by Brandon G. Withrow
Raised in an evangelical home. Published by evangelical publishers. Employed by an evangelical seminary and divinity school. That was my life until last year when — at the end of a long and difficult intellectual journey — I concluded I was actually a secular humanist and part of the growing demographic of Americans unaffiliated with a particular faith or church.
Being a person of faith is an academic credential in the evangelical world, so when it was clear that I no longer possessed that faith, I made the difficult decision to leave behind my full-time (nontenured) faculty position.
I’m far from being the only American who has parted ways with his family religion. The recent, and highly discussed, Pew Research study on the changing religious landscape in America found a noticeable decline in the number of Christians in the United States and a rise in the number of those who are religiously unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, and “nothing in particular”). In 2007 the proportion of Americans who fell into the unaffiliated cohort was about 16 percent, but by 2014 that proportion had climbed to nearly 23 percent. That figure makes the unaffiliated the second largest group in America, just behind evangelicals.
Until now, I have discussed my “deconversion” only privately with a few people, undoubtedly leaving more than a few family and friends perplexed as to why I left my job. Many of those I have told are outside the academic-seminary world and have responded with one of two questions: Why didn’t I leave earlier? Or, Why did I leave at all? Some wondered why I couldn’t just fake my faith.
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