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What Led You To Become An Atheist? Some Surprising Answers

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David Murray

 

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 v 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.

 

3. We must tackle the hard questions: We can’t just preach nice, heart-warming, encouraging, and inspiring sermons. We have to face the reality of our current culture and its varied challenges to Christian faith. And if we do engage these questions, we must do so fairly, lovingly, and honestly.

 

4. Evangelize passionately and persuasively: Students were unimpressed by dispassionate presentations of the truth and a reluctance to press the claims of Christ upon them. Perhaps this is the most surprising finding of all. We’ve somehow been convinced that sermons have to be more like lectures or just conversational; cool, calculated, casual discussions that present the truth with as little feeling as possible. We mustn’t be pushy, emotional, or earnest in our witness. But according to the students, this bland approach is a complete turn-off.

 

5. High School years are more dangerous than college years: We can’t wait until college to equip young people with spiritual armor and arms.

 

6. Appeal to the heart as well as the head: As most people turned to atheism for emotional reasons, usually related to suffering, we must also appeal to their emotions to win them back. We can’t just offer cold logic and philosophy, nor even just biblical truth. We need to communicate love, joy, and peace in our witness, as well as offer them an experience of these healing Christian emotions through the Christ who purchased them through His suffering.

 

7. Use the internet to promote Christian truth: Many kids are in church and Christian youth groups a couple of hours a week, but are spending 20 or 30 hours a week online. Unless we give them some healthy regular alternative to the videos and forums that are overtly and covertly attacking the Christian faith, we shouldn’t be surprised if they gradually drift away.

 

On the whole, this research offers a lot of encouragement to churches that preach the whole Bible with evangelistic passion and sincere conviction, that apply the truth to the modern world and modern questions, and that use digital technology to engage, evangelize, and disciple their youth.

 

What other lessons would you draw from this research?

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My niece became an Atheists because of a propaganda video her teacher downloaded from the internet. This professor decided to preach atheism at school. Many parents complained because their kids refused to go to church after watching that video. So parents beware of the school,

 

I remember a celebrity admitted she becomes an Atheist because she loves her Gay brother and she thinks Christianity is against her brother.

 

Then there are those people who blames religion for all the wars happening.

Edited by Sparky
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I think that Christian churches should encourage their members to actively engage in discipleship, entice them to join church groups, and come up with activities that will bring members together and help sustain their faith. There's less likelihood that a Christian will turn atheist if he/she is a part of an active group of fellow believers who are genuinely supportive. Some activities could involve the whole family together like a weekend getaway. The church, in my opinion, should reach out and stay relevant in the lives of their members.

 

 

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I had been lead to atheism because of my misunderstanding of the value of suffering, and lack of proper confrontation with nihilism. It wasn't until I had read an introduction to a book called Nihilism that I realized why I felt so distant from my heart, and eventually found my way to the scriptures. The writing is here and is worth the entire read... https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rTl8Ux69Q6ckHJcOJkjS2MTxFLwpa9hIHD2B5J_WPXM/edit?usp=sharing

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Some people stop going to church because they get judged there. I would assume that church-going christian people would be among some of the least judgmental people on the planet, but I guess that isn't always the case. Also, this 'God is Wrath' message that some ministers preach... If you make God out to be someone scary who will toss you into pits of everlasting fire if you follow your human desires then you're going to lose a lot of people who inherently know that life is meant to be fun and love is the order of the universe.

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Also, this 'God is Wrath' message that some ministers preach... If you make God out to be someone scary who will toss you into pits of everlasting fire if you follow your human desires then you're going to lose a lot of people who inherently know that life is meant to be fun and love is the order of the universe.

 

If people don't want to follow our God of wrath, well they don't have to... If they dont want to go to a heaven where our human desires are no more, they don't have to.

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If you make God out to be someone scary who will toss you into pits of everlasting fire if you follow your human desires then you're going to lose a lot of people who inherently know that life is meant to be fun and love is the order of the universe.

What makes you believe that life is meant to be fun?

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What makes you believe that life is meant to be fun?

