26 August 2011

Does rigid church doctrine drive away young people?

There is good evidence that an increasing number of young Europeans and Americans characterize themselves as atheist.  Here's some speculation about the reason for that trend:
In a society that's increasingly tolerant and enlightened, the big churches remain stubbornly entrenched in the past, clinging to medieval dogmas about gay people and women, presuming to lecture their members about how they should vote, whom they should love, how they should live. It's no surprise that people who've grown up in this tolerant age find it absurd when they're told that their family and friends don't deserve civil rights, and it's even less of a surprise that, when they're told they must believe this to be good Christians, they simply walk away.

This trend is reflected in the steadily rising percentages of Americans who say that religion is "old-fashioned and out of date" and can't speak to today's social problems. The Roman Catholic church in particular has been hit hard by this. According to a 2009 Pew study, "Faith in Flux," one in ten American adults is a former Catholic, and a majority of ex-Catholics cite unhappiness with the church's archaic stance on abortion, homosexuality, birth control or the treatment of women as a major factor in their departure. But evangelical and other Protestant denominations are feeling the same sting. According to a survey by the sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, moderates and progressives are heading for the exits as the churches increasingly become the domain of conservatives... 
I would argue that the same general principles are driving young Americans away from participation in the major political parties.  As the Democrats and Republicans dig in their heels and ruthlessly adhere to uncompromising adherence to certain governing patterns, young and educated voters are turning their backs and increasingly self-identifying as "independents."

More (re the first topic) at AlterNet, via The Dish.


  1. My sister and her family were members of the same Episcopalian Church for maybe 25 years, but finally left because of the very poor treatment they received at the hands of other members of the church. They have come to the conclusion that perhaps church going is no longer for them.

    Vivi, Peaceful? Would you add more?


  2. The more liberal/doctrinally flexible churches are generally shrinking across the board (and at a much faster rate than those who are not flexible in their doctrine.

  3. I think that some people (backed up by a study I read by an author whose name I can't remember)are hard wired to be conservative. They need hard and fast rules for conduct. That would seem to me to explain in part the paradox of the growth of very doctrinaire churches.

  4. The answer may be very simple. The parishioners at the "fire and brimstone" denominations are afraid NOT to attend every Sunday.

  5. Did these driven away young people ever attend church in the first place? My guess would be (for Europe) that their parents left the church for the aforementioned reasons and never raised their children to believe in a god.

  6. "In a society that's increasingly tolerant and enlightened..."
    - that sums it up except I think more folks are becoming intolerant of the church's intolerance. The church's paradox is that an 'all knowing' god's word would not change and so neither would the rules. In changing policies, the concept of marketing is introduced and integrity is forfeited. This change is a side effect of growing literacy and living longer (ex. realizing 'The End Is Near' has been a theme for centuries or that jesus is painted whatever skin color you want that will appeal to the local racists).
    Ideas that got me kicked out/driven away...
    "How can there be any sports in heaven, at least any games worth playing since there would have to be winners and losers and I can't imagine there being a concept of loss as it would open the door to missing those who are eternally damned, no?"
    "Is heaven going to be like alcoholics anonymous where you have a lot of time to share and sure, we are all clean and equal now but let's compare our war stories of our prior lives, when we were on earth! What? You died at birth??? Sorry, 'easy ticket', we obviously have nothing in common to talk about; next!"
    "How can heaven be beautiful? That infers that appearance is a unit of measure there. Will I be beautiful? Will people who are amazingly attractive retain that amount of beauty? And for us ugly folks, do we get to choose what we look like? For some reason, everything being equally beautiful would mean there is no beauty there at all..."

  7. From someone who has rejected religion since I was six, I consider this a good thing. Modern religious institutions are nothing more than businesses with leaderships that are addicted to power. Some argument can be made that is what they always have been.

    It's my hope that moving away from religion will be man's next stepping stone in evolution. Only time will tell.

  8. However, when churches change its philosophy on things like the ordination of actively gay priests and bishops, parishioners revolt and leave the church.

    I'm thinking specifically of the Episcopal Church and the backlash that happened after it ordained its first actively gay bishop. Conservative congregations left the church and joined an Anglican diocese based in Africa.

  9. Reaper: "It's my hope that moving away from religion will be man's next stepping stone in evolution. Only time will tell."

    Stepping stone to WHERE, Reaper? If Dawkins has taught us anything, it is that evolution doesn't lead anywhere - it's just about the propagation of the genes.

    And by the way, according to this harsh calculus, that means if religious attitudes connote even a small reproductive advantage over athiestic ones, you can kiss your godless paradise goodbye.

    That's not the rule that I play by, but according to Dawkins and Darwin it should be...

  10. I remember a somewhat learned minister telling me that the faith you choose has more to do with your psychology than your faith.

    Me? I left that faith about six years ago - never really looked back.

    I do want my kids to be able to have their own faith or none at all if it suits them. However, I did intercede with instilling them with one belief - the belief in hell is really just crap propagated by superstitious people who didn't know any better.

  11. I completely agree with your assertions.

  12. We'll never agree what a human life is for. Even amongst christians, and in choosing chistians I've whittled a good portion of the world, they can't agree whether pleasures here on earth are to be enjoyed or if they are evil temptations.
    I know that I am not alone in contemplating that all of human 'progress' has not improved our happiness much, if at all. Sure, there are more of us and we get to live longer but for what, television and/or retirement at 70? In contrast with people of the likes that Columbus found hundreds of years ago who lived in paradise - has the human experience improved at all from there?

  13. sorry for commenting on this topic so late. I am european and have always wondered how most americans in the time of enlightenment and scientific research can still follow this archaic bible although today it is rather clear that the historical Jesus has not much to do with the Jesus of the bible. "God's on country" must recognize finally what Europe has recognize already.

  14. Everybody has his opinion. You just be sincere to yourself. I am a normal person, learned (university degree and Masters). I am married with children, have experienced life in different ways: like knowing lack and abundance. I have wined with presidents and important personalities and have helped hundreds of persons less privileged.
    No one can tell me the taste of the orange that I ate. I only know the taste, because I did the eating. The bible, as old and archaic as it may be, is the true word of God and is at the same time the most modern and current book in the world. You cannot close it up and expect to know the mind of God. It is the creator's manual for managing our world. Just go on searching for the truth, but when you find it, be sincere to yourself and stick to it.


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