own and I can’t claim the moral high ground. But I want to become a better person. Christianity is not the way to get there.
    I’m not trying to be harsh here, just honest about how I feel.

  7. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for sharing your views. I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience of christians, though I don’t really understand what it is you find wrong.
    I wish you well in your attempt to become a better person, it is a worthy aim. If you ever feel you need something more to achieve that aim, may I suggest you give Jesus (not christians) another look?
    Best wishes.

  8. Anonymous, not to be cross, but I was wondering what specifics you were thinking of here (I’ve bolded what I don’t understand):

    Specifically in regards to Christianity, there were two primary reasons for my difficulty with it. First is that I do not believe that Jesus was God and secondly, I realized that I do not want to be like Christians are. Most Christians are pleasant people but they (most of them anyway) are dishonest about what they believe and what they actually have as Christians. They make claims about themselves that are not true.

    I can come up with examples, too, but I was wondering what you exactly had in mind.

  9. I get like this alot. Im a christian but Im trying not to willfully sin. I know this post is kinda old and probubly no one will see this or reply. But I just want someone to mainly speak to about God. I really dont have anyone to speak to, I got to church, but it would help if I have someone to speak to. I dont want some one to just be like oh its all right, sometimes I want to just be heard. I dont want someone trying to cheer me up. I look back at my old life and know if i did go back i would be more miserable. But sometimes its annoying waking up to read the bible when sometimes I just want to stay asleep. And sometimes I just want to do nothing all day, do know thats not a option. I feel most really dont get into their deep feelings, and the christian music I heard is not realistic, how they wear smiles on there faces and are always happy. I know they have issues, and I wish we would learn as Christians to just speak how we feel. I know im am very honest with God and I will say exactly how I feel to him. I know this is just a phase and tomorrow I will be back my old self again. . But still sometimes I wonder if there wasnt a heaven or hell would we even still be christians? I know i caught myself saying i wish God wasnt real so that I could do whatever I wanted and not be introuble. But I know that Im not the only christian that has ever had this question. I just feel we need to be more honest.

  10. Hi “Passious”, I’m sorry to hear things are tough for you and that you don’t feel good about the things you write about. If you’d like to talk some more, please send me an email – there’s a link at the top to do that. Best wishes, Eric

  11. I know that alot of ppl lose their faith in God because of the stress that they go through, and the crazy things they see happening, such as murder, rape, theivory, all sorts of evil. They always tend to ask theirselves and others “How can God let this happen” … My question is, how come ppl are always pointing there fingers blaming God and losing their entire faith, instead of recognizing that there is still a Devil who is very mischievious and also deceiving, that they never point there fingers at. God is Love and he does NOT deceive you. If you are having doubts of God, you should recognize that you at that moment are weak and Satan is working his craft of decelpt on you.Rise above this. God loves everyone unconditionally. Do not worry about how other ppl act. You are not to follow others you are to follow Our Lord Jesus, God give us all free will. If we are to follow Jesus then we too should give others free will and let them be deceived as God has giviin us the free will to be deceived. Simply pray for the souls who do not choose to follow the Lord and choosr to be decieved instead even Jesus knew that one of his own disciples who claim he did not know him. Jesus did NOT Force him to believe he allowed him his free will to make his own decisions.

  12. Hi Adrian, thanks for visiting and letting us know what you think. I agree we should be praying for people, but I think it helps to understand what problems they face.

  13. Another area not touched on but fundemental is the disparity amongst believers aand outright anymosity you have for each other. I came from a strict reformed bachground and was taught contempt for such heretics as pentacostals and any “Godless Arminian”. In fact may friend who called himself Calvin Jr.used to make fun of the IV members at his college. I was right along with them until I realized I couldn’t reconcile my hidden homosexuality with my outward phony christianity. I began to loathe myself. And I was Joe holy and on the road to being an elder. Walked away 20 years ago and never looked back. Don’t want to turn to salt haha. I look at it this way. If I’m damned or saved it’s God’s sovereign choice anyway and I can’t change it. Perfectly fine being a middle aged gay man thank you all very much.

  14. Hi Klaus,
    I am sympathetic to what you say here. I think strict reformed thinking can be very hurtful and is generally not very productive – and I think much of it is mistaken too. I am interested that having rejected christianity, you still express yourself in a Calvinistic “elect or damned, I have no choice” way. Do you really think that way, or is it just a way of expressing disdain?
    I’m sure it was a good thing to give up being a holy Joe. But a gay person doesn’t have to be a “phony christian”, there are many gay christians who are not phony (as far as I can tell). I hope you can find your way to a more genuine form of following Jesus.
    Thanks for your comment, and best wishes.

