Who Is Most Likely to Be "Done" With Religion?

He is not done with religion. He is disillusioned with the local church. Sociologists have found that Christians like him are actually far more committed to their faith.

David Kinnamen calls them “exiles.” Barba has written about them too.

Notably, many of the Christians at PS fit this archetype. I certainly am an exile too.

After nearly five years of study on the subject, I’ve come to see that prodigals and nomads are on spiritual journeys that occur during every generation and in every type of civilization. But exiles are very different. They appear only in certain periods of time and only within specific contexts. Exiles live in times that are discontinuously different than their predecessors. In other words, the exiles’ spiritual journeys only happen in the midst of profound cultural change . Because of the profound social, technological, and spiritual conditions in our culture today, it is clear to me that the modern-day exiles will be the ones who significantly shape the future and experience of Christianity. We must recognize the signs of the times.

All young people who are torn between the Christianity of their upbringing and the complexities of the world they are seeking to influence are exiles. Think of exiles like second-generation immigrants, trying to be conversant in two languages. Or, as my friend Mike Metzger says, exiles often find The New York Times to be more useful and interesting than they do the Bible, but this fact irritates them.

So while exiles are highly concentrated among today’s young adults, it is certainly not exclusively a young adult phenomenon. Many older adults resonate with the feeling of being stuck between two worlds, as well. To understand the lives and influence of exiles, we must view them against the backdrop of technological, social, and spiritual change.


@dga471 what do you think of this?

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I would tend to agree with @swamidass that this is not a rejection of religion per se. It seems more a rejection of organised religion.

I’m not sure that I agree with the quote that “they appear only in certain periods of time” (I suspect that there may be, at least a few, around most of the time), but I do suspect they become more prominent at certain times.

The Enlightenment is one such example, with a wave of rejection of organised religion, and entertaining of heterodox ideas, among the intelligentsia. That wave may be blamed, to some extent, on the recent religious excesses, most visibly demonstrated by the Thirty Years War. One wonders what similar instigating factor might be causing a similar wave now.

It would also be interesting to find out if there is any commonality to either the types of church they are leaving, or what aspects they find stifling. The fact that they are becoming what Joshua terms “exiles” rather than simply joining a church that better suits their needs, implies that none of the existing churches (at least locally) do so. One wonders if this trend is sufficiently large, and sufficiently common-threaded, to give rise to a new style of church within Christianity.

Interesting times. :slight_smile:

Addendum: how does the “Exiled” pigeonhole compare or contrast to a label that I remember hearing about some time ago: the “unchurched”?


Bad headline, bad second headline. He’s not done with religion and he’s not irreligious. Even the first paragraph makes that clear. Doesn’t anybody screen these things?


But the author is bashing the church, so perhaps it’s sort of fun for atheists to pull out examples of intra-Christian fights.

If that was not @Patrick’s point, then he could kindly share his opinion on the article.

I would say “clickbaiting” pure and simple – the title may be inaccurate, but it likely gets more clicks than an accurate one would.

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The article is mainly about one’s struggle when one’s leaves the cultural aspects of one’s family’s religion. I can easily relate to this. I was an “in the closet” Catholic Atheist for most of my life. Sure I went to church with my parents, even attended parochial school until the 8th grade, and got married in a beautiful old Catholic Church. But I never ever believed any of the doctrine, dogma, and rules. The “dones” have done the same and now the miss the social aspects of their family’s religion. My advice to them is to have it both ways. Be secular but keep all the family traditions. Put up a Christmas tree, enjoy Santa Claus, celebrate Easter Sunday with the Easter Bunny. Keep all the traditions and keep family close. Be a good heathen.


Interesting. I read it completely differently. It shows how one’s experience affects how you view another’s experience.

I read it through my own lens of difficulties with the church, but knowing God calls me to stick with “my family” and not forsake gathering even though the social aspects are hard, and it’s lonely at times to feel left out in your church.

So in a way, I came away with the opposite conclusion.

I think it is more a rejection of “religion organized this way,” meaning the way that they are finding it. Speaking for myself, I’ve come to totally reject the “Americanism” and power-drivenness of so many (but certainly not all) American Christians. Though I was accustomed to it in the past, I am no longer at peace with it. This is what Kinnaman just tweeted, and I agree:

To be clear, Kinnaman and I are both evangelical Christians. Many of us who find that statistic staggering and angering are not actually politically liberal. Quite a few would probably describe themselves as politically homeless.

