Christian apologists, wake up! (part two) Print
Word on Fire
Thursday, Sep. 22, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Second in a two-part series on a Pew Study about why young people are leaving the active practice of Christianity. Part one looked at, first, the relationship between religion and science and, second, the dismissive "psychologizing" of beliefs. In this second part, Bishop Barron examines two more reasons young people offered in the study for "walking away from Christianity." His analysis of the source of the problem, included in part one, is reprinted here in the first two paragraphs.

For the past 50 years or so, Christian thinkers have largely abandoned the art of apologetics and have failed (here I offer a j'accuse to many in the Catholic universities) to resource the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition in order to hold off critics of the faith. I don't blame the avatars of secularism for actively attempting to debunk Christianity; that's their job, after all.

But I do blame teachers, catechists, evangelists, and academics within the Christian churches for not doing enough to keep our young people engaged. These studies consistently demonstrate that unless we believers seriously pick up our game intellectually, we're going to keep losing our kids.

Christians behaving badly

Examples of reasons why people are unaffiliated

Don’t believe
• “Learning about evolution when I went away to college.”
• “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it.”
• “I’m doing a lot more learning, studying and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else.”

Dislike organized religion

• “I no longer believe in organized religion. I don’t attend services anymore. I just believe that religion is very personal conversation with me and my creator.”
• “Because I think religion is not religion anymore. It’s a business … it’s all about money.”
• “The church’s teaching on homosexuality.”

Religiously unsure/undecided

• “I don’t have a particular religion because I am open-minded and I don’t think there is one particular religion that is right or wrong.”
• “Right now I’m kind of leaning toward spirituality, but I’m not too sure. I know I can pray to my God anywhere. I do believe in a higher power, but I don’t need a church to do that.”

Inactive believer
• “I just basically stopped going to church when I went to college and never picked it back up. I was never super religious.”
• “I don’t have the time to go to church.”

Source: Pew Research Center,

A third commonly-cited reason for abandoning the Christian churches is that, as one respondent put it, "Christians seem to behave so badly."

God knows that the clergy sex abuse scandals of the last 25 years have lent considerable support to this argument, already bolstered by the usual suspects of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the persecution of Galileo, witch-hunts, etc., etc.

We could, of course, enter into an examination of each of these cases, but for our purposes I am willing to concede the whole argument: yes indeed, over the centuries, lots and lots of Christians have behaved wickedly. But why, one wonders, should this tell against the integrity and rectitude of Christian belief?

Many, many Americans have done horrific things, often in the name of America. One thinks of slave owners, the enforcers of Jim Crow laws, the carpet bombers of Dresden and Tokyo, the perpetrators of the My-Lai Massacre, the guards at Abu Ghraib Prison, etc.

Do these outrages ipso facto prove that American ideals are less than praiseworthy, or that the American system as such is corrupt? The question answers itself.

Religion and war

Relatedly, a number of young people said that they left the Christian churches because "religion is the greatest source of conflict in the world."

One hears this charge so often today -- especially in the wake of September 11 -- that we tend to take it as self-evident, when in point of fact, it is an invention of Enlightenment-era historiography. Voltaire, Diderot, Spinoza, and many others in the 17th and 18th centuries wanted to undermine religion, and they could find no better way to achieve this end than to score Christianity as the source of violence.

Through numberless channels, this view has seeped into the general consciousness, but it simply does not stand up to serious scrutiny. In their exhaustive survey of the wars of human history (The Encyclopedia of Wars), Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod demonstrate that less than seven percent of wars could be credibly blamed on religion, and even the most casual reflection bears this out.

In point of fact, the bloodiest wars in history, those of the 20th century, which produced over 100 million dead, had practically nothing to do with religion.

Indeed, a very persuasive case could be made that ideological secularism and modern nationalism are the sources of greatest bloodshed. And yet the prejudice, first fostered by the philosophes of the Enlightenment, oddly endures.

A cri de coeur

An earlier Pew Study showed that for every one person who joins the Catholic Church today, six are leaving, and that many of those who leave are the young.

This most recent survey indicates that intellectual objections figure prominently when these drifters are asked why they abandoned their faith. My cri de coeur is that teachers, catechists, theologians, apologists, and evangelists might wake up to this crisis and do something about it.

Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Learn more at