Apostasy (3) acquired incredulity syndrome

I’m reading Phil Zuckerman, Faith No More: why people reject religion (OUP, 2012)

Each of us has a story of faith. A journey, a pilgrimage, call it what you will. And that journey is multilayered, unique, complex and constantly unfolding. There are many factors that shape each of us – family, culture, geography, age, experience, education, friends, media …

Phil Zuckerman’s book tells of many different stories that have one thing in common; the people within them have rejected an earlier religious part of their life.

That’s a very broad theme, for there is no easily definable thing as ‘religion’ – as if all the world’s religions can be lumped together as having a core common theme. So maybe a better title to this book would be ‘why people reject religions’.

Chapter 2 and 3 are short and cover similar territory – that apostasy is often connected to what Zuckerman calls ‘acquired incredulity syndrome’ where certain beliefs of a religion are just not believed any more. For example:

Colleen, 21, American, rejected Christianity because she could not believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

For Max, 65, it was the idea of original ‘sin’.

For others it was a moral problem – the perceived immorality of God. For Robert, it was that only the few elect would go to heaven and the rest to hell. For Ivan, 33, it was God’s commanding of killing in the OT.

For Rose, 54, a doctor, it is theodicy, an inability to reconcile the (supposed) goodness of God with the amount of suffering and evil in the world – suffering she experiences every week at work.

Barry, a Catholic, lost his faith through the personal loss of divorce. ‘How could there be a God who says that if you do this all right, everything will be OK?’ [not sure where that theology’s to be found]

These are all Christian rejectors, Zuckerman talks of some others:

Bagrat, an ex-Muslim, also rejected his faith due to the problem of evil and suffering and Allah’s indifference to it.

David a former Jehovah’s Witness from Ghana, 58, rejected his faith because as his life unravelled he blamed God. ‘God wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain.’

For others apostasy followed from a conviction that prayer is unreal, that it does not work, and that therefore God does not exist.

And for others it is personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one. Zuckerman comments

“Such tragedies seem to produce an intriguing bifurcation. For most humans, the death of a loved one does little to erode their faith in God or love of their religion and can even make it stronger. But for others it leads them straight on the sparsely populated road to apostasy.”

Zuckerman draws three conclusions at the end of chapter 3

  1. Apostasy is often responsive to events – misfortune, tragedy, unanswered prayer. If certain events had not happened would many apostates still believe? What do you think are the main events that have caused people you know to have walked away from faith?
  2.  The doctrine of God is central to many stories of apostasy – God is viewed as immoral or untrustworthy, unjust. There is a sense of betrayal or forsakenness by God in many stories. It is the character and goodness of God which is under the most intense critical scrutiny and debate – Christians need to have thought through questions around ‘God the moral monster’ etc.
  3. Yet while personal misfortune and suffering may be a reason for apostasy on an individual basis, Zuckerman points out that this is not true on a macro level. Actually, it is in contexts of hardship, injustice, persecution and suffering that Christianity is strongest globally.

Does this suggest that some apostasy as least is due to a ‘soft’ me centred (Western) religion? Blaming God for misfortune?; faith an assumed guarantee of blessing?; little theological reflection about death, sin and suffering and so that when hardship comes, it is comes as an unwelcome shock and threat to our religious assumptions?

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4 thoughts on “Apostasy (3) acquired incredulity syndrome

  1. Good thoughts. Yes, if religion is just an add on, or to help one along their way. So much in that thought. Christianity is far bigger than so many of us think, but it must be what it is in and through Jesus, to do what it will do. If something less, no wonder people leave the faith behind, though I know there is much more to say than that.

  2. Greetings Ted & welcome. On Jesus centered faith – I think this is where a general approach like Zuckerman’s to leaving ‘religion’ becomes problematic. ‘Religion’ isn’t Christianity, or Buddhism etc. Christianity is a very specific story.

    • Thanks, Patrick. Yes. Good point. So many of us Christians don’t have the story down well at all. Hence the power of that story, even of the good news is either cut off, or cut back.

  3. A healthy prayer life is essential! I think many people are under the impression that the spiritual life is all comfort and ease, but this simply is not so. Does turning away from God happen more in materialistic places? Probably. It is easier to get lazy and not grow spiritually if you think everything is good since you have everything you think you need. That is why we need to help those who are falling spiritually into deception and the ensuing despair. God bless, brother…thank you for the post!

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