If you’re a believing person and someone you care about says they no longer share your beliefs, don’t panic, judge them or cut them off.  Take a deep breath.  Remember the loving relationship you don’t want to lose.  Try to understand.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

What Do I Do If My Loved One No Longer Believes?

Some may find this news from PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) a bit troubling:

Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.” (“Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back”—PRRI.org)

Stunning isn’t it? More people are choosing not to join up with one faith or another than Catholics (21%) or white evangelicals (16%).

Today, nearly four in ten (39%) young adults (ages 18-29) are religiously unaffiliated—three times the unaffiliated rate (13%) among seniors (ages 65 and older).

Compared with other groups, there are more unaffiliated young folks (the “nones” or “spiritual but not religious”) than any faith you can name.

Among young adults, the religiously unaffiliated dwarf the percentages of other religious identifications: Catholic (15%), white evangelical Protestant (9%), white mainline Protestant (8%), black Protestant (7%), other non-white Protestants (11%), and affiliation with a non-Christian religion (7%).

Maybe the most surprising result for some to hear is Why so many are leaving traditional faith. It may not be for the reasons you think:

The reasons Americans leave their childhood religion are varied, but a lack of belief in teaching of religion was the most commonly cited reason for disaffiliation. Among the reasons Americans identified as important motivations in leaving their childhood religion are: they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings (60%), their family was never that religious when they were growing up (32%), and their experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%).

Take a deep breath. Now, what can we do about this? As we see, this is not simply a youthful rebellion problem. One-quarter of Americans (of any age) say they have no formal connection to a religion. There are around 320 million people in the country. That means that approximately 80 million fellow citizens may or may not believe in a “God” of some kind but probably not the kind we’re used to!

Where does this leave believers?

If a close friend or family member leaves “the faith” what are we to do?

One approach is to love and accept; another is to shun them; another is to desperately try to bring them “back to the fold.” An evangelist has this response to those who may retain some belief in a God:

“[We need to re-teach] what it means to reach secular people. . . . the Christian’s job is now to explain who that God is and what he has done for them.”
(Religion News Service, “Why Most People Leave Religion,” September 22, 2016)

That’s one way to handle it—tell them how Wrong they are and how Right you are! Could there be a more compassionate response to a loved one who says, “I no longer believe what you believe”? There is.

My daughter is a remarkable, caring and thoughtful young woman. I’m very proud of her. And, she is an unbeliever. I raised her to make her own decisions and choices. She knows what faith offers, and made an informed choice not to be religious. I think she’s turned out pretty well.

Another family member is afraid I’m going to hell. We still love each other, but have to avoid some subjects! I think we’ll be ok, as long as we hold to love.

Here’s what I suggest: Stay calm. Listen. Love. Be honest. Listen more. Remember: this is your Loved One. Understanding goes both ways. Try not to worry too much.

Chris Highland

 

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