Parents’ Religious Hypocrisy a Leading Factor in Atheism

An article posted by Relevant Magazine today cited a recent study published in the Religion, Brain and Behavior Journal, which sought to understand why people choose to become atheists.

Although the researches expected to find that most people became atheists because they grew up outside of a religious setting, what they found was that many who call themselves atheists became so, at least in part, as a result of observing their parents to be insincere, hypocritical or unfaithful.

Furthermore, the study found that the more choice a child or youth was given to choose their own way, including whether or not to attend church services, the more likely those youth were to reject their parents’ faith before reaching adulthood compared to those who were not offered that choice. Additionally, other research has shown the positive impact that faithful religious practice has on children as they grow into adulthood.

The researchers pointed out that there were plenty of cases in which someone had chosen atheism in spite of growing up with religious parents who were devout, loving and sincere. However, it does seem that where hypocrisy did exist, it was a factor which contributed to their decision to reject their parents’ faith.

Interestingly, in a poll I took earlier this year, in which I asked the question: “What are the biggest hurdles that people have when it comes to embracing Christianity?”, the number one response I got was: “Hypocrisy”. This aligns with the results of a 2007 Barna research project, in which they asked people why they rejected Christianity.

Read: “I Took a Poll; Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far

It should be remembered, that Jesus himself took great issue with religious hypocrisy; he neither tolerated it, nor remained silent about it. In fact, he said something so extreme, that if Jesus himself hadn’t said it, most people wouldn’t dare go as far as saying something like this:

If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  (Matthew 18:6)

Clearly, hypocrisy is a big deal – both to God and to people. Children are perceptive, and they intuit the discrepancies in people’s words and their actions, the latter of which tend to reveal our true values and beliefs.

May God help us who call ourselves Christians to be sincere, humble, repentant and loving, while we hold onto very important convictions about the truth – in order that we might shine like lights in the world (see Philippians 2:14-15) and draw people to Jesus.

Here is a message from a series I taught earlier this year called, “The Trouble Is…”, in which I address the issue of religious hypocrisy, both for Christians and for those who are not Christians, or who are unsure of where they stand:

Also check out the follow-up discussion we recorded about this topic:

I Took a Poll; Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far

On Monday I posted an anonymous poll, asking people what they have found to be the greatest hurdles people today face in believing and embracing Christianity. I got a ton of responses! I’m still looking to get more input, so if you haven’t do so yet, please visit that poll and fill it out.

Shortly after I posted on Monday, as responses started rolling in, I added a second question to the poll, asking whether the person responding was a Christian or not. The reason was: I wanted to determine if there is a difference between the questions that Christians struggle with as opposed to people who aren’t Christians.

Here’s the data so far:

Of those who indicated their belief:

77% were Christians
18% were not Christians
5% were undecided

18% of responders did not indicate if they were Christians or not.

Moral issues seem to be a bigger stumbling block to faith than empirical issues

Most people (71%) said that hypocrisy amongst Christians is a major hurdle to believing Christianity.

In fact, the majority responses, particularly by people who are not Christians, were that the biggest hurdles for them are not necessarily empirical issues – things which are either true or not, such as science, the veracity of the Bible or the “Christ myth”, but rather moral issues, such as hypocrisy, suffering, and Hell.

This aligns with what I wrote about last week, on the topic of whether studying science leads to atheism or not. (Read that series here)

Some of the write-in responses were very telling as well. One person responded that one of the reasons they struggle with accepting Christianity is because they feel it is regressive in its views of sexuality. Another person wrote that they struggle to embrace Christianity because they see Christian culture as encouraging abusive behavior.

This also aligns with the results of a 2007 Barna research project, in which they asked people why they rejected Christianity. None of the top six answers were evidential reasons. They majority rejected Christianity for moralistic reasons, including hypocrisy and being judgmental. In other words, the biggest problem people had with Christianity was the behavior of Christians themselves. On some level, they had determined that if Christianity produced these kinds of people, then there must be something wrong with Christianity.

A few things to consider regarding hypocrisy

Fake disciples: many people who attend church aren’t Christians

Jesus began his ministry with a call to repent. And yet, who was he talking to: religious people or heathens? Religious people. In other words: there are a lot of people who are religious outwardly, but they are not truly disciples of Jesus.

A poll taken several years ago showed that the lifestyle activities of people who claimed to be Christians were statistically the same as those of people claiming not to be Christians when it came to the following categories: gambling, visiting pornographic websites, taking something that didn’t belong to them, saying mean things behind someone’s back, consulting a medium or a psychic, having a physical fight or abusing someone, using illegal or nonprescription drugs, saying something to someone that’s not true, getting back at someone for something they did, and consuming enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk. The study also found that people who claimed to be Christians were less likely to recycle than those who did not claim to be Christians (68 percent vs. 79 percent).1

Many of these people are those who have adopted a cultural form of Christianity, but whether they have truly been converted in their hearts is another question altogether. Jesus’ most scathing words were for people in this camp – the one to which the Pharisees belonged. He called them “whitewashed tombs” – they look good on the outside, they were outwardly religious, but on the inside there was no life, only death. Check out Jesus’ critique of them in Matthew 23.

Jesus mentioned that there are many people who believe they are Christians, but in fact they are not. See Matthew 7:21-23

James (James 2:14-18) and John (1 John 2:4,9) both say that if a person says they have faith, but their actions contradict what they claim to believe, then there is a seriously possibility that they are not actually a Christian at all. James 2:19 points out that even demons believe that God exists, but that doesn’t make them Christians. Simply believing in the existence of God doesn’t make one a Christian, but believing the gospel and following Jesus.

High standards bring the junk to the surface

It’s not just the “fake disciples” in the church who are hypocrites though… I’m sure that I don’t always live up to the standards which I whole-heartedly affirm. But that’s the nature of standards: the higher the standard, the more incongruity it will bring to the surface. If you don’t have a standard, then you won’t fall short of it and you won’t contradict it. The higher the standard, the more you will fall short.

The gospel causes an upheaval in our lives and spurs on a process of revealing our shortcomings and hypocrisies – but what true disciples do is repent of those things, and seek to change those things by God’s grace at work within them.

And here’s the good news: the message of the gospel is not about what we do, but about what God has done for us in Christ. For Christians though, it is really important to remember that other people care a lot about what we do and the attitudes we have as those who bear the name of Christ.

 

Reference:
David Kinnaman, and Gabe Lyons, unChristian, 46–47.

 

Poll: Common Hurdles to Believing Christianity

Starting the Sunday after Easter, we will be doing a series at White Fields called “The Trouble Is…”, in which we will be talking about and addressing common questions and objections that people have about Christianity.

You can help me by taking a second to fill out this quick anonymous poll to let me know what are some of the biggest hurdles to faith that you have experienced yourself or encountered in other people. Thanks!

(email subscribers can click here to access the poll)