20 August 2003

Why people leave

A few days ago I discussed the sad article by Philip E. Wentworth relating his loss of faith at Harvard University. I suggested that his reasons for rejecting Christianity were pretty superficial. But others walk away from faith for more weighty reasons. Among these are:

(1) Disillusionment with the christian community. I’ve heard of a number of such cases over the years. In general I tend to gravitate towards a communal expression of the faith and am aware of the inadequacy of religious individualism. At the same time it’s possible that an individual church-goer rests too heavily on the faith of the community and hasn’t sufficiently appropriated it for herself. If the community fails her in some way, she leaves behind, not only the community, but the faith of the community as well. Reciting the creeds only in church, she cannot bring herself to recite them outside its walls. They are not really a part of her.

Of course one needs to bear in mind that the christian community makes no claims to perfection. The community and its members are fallible, as am I myself. Yet that doesn't make them any less than the people of God, redeemed by his grace through Jesus Christ.

(2) The justice of God. We’ve all heard this one before: How could a good God allow. . . fill in the blank: the Holocaust. . . the Armenian genocide. . . Idi Amin. . . the earthquake in China. . . the death of my neighbour’s infant son. . . you get the picture. In my daily prayer regimen I am currently reading through the book of Job, one of the more troubling books of the Bible. Job’s friends were certain that his suffering was connected to sin. And it’s true: a lot of suffering does follow on the heels of personal evil. But a lot of it doesn’t.

(3) Personal tragedy. This is essentially the same as 2, except that it happens to oneself. Undergoing a personal tragedy either brings one closer to God or pushes one away from him. There is no satisfactory explanation for why some people respond the first way while others respond the second.

(4) Loss of a sense of God’s presence. Some weeks ago I wrote of Carol Zaleski’s disturbing article, The Dark Night of Mother Theresa. What startled me in reading it was the realization that I, as a quite ordinary Christian, seem to have a more vivid sense of God’s on-going presence than Mother Theresa did – at least after her initial visions of 1947. Yet she still answered God’s call on her life and served him for the next half century, which is all the more remarkable given what we now know of her.

(5) Lack of a christian upbringing. Billions of people around the world grow up in nonchristian households. Some embrace the faith later in life. While some of these stick with it and grow in it, others try it out for a while and then leave it behind for something else. If you have not first experienced the love of God in the love of your own parents, it may be difficult to experience it at all.

I understand InterVarsity Press has published a book on the subject of loss of faith. It’s by Ruth Tucker and it’s called Walking Away From Faith. Perhaps I’ll use my author’s discount and purchase a copy.

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