My Conversion/Deconversion Story

In my book Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains I’ve written 40 pages about my conversion to Christianity, my deconversion away from Christianity, what I believe now, and why. To read the complete story of my conversion/deconversion and what I believe today you can purchase the book here.

But let me offer the Cliff Notes version:

I grew up being taught to believe in the Christian faith. In fact, until I converted at the age of 18 I never remember encountering anyone who didn’t believe. I just thought everyone around me believed. So when I found myself down on my luck at the age of 18 there was no one else I knew to turn to but Jesus, and I did.


I had a dramatic conversion as an 18 year old. I had dropped out of High School, and was arrested six different times for offenses like running away, theft, and battery. I had also hitchhiked around the country with a friend. I was heavily into drugs, alcohol, sex, fast cars, and the party scene.

But one night I gave myself over to this Jesus in repentance and faith in response to what I believed at that time was his substitutionary death on the cross for my sins. At that time I claimed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a new calling to spread God's news of salvation to anyone who will believe.

And my life radically changed. Here’s how I later described my new life and new sense of mission in a newspaper devotional column that area ministers took turns writing every week: “I can identify with the apostle Paul who said, ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’ (I Cor.15:10). I knew I needed help, but no one could break through to me, until I turned my life over to Jesus. Only he could save me. Only he could change me. I have totally changed due to the grace of God. When I look back on those years, it’s like I’m talking about someone else. Without God I shudder where I would be today. Now, I gladly preach the message that God can change you too. Believe it. It happened in my life. Believe that it can happen to your rebellious teenager. Believe it because we serve a miracle-working God who answers prayer, and who intervenes on our behalf.” Then I ended the devotional with these words: “From out of my own personal experience my heart bleeds for the victims in our society, for I know what it’s like to be a victim and a victimizer. That’s why I fight for the unborn, the poor and homeless, those victimized by pornography, but especially for those trapped in sin. People need the Lord.” [Herald Republican, August 10, 1990].

With such a passion for my purportedly new relationship with God-in-Christ, I began to understand my faith and to minister it. I graduated from Great Lakes Christian (Bible) College, Lansing Michigan, in 1977. Afterward I became the Associate Minister in Kalkaska, MI, for two years. Then I attended Lincoln Christian Seminary (LCS), Lincoln, IL, and graduated in 1982 with M.A. and M.Div. degrees, under the mentoring of Dr. James D. Strauss. While at LCS I was the founding editor for the now defunct apologetical quarterly, A Journal For Christian Studies. After LCS I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and graduated in 1985 with a Th.M degree, under the mentoring of Dr. William Lane Craig, considered by many to be the foremost defender of the empty tomb of Jesus and his bodily resurrection from the grave. I also took classes at Marquette University in a Ph.D. program with a double major in Philosophy and Ethics, but I didn’t finish because I lacked the needed funds to stay in school and because I wanted to be close to my Dad who was dying of cancer.

From 1987 to 1990 I was the Senior Minister of the Angola Christian Church, Angola, Indiana. I served in the Steuben County Ministerial Association, and for a year I was its President. Before that I had several ministries in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. I was in the ministry for about fourteen years, or so. After leaving the church, I’ve stayed in Angola, and now I own my own business here.

I was a Christian apologist with several master’s degrees set for the express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks. I was not afraid of any idea, because I was convinced that Christianity was true and could withstand all attacks. I have taught both apologetical and philosophical classes for a few different Christian and secular colleges. I was in the “Who’s Who Among America’s Best Teachers” in 1996.

I knew most of the arguments against Christianity, and as a philosophy instructor in a secular college I could debate both sides of most any argument. As a philosophy instructor, in many ways, I am a purveyor of doubt. Too many people have a superficial faith handed down from their parents. As a teacher my goal is to cause them to doubt much of what they believe, be it atheist or believer, or in between. Doing so is what’s needed for them to develop a deeper faith, and it allows them to see points of view they’ve never considered before, thus making them more tolerant of other people’s beliefs. One thing that I must do as a philosophy instructor is to eliminate from my students a smug, simplistic, and dogmatic belief system. Such beliefs are childlike and unbecoming of the adults they should become. Anyway, I have told people time and time again that I could teach philosophy until I was blue in the face so long as I knew I had a loving, caring, and faithful Christian community to fall back on after my class is over. When that fell through the floor, the doubts crept in my life.

