Articles and books about why millennials are leaving Christianity often focus on what churches are doing “wrong.”
They’re anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex-education and anti-doubt, to name a few of the most common criticisms.
I don’t disagree with those critiques, but there’s another side to the story.
While Christians have played sloppy defense, secular Americans have been showing off some impressive offense, giving young Christians plenty of reasons to lose faith in organized religion.
For instance, atheists dominate the Internet, rallying to thriving websites and online communities in lieu of physical meeting spaces.
Even a writer for the evangelical magazine Relevant admitted that “While Christianity enjoys a robust online presence, the edge still seems to belong to its unbelievers.”
Atheists outnumber Christians on popular discussion forums like Reddit, where subscribers to the atheism section number more than 2 million. The Christianity section is not even 5% of that.
The Internet-based Foundation Beyond Belief, which encourages atheists to donate to charitable organizations, just celebrated raising $1 million for worthwhile causes. (Disclosure: I serve on its board of directors.)
Moreover, blogs and websites espousing non-religious viewpoints and criticizing Christianity draw tons of Internet traffic these days. For every Christian apologist’s argument, it seems, there’s an equal and opposite rebuttal to be found online. I call that “Hitchens’ Third Law.”
Christians can no longer hide in a bubble, sheltered from opposing perspectives, and church leaders can’t protect young people from finding information that contradicts traditional beliefs.
If there’s an open comment thread to be found on a Christian’s YouTube video or opinion piece online, there’s inevitably going to be pushback from atheists.
There has also been a push by atheists to get non-religious individuals to “come out of the closet” and let people know that they don’t believe in God.
Among other things, this proves that anti-atheist stereotypes aren’t accurate and, just as important, that atheists aren’t alone in their communities.
There’s the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s Out Campaign, with its Scarlet A badges.
There are atheist-encouraging billboards in 33 states financed by groups like the United Coalition of Reason.
There’s even going to be an 1-800 hot line for people “recovering” from religion.
And last year, an estimated 20,000 atheists turned out for the Reason Rally in Washington, a tenfold increase from the previous atheist rally in 2002.
But more than anything else, atheism’s best advertisements may be the words of Christian leaders themselves.
When Pastor Mark Driscoll belittles women, Rick Warren argues against same-sex rights or Rob Bell equivocates on the concept of hell, we amplify those messages for them — and it helps us make our point.
(It goes without saying that the pairing of Pat Robertson and YouTube has been great for atheists.)
Pastors are no longer the final authority on the truth, and millennials know it.
Even if they hold Jesus’ message in high esteem, the Bible as it has traditionally been preached by many evangelical pastors is becoming less and less attractive to them.
A 2012 study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PDF) showed that many Christians aged 18-24 felt that Christianity was hypocritical (49%), judgmental (54%) and anti-gay (58%).