  15. Just came across the internet and saw your website-I must admit I decided not t trust God anymore-and maybe one of the reasons why those “fall out” from believing seldom share their reasons is the fact that is uncommon for any person not to believe in the supreme being (I’m from the Philippines-everyone knows how deeply religious we are). To share my story, I grew up in a very religious family (catholic)and at a very young age I become inclined to prayer (prayed the rosary everyday)and if you guys think that our life is so peaceful and smooth because of religiousity-its not-I grew up waking in the middle of thenight seing my dad (whos a constant drinker of alcohol)shouting at my mom-disturbing everyone who are already fast asleep throwing things and breaking any bel;ongings that we have in our house-inspite of these experiences it never stop me serving the catholic youth ministry in my parish(for 20 years)-fact is even up untill today young people in my hometown looked up to me as an inspiration on how someone can make a difference in the world today and on other people’s life-yeah even up to this day a lot of those young people who are professionals expressed how thankful they are to have meet me and they become closer to god because of me-some of them even entered in religious life and draw strenght for their vocation on the examples I set to them- I saw them grow-and become successful in their own fields/careers-and I’m happy about it-maybe you guys might think in what particular reason I lost my faith?
    Seing those people who looked up to me succeed in their professions-is the opposite of whats happening in my end-I always ended up experiencing failures and hardships in my personal life-for every person I draw closer to god-another failure or hardship will come into my life.For past five years I supported my family-sent my siblings to college and assured that they earned their degree-supported their needs and own families while I sent them to school,I even sacrifice and gave up my personal happiness because of them. For the past 30 years of my life I’m working hard and praying-wishing that God will be there-atleast for that one thing I only want in life-and that is to become a medical doctor,see myself serving those poor communities of my hometown-serving those people who havent seen or even heard a doctor in their lifetime-thats the way I want to see myself doing for the rest of my life-it’s the only thing I asked God-I was admitted to medschool-on the day I’m supposed to do my enrollment my family refused to give financial support-and I need a miracle from God-he’s the only one I got to fullfill my dream-and after 20 years of serving Him and 30 years of trusting,hoping and believing that He would listen-on that very dayI failed to get an answer-and failed to get my chance to fullfill my dream-I am now moving peacefully with that failure-and beginning to face another chapter in my life-with no grudges and regrets I already given up my dream-and gave up my faith-painful it may seem but still thankful I am for opening the greatest reality of life-that the god that I was taught who loves and listens to his servants-is a lie-my only regret in life are those times I wasted serving that god-if I just knew I could have the freedom way beforea peaceful heart that I have today-and I know in time I’m going to accept everything and be happy in life-I dont see any reason to believe in what they call god anymore-if my failures are the fruits of serving him so be it-I have now my freedom and happy with a peaceful heart with it.

  16. Hi Norman, that’s a very sad story. It is hard to know how to respond.
    I’m sorry you were unable to go to med school, and even sorrier that that setback led to you giving up on God. But God is God and he makes choices that we can’t understand sometimes. Jesus never promised we would understand everything, nor that we’d get what we want (except if that is within God’s choices), and instead he said we have to take up our cross every day. That’s a hard teaching, and I can’t pretend to know how that level of submitting to God would feel for you, but I can only say what Jesus said.
    I would encourage you to go back to God, ask him to guide you into what he wants.

  17. This is very patronizing, frankly. How about the simple fact that God does not exist? Why don’t you believe the hundreds of people in the last 50 years who claim to be Jesus’ reincarnate? Because you realize that they are crazy people. But when someone claims to be gods son 2000 years ago, it somehow gains credibility? The main issue is whether or not the bible is true (as it claims to be God’s perfect word). And it is not a perfect book. There are factual, scientific errors. God did not write the bible or “inspire” people to write it, unless he was intentionally trying to perpetuate their ignorance of the natural world. Think logically about this stuff, guys. Why don’t you believe in the creation/ miracle stories of other religions? Apply the same level of honest criticism to your own religion.

  18. Hi Richard, thanks for commenting. I’m sorry you found it patronising, that certainly wasn’t my intention. But I wonder whether you may have misunderstood me. I don’t actually think several of the things you seem to be assuming about me. Would you like to discuss?

  19. Hi. I am a born again believer. I became a Christian at the tender age of 17. Jesus Christ is most definitely real because he transformed my life in ways that I could not have done myself at that age. For years up until the age of 20 I was doing the Lord’s Will. I was teaching His Word so powerfully and then when I was 19 the Pastor of my Church asked me to give a message to the youth on youth night. I prayed and asked God to help me and He did. When the night came I had all these notes in front of me and very very nervous. About 20 minutes into the Message it was no longer me who was speaking but the Holy Spirit through me. It was so weird but hard to explain. I had no use for notes anymore. After that night the devil realized what a threat I was to his kingdom so he tried to destroy me. I started drifting away from God and doing things I’m not supposed to do. Did this for 8 years. I finally repented and came back to God. Stronger than ever the devil started putting doubts in my mind about God and my faith. I endured so much stress that I feel like giving up even now. But I know God loves me and I love Him but I just can’t seem to get back on track. I been feeling so disconnected from God that I don’t know what to do anymore. It got to the point where I don’t even have the strength to fight anymore. I never thought that this could ever happen to me but it did.

