Brandon G. Withrow was an assistant professor of the history of Christianity and religious studies at Winebrenner Theological Seminary. He recently wrote a coming out essay, titled Losing Faith in Religious Higher Education, for the Chronicle of Higher Education. I find what he wrote very insightful.
Like many of the unaffiliated in America, my problems with religion included biblical, social, personal, and scientific issues, the fine details of which are beyond this short article.Note how many different issues he mentioned as catalysts for him to leave the fold. There were biblical, social, personal, and scientific issues, he tells us. That's because there are many different issues which can cause the loss of faith. Note also which one he listed first, biblical issues. That's my conclusion. It's the Bible, properly understood, which can and should cause people of faith to abandon their faith. While philosophy, and/or the philosophy of religion, is another of the issues which should cause people to leave their faith, Withrow didn't even mention it. Who knows why, of course. Perhaps he just doesn't read much philosophy, okay. But from my perspective doing philosophy, and/or the philosophy of religion, doesn't lead many people to deconvert away from their culturally inherited faith. So although I have philosophy degrees myself, I focus on what works because it has a much greater potential to help people who were indoctrinated to believe.
I can say, however, that my path to faithlessness began by putting my religion under the academic microscope. (I recognize that many religious academics would not see my disbelief as a necessary conclusion of this process.)...I think this is a good explanation for why a number of people abandoned their faith after becoming "religion researchers." In fact I've come up with The Top Ten Occupations That Lead People to Become Atheists.
The more my approach to my field became academic, the less I stayed an adherent. Why? As K.L. Noll describes it in "The Ethics of Being a Theologian," the "religion researcher is related to the theologian as the biologist is related to the frog in her lab." The theologian defends and propagates a religious perspective, but the religion researcher will "select sample religions, slice them open, and poke around inside," which "tends to ‘kill’ the religion."
I became both researcher and frog. By poking around in my religion, I discovered what made it tick and found a creative but entirely human faith. I also dissected my nonexistent soul and its motivations and concluded that the faith I was handed as a child was not one I could embrace as an adult.
The pivotal moment leading to my departure came as I did research for a book on the problems of academic freedom in religious higher education. It was a project driven (in part) by my experiences as a student and as a professor, especially after watching colleagues being pushed out of evangelical institutions over theological disagreements.The catalyst causing Withrow to come out and leave his faculty position was something I have written about before, academic freedom in the seminaries, leading me to say again that evangelical scholarship is a ruse. There is no such thing!. There isn't. John Schneider, former professor emeritus of theology at Calvin College, agrees by saying, "Like Islam, evangelical Christianity cannot survive intellectual honesty and freedom."