There are three major things that happened in my life that changed my thinking. They all happened in the space of about five years, from 1991-1996. These are the three things that changed my thinking: 1) A major crisis, 2) plus information, 3) minus a sense of a loving, caring, Christian community. For me it was an assault of major proportions that if I still believed in the devil would say it was orchestrated by the legions of hell.

Let me just briefly mention the information that changed my mind. I carried on a correspondence debate with my cousin who was a Lieutenant in the Air Force (now a Colonel) and teaches Bio-Chemistry at a base in Colorado. I handed him a book arguing for creation over evolution and asked him to look at it and let me know what he thought of it. After several months he wrote me a long letter and sent me a box full of articles and books on the subject. Some of them were much too technical for me to understand, but I tried to read them. While he didn’t convince me of much at the time, he did convince me of one solid truth: the universe is as old as scientists say it is, and the consensus is that it is 12-15 billion years old.

Now that by itself isn’t too harmful of an idea to Christian thinking. But two corollaries of that idea started me down the road to being the honest doubter I am today. The first is that in Genesis chapter 1 we see that the earth existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were all created on the fourth day. This doesn’t square with astronomy. So I began looking at the first chapters of Genesis, and as my thinking developed over time I came to the conclusion that those chapters are folk literature—myth. You can see my studies on this later in this book.

The second corollary is this: if God took so long to create the universe, then why would he all of a sudden snap his fingers, so to speak, and create human beings? If time is not a factor with God when he created the universe, then why should time be a factor when it came to creating human beings? If God took his time to create the universe then why wouldn’t he also create living creatures with greater complexity during the same length of time? In other words, what reason can be given for the different ways God created? Is this the same God? Why did it take God so long to create the stuff of the universe, which is less valuable and presumably less complex to create, than it did to create the most valuable and highly complex creatures to inhabit that universe? Astronomy describes the long process of star, planet, and galaxy formation. It then becomes uncharacteristic of God to do otherwise with human beings. I concluded that God created human beings by the same long process he created the universe as a whole, if he created us at all.

I carried on a correspondence with Dr. Virgil Warren for about 6 months, who was a professor at Manhattan Christian College, Manhattan, Kansas. I was asking him what he thought about the issues raised by the age of the universe. In a final letter to him on March 19, 1994 I wrote: “My problem is that I earnestly desire the truth whatever the result. I do not concern myself with the results just yet, although I know I’ll have to face them sometime. Right now I just want to make sense of it all, results be what they may. When I consider the possible results, they scare me, but that’s only because they are unfamiliar to me. This is natural. The real question for me right now is the truth question. If the answers upset other cherished beliefs then I’ll have to re-examine my answers, and perhaps revise them in order to maintain those cherished beliefs. On the other hand, my answers might cause me to give up on some of these cherished beliefs—there’s no way to tell at this point which way I’ll go. But as time permits I am committed to finding answers that produce the least amount of tension among the things I believe.”

Nearly two years later and I came to deny the Christian faith. There were just too many individual problems that I had to balance like spinning plates on sticks in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down.

I personally think more than anything else, it was a deeper knowledge that caused me to leave the faith. But it was my faith that inspired me to gain that knowledge in the first place. I was so sure and so confident in my faith that I didn't believe I could learn anything that would ever cause me to doubt my faith. I believed I served a God of reason, so I was not going to be afraid of any argument to the contrary. And with this assurance I sought to understand and argue against those who would debunk my faith.

It is quite ironic, really. I started with faith. That faith inspired me to understand. With more understanding, my faith increased to the point where I was confident no argument could stand up against my faith. So I proceeded to gain more and more knowledge for the express purpose of debunking the skeptics. But in so doing I finally realized that the arguments on behalf of the Christian faith were simply not there. The skeptics were right all along. Even though everything I studied was done from the presumption of faith, and in the service of the faith, my studies ended my faith.

