Is Atheism the Reason Millennials are Leaving the Church?

Part 1: The Friendly Athiest

By Robin Schumacher

It's rare for me to get worked up anymore over statements that atheists make about Christianity. For many years now, I've debated and exchanged dialogs – both in person and over the Web – with many atheists and hatetheists (there is a difference) and have gotten pretty used to the primary arguments of the former group and the flawed caricatures / misrepresentations of the latter, so I am usually not bothered by what either has to say about the Christian faith.

Then I read the July 30 CNN opinion article by Hemant Mehta, "The Friendly Atheist", which is entitled "Why are millennials leaving church? Try atheism".

Maybe it was seeing so many of the tired, false assertions in one place. Maybe it was some of the poor logic and argumentation the author employed. Whatever it was, I actually got peeved.

Mr. Mehta, likely responding to another CNN Belief Blog piece on why millennials are supposedly leaving the church, declares that atheism is playing a big role in their rumored exodus from Christianity. Let's take a look at some of his major assertions and arguments and see if there's support for what he claims.

The Anti-Everything Church

First up is Mr. Mehta's endorsement of the contention that the Christian church is "anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex-education and anti-doubt". In today's culture, to be anti-anything is bad so we see Mehta employ the typical paint-your-opponent-against-something-rather-than-for-something technique right out of the chute. But that aside, the question is, are the claims true? Let's look at just a couple of them.

Anti-doubt? If by this he means the Church at large discourages asking hard questions about God, he couldn't be more wrong. The entire discipline of apologetics is specifically designed for tackling difficult issues and questions about the existence of God. Christian websites such as gotquestions see over 3 million unique visitors a month [1], with special sister sites having been set up by the gotquestions team just for answering the questions children and teens have about Christianity. If millennials want to have their doubts and questions about God answered, they have many places to turn.

Anti-science? Later in the article, Mehta says: "For instance, there's been talk of finding a better way to reconcile science and religion. Whenever that battle takes place, religion loses… Mixing science and religion requires a distortion of one or the other."

Honestly, I could write thirty pages alone on the flawed logic of his last statement, but in short, good science and good religion walk hand in hand just fine. Further, if anything, science is bolstering the arguments for God, not eliminating them.

The evidence showing that our universe most certainly had a beginning and is not eternal [2], the proof of intelligence and specified complexity running through life itself [3], and the fine tuning of our cosmos [4] all make for excellent scientific data points favoring a Creator.[5]

Moreover, the legion of brilliant scientists who are Christians that exist today as well as those in the past demonstrates the false dichotomy that Mr. Mehta offers millennials of either science or Christianity.

Anti-women? Evidently Mr. Mehta is unaware of how Christianity elevated womanhood in the first century.[6] He also must not know that the Bible specifically states that men and women are equal in their nature (Gen. 1:27), from a life/value perspective (e.g. Ex. 21:15, 17, 28), redemptive status (Gal. 3:28), and in their abilities (Prov. 31:10-31; 1 Cor. 12:1-10). Contrast that with other faiths such as Islam.

If Mehta is referring to the normal critique of a woman submitting to a man, then he's incorrect on at least two fronts. First, the Biblical passage usually referenced is speaking about men/women in marriage only. Second, that submission goes both ways – a fact conveniently omitted by Christian opponents who never read the beginning of the famous ‘submission section' in Ephesians, which starts with Paul saying: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21, my emphasis). Only after that does Paul go on in detail, telling both men and women how to submit to each other (with the man getting most of the lecture).

"Look at Us"

For the majority of the article, Mr. Mehta takes a shotgun argument approach to touting atheism by citing a number of assorted statistics and making various claims that are intended to show atheism's momentum, however in truth, most fail to impress.

A case in point is his benevolence example: "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)".

I, for one, am glad that this organization has been formed and money is being raised to assist those in need. I'd also like to welcome them to something that the Christian church has been doing for 2,000+ years. If millennials want to see charity in action, they need look no further than Christianity.

While Mehta's 1,452 members (as of the time of this writing) have raised $1 million, such a figure is dwarfed by the hundreds of centuries of Christian missions, orphanages, relief organizations, hospitals, food pantries, and similar entities. Would Mr. Mehta like to pull out a calculator and tally up the money raised down through history by Christians for those in need vs. pure atheistic organizations? I doubt it as the embarrassment would likely be too great for him to bear.

He also says, "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." If Mehta is impressed by his crowd size and its growth after more than a decade, he should stop by my church sometime. We have about 23,000 that attend every Sunday and that number continues to grow in multiple campuses. And ours is just one church, in one city, in one state.

Further our congregation has, on occasion,Is taken special offerings for hurricane victims and other national tragedies that have exceeded, in a single offering, the amount his humanist organization has raised in total. I don't relay this statistic to boast, but rather to demonstrate again that the benevolence argument employed by Mehta as to why millennials should choose atheism simply carries little weight and is not one he should use anywhere outside his atheist internet forums.

In Part 2 of this post, I'll look at a couple more claims Mehta makes, including a few that I believe to be more on target.

1. I help write for and receive their monthly update. In July of 2013, over 12,000 people indicated on the site that they became Christians just by having their questions answered! This is not atypical; it is normal for 10,000+ people a month to indicate that they have received Christ through the gotquestions website.
2. For a visual presentation on the arguments, see:
3. For a visual treatment of how information (not data) is present in life, see:
4. See: for a good overview.
5. See John Lennox's excellent work God's Undertaker – Has Science Buried God? for more information.
6. For a good treatment of the subject, see Chapter 4 of Alvin Schmidt's How Christianity Changed the World.

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Published 8-5-13