Young people are losing their faith in God.
In a 2008 survey, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that 53 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds say they are “absolutely” certain of the existence of God, compared with 71 percent of those born before 1928.
The reasons are varied.
Some people no longer believe because God’s existence cannot be proven by science. There is no peer-reviewed research that substantiates that God is real. As a matter of fact, the evidence points to just the opposite.
Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, writes about “Losing Faith,” in a March 31, 2011, blog called Red Letter Christians. He gives two main reasons why young people stop believing in God.
“The most common honest reason cited for losing faith is that it becomes impossible to believe in God if God is defined as being simultaneously all-powerful and all-loving,” writes Campolo.
Young people ask valid questions about the holocaust of the Jews at Auschwitz, and, more recently, about the human devastation in Haiti and Japan.
Campolo writes, “A good mother of four lovely children who had already lost her husband in an automobile accident is dying of cancer and her 16-year-old son asks, ‘God, if you are there, why don’t you heal my mother?’ Another good question.
“A soldier in Iraq watches as a suicide bomber drives his dynamite-rigged truck into a crowd of people in a marketplace and sees innocent people blown to smithereens, and asks God, ‘Where are You?’ Another good question.”
And I’ve heard this one: God, if you’re real, you’ll bring back my wife (or husband).
The problem here is not so much with God but what these young people have been taught about God. It’s the erroneous “God is in control” theology.
“All of these questions arise from one basic fallacy and that is that God is simultaneously loving and infinitely powerful,” writes Campolo. “There are those who will call it heresy, but there is little question that the God who is incarnated in Jesus Christ is a God who is not all-powerful. Instead, he is a God who has given up power in order to express his love.”
As Campolo points out, Jesus Christ came to Earth, not as a conquering leader to fight for the oppressed, but as a defenseless baby. He refuses power, but instead expresses love. When he hung on the cross, his enemies taunted him, saying, “Show us your power and come down from the cross and then we will believe in you” (Matthew 27:39-42).
The truth is that God gave control of the Earth to humans. When terrible things happen, God’s heart is broken, too.
The second reason Campolo gives for young people losing their faith is a bit trickier. He says it arises from a lack of honesty with themselves. He gives this example:
“A young man came into my office several years ago and told me that he grew up as a Christian, but that he no longer believed in God. I immediately asked him, ‘How long have you been messing around sexually with your girlfriend?’
“He was indignant at my question, but I went on to explain that he grew up believing that using someone sexually without a commitment was contrary to God’s will. In order to resolve the tension between what he believed, on the one hand, and what he was doing sexually, on the other, he had to change one or the other.”
Among those who leave, there are many—like a divorced person who just can’t let go—who turn and rail against God and the Church. Some claim to be atheists or agnostics. To them it seems like well-reasoned arguments, but to those of us who watch and listen, it appears more like anger. I mean, if you don’t believe or don’t know, why spend your time arguing about it? Why not just ignore the whole God question and go on and live your life?
However, our minds and emotions are complex, and it is not easy to make the connections. Last week, I heard this quote: “What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”
I am not saying these are the only reasons for all young people’s turning from belief in God. Indeed, the reasons are as varied as snowflakes. I offer them as food for thought and discussion.
Someone has said, “God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against his existence.”
If God is love—and not power—then it follows that the only way to perceive God is by love. What do you think?