My doubts were simmering these last few years. I didn't think much about them. But when Mel Gibson's movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it made me think about them again, intensely. Plus, while I was describing in class how, with Arthur Peacocke, I believe God could've used chance as a radar beam searching the possibilities for the direction of creation, one of my students laughed at the thought. It was these last two things that have put me on course to finally come out of the closet and tell what I think. I have always had reasons for what I believed. Only recently have I begun sharing my doubts. I want people to know that I have thought through answers for the way I life my life.

While the things I have just written might explain to some degree why my thinking has changed, I want to stress the fact that my thinking has indeed changed. You cannot explain away my present doubts by pointing to bad experiences in my life. They may be what provoked my thinking, but they don’t explain my thoughts. I am an atheist regardless of the experiences that led up to my present way of thinking. In talking with me you will have to deal with my arguments. Otherwise, I could point to your past experiences and explain your beliefs away as a product of what you have experienced too! People believe and doubt for a wide variety of reasons, and that’s all there is to it.

Now there will be those who might say I chose my theology based on how I wanted to live my life. In other words, my ethics dictated my viewpoint. But the chronological historical truth is that first my theology changed, and then I started living my life differently. My theology of doubts began to dictate my personal ethics. I started to live my life in keeping with my new set of beliefs.

I tried as best as I could to be a faithful Christian, and good minister. I accepted God’s grace, and it radically changed my life when I was a teenager, as you have read. After being saved I wanted to show God how grateful I was for his gift of salvation by committing my life over to him with all I had. Even though I knew it was by grace that I had been saved, I almost always felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough in response to God’s love. Whether it was spending time in prayer, evangelizing, reading the Bible, tithing, forgiving someone who had done me wrong, or whether it was struggling with temptations of lust, pride, selfishness and laziness, I almost always felt guilty. It may just be because I was so passionate about Christianity that this was the case, and so it just might be my particular temperament. But I never could understand how Christian people could come to church every Sunday but never get involved much in the Church’s programs, because that’s what believers should want to do. To be quite frank here, if Christians really believed that the non-Christian was going to hell, and that God loved them enough to send his Son to die for them on the cross, then how would they behave? How many true believers are in the churches today?

Today I am pretty much guilt free. That is, I have no guilt in regards to the Christian duties mentioned above. I am free of the need to do most of the things I felt I had to do because I was expressing my gratitude for what God had done. And yet, I am still grateful for my present life, even more so in many ways. I love life. I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high. In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to. Think about it, according to Jesus I should feel guilty for not just what I do, but for what I think about, lusting, hating, coveting, etc. I’d like every person who reads this book to experience the freedom I have found. It is to you that I dedicate this book.

For more about me as a Christian Minister see Nostalgic Today.

77 comments:

Martin Wagner said...

I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high. In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to.

Nice essay John. However, I would say that the problem wih Christian ethical standards isn't that they're "too high," or that it's easier for atheists to be ethical simply by "lowering" our standards. (I can think of numerous unethical things done with impunity by Christians, who then use the teachings of the Bible to justify them.) It's that Christians have distorted ideas about what ethics and morality is, and what acts are to be considered ethical or unethical.

And, when you consider that one of the core tenets of the Christian faith is that those who do not practice the Christian faith deserve an eternity of torture, I think it's completely out of whack to imply that Christianity has "too high" ethical standards. What exactly is ethical about punishing people for not believing a certain way? Nothing, that's what. The Doctrine of Hell, if you ask me, completely disqualifies Christianity from consideration as a moral/ethical belief system. But then, I've heard many Christians deny hell, indicating that there are a number of Biblical concepts even they are troubled by, even if they lack the personal courage to say outright, "This is an unethical teaching!" Perhaps for some of them, this will be one of the spinning plates that ends up falling.

The problem atheists have with Christian ethics is not that they are too high, but that they aren't rationally supported most of the time, and that Christianity considers many unethical things ethical. A god that wantonly kills people by the tens of thousands when he gets pissed off is not a god any rational or ethical person should support.

