in general

On Leaving the Church

So, why did I stop going to church? (Roman Catholic to be exact.) There are a couple of primary reasons I will focus on, and in doing research for this post, I found that a lot of people feel the same way. Since launching this site, I’ve even received a handful of texts and emails from friends that shared similar stories. It certainly helped me write this with confidence. Thank you all!

Tolerance, Acceptance, Enlightenment

Over at AlterNet, Adam Lee writes Goodbye Religion? How Godlessness Is Increasing With Each New Generation, which looks at the leaving organized religion topic I touched on in my previous posts:

Americans are becoming less religious, with rates of atheism and secularism increasing in each new generation. This demographic transformation has been in progress ever since World War II, but in recent years it’s begun to seriously pick up steam. In the generation born since 1982, variously referred to as Generation Y, the Millennials, or Generation Next, one in five people identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. In the youngest cohort, the trend is even more dramatic: as many as 30% of those born since 1990 are nonbelievers. Another study, this one by a Christian polling firm, found that people are leaving Christianity at four times the rate that new members are joining.

His theory is quite simple:

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.

I 100% agree with his theory. Tolerance and acceptance was the key for me. It always seemed to me that the message (actions of the church, views of the congregation, etc) was kindness, love and compassion for people like me (me meaning white Christians), despite what I always thought of as the general message of the Bible. I know I never paid attention to the misogynist, racist, and homophobic parts of the story, though, so maybe my selective reading had a big impact on my beliefs.

Or maybe it was just an open mind. Sadly, a lot of people think the Bible is literally true, word for word (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.)

I’d like to think the world has changed a lot since the Bible (or any religion’s scripture) was written. I’m more interested in moving forward and growing, than looking backward and actively lobbying for a return to the past, like many conservative Christians seem to want for the rest of us.

Religion and Politics

Related to this is the seemingly ever-increasing crossover of religion and politics — especially for ultra conservative Republicans. In fact, Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religion and divinity, recently released a book called “American Religion: Contemporary Trends” in August and found two key points that played a big part in changing my opinion on organized religion:

  • Fewer Americans today approve of their religious leaders getting involved in politics. In 1991, about 30 percent of Americans strongly agreed that religious leaders should avoid political involvement; by 2008, 44 percent felt that way.
  • Religion and politics are more closely intertwined than a generation ago.

Chaves added:

Several decades ago there was not a strong correlation between how religiously active you were and whether you voted Republican or Democrat,” Chaves says. “Now, there is. If you’re religiously active, you’re now more likely to vote Republican. That’s a very important development and is part of what leads people to talk about increasing polarization in American society.”

So, these Republican bible thumping candidates, who claim that secular government, liberals, and (gasp) gays are to blame for the decline in religion in America, are actually helping write their own worst nightmare. I know I can’t listen to any of them, regardless of how good their policy ideas are, not to mention every word they speak makes it less likely that I’ll have a good opinion of their religion.

Adam Lee (Alternet article from above) sums up the general notion very nicely:

The major churches, clinging to the inferior morality of long-gone ages, are increasingly out of step with a world that’s more enlightened, rational and tolerant than it once was. And the more they dig in their heels, the more we can expect this process to accelerate.

Message vs. Beliefs: Hypocritical or Stuck in the (Ancient) Past?

The anti-science, anti-poor, anti-gay, anti-people of color, anti-woman, anti-reason, anti-intellectual, anti-environment, pro-death penalty (but anti-abortion — Thou Shall Not Kill, anyone?), pro-everyone should fend for themselves message seems completely anti-Christian to me, not to mention short-sighted.

The hypocritical nature of these stances by most of organized religion (and in many cases a vast majority of followers — see the Pew Forum again) has turned me off to everything else they have to say. (See the fourth from last paragraph in my Why Buddhism? post.)

For example, the fact that the Roman Catholic church is so anti-gay, yet did so little to prevent or address child molestation by priests is incredibly telling. For example. only 150 of approximately 5,000 priests have been prosecuted. Other allegations of cover-ups. secrecy, and not removing priests (at all or fast enough) says more than enough about the Catholic Church.

And the Roman Catholic church was hit hard by this and other issues. The 2009 Pew study, “Faith in Flux,” says:

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.

In General

I’ll end the post with this: whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, all of the major religions seem to be telling similar stories,have many similar guidelines for living, and even worship a single, all-powerful God. Yet, they treat each other as mutually exclusive on many fronts. Doesn’t seem logical to me. Why would an all-powerful God with a message of love, kindness and compassion pit followers against one another? Even sects within Christianity (and even parishes within a community) harbor ill will toward other Christian believers. Seems obviously wrong and misguided. We’re all on the same team, aren’t we?

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

— the Dalai Lama

Do you have a story to share? Reasons for leaving the church? Things you struggle with? Share your story!