Why People Leave the Church and Never Come Back
Nate Bagley
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As a deeply reflective spiritual seeker who is now going through my SECOND “dark night of the soul” (my first was when I grappled with my upbringing in the Roman Catholic faith in my late 20’s, and now in my 40’s, I am questioning my spiritual self in reference to ALL religions and all of creation) reading your article brought into focus exactly why most (if not all) traditional monotheistic religions employ tactics of fear, shame and guilt to grow/keep their “flocks”. Once that fear is removed and replaced by love, the removal of that fear mechanism (which is usually supported by dogmatic rules & regulations) forces an individual to self-determine their own relationship to God (or what I call Universal Spirit or Christ Consciousness).

For the true seeker, working through this self-exploration and self-determination is extremely isolating and painful (in my 20’s it threw me into a full on clinical depression). Not having clear cut black & white rules is actually quite terrifying, especially for something as elusive as understanding our own soul-self, which is why I am 100% behind your idea of having spiritual institutions take on a new (and more respectful) view of those that choose to leave their faith-home to work through some very painful inquires.

I have done a TON of reading over the past 20 years as I continue to work through these difficult inquiries and I would like to suggest 3 books for you which I think could be very helpful in re-framing one’s individual approach to faith (in particular Christian-based faiths):

  1. “Original Blessing” by Fr. Matthew Fox — Fr. Fox is an excommunicated priest from the Catholic Church who explores what he believes to be the flawed “Fall/Redemption (i.e. Original Sin)” model of the Catholic Faith — he argues that we must get back to the true roots of faith which are based in “Creation/ “Original Blessing” model as it removes the fear/shame/guilt aspect of what has become the norm for most monotheistic religions.
  2. “Irreducible Primary” by Rob Taylor — A short book but VERY dense, each paragraph will leave you reflecting. The main message from this author is that only unconditional love will save humanity and to even get close to manifesting this unconditional loving state, we ALL must focus inward, rather than outward, to achieve. His bottom line is that no one religion/guru has the answer, it truly comes down to our own inner understanding and connection with the divine.
  3. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle — Studying spiritual philosophy across all the world religions is a passion of mine — I am consistently amazed at how the core tenets are the same, but how the theology manifests itself in very different ways across time and cultures. Just as you would witness pivot points within a growing business, world religions experience their own “change cycles” (albeit on a much longer timeline — from the theory in this book, every 500 years or so). Phyllis Tickle discusses this change cycle in reference to Christianity and how it is currently in the middle of a 500-year transition. A short and easy read (around 150 pages), I enjoyed the discussions on historical trends and cycles that continue to mold and move forward, not just Christianity, but every major religion throughout the world. I think many of us are questioning our faith because we are in one of those historical transitional moments of history.

Thank you for this thoughtful commentary — I wish you much success and peace of heart/mind on your continued faith journey!