Byfield: Is a massive youth exodus from the church really occurring?
The continuing attempt of Alberta’s minister of education to force the province’s Catholic schools to stop teaching Christian morality in their sex-ed courses and teach the government’s version of morality instead makes immediately relevant what appears below. It is a chapter from a book I am currently writing. It’s on the rooted determination of bureaucracies to silence any Christian voice in the shaping of education policy, and how they co-opted an unwitting media to help them do it. It goes a long way back, but it is certainly working. We are losing young people from the faith in frightening numbers, not in the universities, but in the high schools.
VIDEO: Interview with j. Warner Wallace on issues specifically impacting beliefs of our Christian youth
Ever since my late wife and I became seriously Christian, back in the 1950s, we heard the cry that youth were leaving the church. But were they? Were tens of thousands of young people moving massively into a religious void, abandoning the churches that their parents helped to build and maintain? Yes, but they come back later, was the usual reply. Well, based on the best statistical evidence now available, some do come back, but most do not. They’re gone for good, not just from the family’s faith, but from any role whatever in what is of late being called “institutional” religion.
The best analysis of this exodus that I’ve ever seen was composed by J. Warner Wallace, an atheist and a homicide detective in suburban Los Angeles. He applied his sleuthing skills to demonstrate the deficiency of evidence supporting the historical credibility of early Christianity. To his chagrin, he found the evidence in its favour far wider and more valid than anything he had expected. In consequence, he became Christian himself. and a gifted apologist for Christianity. However, he also concluded that the youth exodus is real, is massive, and is deeply alarming. Here were some of his findings:
- If current trends continue, in ten years, church attendance will be half what it is today.
- 61% of today’s young adults, churched in their teen years, are now spiritually “disengaged.”
- Intellectual doubt and scepticism is the chief cause of student departures. (Typical comments: “It didn’t make any sense anymore.” “Some stuff is too far-fetched.” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof.” “Too many unanswered questions.”)
- 70% of teenagers in church youth groups stop attending church after high school.
- 63% of teenage Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
- 51% don’t believe he rose from the dead.
- 68% don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is real.
- Only 33% of churched youth say the church will be a part in their adult lives when they leave home.
The chief cause of their apostasy is intellectual. Young people simply don’t believe the biblical accounts. They put belief in Christ’s Resurrection and belief in Santa Claus in a trash basket marked, “Beautiful stories for children. Not appropriate for anyone over 12.” Wallace has one other immensely significant finding, notably that this loss of belief does not usually occur (as was previously assumed) in university, but in high school. A key place to look for the cause is therefore in the curriculum of the secondary schools.
The Christian writer Nancy Pearcey makes many things clear in her 2010 book, “Saving Leonardo.” One of them is this: If Christians suffer any further losses in the Culture War, their dwindling numbers will have reduced them to cultural insignificance by the century’s end. Many, if not most Christians discount such pessimism as a failure in faith. But faith does not consist in firmly shutting one’s eyes to self-evident fact. Jesus told us to “watch for the signs.” He didn’t say to hide from them. And one of the signs is the fact that the philosophy underlying modern public schools is almost wholly secularist. Thus they stand four-square against Christianity. They are not the neutral factor that they pretend to be. They are an adversary, an enemy.
Their ultimate influence is to deny Christianity any effective voice in shaping public policy, or in influencing the school curriculum. For the people of Alberta, the Canadian province I live in, shocking evidence of this is immediately at hand. We have a government that denies key parental rights, that firmly closets the identity of people creating what they describe as a wholly new syllabus for our schools. Meanwhile, it seeks vigorously to abrogate the constitutional right of Catholic schools to teach Christian morality. Instead it orders them to seek wide public acceptance of sexual conduct long regarded as depraved, threatening their constitutional right to government funding if they refuse.
This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] Is a massive youth exodus from the church really occurring?