To sum up even more tightly: the religion you practiced as a child, and the intensity with which you practiced it, has a lot to do with whether or not you changed religions in adulthood. And the reasons why you grew dissatisfied with your religion determines which religion you changed to (or whether or not you embraced unbelief).
Interestingly, most Protestants who move around within Protestantism don’t do so for doctrinal reasons, but because they either got married, moved, or had some other practical reason for jumping sides. No surprise there, given how blurry the doctrinal lines are in Protestantism these days. Also, it was interesting to see that the sex abuse scandal was only a minor factor in people exiting the Catholic Church.
This, as well as the recent ARIS survey, are significant for our understanding of evangelism in non-institutional churches. I plan to go into this in more detail later, but it seems to me that many of our evangelistic strategies do not take into account precisely these kinds of shifts in the religious (and non-religious) world.
Second, a link to a Salon review of Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, a collection of lectures he delivered at Yale last year. (It should be noted here that Eagleton himself is a professed atheist.)
A good deal of his argument centers on the assertion that the militant New Atheists, like Dawkins and Hitchens (or “Ditchkins,” as he refers to them), don’t understand the Christian faith and direct their attacks at a cartoon version of it. Here’s Eagleton in the London Review of Books from a couple of years ago:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.
The Yale lectures referred to above seem calculated to offend both leftist secularists and the religious right. Be that as it may, they have provoked me to a great deal of thought about how Christianity confronts and interacts with the philosophical challenges presented to it in our day.