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The Reason

Every deconversion story is different. But they all have one thing in common. If you ask former Christians why they no longer follow Jesus they'll all tell you the same thing. 


Deconverts come in all shapes and sizes. They also have a variety of backgrounds and experiences with Christianity. They span the entire spectrum from growing up in fundamentalist families and churches to more liberal families and mainline churches. Some are older, but most are younger, Many have some college education but college isn't necessary to have a faith crisis. Yet, for all their differences there's one thing that all deconverts have in common; they no longer believe that Christianity is true. A concern for the Truth is the reason that deconverts cite for their loss of faith. They simply don't believe that the claims of Christianity are true.   

In a revealing study entitled, Amazing Conversions, psychologists, Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Huntsberger studied deconverts who were raised in strong Christian homes to determine why they left the faith1. Because these individuals had the fortitude to reject the faith of their parents, and the church community in which they were raised the authors refer to them as Amazing Apostates (AA). What they discovered about AA is relevant to our discussion of the importance of truth for former Christians.


  • On average, AA began to ask skeptical questions about their faith in adolescence; at 12 and a half years old. 

  • "If you want a 'nuclear' cause of the apostasy we uncovered, it originates with this issue: Can you believe in the Bible, and its story of the existence of God?" 

  • The things that bothered budding AA tended to arise in the realm of ideas. AAs are different from other teenagers in that they are more concerned about the truth of their religion than its practical benefits.

  • Nearly half of teenagers who question the truth of their faith do not share their initial doubts and questions with anyone out of fear of what will happen to them.

  • When they did bring their questions to a parent they were most often met with anger, tears, or told to just believe.

  • The struggle took about three years before they no longer identified as Christians.

  • When asked why they no longer could continue to be Christians they pointed to matters of truth and integrity. They could not go on believing what seemed false (truth). They left the faith because given their unbelief they felt they had no other choice. To do otherwise would have been hypocritical (integrity).

  • AAs pay a heavy price for their loss of faith. Many lose their family, friends, sense of self, etc. This raises the question of why they are so heavily committed to integrity and truth. 

The authors suggest that the values of integrity and truth are the result of their religious upbringing.

Where did these values come from? We think they came largely from the religious training itself. Consider this: for all their lives the AAs were told their religion was the true religion, and they had to live according to its teachings. Were they not then being implicitly told that truth was a more basic good than even their religious beliefs, that the beliefs were to be celebrated because they were the truth? Furthermore, all the training in avoiding sin and being a good person "on the inside" would have promoted integrity. . . If this teaching succeeded, it would produce someone who deeply valued the truth and had deep-down integrity. The religion would therefore create the basis for its own downfall, if it came up short in these departments. It may furthermore have added to its vulnerability that insisting that all of its teachings were the absolute truth. When the first teaching failed, in the mind of a devout believer, that put the whole system of beliefs at risk.2

In short, the authors suspect that the emphasis Christians place on truth can plant the seeds of deconversion. I can see how that could be the case. And yet, I'm not sure what the alternative is. We ought to believe the truth. I am not saying that we downplay the truth of the Christian faith. What I am saying is that when former believers say that they no longer believe because they no longer find the claims of Christianity to be true, they mean it. 

Because the truth is paramount in the minds of former believers, responding well to their doubts is important. Often, however, well-meaning Christians wanting to respond to the spiritual struggles of a friend or family member, assume that a crisis of faith isn't really an intellectual issue, rather they assume it's a moral issue. Former Christians frequently complain that when they opened up to a friend or pastor about their doubts they were met with questions that subtly placed the blame on them for their struggle. Questions such as:

  • What sin is in your life?

  • Are you sleeping with your girlfriend?

  • Are you looking at porn?

  • Isn't your unbelief just a way to justify doing what you want?

  • How often are you reading your Bible and praying?

  • When is the last time you were at church? 

  • Is your boyfriend a Christian? 

Charity demands that we respect a person enough to listen and respond to what they say. People lose faith for the same reason they come to it, they believe that it isn't/is true. Are there other factors involved? Yes, without question. I've written an entire book about those. But before gently probing into other areas that might be playing a role in a crisis of faith we need to listen well to the reasons that deconverts offer for no longer believing Christianity is true.


I can think of four. 

Intellectual Reasons

Empirical evidence and philosophical arguments that contradict essential Christian teachings or historical events recorded in the Bible. 


  • The Bible claims that Jesus rose from the dead. But I have become persuaded that the evidence shows that claim to be categorically false.  

  • The God of the Bible has attributes that are logically incompatible with each other. Therefore he cannot exist. 

Negative Experiences

Being hurt by other Christians or by God in such a way makes it highly unlikely that Christianity is true.

  • God is supposed to be my father, but I would never treat my children the way he does. I cried out to him and he ignored me. In light of my suffering, what's more likely, that God is a loving heavenly father or that God doesn't exist? The answer is, God doesn't exist. 

  • If Christianity were true, it would produce loving, moral, saintly people. But all the Christians I know are hypocritical, judgmental, self-righteous, jerks. Therefore Christianity is false. 

Negative Emotions

Emotions can be truth indicative. Therefore, having negative feelings toward God or the Bible can be taken as an indication that the Bible can't be true. 

  • The very thought of the God of the Bible fills me with anger and resentment. He is cruel and capricious. If a loving God existed, should not the thought of him fill me with joy? 

  • I'm disgusted by the way the Bible portrays women. No revelation from God would speak so poorly of them. 

Differing Values

Many, if not most of our beliefs are grounded in our values. If the values of the Bible and an individual's deeply held values don't coincide, that can be an indicator that Christianity is false.

  • The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin, but that's just bigoted and intolerant.  Something so narrow-minded can't be a revelation from God. 

  • I deeply value a pluralistic approach to life. Live and let live, is my motto. But the Bible says that Jesus is the only way. That's simply too restrictive for me. 

In this series of articles, we'll look at each of the above reasons in more detail. For now, it's enough to make this important point:


Deconverts leave the faith because they no longer believe it's true. They no longer believe it's true for at least four different kinds of reasons. To effectively engage in dialogue with a former believer (or one who is struggling in their faith), it's really helpful to be able to identify which of the four kinds of reason is the catalyst of the faith crisis.


1. Bob Altemeyer Bruce Huntsberger (1997). Amazing Conversion: Why Some Turn to Faith and Others Abandon Religion. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books). 

2. Ibid. pg. 120.


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