Drifter, Rebel, Modernist…?

December 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm 13 comments

Young people aren’t walking away from the church—they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Unlike earlier generations of church dropouts, these “leavers” are unlikely to seek out alternative forms of Christian community such as home churches and small groups. When they leave church, many leave the faith as well.

Thus opens the publicity blurb for a book entitled, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Church and How to Bring Them Back. In an interview published by Christianity Today, author Drew Dyck made this observation:

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” are those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all of these actually cast spells or perform 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 was incompatible 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.

These groupings were not meant to be scientifically precise; their value was diagnostic and utilitarian. I wanted to help people understand why young people abandon the faith and equip Christians to engage leavers in meaningful conversations about God.

I’ll list Dyck’s categories below to facilitate my consideration of them:

  • Postmodern
  • Recoilers
  • Modernists
  • Neo-Pagans
  • Rebels
  • Drifters

I don’t think much needs to be said about the “Postmodern” category, as Dyck appears to have described that mindset adequately. I am offended, however, by his glib dismissal of the “Recoilers:” people failed and God was blamed unfairly. Uh, no, Drew – people failed and God did not do what he was reasonably expected to do, either

a) protect the victims who were hurt, or
b) prevent the perpetrators from hurting them.

In other words, Drew, God reneged on two of his key responsibilities: delivering people from evil (which is doubly evil when it’s done at the hands of so-called “godly” people or, even worse, in the name, and on behalf, of a god), and enabling his followers to be good, kind and honest, rather than nasty, brutish and devious. I consider divine protection and divine prevention (or intervention) reasonable expectations because both of those functions are ascribed to the Christian god in the Bible and in church doctrine. Therefore, when a god does not perform as promised, it’s reasonable to wonder if he/she/it does anything at all, including merely existing, and to reject a god that doesn’t live up to its billing.

Dyck’s characterization of “Modernist” church-leavers renders that category as little more than a stick-figure. Since his book is an example of social scientific research, one would presume that his concept of “science” goes beyond the “hard,” physical sciences that often come to mind when the term “science” is used in casual conversation. Readers who understand Dyck’s use of the term in that narrow sense may miss the fact that many, if not most, Modernist atheists are informed by insights gained through the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts. We are not geeks with our eyes glued to microscopes, and pens and calculators sagging in our shirt pockets. We are multi-faceted people with multi-faceted interests who think in multi-faceted ways, characteristics that Dyck’s categorization appears to miss, or dismiss, completely.

The author’s final two categories seem adequate. I went through a period of spiritual rebellion as a teen, and I’ll admit that his description captures quite accurately the attitude I had then. And many of us can probably think of people who are Drifters.

I briefly considered getting Dyck’s book, just for shits and giggles, but I’ve decided to keep my money in my wallet. The bottom line is, I’m not going to waste my time reading a book that

…equips and inspires parents, church leaders, and everyday Christians to reawaken the prodigal’s desire for God and set him or her back on the road to a dynamic faith…. identifies six different kinds of leavers…and offers practical advice for how to connect with each type. Shrewd tips also intersperse the chapters alerting readers to opportunities for engagement, and to hidden landmines they must sidestep to effectively reach leavers.

The reason I’m not interested in reading this book is that Dyck has misidentified the problem at hand. His view is that people who leave churches are problems. I don’t agree with him. In my view, the people who leave churches are not problems. Rather, churches themselves are problems. The problem is not that so many people are leaving the church. The problem is that too many of them are staying.

— the chaplain

Entry filed under: thechaplain. Tags: , .

The Candidate Why We Leave

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the anti_supernaturalist  |  December 16, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Looking for statistically reliable research results in the sociology of US xians? Let’s play a game:

    Can you beat the average fundie?

    Find out how! . . . go to. . .


    “Take [their] short, 15-question quiz, and see how you do in comparison with 3,412 randomly sampled adults who were asked these and other questions in the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. This national poll was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life from May 19 through June 6, 2010, on landlines and cell phones, in English and Spanish.”

    Guess what? In this scientifically created and statistically reliable survey, the group Atheists/Agnostics had the highest average score of 65%! (20.9 of 32 items)

    We edged out Jews and Mormons. We finished 10% ahead of white fundies, 15% ahead of white RCs, and 16% ahead of white main-line protestants.

    Our strength comes from a broad knowledge about religion — especially in non-xian religions, the social dimension of religious institutions, and the place of religion in our secular state.

    Download the entire report for free. Also the questionnaire. Wave it under the noses of fundies; let them try to weasel out. (Only at the cost of turning to the irrational morass that lies at the center of xian mega-cults.)

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • 2. Layne Ransom  |  December 16, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    “We are multi-faceted people with multi-faceted interests who think in multi-faceted ways, characteristics that Dyck’s categorization appears to miss, or dismiss, completely.”

    bada bing, bada boom

  • 3. revisionists, drifters, runners | Perigee-Syzygy  |  December 17, 2010 at 2:19 am

    […] I had begun writing this post, I came across a blog entry on de-conversion.com entitled: “Drifter, Rebel, Modernist…?”. The author critiques an interview with Drew Dyck who wrote Generation EX: Christian: Why young […]

  • 4. milehigh  |  December 19, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Great link anti_supernaturalist!
    The above article gives me some hope for my kids. My wife is taking them to a borderline fundie church. I only hope they can reason their way out of it later on. What a gut wrenching process it was for me! It took years of research, reading, thinking and observation to realize their is no sky daddy. It was the clearest moment of my life, looking up at the sky and realizing I’m free. I value my family and marriage very much and don’t want to lose them over beliefs. This is my daily internal tug of war.