As an atheist, I've found moral behavior comes entirely easily simply by judging whether or not an individual action is rational. Rational behavior, ethical behavior — same thing, really. Aristotle once wrote that virtue arises from the proper application of reason. I don't see that anyone has disproved that over the years, least of all people who try to tell me that it really arises from following their sky fairy's List of Rules.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Martin, and your points are well taken. I just almost always felt guilty because of my thought world, even if I did nothing wrong. In fact, according to my experience, the closer I purportedly got to God, the more I felt guilty.

Martin Wagner said...

In fact, according to my experience, the closer I purportedly got to God, the more I felt guilty.

I think that's deliberate. It ties in somewhat to what Christians are taught to believe about death and the afterlife. While I wouldn't say that the fear of death is Christianity's #1 selling point, in the fundamentalist practices I think it does play a major role in how its memes control the emotional states (particularly guilt) of even the staunchest believers, inculcating a fear that you're just not pleasing God enough. A friend of mine made an interesting point once pertaining to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, negotiation, despair, acceptance. As regards one's own mortality, religion stymies this process at the negotiation phase, making the believer continually fearful that they may yet slip into hell's fires if God ever grows sufficiently displeased with them, thus perversely making them more dependent upon the faith for any fleeting sense of emotional peace.

Hallq said...

I'm a little surprised that a student of Craig's would end up in the YEC camp - not only has he avoided endorsing such nonsense, but he's made the Big Bang an important part of his argument for the existence of God.

John W. Loftus said...

I was a "concordist," in that the days of Genesis represented eons of time. I just didn't know much at all by way of astronomy. Maybe the impact of the material from my cousin jolted me into seeing what the age of the universe really entails. It forced me to reconsider concordism like nothing I had ever read. Before that the Kalam was just seen by me as a philosophical argument to prove God exists. Isn't that strange? It's probably no different than when I was an apologist I never truly considered the arguments made by the skeptics. I only read them debunk them. Sometimes we only see the things we want to see, and with tunnel vision we fail to realize the implications of what we do see.

Anonymous said...

I have just read your deconversion story. I am a christian myself, and remain totally committed, but I can understand where you are coming from. I won't even try to argue with you about what you believe, because I can see the struggle you went through to take such a brave step like you did. I won't deny that I was holding my breath a bit as I read your article, just in case I came to a 'clincher' as to why christianity is false - I don't want to give up my faith - you know all about that. I accept that we will never really know 100% until we get to Heaven - if it exists. At the end of the day, we live by faith, not knowledge.I didn't come to a clincher however -nothing you said will cause me to reconsider my beliefs. I simply don't really understand your problem with Gods methods of creation, and how that shook your faith so badly. But fair enough, you examined it for yourself, and you decided.

I also wouldn't patronise anybody by saying they didn't have enough faith to survive a bad experience, so I accept there was more to your loss of faith than the question of why God lets us suffer, as you basically say yourself.


You are exactly right to say that many christians don't really believe what they say they do - if they did, they would never stop trying to keep everyone out of Hell. Of course, they would then face the criticism that they are scare-mongering. But you know that if Hell exists, its only the loving thing to do to try and warn others about it - not to the exclusion of everything else, however.

Can I just say that Christians aren't meant to live their life in fear of Hell, or the Devil? I know I don't. Neither are they meant to live in a constant state of guilt. You say 'I tried as best as I could to be a faithful Christian'. To me, that is a key issue. It was all about you trying to meet Gods standards, probably because thats what other christians taught you to do. Theres no point even trying. Same is true for your comment 'I almost always felt guilty that I wasn't doing enough in response to Gods love'. Despite your obvious intelligence, and your deep thinking, and desire to know and believe the right thing, you totally missed the point of your relationship with God. You could never do anything to respond adequately to His love, so you shouldn't even have tried. And you shouldn't have felt guilty that you couldn't do it, because He never thought you could, and that was ok by Him. Christianity is not about plate spinning - its about being content in God.

Thank-you for your honesty. Christains do need to stop being so smug and simplistic. Doubt is ok - God can handle it. I appreciate your candour. I don't sense total relief from you that you have been able to leave God behind. You may disagree. And of course, as a Christian, I feel sad that you've given it all up.

streetapologist said...

