Is a massive youth exodus from the church really occurring?

You bet it is, and it’s happening in the high school years, not in university

The continuing attempt of Alberta’s minister of education to force the province’s Catholic schools to stop teaching Christian morality in their sex-ed courses and teach the government’s version of morality instead makes immediately relevant what appears below. It is a chapter from a book I am currently writing. It’s on the rooted determination of bureaucracies to silence any Christian voice in the shaping of education policy, and how they co-opted an unwitting media to help them do it. It goes a long way back, but it is certainly working. We are losing young people from the faith in frightening numbers, not in the universities, but in the high schools.

Ever since my late wife and I became seriously Christian, back in the 1950s, we heard the cry that youth were leaving the church. But were they? Were tens of thousands of young people moving massively into a religious void, abandoning the churches that their parents helped to build and maintain? Yes, but they come back later, was the usual reply. Well, based on the best statistical evidence now available, some do come back, but most do not. They’re gone for good, not just from the family’s faith, but from any role whatever in what is of late being called “institutional” religion.

The best analysis of this exodus that I’ve ever seen was composed by J. Warner Wallace, an atheist and a homicide detective in suburban Los Angeles. He applied his sleuthing skills to demonstrate the deficiency of evidence supporting the historical credibility of early Christianity. To his chagrin, he found the evidence in its favour far wider and more valid than anything he had expected. In consequence, he became Christian himself, and a gifted apologist for Christianity. However, he also concluded that the youth exodus is real, is massive, and is deeply alarming. Here were some of his findings:

  • If current trends continue, in ten years, church attendance will be half what it is today.
  • 61% of today’s young adults, churched in their teen years, are now spiritually “disengaged.”
  • Intellectual doubt and scepticism is the chief cause of student departures. (Typical comments: “It didn’t make any sense anymore.” “Some stuff is too far-fetched.” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof.” “Too many unanswered questions.”)
  • 70% of teenagers in church youth groups stop attending church after high school.
  • 63% of teenage Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • 51% don’t believe he rose from the dead.
  • 68% don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is real.
  • Only 33% of churched youth say the church will be a part in their adult lives when they leave home.

The chief cause of their apostasy is intellectual. Young people simply don’t believe the biblical accounts. They put belief in Christ’s Resurrection and belief in Santa Claus in a trash basket marked, “Beautiful stories for children. Not appropriate for anyone over 12.” Wallace has one other immensely significant finding, notably that this loss of belief does not usually occur (as was previously assumed) in university, but in high school. A key place to look for the cause is therefore in the curriculum of the secondary schools.

The Christian writer Nancy Pearcey makes many things clear in her 2010 book, “Saving Leonardo.” One of them is this: If Christians suffer any further losses in the Culture War, their dwindling numbers will have reduced them to cultural insignificance by the century’s end. Many, if not most Christians discount such pessimism as a failure in faith. But faith does not consist in firmly shutting one’s eyes to self-evident fact. Jesus told us to “watch for the signs.” He didn’t say to hide from them. And one of the signs is the fact that the philosophy underlying modern public schools is almost wholly secularist. Thus they stand four-square against Christianity. They are not the neutral factor that they pretend to be. They are an adversary, an enemy.

Their ultimate influence is to deny Christianity any effective voice in shaping public policy, or in influencing the school curriculum. For the people of Alberta, the Canadian province I live in, shocking evidence of this is immediately at hand. We have a government that denies key parental rights, that firmly closets the identity of people creating what they describe as a wholly new syllabus for our schools. Meanwhile, it seeks vigorously to abrogate the constitutional right of Catholic schools to teach Christian morality. Instead it orders them to seek wide public acceptance of sexual conduct long regarded as depraved, threatening their constitutional right to government funding if they refuse.

But the most insidious secularist influences in the schools is much more covert than their bizarre promotion of various sexual proclivities. As Bloom1 notes, early on in high school the student first learns and then passionately asserts that there can be no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative. In the end, all we can have are feelings. We can’t know anything. Nearly all students arrive at university wholly confident of this, says Bloom, and are actually offended if anyone so much as postulates that some statements are incontrovertibly true. Very soon of course most students will see that the Bible is packed with assertions of absolute truths. The creeds are indeed compendiums of them, and the teachings of Jesus abound in them. As the students realize this, and numerous other incompatibilities with what they learned in Sunday school, the inevitable effect is growing skepticism. This of course, is the desired outcome of the philosophy.