 

I think that life is meant to be fun because I have seen the evidence that we are spiritual beings who came to this planet to experience life in a physical way. We were worthy before we got here, and we are not here to 'prove' our worthiness in my opinion but to experience bliss - to live, to love and to feel joy, abundance and all the other good things we want to experience in life. Why else would we have been told "Ask and it shall be given?" Who would ever ask for anything other than a rich, full and productive life?

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I think that life is meant to be fun because I have seen the evidence that we are spiritual beings who came to this planet to experience life in a physical way. We were worthy before we got here, and we are not here to 'prove' our worthiness in my opinion but to experience bliss - to live, to love and to feel joy, abundance and all the other good things we want to experience in life. Why else would we have been told "Ask and it shall be given?" Who would ever ask for anything other than a rich, full and productive life?

 

I ask for suffering to make my feet straight and to break my strong will to be one will for the Lord. Jesus said to pick up your cross, and there is nothing happy about that other than the reward at the end.

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I think that life is meant to be fun because I have seen the evidence that we are spiritual beings who came to this planet to experience life in a physical way.

What is this evidence that you have seen? I have never seen anything that shows that this is true.

 

We were worthy before we got here, and we are not here to 'prove' our worthiness in my opinion but to experience bliss - to live, to love and to feel joy, abundance and all the other good things we want to experience in life.

Were all of us worthy? Even Hitler, Stalin, and Mao tse tung?

Edited by theophilus

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I hope I'm not offending anyone here. If I am please let me know. I'll try to answer your question the best way I can, but I don't claim to be right, I'm just expressing my belief and my experience. First of all I'll respond to @Trist . Do you know how a hunger striker can undergo physical pain, yet transform the experience into moral pleasure by focusing on the positive impact of calling the world's attention to a worthwhile goal? Couldn't the same principle apply in your case - where you may be experiencing a less than ideal physical experience yourself, but maybe it's made you stronger and more competent now than ever before, and you're in a position to use your experience to counsel or help others like you? Each of us has the power of choice, and the secret to a successful and happy life (no matter your circumstances) is learning how to use pain and pleasure to your advantage. I would suggest you read the book Giant Steps, by Anthony Robbins. It will explain this in more detail.

 

On the issue of the 'evidence' that I've seen @theophilus - I have seen the evidence in my own life. A mentor of mine once told me that life will always prove your beliefs to you, and it has been true in my life. I set out to prove it to myself and I did. It's like the story of the wise man at the city gate. A traveler walks up to him and asks, "I want to move to this city. What are the people here like?" And the old man says, "What are the people in the city you left like?" The man says "Well, they are all horrid people and I was miserable there." The old man says to the man, "You're going to be miserable here, too. The people here are also horrible." The man leaves, and a few moments later another traveler walks up to the old man and asks, "What are the people here like?" The old man asks him the same question as the previous traveler and this one replies, "Well, the people in the city I just left are good and kind and very helpful. I loved living there." The old man says to the man, "Then you will love living here, because the people here are good, kind and helpful, too!"

 

As for you last question, I could answer it, but I think that it will spark a bigger discussion that will take us away from the topic of this thread. I would be happy to respond on a new thread, though. I'm eager to hear what you have to say on the matter.

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@Trist . Do you know how a hunger striker can undergo physical pain, yet transform the experience into moral pleasure by focusing on the positive impact of calling the world's attention to a worthwhile goal? Couldn't the same principle apply in your case - where you may be experiencing a less than ideal physical experience yourself, but maybe it's made you stronger and more competent now than ever before, and you're in a position to use your experience to counsel or help others like you? Each of us has the power of choice, and the secret to a successful and happy life (no matter your circumstances) is learning how to use pain and pleasure to your advantage.

 

The purpose of our lives is holiness, not happiness. My suffering does not bring me happiness at all; it should not. Its purpose is not to bring me joy, but only to break my will. It would be a tragedy for me to believe a happy life is desireable here; to believe that I should have a share of my holy inheritance early and forsake it all.

 

I must ask; why do you use pleasure and happiness interchangeably?