I do not think that’s the right way to see this. Rather, exiles are deeply faithful to the Church, but also dissatisfied with the churches they are surronded. We tend to take on a “prophetic” role.

He is a sociologist, so that is what he means I’m sure. He is saying the increasing frequency is a sign of the moment, where the mismatch between the churches and culture and Christ has grown, that a larger proportion of people are trying to forge a different way forward.

That is already happening. Quite often exiles are drawn to house churches, and to ministries that put their faith into action. Barna for a while was strongly promoting house churches for a while for this reason.

But I do not think house churches are the long term trend in the US. Rather, I think there will be a combination of:

  1. New churches rising up that are founded by exiles.

  2. Reformation of existing churches as exiles come of age and adopt leadership positions in these churches.

“Unchurched” generally implies lower commitment to religion. Exiles are different. We are actually more committed to our faith than the average church goer across most sociological measures.

I think it was Barna and Kinnaman who noticed, in fact, that there was shift in the “unchurched” a decade or so ago, in that a growing subgroup (which might be booming now) were not well described by the “unchurched” label did not fit the archetype. Paradoxically, they were actually more committed to their religious beliefs, instead of less.

Some exiles, such as myself and the author of the article for decades, do in fact attend churches too. However, they can find the church they attend dissatisfying, not because of the style of worship or something so superficial as that, but because of the disconnect they perceive between the church and their own faith’s connection to society. The paradox is that they also feel deeply connected to the church, just wanting it to a be a better version of itself. That is what makes them reformers.

The difference is that many exiles tend to be actually more orthodox than the churches they leave. For example, many of us are reacting against the Americanism of the American church. But Americanism isn’t “conservative” or “orthodox” in any meaningful sense. It is an audacious distortion of historical Christianity. If Americanism is common in the American church, that is a sign of how far it has gone away from an orthodox faith. I struggle to see how rejecting Americanism is theologically heterodox in any meaningful sense.


When I compare it to my understanding of Christianity from back when I was a Christian, I find it difficult to see anything Christian about American Christianity. Yes, there are some good Christians whom I can respect. But the image of Christianity that comes from the leadership of the churches seems reject the core teachings of Jesus.


A couple of random thoughts.

Comparing the ‘House Churches’ with the Megachurches I hear so much about, my reaction (even as an Atheist) is “why isn’t this obvious”? The shear size of a megachurch must surely mean that its ‘one size fits all’ can’t be meeting the needs of everybody (or even one would think most people), and that its pastor, insulated by the power of their church, can too easily become disconnected from the needs of their flock. The Megachurch structure would seem to be more a product of the business-place (economies of scale and mass market communications) than of theology.

I can’t help but thinking that “Americanism” is simply a form of tribalism. Adopting at-times-arbitrarily-acquired ideas (e.g. COVID-denial) and sticking with them regardless, as a show of tribal loyalty, rather than for any deeper theological meaning.


One has to wonder what Jesus would say about Prosperity theology.


I don’t find it staggering. If you try to take away people’s idols they clutch them a little more tightly.

My pastor has been preaching against “Americanism” as we’re going through the book of Daniel. But people are still afraid of losing political power - we idolize our fears

I feel like a little bit of an awkward elbow in the church myself as I feel like I’ve dropped those idols. But yet, I know that I have to be aware of my own. So I decided it’s good to be the awkward elbow if that’s what God wants me to be.

There is a factor of how media represents Christianity today and focuses on specific agendas.

COVID will likely kill megachurches and that’s a good thing. The church will look different in COVID and different after Christians lose political power. It’s going to be rough, but it’s in God’s plan for us, and His plan is good.


He would overturn the tables. (I hear preaching against it regularly).

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“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom”.


I agree with this wholeheartedly…and I am in the thick of it, exposed to many different churches weekly. The megachurch prosperity thing is the worst of it for sure. “The American Gospel” is a good movie, I think a lot of the atheists here would find it at least funny. I found it to be very truthful and disturbing. The fact that Benny Hinn is reportedly worth $700M dollars is appalling.

As someone who is just beginning my journey, I find it as disheartening as the author does, but also super-convicting because I can see the hypocrisy in the church clearly. I didn’t get from him that he was “done” with Jesus, just “done” with mans religious junk as evidenced by his conclusion:

With faith and hope, I believe out of darkness, again, can come a great light.