Sexual Immorality and Five Other Reasons People Reject Christianity
by Don Johnson
Why do people reject Jesus? As someone with a keen interest in doctrine and apologetics, I usually focus on the more intellectual reasons for disbelief. I have found that skeptics are generally ignorant of sound theology, sketchy on the facts of history, and shoddy in their use of logic and philosophy. As such, my goal is always to gently instruct them in these areas, using evidence and argument to help them understand the teachings of orthodoxy and the reasons for believing that the Christian worldview is true. But I also know that even if I succeed in my argument, that’s won’t necessarily get a skeptic to turn to Jesus. There are a myriad of other factors at play. Here are six.
Christians Behaving Badly
People who call themselves Christians can be jerks. There is just no way around this fact. From sign wielding preachers of hate to motorists with fish stickers who flip obscene hand gestures, believers don’t always show much gentleness and compassion. This turns people away from Christianity. After authoring The End of Faith, Sam Harris was motivated to write his Letter to a Christian Nation in part because he received so many letters telling him how wrong he was not to believe in God. He notes, “The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism” (Letter to a Christian Nation, vii.)
There is no doubt that Christians are often immoral and this does immense harm to the cause of Christ. As Gaudium et Spes points out, “believers themselves often share some responsibility for [atheism]…To the extent that they…fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.” (19) If your conversation partner seems more resistant to Christians than Jesus or Christianity, it may be because he has been hurt by believers in the past.
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When Russell Baker was 5 years old, his father was suddenly taken to the hospital and died. As the New York Times columnist recounts in his best-selling autobiography, it was a pivotal event in his life:
For the first time I thought seriously about God. Between sobs I told [the family housekeeper] Bessie that if God could do things like this to people, then God was hateful and I had no more use for Him.
Bessie told me about the peace of Heaven and the joy of being among the angels and the happiness of my father who was already there. The argument failed to quiet my rage. “God loves us all just like his own children,” Bessie said. “If God loves me, why did he make my father die?”
Bessie said that I would understand someday, but she was only partly right. That afternoon, though I couldn’t have phrased it this way then, I decided that God was a lot less interested in people than anybody in Morrisonville was willing to admit. That day I decided that God was not entirely to be trusted.
After that I never cried again with any conviction, nor expected much of anyone’s God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic. (Growing Up, 61)
Baker’s heartbreaking (and all too common) story is quite revealing in regards to the psychology of skepticism. I’m sure most of us can think of someone we know who is angry at God about some tragedy in their life. Often, it seems, this goes hand in hand with a denial of his very existence. A recent study led by psychologist Julie Exline of Case Western Reserve University supports this notion. In studying college students, her research indicated that “atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals.” If atheists and agnostics are angry at God, what does that say about their skepticism? It seems to suggest that the intellectual label they wear is motivated by their hurt more than rational analysis of the evidence…