John-


You said:

"Today I am pretty much guilt free. That is, I have no guilt in regards to the Christian duties mentioned above. I am free of the need to do most of the things I felt I had to do because I was expressing my gratitude for what God had done. And yet, I am still grateful for my present life, even more so in many ways. I love life. I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free"

Could you please define "pretty much guilt free" as you said this twice, which means to me that you are not really as guilt free as you propose. It's kind of like a relationship where someone says over and over again "I love you" who exactly are you trying to convince that you are 'pretty much guilt free' yourself or us?

I am wondering if your former church was an Arminian church? You speak of Christian duties, this seems consistent with the trappings of Arminian theology :Don't smoke,don't dance,don't drink.

Haven't you based some of your skeptical viewpoints on what you believe are irreconcilible differences between science and the bible. Have you ever read Einstein's little book about a two dimensional man in a three dimensional world? Has the thought ever occured to you that God exists in more than three dimensions of time? Assuming my worldview for a moment (that God indeed exists) or better yet if you were God would you write a book
that was a narrative or technical?
(I am not implying that the bible doesn't address science, because I believe it does)

How do you know explain the horrific way that people treat one another apart from a historical fall? Can you provide a cogent argument for altruism?

In your testimony, (if one can call it that) don't you commit the genetic fallacy at the end of the article? As you know the Jesus clearly taught that there would be sheep and goats. Is it not possible that there are a lot of goats filling the pews? If there is a cosmic battle taking place wouldn't it make sense that God's enemy would fill the pews with those who by their inaction (and lack of love for one another cf. 1 John 1-2) seek to destroy the faith of other believers such as yourself?

You said that the primary thing that drove you from faith was a Major crisis, yet you spent more time telling about the "Christians" who weren't doing anything. Are we to believe that you wouldn't have renounced your faith if the Christians had been more loving?

You say "knowledge" led you astray, what kind of knowledge do you think that you have acquired? Are you now smarter than God? With all due respect John, pride led you astray. Perhaps it had something to do with the "major crisis" that you mysteriously omitted from your otherwise tell all expose on your departure from the faith.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon, thanks for your thoughtful reading of what I wrote.

Streetapologist (SA), Could you please define "pretty much guilt free"...

Oh, I do stupid things and say stupid things I shouldn't which cause problems once in a while with people I know, especially with my wonderful wife. Don't we all? Guilt is now a feeling. I feel bad when I hurt anyone.

I was an Arminian, but we weren't strict like you asked.

SA:
Have you ever read Einstein's little book about a two dimensional man in a three dimensional world?

John:
No, I haven't read everything, but what I have pondered led me astray. If you're a Calvinist, then why did God decree that I was to read the "wrong" books to lead me astray, and that I was to write my own book to lead still others astray?

SA:
How do you know explain the horrific way that people treat one another apart from a historical fall?

John:
Survival of the fittest.

SA:
If there is a cosmic battle taking place wouldn't it make sense that God's enemy would fill the pews with those who by their inaction (and lack of love for one another cf. 1 John 1-2) seek to destroy the faith of other believers such as yourself?

John:
How could a Calvinistic Sovereign God possibly lose this cosmic battle?

SA:
Are we to believe that you wouldn't have renounced your faith if the Christians had been more loving?

John:
Who knows? I mean I don't know what might have been the case.

SA:
Are you now smarter than God?

John:
Hmm, doesn't this question presuppose God exists? If I answer either "yes" or "no" here, I've admitted something I don't believe.

Thanks for your thoughts too. See ya on the debate pages...

streetapologist said...

John-

Thanks for the response. Here are so more thoughts for you to ponder:

I asked:

SA:
How do you know explain the horrific way that people treat one another apart from a historical fall?

You answered:
John:
Survival of the fittest.

Have you read this article: http://news-info.wustl.edu/tips/page/normal/902.html

It seems to militate against the survival of the fittest as an explanation for man's inclination toward evil. (This article was not written by a Christian BTW)

I asked:
SA:
Have you ever read Einstein's little book about a two dimensional man in a three dimensional world?

You answered:
John:
No, I haven't read everything, but what I have pondered led me astray. If you're a Calvinist, then why did God decree that I was to read the "wrong" books to lead me astray, and that I was to write my own book to lead still others astray?

