Do Christians have a higher divorce rate than atheists?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I’ve been having discussions with atheists lately, and finding out that in the atheist community, a lot of false beliefs persist because they (as a group) insulate themselves from rational inquiry. Basically, one of them says something that makes Christians look bad, and the rest of them believe it without ever looking into it, or even listening to a critical point of view. Anything that makes Christians look stupid and/or evil is believed without question.

It’s not just the big lies like “the universe is eternal”, “Jesus never existed”, “unborn babies aren’t human beings”, “the multiverse explains away the cosmic fine-tuning”, “the origin of life is a solved problem: aliens seeded the Earth with life”, “the Cambrian explosion occurred over tens of millions of years”, “moral realism is perfectly rational in an accidental universe where humans evolved randomly”, etc.. Sometimes, it’s just ordinary stuff like divorce rates between Christians and atheists.

I thought I would re-post this USA Today article from 2011 about that.

Excerpt:

It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.

But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

“It’s a useful myth,” said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.”

“Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her.”

The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.

Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

[…]Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

So, please do bookmark this information for the next time you hear an atheist make this argument. Obviously, you can’t expect people who are not serious about their religion to be bound by the moral duties imposed by that religion. People who attend church regularly are probably more serious about their religion, and also probably more informed about what their holy book says. If their holy book is the Bible, then there are very few options for divorce.

An article from Focus on the Family by Amy Tracy explains when divorce is allowed according to the Bible.

God is very clear, however, that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He also says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). According to the New Testament, there are two justifications for divorce: infidelity (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15).

So divorce is not something a Bible believing Christian can do for frivolous reasons, unless he wants to be in rebellion against God. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. But if you take the time to evaluate someone and make sure they are really a Christian, then it will greatly reduce the risk of no-fault divorce.

The future of marriage in the church

We’re probably not going to keep our low divorce rate unless we start to get serious about learning how to discuss moral issues practically, using evidence. Take premarital sex as an example. I’ve never been in a church where they explained the hormones that are released during sex that cause you to bond to the person you’re having sex with. You would have to look in books or listen to lectures in order to understand the problem with having sex with someone you are not committed to – how it causes you to hold back your emotions for fear of a break-up. The church doesn’t have much to say about the social effects of single motherhood by choice or the effects of gay parenting on children. Nor do they have any positive vision to offer men about how they can serve God by marrying carefully. Now is probably a good time to start thinking deeply about how to have a good relationship, how to have a good marriage, how to raise children who will make a difference.

12 thoughts on “Do Christians have a higher divorce rate than atheists?”

    1. If I’m not mistaken, our nation was initially guided by Christian – Judeo values. As our nation becomes more secularized, we will continue to witness the decline of morality and consequently, the family structure that perpetuates a more healthy society.

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  1. Appreciate the post. In a perfect world, people of all cultures would come to the realization that the Holy Bible as authored by God is the ultimate authority on marriage. The relationship between Christ and his Church serve as the ultimate reference and example of devotion and commitment.

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  2. “The church doesn’t have much to say about the social effects of single motherhood by choice or the effects of gay parenting on children. Nor do they have any positive vision to offer men about how they can serve God by marrying carefully. Now is probably a good time to start thinking deeply about how to have a good relationship, how to have a good marriage, how to raise children who will make a difference.”

    A lot of it is “fear” of social rejection and loss of status and support from church leadership concerning the reponses of the congregations they led. That’s what it really boils down in the end.

    They are “scared” to tell people the plain, honest truth because “it can hurt them personally”: wife gives them problems, church members “offended” and leave, etc.

    Only the saints in Christ who “accept the good/bad consequences” of all actions have the strength of character and “grit” to do what God wants them to do in these situations…

    All sin must be preached against regardless of how it offends anyone. Period.

    How many “gutsy” preachers like that can you find today?

    Well, not many “mainstream” that’s for sure…

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  3. “We’re probably not going to keep our low divorce rate”

    38% (for weekly attendees) is NOT a low divorce rate. It is an outlandishly HIGH divorce rate and an abomination for people who claim Christ and are at least serious enough to go to church weekly.

