A Millennial's Journey to Atheism

But then the phone call arrived. Her heartbeat elevated and she struggled to catch her breath after the short yet overwhelming conversation. A concoction of rage, remorse and frustration emerged inside of her. She sat motionless in complete shock, her mind went blank, and she gripped her knees to her chest like a child. She crouched in this position and wailed aloud as the tears started to flow. She wished that she could have at least paid him a visit, but no one expected this—the worst—to happen.

“I realized everything I believed in up until that point was a lie,” said Christina.

Christina found herself becoming a part of the 29 percent of Millennials that do not affiliate with religion. More than 27 percent of this group are college students, and this group is the largest population of nonreligious individuals in history. Millennials are choosing to be unaffiliated with religion in the highest numbers in the last 40 years. Around 36 percent of younger Millennials between 18 and 24 are unaffiliated with a religion, as are 34 percent of older Millennials between 25 and 33. Only 21 percent of Generation X does not affiliate with religion, along with only 16 percent of Baby Boomers.

However, it hadn’t always been that way for Christina, who is now a 22-year-old recent college graduate. When she was just six, she attended church every Sunday, Vacation Bible School each summer, and when she was old enough, youth group.

Her discontent began to emerge shortly after. The other children at church were all homeschooled while Christina attended public school. The others did not want to socialize with her for that reason, and so she began to feel like a pariah in her church during middle school. This feeling continued into high school.

Not only did Christina feel rejected, but she also began to piece together what she perceived as corruption within her church. While walking through her high school parking lot one afternoon, Christina saw something that made her stop in her tracks. The preacher’s daughter, Mariah, was opening the door to a brand new Mustang. Seeing the blatant luxury of her family was incomprehensible. Christina found herself confused, infuriated–and bold enough to ask Mariah such an out-of-place question.

“How on Earth can your family afford that car?” asked Christina.

“I guess my parents just love me a lot,” Mariah answered without much thought.

Christina’s outrage grew stronger with the response she received. She watched her mother put hard earned money into the collection basket each Sunday, and they donated even more at times when the family was better off. Her own family could not even afford a car for Christina–much less a Mustang. Christina began to wonder how much of her family’s donations ended up in the preacher’s pocket–she was convinced that it happened.

Christina stopped going to church in protest. She was angry at how corrupt she perceived the institution of church to be. She decided that she would be just fine having a relationship with God on her own, without the distraction of organized religion soliciting for donations.

Christina did not know what her pastor earned, but she sensed that something was off. This feeling she had plays out in real life. While the median salary for clergy workers in the United States is just under $44,000, the numbers vary significantly. A writer for What Christians Want to Know and blogger for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, Jack Wellman, said the lowest paid pastor in 2010 earned $0 while the average salary of a megachurch pastor was $147,000. The Houston Chronicle found that when church budgets are more than $10 million, executive pastors are paid nearly $100,000 more each year than churches that have budgets of less than $2 million.

The Leadership Network/Vanderbloemen 2014 Large Church Salary Report states that the biggest factor to church budget is size and attendance. In this regard, churches function very much like businesses. Those with the most “customers” earn the most money and have bigger paychecks.

Many churches today even allow online donations with a credit card–which sounds very much like the consumerist world of corporate America. Between 39 and 52 percent of the total church budget is spent on staffing, and typically, pastors make 3.4 percent of the total church budget. This extreme difference in the amount of money churches bring in makes it difficult to know for certain how much pastors make each year because there is no set standard or regulation to how much their salaries will be.

After just a few years of exploring spirituality on her own, Christina found her desire to attend church rekindled. She had been raised to believe that going to church was the right thing to do, so she decided to give it another shot. During her senior year of high school she began attending the newly built Maryland Community Church. This church had a giant amphitheater and three enormous screens that held lyrics during services. The building itself was a massive, modernized structure, and a lot of the churchgoers were other high school students. Sitting among her Christian peers, Christina felt her faith start to thrive.

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