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(LifeSiteNews) — I first became interested in Christian apologetics while at university. My first-year philosophy prof was a sneering atheist who used plenty of class time to make snide remarks about theism, and atheism, at the time, was of the triumphalist sort.

Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion in 2006; the Christopher Hitchens screed God is Not Great came out in 2007; Bill Maher released the documentary Religulous mocking the faithful in 2008. On campus, the New Atheist movement thrived, and we had plenty of debates over the problem of evil, the historicity of the Resurrection, and the veracity of the Bible.

These days, however, the New Atheist movement is dead, and its chief proponents have found themselves targets of various woke movements — Dawkins, Maher, and Sam Harris have all discovered that a post-Christian civilization isn’t the enlightened liberal paradise they had hoped it would be. But the Christian apologetics movement, too, has faced challenges. One of the most prominent of these is that most young people no longer reject Christianity because they have quibbles about the historicity of Scripture or the nature of God. These days, it is often because LGBT ideology is the new orthodoxy.

A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) affirms this. The survey found that 26% of Americans now identify as “religiously unaffiliated,” the largest single group in the U.S.; those calling themselves explicitly atheist has doubled from 2% to 4%; those identifying as agnostic have gone from 2% to 5%. Post-Christian America is not post-spiritual America; most still claim to hold vague spiritual beliefs of one sort or another but reject “organized religion.” The Catholic Church, for example, is losing more members than it is gaining, while black Protestants and religious Jews are least likely to leave.

Melissa Deckman, PRRI’s CEO, broke down the growing “religiously unaffiliated” group in an interview: “Thirty-five percent were former Catholics, 35% were former mainline Protestants, only about 16% were former evangelicals. And really not many of those Americans are, in fact, looking for an organized religion that would be right for them. We just found it was 9%.” Why are people leaving their churches or, as PRRI put it, “faith traditions?” Because, according to the survey, “two-thirds (67%) of people … say they did so because they simply stopped believing in that religion’s teachings.”

A full 47% of survey respondents specifically cited religious teaching on “LGBTQ people,” which is to say, sexuality and prohibitions on certain sexual behaviors and lifestyles. According to Deckman: “Religion’s negative teaching about LGBTQ people are driving younger Americans to leave church. We found that about 60% of Americans who are under the age of 30 who have left religion say they left because of their religious traditions teaching, which is a much higher rate than for older Americans.” In fact, a third of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans say that they left the faith of their childhood because it was “bad for their mental health,” a particularly common response from those identifying as LGBT.

This survey re-emphasizes a challenge for churches in the post-Christian West: How do we reach out to people and compassionately yet uncompromisingly defend fundamental truths about God’s design, sexuality, and what it means to be human? How do we reach people who are no longer skeptical about Christianity for the more “traditional” reasons (if I can put I that way) — issues of philosophy and theology? When the questions are no longer “how do I know Jesus rose from the dead?” but, instead, “Why do you refuse to recognize Steve and Tom’s relationship as ‘marriage?’”

One thing is certain: if we do not do better, young people will continue to leave the churches, and many Christian apologists will have to pivot.

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.