Recently, the Atlantic Monthly had a fantastic article by Larry Alex Taunton, Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation. Mr. Taunton led a study of atheists at college campuses. The results are fascinating and I strongly encourage you to read the entire article which can be found here. Here is a summary of the key findings, together with my comments in [red, bold brackets]:
1. They had attended church. Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity. [Comment: Although it was not asked in the article, I am very curious whether there was any significant difference among denominations].
2. The mission and message of their churches was vague. These students heard plenty of messages encouraging “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. [Comment: Obviously, these are good attributes. However, Christians need to draw the connection between the ontological reason for these actions and the inherent belief that they are “good”. Mother Teresa is an ideal role model here.]
3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions. When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. [Comment: This is a strong challenge to both understand our faith and not be afraid to ask the big questions such as the existence of God, the purpose of life, the nature of evil. I believe that Christianity offers the most viable intellectual answers to these tough questions, but believers need to wrestle with the questions and present answers in a way that non-believers can relate to].
4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously. Without fail, former church-attending students expressed positive feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.” [Comment: I agree that a muscular Christianity is more attractive than wimpy Christianity. However, it needs to be tied to reason, science and an appropriate understanding of the Bible. This is one of the primary attractions of Catholicism].
5. Ages 14-17 were decisive. One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief. [Comment: As a father of two boys 9 and 6 this is interesting. It is a message to continue to be active in the faith formation of my children.]
6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one. With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. [Comment: This highlights the need that beyond being able to promote Christianity on an intellectual basis, Christians need to exhibit the joy of living the Gospel].
7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism. When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism–people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums. [Comment: Christians need to have better quantitative and qualitative web presence that reaches out to non-believers].