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This is a place where Christians argue points about atheism, but are there any real atheist on the board. Next I posted a couple questions just for fun meant for real atheist but can no longer find it to see if any posted to it

 

Are there any atheist here to make thee cace

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For atheist, they both need philosophical answers to life's questions and evidence for the Christian faith, for subjective reasoning must be grounded in objective truths. These days I'm turning a bit agnostic. I don't know. It feels like I'm lying to myself but still I'm searching for evidence. I don't know how long I'm going to be like this.

But still I'm totally confused.

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For atheist, they both need philosophical answers to life's questions and evidence for the Christian faith, for subjective reasoning must be grounded in objective truths. These days I'm turning a bit agnostic. I don't know. It feels like I'm lying to myself but still I'm searching for evidence. I don't know how long I'm going to be like this.

But still I'm totally confused.

 

They are seeking the council of worldly wisdom....

 

1 Corinthians 3:19-21 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

 

Are you spending a lot of time around unbelievers? May I suggest waiting for a time before confronting them? Based on my observation I notice a lot of young Christians approach apologetics with zeal, however, they are not ready to confront the difficult tasks of attempting to convert unbelievers. They need, imo, to grow in the faith and mature first. Just some friendly advice. Choose your company wisely rather than falling into friendships.

 

A true Christian is regenerated or born from above see Ezekiel 36:25-27 and John 3 the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. In other words, it begins with the heart. And the saints shall persevere to the last day.

 

God bless,

William

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I'm all around unbelievers but it's my personal opinion to first be sure of resurrection and then move toward complete faith. I want to examine things first . J Warner Wallace did the same and ended the right place .

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Some people stop going to church because they get judged there. I would assume that church-going christian people would be among some of the least judgmental people on the planet, but I guess that isn't always the case. Also, this 'God is Wrath' message that some ministers preach... If you make God out to be someone scary who will toss you into pits of everlasting fire if you follow your human desires then you're going to lose a lot of people who inherently know that life is meant to be fun and love is the order of the universe.

 

 

 

The thing is , though, that God's Word teaches Both heaven And hell. People Need to hear the 'higher standard' that God teaches us about --living a Godly, Christ-like life. We Are to 'be holy as God is holy'.

 

Is 'our fun' going to be playing a fast-pased, friendly game of UNO or going to a party where everyone is drinking and cozying up with whomever and ending up doing whatever'.

 

Following our human desires -- my human desire Might be to have sex with children -- is that okay? Of course not. God's Word gives us guidelines as to how to channel the human desires/ sex drive that He's given us.

 

The only thing that will '"toss you into pits of everlasting fire'" is not following the guidelines of how to stay out of it. There is only one way to stay Out of that. Accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior From the everlasting fire.

 

There are Lots of things that people don't Want to hear, but that we Need to hear in order to accept the positive message that Is Available.

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I think that life is meant to be fun because I have seen the evidence that we are spiritual beings who came to this planet to experience life in a physical way. We were worthy before we got here, and we are not here to 'prove' our worthiness in my opinion but to experience bliss - to live, to love and to feel joy, abundance and all the other good things we want to experience in life. Why else would we have been told "Ask and it shall be given?" Who would ever ask for anything other than a rich, full and productive life?

 

 

We Do experience life in a physical way, but I'm wondering about your comment about being spiritual beings who came to this planet to experience life ...... as in, where were 'we' before we got Here. Personally, I've not been observing very much 'bliss' or much love being shown by this world.

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There's too many sermons on worldy topics in many churches. It's not that we don't need to address those issues, but preaching should be about the relationship between us and God and instrutions on rightiouness more than what's happened on the news, without the former, knowing the later isn't of much use.

 

Another thing is that our lingo can be confusing to people that aren't matured Christians or unbilivers. Not to be mean, but high schoolers and college kids are kinda dumb. Plenty of atheist think that Christianity is following rules to get to Heaven.

