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Anatomy of a 'deconversion'


A major challenge facing contemporary Christian institutions, at least in Western countries, is dwindling membership. It's not so much that people no longer have spiritual or religious beliefs, but increasingly these are pursued and expressed outside the confines of traditional religion.

A leading expert in researching and analyzing this phenomenon is American academic Thomas Beaudoin who is featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV.

Beaudoin was born into a committed Catholic household. As a child he was an altar boy in his local parish where his father, a former Jesuit priest, worked as an ordained deacon. He also assisted his father in prison ministry, and as an activist for a range of social justice issues.

After school and university he worked as a high school history teacher, then began post-graduate study of theology. He gained a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and his PhD in Religion and Education at Boston College.

His first academic appointment was as Assistant Professor of Theology at the Jesuits' Santa Clara University in California. He is now Associate Professor of Theology, lecturing at the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham University, also run by the Jesuits, in New York City.

He is in demand as a speaker internationally and around the USA, and has contributed scores of articles and chapters to a range of publications. He is also an accomplished rock musician, playing electric bass in bands wherever he has lived. Currently he is in two bands, The Raina and The Particulars.

His books include Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy, Witness to Dispossession: The Vocation of a Postmodern Theologian, and most recently in 2013 Secular Music and Sacred Theology.

In the interview Beaudoin talks about contemporary ways of being religious, what he calls 'deconversion' (how and why people move away from conventional religion), the sexual abuse crisis in Christian churches, and whether Pope Francis might revitalise Catholicism and draw people back to the Church.


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity, and the producer of Eureka Street TV.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Eureka Street TV, Thomas Beaudoin



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Existing comments

This is very interesting. Everything Beaudoin says makes sense. I can certainly relate to his analysis and see what he says about deconversion being a reality in the lives of family members and friends. These are good people who are no longer affiliated with the church.

Ellen | 11 June 2014  

"Spititual and religious beliefs...increasingly pursued and expressed outside the confines of traditional religion..... The operative word here is TRADITIONAL. Traditions were established by people, who however intelligent and well meaning they were, they did not have available the data necessary to make definitive formulations on such complicated matters. Hence many suppositions and superstitions were included in the expressions of their limited vision. PopeJohn 23rd tried but failed to remedy this because it was not realised how complicated the transition was. The fundamentals of religion are 1. Love God and 2. Love all others. We can only accomplish this by divesting our outlook of all self interest, including those of our community, political, and national interests, and seeing ourselves only as extensions or agents of the God of Goodness and Truth. This is easy to say, but needs complete surrender to God.- A lifetime of cooperation with God

Robert Liddy | 11 June 2014  

A fascinating assessment of the post-Vatican II Church which identifies quite clearly the loss of identity in Catholicism from the secularisation of priesthood to destruction of the once magnificent liturgy, particularly that part praising God in the most moving of human experience, namely sacred music. Also identifies the juggernaut of lay ambition in the personal interpretation of the word of Christ who was, if one is to be a faithful Catholic, the true God and Creator. This juggernaut which Beaudoin clearly identifies as a difficult to quell potent driver of a laity based change would seem to disregard the gospels and the teachings of Christ particularly those which established the authority of the Papacy. Such erosion of authority is precisely the dominating feature of the ethos of Protestantism and negates the authority of the very word of God himself. Such can only be destructive. Pope Francis has indeed a massive task ahead but I imagine that like Ignatius he recognises the "good spirit" as opposed to the "bad spirit" and will act according to the former, which means that the Catholic Church will endure as instituted by Christ and the destructive elements will not prevail. Catholicism needs to reclaim its identity in one hell of a hurry!

john frawley | 11 June 2014  

One of Satan's favorite lies, apart from having us believe that he does not exist, or that he does exist and is more powerful than he truly is, is that since God is everywhere and we can worship Him anywhere and do not need the “community of believers“, the Church family. Although it is true that God is everywhere and worshiping Him anywhere is wholesome and good, it is false to believe that the Church, is unnecessary. Since the earliest days of Christianity, communities of believers gathered together on the Lord's Day (Sunday) to celebrate the Mass and to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.

Bernstein | 11 June 2014  

#Thank you Mr. Frawley sir for nailing down the bottom line issues, and underscoring the need for a 'Christonaut' that endorses the Gospel based institution. Thus, a call to a deprotestanised postconciliar RE-conversion. #Jesus did not say "go deconvert all nations and de-affiliate them from my Church" [thus to make them "good people"-pace Ellen] # After the rejuvenating, now near knackered 77 y o Pope Francis, I pray another St John Paul, to 'pull off' another Churchquake in the epicentres of doctrinal dissent, such latter encased in iron clad curtains of metastasised pandemonium and relativism!

Father John George | 11 June 2014  

John Frawley contends the Catholic Church was “instituted by Christ”. It was more likely to have been instituted by Roman emperor Constantine, in cooperation with leading Christian clerics in the 4th Century. At Constantine’s behest the Conference of Nicaea was convened in 325 to impose doctrinal orthodoxy on the church and one which would support his rule. The church was also modeled on the Roman empire’s authoritarian structure. It became an autocratic organization that served as an arm of despotic rulers and ever since has mostly played that role, allied with society’s powerful and wealthy - apart from the occasional rebellious priest who has sided with the poor. Moreover, the tens of billions in assets (mostly hidden) the church has acquired over the millennia have given it a further vested interest in protecting the system. Had Christ returned to earth in subsequent centuries he would have been dismayed by the edifice of gilded hypocrisy and dictatorial rule of a church that had been created in his name, One suspects a righteous rage would have possessed him as it did when he turned over the tables of the money-lenders in the temple.

dennis | 12 June 2014  

I suspect, Dennis, we will never know what Christ might have done if he did perchance revisit his church in the centuries since its institution. It is possible, I suppose , that he might have praised its considerable resource dedication to the poor , sick and disadvantaged. Much of the hidden wealth that people speak of is valueless in practical terms, in so much as the great art and the repositories of ancient priceless artefacts and documents attract a monetary value only if they are available for sale. Organisational systems as Constantine may have implemented do not replace the Gospels.

john frawley | 12 June 2014  

Come come Dennis! #Jesus established the institutional church long before your Constantinian acculturation fiction #Dictators from Nero to Stalin abhorred the RCC #Outreach to poor has been RCC signature for centuries #Christ has appeared since resurrection and never inveighed against RCC as you do

Father John George | 12 June 2014