However, the unswerving loyalty of modern educators to this doctrine led to a kind of pedagogical crisis which would be amusing, were it not so tragic. A major problem arose with mathematics. No matter how hard it is to disguise this, the statement that “three times four equals twelve” is the assertion of an absolute truth. In fact the whole multiplication table is an inventory of absolute truths. Indeed, mathematics itself is a veritable hotbed of absolute truths, all of them —as per the doctrine— implicit impossibilities. Moreover, all mathematics presupposes infallibility. No matter how deeply you “felt” that it equaled thirteen, your answer could not be regarded a respected minority opinion. It would be regarded as dead wrong.

The difficulty was, of course, that if one kind of truth (i.e., mathematical truth) were allowed to exist as absolute, then other kinds would acquire the same recognition, and soon the new education’s whole philosophical edifice would collapse.

To the educator, all assertions of truth, even the mathematical ones, must be “subjective.” They must begin, end and exist in the “self.” There must be no such thing as an objective truth that could, as it were, stand alone, independent of human association altogether. Ultimately, this meant that four times three did not necessarily equal twelve until there were no humans around to say so. Even the educators had trouble swallowing this, So they were stumped. Somehow, they knew, mathematics must become a matter of “feeling,” not of fact. But how?

I have no idea who was the genius that came up with the answer. No longer need mathematics be something one learned by (among other things) memorizing a table of numbers, he said. Mathematics must become something derived from the self, something that one discovers within himself, Thus “discovery maths” was born, not to improve a student’s mathematical skill, but to serve the necessities of a flawed ideological educational ideology.

I attended a protest meeting some years ago. Several hundred people gathered on the steps of the provincial legislature to hear the then dean of maths at the University of Alberta, and a former dean as well, denounce “discovery maths” as a dangerous and senseless departure from the traditional. Many students simply did not understand what they were supposed to be discovering, and why and how, said the professors. The net effect was to leave them with a lifetime hatred of the subject.

But this was a mere aspect of a much wider problem. While the North American school systems that are zealously leading young people away from their spiritual heritage, they are at the same time presiding over an educational catastrophe in which the student is the foremost victim. Any comparison of Grade 12 examinations in two key subjects, English and mathematics, before the1960s and Grade 12 exams today, demonstrates this slide downward. Departmental bureaucrats will do everything imaginable to conceal this as false, or dismiss it as irrelevant, or to somehow divert attention away from it. But none of their explanations can conceal the calamitous academic failure for which they themselves are chiefly responsible. In their zeal to indoctrinate they neglect to educate. Instead of “opening” youthful minds, they are emptying them.

The young people themselves are often the first to discover this. With broken heart they find in looking for a job that a bachelor of arts degree that cost them and/or their parents some tens of thousands of dollars is close to worthless in finding a job. An ability to parrot off left wing propaganda and slogans is little appreciated in the workplace.

* Allen Bloom, whose monumental 1987 work, The Closing of the American Mind, is extensively quoted in my book.

Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.



4 thoughts on “Is a massive youth exodus from the church really occurring?

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  1. As you point out there is no such thing as neutrality in the schools, everyone is religious or has a worldview and the predominant worldview today in the public schools is humanism, man is the measure of all things, man determines truth. A fundamental tenet of humanism is evolutionism, basically atheism taught in the schools, which challenges the authority of the Bible, opens the door to unbelief and leads a maasive youth exodus. By the way, I suspect not much better in Catholic schools as Pope Francis has expressed support for evolutionism.


  2. This is one of the most cogent explanations I have read on the planned destruction of Christian thought and trust in Biblical teaching so evident today.
    The willful and deliberate engineering of school philosophy and operations are fulfilling Dewey’s dream where everyone can invent their own understanding, whether or not that understanding is correct. After all what is correct?
    Parents and churches must urgently begin to counter the injection of skepticism into our youth. This can be started by presenting school aged youth with well thought out scientific and mathematical evidence for a Creator. This is relatively easy to do, but it requires research and the development of suitable and well referenced resources.
    Only then can a doubt be placed in the mind of the youth that causes them to question and see the inevitable illogical positions on our existence and morality which the school system is attempting to feed them.
    Truth is the ultimate weapon against the lie. So armed the new generation will be able to willingly embrace the axiom that if a Creator must exist, then absolutes can and must also exist.
    Our youth must be prepared in their mind to question and challenge that which challenges common sense, but first they need information and reasons that show that information to be true.
    This present evil cannot be defeated if we attempt to provide Christian education in a progressive format.


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