Journalist and pastor Lee Strobel — an atheist reporter-turned-Christian writer — is wondering whether a person's relationship with his or her father could be impacting what individuals believe about the existence of a higher power.
Strobel, who commissioned the Barna Group to conduct research associated with his new book, "The Case for Grace," told TheBlaze that he was interested in exploring the potential relationship between fathers and faith, especially considering his own personal story.
"I began heading toward atheism as a result of my cool relationship with my dad," he said. "I've always been fascinated by how one's earthly father impacts [ideas about one's heavenly father]."
What Strobel found in his research was that there is a "downward stair-stepping of the data" from generation to generation when it comes to assessing paternal relationships — something that he said he found more than intriguing.
"We're seeing over time a worsening of relationships between children and their fathers," Strobel said. "Concurrent with that, we see increased skepticism about God."
As an example, the author detailed his findings surrounding one's absolute certainty that God exists. While nearly eight out of 10 older Americans embrace this notion, he said that the proportion decreases as generations get younger.
"More than one-third of Millennials are struggling with belief in God, compared with one-quarter of Gen X and one-fifth of Baby Boomers and Elders," reads a press release announcing the results. "Put another way, 62 percent of Millennials are certain God exists, compared with 74 percent of Gen X, 82 percent of Boomers, and 79 percent of Elders."
Strobel didn't draw definitive correlations between age and skepticism toward God, though. After all, young people are more likely to rebel and it's not uncommon for certain views to transition and solidify as generations age. Still, the results left him wondering whether there is an underlying relation between skepticism and paternal relationships.
Consider that only 15 percent of Elders aged 69 and above and 17 percent of Boomers aged 50 to 68 reported a poor relationship with their fathers while growing up, with 26 of Millennials — those aged 18 to 30 — reporting the same.
Strobel went on to cite a recent study from Oxford University Press that found that faith is passed through the generations and that, when a father is distant and inflexible, it can have a negative impact on his children's faith.
"The quality of the relationship between the child and the parent affects the success or lack of success in transmission," Vern Bengtson, a researcher at the University of Southern California, told Christianity Today back in 2013. "Warm, affirming parents, especially fathers, tend to be the most successful."
Strobel said that, though his survey results don't definitively back the correlation, he believes that there's "something there."
"There's a lot of belief in the relationship between the father and heavenly father," he said, while offering up a caveat. "I don't think it is necessarily 'the factor' or the only factor."
As for his own relationship with his dad, Strobel was candid.
"My dad was a good man in many ways. He didn't abuse us, he wasn't abusive or hostile or angry, but I was kind of a surprise pregnancy after three other children, and not an entirely welcome surprise from my father's [perspective]," he said. "We never connected emotionally … we had a difficult relationship our entire lives."
Their relationship came to a head when Strobel was 18 years old and he was caught doing something he wasn't supposed to do.
"Finally, in this blowout, he stared at me and said, 'I don't have enough love for you to fill my little finger,'" Strobel recalled. "I stormed out of the house, intending never to return and moved into an apartment with a revenge attitude."
He said he planned to show his father that he could become a successful journalist without his help.
"It propelled me toward my atheism. It sent me on a path looking for the kind of grace we know is there," he said. "We can all imagine the perfect dad, loving and affirming and there for you … and that's God, but so many don't have perfect dads."
Strobel continued, "So, for me, I believe my relationship with my father was a factor in me going into atheism for much of my early life."
In the end, though, Strobel — who found success as the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune — ended up abandoning atheism and converting to Christianity, a story TheBlaze detailed earlier this week.
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