Atheism as ‘Gateway Drug’ to Drifting Away

by Anthony Horvath

As of this writing, I am facilitating a course/discussion regarding the decline of Christianity in America.  Someone made a point in the discussion that is similar to one I’ve made previously… but I can’t find where I made it so I’m making it anew. 

The question begins with a look at the measured increase in self-identified ‘religious nones’ in America since around 1990.  (This data can be found linked to here.)  In 1990, some 8% of Americans identified themselves as having no religion.  Today, that figure has doubled.  In the meantime, there has been a drop in those identifying themselves as Christians, from about 86% to 76% of the nation’s population.   Some back of the napkin calculation suggests that some 30,000,000 fewer people call themselves Christian than did in 1990 with a significant portion of these falling into the ‘religious none’ category.

However, of note, the number of outright atheists has seen only a moderate increase.  Even many of the ‘religious nones’ say they believe something.

You would hardly know this in a survey of the content on the Internet.  The hard core atheists and secular humanists are over represented in blogs, forums, and the like.  In the meantime, atheist apologists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc, have a firm hand on the direction of dialog.  Throughout this, the evolutionary party line is enforced in almost every place, except for the private consciences of the individual (for now).

Hard core philosophical naturalism as expressed by the ‘new atheists’ is having an influence.  So what gives?   Why are their numbers not off the charts?

This is my explanation as a Christian apologist having been involved in this topic for fifteen years as well as a teacher and church professional.  True, it is anecdotal, but I think it explains the facts.  I think more rigorous scrutiny would demonstrate it.

Essentially:  hard core philosophical naturalistic materialistic secular atheism is a ‘gateway drug.’

Consider this common scenario:  Young Christians emerge from their congregation’s educational programs with a basic grasp of simple Bible stories and simplified theology and then go off to college.  At college, they are confronted with an academic atmosphere that is hostile to Christianity.  Evolutionary theory in particular is jarring, but there are a variety of other ingredients, too.  Faced with the appearance that ‘all the facts’ are against Christianity and the appearance that all smart people reject religion, and ill equipped from their upbringing to offer a response beyond “I just believe,” young folks fall away in droves.

Thus far, the common scenario.  But that is not the end of it…


Atheism as ‘Gateway Drug’ to Drifting Away | Athanatos Christian Apologetics Ministry

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:  Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith. . .and How to Bring Them Back / The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief / Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists / More apologetics resources >>>