I would guess that most people who have grown up and stayed in churches do not know what it’s like for many to leave. Please, if you are a person who has been in the church for your entire life, please take some time to read the stories of people who have left. And read about how cults function. Try to put yourself in the place of someone who simply can’t go along. Someone who has a lot of doubts, questions, problems. Someone who is no longer able to let some things go. Most of us get depressed when we leave. We have no idea how to live. Some of us even kill ourselves. For some people, leaving the church is very similar to coming out as a gay person to a community that thinks homosexuality is a “sin.”
There are some interesting things being done to help people make the transition out of harmful religious environments. I hope more things like this continue to spring up. But, I don’t think it’s enough.
The person who makes the decision to leave only has a few options:
- Try to go at the post-religious thing alone.
- Join some kind of specifically humanist/atheist/skeptical community.
One problem with the first option is that taking the plunge is not recommended for anyone to do alone. That said, I assume that most people do have at least a few people in their lives who can be a supportive community for them. Sadly, some don’t. Many religious people live in such an insular world that if they leave, they literally have no one. Many people’s spouses leave them. Close friends shun them. It’s pretty scary.
I’ve written a lot about my hesitation with a blanket endorsement of the second option. Of course, these communities can be very positive. And, for some, they might even permanently be the right thing. But, I think that the reason a lot of de-churched people avoid those groups is because many of them tend to be reactionary and negative regarding not only religious ideas but religious believers – from disagreeing to demonizing. Maybe that is fun for awhile, but I don’t think it’s something that most people can make a long-term commitment to.
So, what I think is a much better third option is for us to find ways to exist within emergent spaces (through the internet, events, churches and other small groups). This, of course, will require emergent leaders to spend more time trying to understand us, and it will require us to have more patience for those with whom we’re probably going to disagree on a lot of things.
The reality is that most atheists are in some sense Christian atheists. In the least, we live in a Christ-haunted culture. But, I would guess that most of us also grew up in the church. One reaction is to chunk the whole thing – as I said above, not only religious ideas but religious people. To think that religion in general is not only ignorant or irrational but evil (which, of course, means that “we” are the good guys). This is unnecessary and, to me, just as unhelpful as the fundamentalists we all want to avoid.
People change. And, in my experience, most Christians don’t actually believe most of the things that they’re “supposed” to, anyway. I think that emergent Christians will continue to find that we atheists-who-don’t-think-religion-is-evil aren’t really that much different. We’ve got a hell of a lot in common. And, while I completely support the radical theology projects of thinkers like Pete Rollins, I just don’t think it’s going to be enough for the average de-churched skeptic.
Will this work? I’m hedging my bets. Will you join me?