The fastest growing religion in the United States seems to be no religion at all. A 2016 study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a quarter of the subjects surveyed claimed no religious affiliation, and this surprising figure increased substantially among the younger generation. Even members of the clergy are abandoning religion at a historic rate. What's behind this seismic shift in religious attitudes? Writer and director John Follis explores this issue through the prism of his own personal journey in his absorbing documentary Leaving God.
Follis' religious beliefs were programmed in him from an early age. As an adult, he continued to commit himself to serving his church, and he was particularly attracted to the sense of fellowship with other members of his congregation. But certain tenants of his religion began to pester him. He resented the feelings of guilt he experienced at the mere notion of lust. When his marriage began to crumble, he sought the counsel of his minister, who promptly admonished him from getting a divorce as it was against church doctrine. Yet that same minister would later go through two divorces of his own.
During the 90s, Follis embarked on crafting an ambitious marketing campaign for New York City's Marble Collegiate Church in an effort to revive its dwindling youth audience. The campaign proved a massive success. In spite of these efforts to promote his church and religion, he secretly harbored lingering doubts about the validity of his beliefs. These suspicions only deepened in the shadow of the falling Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. He contemplated the number of people throughout the centuries who had been slaughtered in the name of God. His faith was further compromised when reports of sexual molestation in the church started to spread like wildfire, when one high-profile religious leader after another was shamed by public scandal, and when he began to question the historical veracity of the scripture.
Leaving God is a modestly produced affair. But many viewers will empathize with the deeply personal testimony at its center, and it may also inspire thoughtful self-reflection and debate amongst those who remain firmly committed to their faith.