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I Think I Lost My Faith. How Do I Get Out Of My Office Bible Study?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s new advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!


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Lately I started going to a Bible study at work to try and reconnect with the faith (I’ve grown up Christian, but it was never a big part of my life). The experience has been both positive and negative, as the study group is extremely friendly (and helpful) but also homophobic and wildly misinformed. It’s getting to the point where the discussions always leave me frustrated because of how passionately some members believe things that are clearly wrong or immoral. Through many conversations and arguments, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that I don’t really believe in the faith anymore (certainly not the bigoted and anti-science aspects).

Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I should keep going to the Bible study, but I can’t just stop showing up forever without getting asked about it. (I see several of these people every day.) Should I tell them the truth (that I don’t believe anymore and think many of their opinions are morally wrong)? Or, should I just make something up about scheduling conflicts to avoid potential fallout of de-converting? — John in Georgia

Morgan Jerkins: First, I don’t think this person owes the group any explanation as to why he doesn’t want to attend the meetings. But I suppose this person’s relationship with others is so entangled that he will be badgered into it anyway. I feel like the most diplomatic way to go about it, if they ask why, is to tell them that his views are just not in alignment with theirs. Oh, and also that it’s not open for discussion as a means to change said views.

Walt Hickey: Oh, I just think he should lie.

Morgan: Wait, why!?

Walt: It seems like this is pretty thorny because it’s Bible study mixing with work. I realize this is a common thing in a lot of workplaces around the country, but I’ve never been in a work situation that is better served by inducing religious bickering, you know? So given that it’s a Bible study with people from work, I think prompting a religious discussion about atheism and homophobia invites consequences not only at Bible study but also in the workplace. It’s just not the hill to die on. I think he should say he’s found another Bible study with his friends that he’s been loving, and can’t make this one anymore due to conflicts.

And, not to come off as someone encouraging someone to lie and quit going to church, I’d encourage he tries to find another Bible study more conducive with his moral worldview! The urge to reconnect with one’s childhood faith has done good things for many folks I know.

Morgan: Oh, I totally agree. I was going to say that I think the problem is not with the religious doctrine itself, but perhaps the group members who have their own bigoted interpretations of it. But in that case, I think he should search for other Bible study groups if he still wants to have that kind of relationship, and I think he should just tell him it’s not for me.

I don’t advocate for lying, but in that case, just say that you’ve found another Bible study group or just say that you want to study on your own. I don’t think they can knock this person for that latter option, right?

Walt: He mentioned “many conversations and arguments.” What are the odds the study group is surprised he’s dropping off, do you think? This may be a long time coming.

Morgan: Exactly.

Walt: So what’s your advice here?

Morgan: I think this person needs to leave and say that he will not be attending Bible study any longer. If asked why, the reason can be that this person wants to go to another group that aligns with his beliefs or that this person wants to do independent study.

Walt: So he should lie??? Have I won you over?

Morgan: Sigh … I think you did. And as a Christian myself, I don’t want to advocate for lying, but this is too thorny a situation. Let’s just hope that God doesn’t strike the writer down with a thunder bolt.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran on Oct. 25, 2016, and received 1,048 responses. We presented respondents with John’s letter and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were only allowed to choose one option.

  1. It’s a work situation. There’s nothing wrong with lying about his reason for leaving the group if it avoids workplace conflict.

    10.1%

  2. If prompted, he should be honest about his reasons for leaving the group, that it’s because his views are not in alignment anymore.

    64.9%

  3. He should find and join another Bible study before leaving this one.

    7.1%

  4. He should bring up a direct discussion with colleagues about why he lost his faith.

    8.9%

  5. None of the above is good advice in this situation.

    9.1%

Morgan: Oh wow, this is like a landslide, right?

Walt: Still, this whole “tell the truth about your thoughts on god” response rubs me the wrong way. I am shocked and appalled that “just lie to them” got such a paltry turnout, though. Lying to your co-workers about your personal life is most of the fun of having a job. Like, obviously I didn’t spend my weekend “checking out the museum, doing some yoga, then volunteering at the shelter.” I just lounged around and ate chicken and watched “Friends.”

Is there a gender split?

RESPONSE FEMALE MALE
Lie 9.5%
10.8%
Be honest if prompted 70.3
58.7
Join another one 7.0
7.2
Directly bring it up 6.6
11.5
None of these 6.6
11.9

Morgan: More men advocated to lie! Well.

Walt: Just barely! More men wanted to start an office argument about Jesus.

Morgan: I wish I could say that I was surprised.

Walt: That was the worst advice! We put it in there just to find out the people who were bad at giving advice. And like one in nine dudes were like “this is the best course of action here.” Keep it in /r/atheism.

Morgan: More women wanted for him to keep it secretive unless prompted. Yes ladies, keep it peaceful.

Walt: Women will save us all one of these days.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

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