Christopher Obal used to be a Christian. He grew up in Queens, New York, and when he was 5 years old, his parents left Catholicism for a very different form of Christianity. While they didn’t claim a specific denomination, he said the churches they went to would probably be described as Pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic.
“We attended churches where people spoke in tongues, and believed in the gifts of the spirit as well as a God who spoke to his people frequently,” he said.
As an adolescent Obal was obsessed with discovering God’s plan for his life and doing God’s will. At the age of 18, he attended Oral Roberts University, a conservative Christian college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But while at college, he began to question his beliefs. Now, while he’s open to the possibility of “god, gods, goddesses, aliens, universal consciousness, or whatever,” he’s not affiliated with any religion. The rest of his family remains devoutly religious.
Obal is one of only a small percentage of Americans who grew up in religious households and are now religion-free. A 2008 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that only 12.7 percent of people raised in a particular faith eventually become unaffiliated with any religious group. Why did Obal abandon Christianity, while his friends and family remained faithful?
As with many things regarding human nature, the answer is complicated. But a good place to start is the nature of belief itself.