  20. I’m a faithful believer of Jesus Christ. Been saved since I was 17 but the devil recently started putting doubts in my head about God and my faith. Despite this I am still a believer but I am being tormented so much that now I’m just thinking about giving up the fight.

  21. going to. church doesnt garantee u a. seat in.heavean..u must. apply the. gospol..to your..life..people go to church out of guilt not truly for..the Love..of christ i..wish. people..would stop. this.thinking if they go..to church u..go..to..heavean God dont play faveraites people really think. u got a seat in heavean cause they go to church ….wisdom a blind man can. see. the..glory of God where those who.can see are blind..to it ……amen christ is an unconditional. Love.prince of peace who are people in the church to put down those who dont Go ….know. the gospol cause those who.dont go applie the gospol in they Life everyday where those who go are blind to the fact god said..dont judge. unless yee be.judge. and..whom. are any of his children to break anyone down. u me. us dont have. that power only God only..God. in the name of. christ amen

  22. I know I’m rather late to the party but, as an atheist, I’ve tried every belief system there is in the world.
    For me? Personally, they’re not touching on the reality of life.
    I’m not a superwoman, so I can only see the world – and faith – through the lens of my own perspective. Faith is like a dream. A very beautiful and intense dream. But like dreams, they only last for a little while. Eventually, you’re going to have to wake up.
    We all, ultimately, will end up in the same place. Dead. What happens after that is a mystery, but to say that people can be punished or rewarded for their actions in a prior life seems to take away something precious from the act of living.
    I’ve wasted far too much time waiting. Praying. If there is some sort of Big IT out there in the netherworld, I really want nothing to do with it. I’ve watched people I love die waiting for this IT to do something. I see people murder innocent people because they believe in an IT. I see and have experienced abandonment by a parent from the belief in an IT.
    God is one of the ugliest and the most beautiful words on this planet. In the idea of god is wrapped up years of misogyny, racism, imperialism, slavery, suicide, control, martyrdom. Perhaps the idea of divinity is stronger for some people. Unfortunately god has only one face and one voice. I can’t accept a god which denies me the right to my womanhood, that mentally imprisons people, afraid of their nature, that is silent while children die and wars are ravaging countless populations.
    If Christianity were true, we would see signs of it in prehistoric culture. If God were one or real, then why has ‘he’ only appeared within the past 2,000 years?
    The idea of a god is comforting, but it’s not a healthy one. I look at the pain in my heart, and I feel there is a conflict that shouldn’t be there. I am driven by my love for those around me, my body is shaped to this earth. The beauty of life can really only be seen in both the pain and the joy. When I accept my humanity, I see the key to my own inner ‘salvation’. Life must be faced with courage, not the cowardice of stone walls and prayers. I remember my childhood. I had no idea of a god as a little girl. When I held a dying robin chick in my hands, watching blood seeping into the earth, there was only silence. The same silence that preceded my grandmother’s death.
    It’s scary to think of not existing, or is it only because we tell ourselves that? Perhaps death is terrifying because we know, in some deep deep place, that it’s over. Maybe we do come back in someway, just not in the way religion wants us to think we do.
    Souls aren’t currencies, and too often Christianity and Islam are exploiting human suffering for their own gain. To say we are all doomed to the same fate is spitting in the face of our individuality. Religion seems to be a distraction from some fundamental truth which transcends dogma. Christianity seems paranoid of the sort of creative, dynamic wisdom that comes from within people. There is a great fear in organized faith systems of people who have discovered their own meaning, their own hope, a sort of spark or light that doesn’t require a god to guide it. It’s hope placed in the hands of life, the knowledge we are apart of a greater cycle, that we are beings moving through space vs. time.
    Our own nature is our answer to a better life. It’s undefinable, emotional, intuitive. Look at a photograph, it’s there. Listen to wind of a bird’s wings, you’ll hear it. Walk along the shore on a cold morning, you can taste it. But most of all, listen to your own heart, the one that remembers…

  23. Hi, thanks for your heartfelt comment. I’m truly sorry to hear about the pain in your heart. And I agree that many unattractive, and sometimes evil, things are done in the name of God and religion, and it pains my heart too.
    I think you have misunderstood God, and I think there are answers to some of the issues you raise, but I don’t suppose you want to hear them right now. So I will wish you all the best in your life. You are welcome to comment further if you wish.

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