    However, that is an indictment more on American churchianity than on Christianity.

    I once heard that couples who read and study the Bible together on a daily basis have a divorce rate of less than 1%. I have no idea if that number is verified though. I am guessing that if they do that, then they also probably read and study meaningful books and articles on apologetics and other issues related to Christianity.

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    1. Keep in mind that at least some of those divorces occurred prior to conversion. I’d be really interested to see statistics on that breakdown (pre/post conversion occurs ve of divorce), though I doubt the data exists.

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  4. The calculation if the divorce rate is so ridiculous such statistics are worthless. There are over 52 MILLION married couples in America. There are over 2 million marriages every year. Only 1 million divorces. And we are having a (excuse the French) pissing contest over what? Marriage is one of the 4 or 5 keys to living a happy successful life. Just do it. (Copyright Nike) Olde Wisdom from Thee Frugal Curmudgeon

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  5. I had a discussion with an atheist at work. 5 days a week for 9 months. About all it did was pass the time. Facts and logic are irrelevant to a relativist.

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    1. Most New Atheists (blind faitheists) are as you describe, but there is a smaller percentage of atheists who are pro-life, mostly conservative, and actually responsible human beings. That is how I was, and you can actually make progress with people like that.

      The thing that REALLY impressed me about Christians (since I agreed with them on almost every single sociopolitical issue) was seeing them demonstrate salt and light and be completely counter-cultural. If you can show them for instance how you are taking a risky stand against, say, pedophilia (The New Choice of the Left), that might be as valuable as fact sharing. (Of course, the atheist cannot be pro-pedophilia.) On most forms of atheism, being against pedophilia might be acceptable, but actually making a stand against it is risky.

      It could be another major issue too, like taking a stand against abortion (if the atheist is pro-life) or against sex trafficking or something like that. While atheists COULD take those kinds of risks too, it is unlikely that most will, because to lose one’s life on atheism means to pass into non-existence. Anyway, that is what attracted me to Christianity – but of course, I already agreed on the major facts and moral issues.

      Thank you for TRYING your best – you never know what God does with the seeds you plant!

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  6. Actually, there is only one reason to divorce after marriage and that is for desertion. The word in Matthew 5:32 for infidelity is the Greek word for unchastity. Back in the days, a couple could be betrothed for years before they were actually married. If the woman (no mention of the man…hmm) were unfaithful before the marriage, then she was “unchaste” and the betrothal could be annulled. This is what Jesus was speaking of.

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    1. RE divorce and remarriage: The early Christians were pretty much unanimous. Grammatically, the exception clause was applied to the divorce (separation) not remarriage. A man could (some said “should”) divorce an adulterous wife, but he was not free to remarry.

      This harmonizes with the earlier verse in Matthew where Christ says the husband participates in the wife’s adultery by putting her away (unless she is guilty of adultery) and also with the other synoptic gospels which say no divorce-and-remarriage.

      Paul in 1 Corinthians is referring to marriages that took place before the couple became Christians – the marriage can be dissolved in favor of the Christian faith.

      There are no exceptions – a Christian marriage cannot be dissolved – you cannot remarry (you can separate for severe abuse, unrepentant adultery)

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  7. Some of the highest divorce rates in America are found in the Bible Belt. It especially impacts the SBC membership, but high rates are also found in the non-religious.

    This leads to misleading divorce statistics, as they do not correct for confounding variables like geography. This leads to problems like Simpson’s Paradox.

    If you break down divorce rates, controlling for location (by region, by rural/urban/suburban, etc.), what you find is that evangelicals have substantially lower rates than the general population in most cases. If you further control for regular church attendance, those numbers drop even farther.

    I remain convinced that devout, traditional Christians have lower divorce rates and that any improvement in families will need to correspond with improvement in membership and teachings. But modern churches are not improving in teachings. Quite the contrary. The church and its existing membership need to wake up or it will continue to be corrupted.

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