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Journey to Unbelief Often Involves Trauma

The Christian scholar Larry Taunton launched a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances—the atheist equivalents to Christian campus groups. By using social media, Larry and his organization contacted the leaders of these groups and asked them to share their journey to unbelief. Larry said, "We just wanted to listen to what they had to say." After receiving a flood of enquiries from students across the country, what they had to say startled Larry and his team. Larry said:

With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father: "It was when he died that I became an atheist," she said.
I could see no obvious connection between her father's death and her unbelief. Was it because she loved her abusive father—abused children often do love their parents—and she was angry with God for his death? "No," Meredith explained. "I was terrified by the thought that he could still be alive somewhere."
Rebecca, now a student at Clark University in Boston, bore similar childhood scars. When the state intervened and removed her from her home (her mother had attempted suicide), Rebecca prayed that God would let her return to her family. "He didn't answer," she said. "So I figured he must not be real." After a moment's reflection, she appended her remarks: "Either that, or maybe he is [real] and he's just trying to teach me something."

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