I would guess that most people know someone who has, at some point in their life, made a major change in their belief system, such as from atheism to Christianity, or vice versa. You may have made such a change yourself.
I’ve known several people who have for a time professed one belief system (sometimes adamantly) only to abandon their beliefs at some point. One of my high school classmates, an extremely intelligent girl, was a hard-core atheist well into her college years, became a Christian. There were many friends of mine who “got saved” during the Jesus Movement, only to drift off into ambivalence (not necessarily a change in belief systems, but definitely a change in level of enthusiasm).
One friend lost his faith in God after a series of very hurtful incidents, including being shunned by his father for no apparent reason, and then divorced by his wife. He decided God couldn’t exist, based on his personal experience. He suffered from clinical depression, and eventually committed suicide (not because of atheism, mind you). Another guy I know left Christianity in favor of Judaism, and eventually became an atheist (he was also mentally unstable, as he suffered a rare form of brain cancer). However, I have known others who have left Christianity for atheism or other philosophies (Buddhism, for example), who are (as far as I know) rational, intelligent people, and who are no more depressed than I am.
What makes someone abandon one belief system for another? It’s an interesting question, and due in part to the people mentioned above and others I have not mentioned, something that I’ve occasionally pondered. The New Testament does speak – although not to any great length – of those who seemingly abandon the faith. What are we to make of this?
Scot McKnight, author, teacher and blogger, is just starting an interesting blog series called Finding Faith / Losing Faith, which should prove both interesting and enlightening. While I have, as I said, pondered the past and present spiritual status of those who have left Christianity, I have not done any serious study on the issue. I look forward to hearing what McKnight will have to say on the issue.