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I hope I'm not offending anyone here. If I am please let me know. I'll try to answer your question the best way I can, but I don't claim to be right, I'm just expressing my belief and my experience. First of all I'll respond to @Trist . Do you know how a hunger striker can undergo physical pain, yet transform the experience into moral pleasure by focusing on the positive impact of calling the world's attention to a worthwhile goal? Couldn't the same principle apply in your case - where you may be experiencing a less than ideal physical experience yourself, but maybe it's made you stronger and more competent now than ever before, and you're in a position to use your experience to counsel or help others like you? Each of us has the power of choice, and the secret to a successful and happy life (no matter your circumstances) is learning how to use pain and pleasure to your advantage. I would suggest you read the book Giant Steps, by Anthony Robbins. It will explain this in more detail.

 

On the issue of the 'evidence' that I've seen @theophilus - I have seen the evidence in my own life. A mentor of mine once told me that life will always prove your beliefs to you, and it has been true in my life. I set out to prove it to myself and I did. It's like the story of the wise man at the city gate. A traveler walks up to him and asks, "I want to move to this city. What are the people here like?" And the old man says, "What are the people in the city you left like?" The man says "Well, they are all horrid people and I was miserable there." The old man says to the man, "You're going to be miserable here, too. The people here are also horrible." The man leaves, and a few moments later another traveler walks up to the old man and asks, "What are the people here like?" The old man asks him the same question as the previous traveler and this one replies, "Well, the people in the city I just left are good and kind and very helpful. I loved living there." The old man says to the man, "Then you will love living here, because the people here are good, kind and helpful, too!"

 

As for you last question, I could answer it, but I think that it will spark a bigger discussion that will take us away from the topic of this thread. I would be happy to respond on a new thread, though. I'm eager to hear what you have to say on the matter.

 

The flaw in that story is that the people are good or bad according to the absolute authority on good and bad, that is God. Being optimistic about something doesn't make it truely good.

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The flaw in that story is that the people are good or bad according to the absolute authority on good and bad, that is God. Being optimistic about something doesn't make it truely good.

 

People are people no matter where a person is. It's our own attitude towards others that will make a difference. And what affects Us -- our attitude towards God?! We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and our neighbor as ourself.

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People are people no matter where a person is. It's our own attitude towards others that will make a difference. And what affects Us -- our attitude towards God?! We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and our neighbor as ourself.

 

 

 

Actually, I was responding more to Sheila's comments , but the quoting feature only picked up your comment.

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There's too many sermons on worldy topics in many churches. It's not that we don't need to address those issues, but preaching should be about the relationship between us and God and instrutions on rightiouness more than what's happened on the news, without the former, knowing the later isn't of much use.

 

Another thing is that our lingo can be confusing to people that aren't matured Christians or unbilivers. Not to be mean, but high schoolers and college kids are kinda dumb. Plenty of atheist think that Christianity is following rules to get to Heaven.

 

 

 

Want to let you know that I agree with you. That preaching Should be about the relationship between us and God and instructions on righteousness. God's Word being our authority. Jr high and high schoolers are already getting laughed at for believing in God / His Word. Evolution is taught early on and Assumed to be correct. Anyone who is really educated is ridiculed if Genesis is even brought up.

 

The pastor of the church I've been going to has a Doctorate in Old Testament history -- very intelligent and knows how to present information -- fast-passed sermon presentation. He knows how to connect with the congregation. He's presently leading the church in our relocation project And sending out mission groups to various countries.

 

And plenty of college profs have no use for God / His Word --- Intellectualism is 'key'. And that is a Lot of pressure for church kids to go up against.

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Want to let you know that I agree with you. That preaching Should be about the relationship between us and God and instructions on righteousness. God's Word being our authority. Jr high and high schoolers are already getting laughed at for believing in God / His Word. Evolution is taught early on and Assumed to be correct. Anyone who is really educated is ridiculed if Genesis is even brought up.

 

The pastor of the church I've been going to has a Doctorate in Old Testament history -- very intelligent and knows how to present information -- fast-passed sermon presentation. He knows how to connect with the congregation. He's presently leading the church in our relocation project And sending out mission groups to various countries.

 

And plenty of college profs have no use for God / His Word --- Intellectualism is 'key'. And that is a Lot of pressure for church kids to go up against.

 

The youth really need our prayers and focus. There's all you mentioned and more, so many ways that Satan tries to pull away our youth into darkness.

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And our youth are the future adult world of leaders / parents.

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