Atheists Only Slightly Worse at Retaining Children
than Holiness Folk
by Thomas Jay Oord
May 15, 2014
A poll a few years ago from the Pew research group has generated surprising results. Some of the results encourage me. Others are profoundly discouraging!
According to the Pew poll, only 30% of those raised in atheist homes remain atheists. That’s a pretty astounding number!
That means 7 out of 10 kids raised by atheist parents chose a path different from their parents. To a theist like me, it’s encouraging to see many choosing to believe in God.
Now the discouraging news: only 32% of those raised in holiness Christian homes stay in that tradition. To someone like me who was raised in and is committed to the holiness tradition, that’s bad news!
Here’s a graph compiled from the Pew study:
What does this mean? What needs to change?
I suspect that the vast majority of those raised by holiness Christian parents are not becoming atheists. I suspect they are moving to other Christian traditions.
To which traditions are they moving? I don’t know.
Why? I don’t know that either.
I’m sure there are many reasons children with holiness parents are leaving. The recent work by David Kinnaman points to some reasons. In his book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith, Kinnaman's surveys reveal the following reasons young people aren’t staying in the churches in which they were raised or are rethinking faith:
- Young people feel overprotected by their parents and elders
- Young people think Christianity as presented to them is shallow
- Young people perceive the church as against science
- Young people think Christians have skewed or repressive views of sex and sexual orientation issues
- Young people believe the church is too exclusive of outsiders
- Young people think the church allows no room for their doubts
Holiness Christians, generally speaking, have been slow to adapt to the changing world. They have not taken the lead in the academy, in culture, or in other domains.
To many, I suspect, “holiness” means “living in the past.” That may be a reason the children of holiness Christians are not staying in the holiness tradition.
Holiness as Love
My experience tells me, however, that those who understand holiness primarily as love are more likely to remain in the holiness tradition. By contrast, those who think holiness is primarily about rules and social taboos leave the holiness tradition.
In my view, the holiness message of love can be persuasive to youth today. But holiness people like me must be willing to adapt our language and the form of that message. We must explore the power of ancient practices and innovative liturgies.
We in the holiness tradition also must not be afraid to address the hard questions, face the tough issues, and be humble enough to admit we haven’t got everything figured out. Year after year, young people come through my undergraduate and graduate courses eager to go deeper in their faith. Most want to get beyond surface answers and flippant platitudes.
We have much work to do to reverse the trend. I sure want to be part it!