Quick Note: Why Are They Leaving Christianity?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 24, 2010 — 42 Comments

Paganism is growing. That isn’t my mere opinion, it is backed up with statistical data from places like the Pew Forum and ARIS. More often than not, when mainstream newspapers and news outlets write about us, they mention how we’re growing, or how we’re moving into the mainstream. The growth of modern Pagan faiths, and other religious minorities, has also seen a growth in “nones”, those who profess to not hold any religious identity. This circumstance has led to a series of books by younger Christians who are trying to understand, and reverse, this trend. The latest entry in this genre is “Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith. . .and How to Bring Them Back” by Christianity Today editor Drew Dyck. In an interview with the Birmingham News, Dyck explains where all these young Christians are going.

“No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. Postmodern leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. Any truth beyond science is dismissed as superstition. “Neo-pagans” refers to those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all actually cast spells or participate in pagan rituals, but they deny a transcendent God, and see earth as the locus of true spirituality. “Spiritual Rebels” flee the faith to indulge in behavior that conflicted with their faith. They also value autonomy and don’t want anyone — especially a superintending deity — telling them what to do. “Drifters” do not suffer intellectual crises or consciously leave the faith; they simply drift away. Over time God becomes less and less important until one day he’s no longer part of their lives.”

Which is fine as far as these things go, many younger Christians are indeed turning to some forms of modern Pagan religion. What I usually have trouble with is their analysis of what Christians should do about it.

“Many young people have been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculates them against authentic faith. To stem the tide of young people leaving, I believe churches need to get shift the emphasis away from an entertainment model and back to religious education and spiritual growth.”

It all comes down to teaching and role-modeling the elusive real fundamental Christianity to young people. Dyck’s book, and books like “UnChristian”, “Generation Hex”, “Wicca’s Charm”, and many, many, more, all call for a return to an elusive central core of faith that is pure enough to withstand the rigors of engaging the wider secular/non-Christian world. Christians love these books, because it not only addresses a problem that worries them, but tells them that the solution is to become more Christian as a way to solve the problem. But that solution is one built on faith, not on any real-world tested mode of engagement. Further, to classify “neopaganism” as merely a category of backslider instead of whole movement of individual faiths with theologies and beliefs of their own is setting up Christian parents and leaders for failure. First, it will not equip them to engage with those who have actually embraced a Pagan faith, and secondly, it will alienate those who have simply become interested in environmentalism, or simple ideas of immanence within a Christian context. Becoming more Christ-like (or fervent) won’t necessarily impress either category of “neopagan”.

If there’s a “secret” to stopping the move away from Christianity in the West, a trend that worries everyone from evangelicals to the Pope in Rome, it may be that Christians think you can change nothing about the faith, while putting a new spin on things to win people back. But younger people see that the faith they grew up in, and its moral failure to change on important issues, makes it an inviable option for existing in a tolerant and secular society. Modern Paganism, because it has had to engage on a decades-long project of reconstruction and re-envisioning since its emergence, has been able to absorb modern approaches to politics and society without having to deal with the “culture-war” issues in the same fashion. Further, polytheism can handle schisms, disagreements, and differences of opinion, in a far more fluid and healthy fashion than most of the top-down monotheisms can. So long as these authors address the “problem” of young people leaving the faith in this current fashion, modern Pagans will have little to worry about concerning its own growth.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Mojavi

    I like the point in the article that it's not the faith's approach that needs to be re-evaluated, but the faith itself.

  • Christianity could have kept me if I had felt welcome as a woman and aspiring leader. I found that welcome in Paganism, and learned skills that I’m now using in the wider political realm.

  • Briny Deep

    And I just realized how many times I used the word "really" in my comment. Oy vey, lazy lazy thinking!

  • Sonneillon

    I love how, as Christians watch their majority privilege slowly slipping away, the flurry of opinions on what to do about it becomes louder and more furious. Every time I see a Christian source quoting statistics (however erroneous) about the rapid growth of Wicca, usually to instill a sense of panic and imminent danger, I see the same people who quote statistics on the decline of the white-skinned majority for the same reason. Ultimately, I think it stems from the same source – the minute the privileged lose power, they are terrified that the wrongs they have done to others will be returned to them in recompense.

    • Ursyl

      What went around will come around?

  • Yeah, seriously. HOW is Noah's Ark a children's story? I used to have nightmares about it.

    • kauko

      To be fair about the Noah's Ark part of the Bible, they did pretty much appropriate that from their pagan, mesopotamian neighbors.

  • Oy vey. And I actually include folk-Christian practices in my path…and I still say "Oy Vey".

  • Grimmorrigan

    I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. – Gandhi.

  • Patricia Mathews

    Father, son and holy ghost – no stranger than Maiden, Mother, and Crone.

    • Lori F – MN

      true. but Maiden Mother & Crone are phases of life or three Separate persons. Not one and the same.

      • Pagan Puff Pieces

        I think it depends, really.

        • Karlsefni

          Nope. Trinity is distinctly Christian. Tricephalic gods are not.

  • Logos, yo!

  • Bookhousegal

    Err, dude, those of us, err, 'nurtured' so aren't lost children or errant livestock, we *are* your neighbors.

  • Joy

    Briny Deep: "if one doesn't feel like one has to be forgiven for anything, then Christianity really has nothing to offer"


  • Lori F – MN

    Why does the church seem to think that worshiping god requires a church, a building? Why can't there be solitary christian practioners?

    • Karlsefni

      Because in the desert it is best to travel in a group.

    • Karlsefni

      Nothing says we can't hate on those SOBs.

  • Karlsefni

    Mass is boring and the food sucks.

  • Karlsefni

    It's society that is the illusion, mate.

    • Pagan Puff Pieces


  • Crystal7431

    Yep, same here.

  • Karlsefni


    • Shaelyn

      I only wish that many of the teachings from the Christian church felt the same way about not doing harm to others.

    • Souris Optique

      You're suddenly Baptist?

  • Seafoam Green


    Blame the same thinking with Protestants that condemns Catholics for using incense and "idolatry".

  • Jamie G.

    They always leave my “leaver” label out… I’m a “I call bullshit” leaver, because once I learned the history of Christianity as compared to my fundamentalist teachings I had to call bullshit on the whole thing. Plus, I don’t buy that YHWH is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving… too much going on in the world that disproves that. And finally, I would not worship a deity that would call for the murders of innocent children.

  • Bookhousegal

    In Christianity, Answers beat *you!*

    Oh, that's what you said. 🙂

  • Kat F

    Thanks for the "tolerance."

  • Kat F

    Jesus said that He came not to bring peace, but a sword.

    • Bookhousegal

      Well, if that's all, he can keep it. Brought my own, for all the good it's supposed to do.

      • Bookhousegal

        Question, though: what does 'a sword' mean in the language of myth?

        Maybe ask a Wiccan… Or Anakin Skywalker. 🙂

  • Alan Salmi

    In keeping with recent news reports, perhaps you were "dabbling" in Christianity? 🙂

  • Briny Deep

    Medea for the win!

  • Cornelius Hall

    Amen, Kat, praise be to God.

  • Kat F

    I'm a Christian and I never said anyone should be beaten over the head or any other body part until they come to Christ.

  • You are both wrong and rude, Anna.

  • Anon

    The Army gives out Bibles??? O.O

  • AcidQueen

    Well if you like being in an abusive relationship, by all means go back to Christianity.