8/09/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
A few years ago, I was seized with curiosity regarding a very interesting question. Being the inquisitive fellow that I am, I took to the Internet to track down the answer. I was not successful. While polls and surveys exist for almost everything anyone could possibly think of, it seemed that there was no measurable data to answer my particular question, at least not that I could locate. This is not to say that someone somewhere hadn’t already asked and answered this question, but if they had and if they published their conclusions anywhere on the Internet, I certainly couldn’t find it.
The question with which I was obsessed was this: how many religious conversions (specific to Christianity) are the result of the convert having latched on to the substance of belief in a moment of crisis, trauma, depression, or dire need? In other words, is there a measurable trend to indicate how many of the people who became Christians in, say, the last 20 years did so as a means of alleviating some form of suffering, be it psychological or otherwise?
I came to Christianity as the result of needing something in which to ground myself, something in which to find a new identity, something which could invest within me a sense of hope in a time of utter need, something that would comfort me and give me a sense of belonging (which is a very understandable need to experience directly after having been abandoned), something that would show me the way. I was very young man in pain, and suddenly Christianity was there with all the “answers.” But could I just have easily turned to something else? The real question is this: did I turn to Christianity because a deity known as Yahweh, who happens to be the father of the God-man known as Jesus, exists and specifically drew me in, or did I come to Christianity because stumbled upon a Bible that happened to be sitting in the back seat of my car, and I happened to have need of its comforts?
The question is a crucial one, because if most converts to Christianity arrive there as the result of a painful journey that sent them looking for answers (as was the case with me), then isn’t this really an example of the walking wounded seeking any port in the storm? The inversion of the question is also important. If a person is well-adjusted, generally content, mentally and emotionally stable, and in no way experiencing any kind of acute or protracted suffering, is this person likely to radically alter his life by jumping from one pool—the pool in which he is currently swimming and which is obviously working for him—into another pool? To jump into the pool of Christianity is to fundamentally alter most aspects of your entire life. Is a person who is already quite happy and quite secure with his life going to rip it up from the roots and transplant it into an entirely new realm without having some sort of provocation? Personally, I don’t think so. Thus, if the number of religious converts who converted during a season of intense suffering is high (which we don’t know yet; we’re only speculating), then does that mean that the number of religious abstainers who abstained because their life was already satisfying is correspondingly low? If so, do these statistics argue for or against religion’s relevance in the world? If theist religion is attractive, useful, and remedial only for those broken people in the most dismal of needful situations, then is this really the work of a God or is it just the human psyche gravitating toward a comforting solution? Moreover, if “need” really is the tool by which this God draws humans to himself, then his alleged love for all of humanity should result in everyone experiencing the same caliber of need.
And yet, Christians will berate atheists if they suspect atheists left Christianity as a result of some sort of pain, disappointment, disillusionment, or other such negative experience. Apparently it is okay to embrace Christianity as a result of pain but it is not okay to leave Christianity as a result of pain.