  • 5. ACN  |  December 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    His view is that people who leave churches are problems. I don’t agree with him. In my view, the people who leave churches are not problems. Rather, churches themselves are problems. The problem is not that so many people are leaving the church. The problem is that too many of them are staying.

    I have this urge to say, “tell it preacher” 🙂

  • 6. Eve's Apple  |  December 19, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I just took the Pew Center’s survey just for laughs and I was astonished to find that I was one of the few people to answer all 15 questions correctly! Honestly, I expected the survey to be far more difficult.

    I guess it goes to show that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that the more educated you become about a particular faith or religious faith in general, the more likely it is that you may end up falling away somewhere down the road. That’s why so many fundies try to live in a bubble. As one of the characters in “The Crucible” said, “Theology is a fortress. It admits no cracks.”

    It took a long time for me to get to the point where “churches are the problem,” but I have to agree that at in my case at least that is true. And once out, it’s very hard to go back. You see things you didn’t see before. Some people can do that. I can’t.

  • 7. SnugglyBuffalo  |  December 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    I doubt it exists, but I’d be interested to see hard data on what proportions of ex-Christians fall into each of those categories, as well as what Christians think those proportions are.

    I have to admit that I’m somewhat curious regarding the advice for bringing these groups back into the faith. It’d be interesting to see this book critiqued by someone who falls into one of those categories.

  • 8. Joe  |  December 21, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I haven’t posted for a long time. I was just curious though if anyone had read: “Finding Faith, Losing Faith–stories of conversion and apostasy” by Scot McKnight. I recently purchased a copy (still reading through it) but have found it to be very interesting so far. It deals with apostasy from Christianity—but also apostasy from one faith to another (Protestants becoming Catholics or vice-versa). Just curious if anyone had read it.

  • 9. Joshua  |  December 23, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Well written article… it is frustrating to be characterized. With all the accusations Christians make that atheists treat believers like subjects to be studied and argued with I do often feel like I am treated the same way by Christians. I feel with you on the matter: I am not some “problem” that needs to be solved. My own de-conversion cannot so easily be categorized as such… the story is long and intricate and I probably fit into all of the categories at some point.

    You know, I almost feel as if the real “problem” is the arrogance that comes from anyone to think that it is their sole mission to participate in solving the world’s problems by changing the people around them.

    Where are the soul-searching introspective Christian writers who are struggling and grappling with their faith rather than assuming it is right and then writing books on how to get everyone else to agree with them?

    Anyway, just my $0.02.

  • 10. BigHouse  |  December 24, 2010 at 10:19 am

    You know, I almost feel as if the real “problem” is the arrogance that comes from anyone to think that it is their sole mission to participate in solving the world’s problems by changing the people around them.

    I would slightly alter this paragraph, Josh, because I do think it is virtuous to try and share your knowledge and experience to change people for the better. But I whoelheartedly agree that doing so out of an arrogance and “my way or the highway” menatlity is what leads to problems. It is also ineffective. And this is hardly problem unique to evangelizing Christianianity, but one all groups and individuals must learn to minimize.

    Merry Christmas to all readers of de-conversion.com!!!

  • 11. ACN  |  December 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    This is my first de-converted christmas 🙂

  • 12. __  |  February 15, 2011 at 4:15 am

    I took the pew test and actually foung a few discrepiances but overall knew what they were talking about, based on basic knowledge of the people.

    Hinduism is a large name that encompasses a variety of smaller religious beliefs. Yes Vishnu, and Shiva are the two largest beliefs in Hinduism. However there are also a variety of other Gods, and some individuals who would fall under hinduism who do not believe in a diety at all, but more in the philisophical beliefs.

    Yes Mormonism was created by Smith but he was originally a protestant. Martin Luther is accredited for being the father of the reformation, but there are many other people such as Zwingli that influenced it as well.

    I feel that Dyck had mentioned some intersting things according to whoever wrote this article and would like to read the book myself to trully see what is being said.

    I feel the movie Angels & Demons says it best, “Religion is flawed only because man is flawed.” Sometimes we need to realize this. There are some churches that may have lost there way, but there are others that have not.

    In regards to people being hurt, and saying God should of done something he did in Matthew 7:15
    “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (NIV)

    There are other verses but this is the most obvious one that comes to mind. I feel there is hurt an problems on both sides. People blame religion and the church, and some churches seem to just see people as poles and numbers. etc. This is wrong, the true church loves everyones and the head of this church wants to have a relationship with everyone. This man loves you more then amyone will, and has shown the world true love.

  • 13. Seeker  |  May 6, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I am not really sure which of these tidy little labels to claim for myself. While it is true that I believe in science, I am not incapable of accepting the possibility of “things unseen,” as well.

    The problem, for me, is also with the nature of god as presented by Judeo-Christian tradition. When I was a Catholic (by choice), I was deeply offended by “cafeteria” Christians, who picked and chose what doctrines to accept or reject. The fact is, I still am. The difference between myself then and now is that I reached a point that I could no longer reconcile the concept of a loving god with that of infinite punishment for finite sin. And that’s just for starters. The Bible is rife with examples of horrible acts, either committed by its god or condoned (even commanded) by him.

    The bottom line is, I can’t pick and choose the bits I like now any more than I could when I was a conservative Catholic. How many basic tenets of Christianity can one reject and still claim to be Christian (and intellectually honest?) I would like very much to believe in a benevolent higher power, but have found myself unable to “save the baby” when all I find in the tub is so much dirty bathwater.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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