SA: Do you really need me to answer that? As a Calvinist the simple answer is perhaps you are not a part of the elect. As for your writing books to lead other astray, this would follow from your reprobation. I think we both know that you knew what my answer here would be.

Another question I offered:
SA:
If there is a cosmic battle taking place wouldn't it make sense that God's enemy would fill the pews with those who by their inaction (and lack of love for one another cf. 1 John 1-2) seek to destroy the faith of other believers such as yourself?

John:
How could a Calvinistic Sovereign God possibly lose this cosmic battle?

I think you misrepresented me here,but if it is necessary:


SA: I never said that God was losing this battle. I said "believers such as yourself" pardon my ambiguity here. I should have said for "false believers such as yourself" aka stony ground hearers.

Finally I asked:

SA:
Are you now smarter than God?

You answered:
John:
Hmm, doesn't this question presuppose God exists? If I answer either "yes" or "no" here, I've admitted something I don't believe.

SA: Here we are at meat of this conversation. When you converted at age 18 were you 1)Irrational?
If this is the case explain the stabilization of your life given the premiss that underlying your irrationality paradigmatic shifts took place that spared your life. This would be contrary to what is clinically demonstrable in irrational behavior.

2)Deceiving yourself at the same time you were being deceived? If this is the case then you must admit your lying was at least momentarily pathological. As a Pathological liar cannot tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

3)Never a believer in the first place. If this is the case then it would certainly answer your above question in regards to your being led astray.

You said that if you answered "yes" or "no" then you would be admitting something that you don't believe. Are you sure that you don't believe or are you again deceiving yourself into believing that you don't believe?
Or is this another example of irrationalism on your part?

I am not trying to be difficult, it just seems that when someone like you and Exbeliever say you were once a believer and now are not, this constitutes an admission on your part that you were either irrational,deceived, or lying. Unless you can offer some other explanation?

Martin Wagner said...

I am not trying to be difficult, it just seems that when someone like you and Exbeliever say you were once a believer and now are not, this constitutes an admission on your part that you were either irrational, deceived, or lying. Unless you can offer some other explanation?

I don't see anything that would be out of the ordinary for John to admit to being irrational or deceived in his days as a Christian. I think I was. Most believers are irrational and deceived. This is not meant as an ad hominem, just my observations that the easiest way to get people to accept an irrational belief system is to get them to suspend their rational faculties and critical thinking as regards that belief system. I've met many Christians whom I would describe as selectively rational. The same common sense and critical thinking they would bring to any other activity in their lives -- buying a used car, say -- is something they actively choose not to apply where their religious faith is concerned. God and the Bible are just off limits to critical thinking.

streetapologist said...

Martin-

Could you explain the fact that according to John he went from "practical atheist" to "believer" and with this selective rationality he had a paradigmatic shift in the foundations of his life. Is selective irrationality a clinical presentation? If not, isn't this just an empty assertion? If he was deceived, then he was not only deceiving himself he was being decieved at the same time.

Could you demonstrate the irrationality of belief *besides* just the assertion? This is the same old canard that so many atheist throw around, yet I have not seen anything more than assertions.

Martin Wagner said...

If he was deceived, then he was not only deceiving himself he was being decieved at the same time.

Well, I think you've summed up religious belief quite nicely there. In any event, as regards John's experience, I was offering an opinion, though I think it's a valid one. I'll let John explain himself.

Could you demonstrate the irrationality of belief *besides* just the assertion? This is the same old canard that so many atheist throw around, yet I have not seen anything more than assertions.

Well, I should think the irrationality of believing in any invisible magic being for which there has never been any credible evidence ought to be self-evident. But then if that were true, we wouldn't still have these colossal world religions running the show these days. So there's a good point to be made about not assuming anything regarding how irrational religious belief is. From ancient animistic and totemistic deities all the way down to contemporary times, there clearly is something about the notion of an all-powerful sky father looking down on you that goes right to the limbic system in most people.

If you haven't seen anything more than assertions regarding the irrationality of belief, then you clearly aren't well versed in the vast literature critiquing apologetics. There are a number of good examples that can be found in the Library section of infidels.org. If you like, though, I'd be happy to give you the reader's digest version on why an O3G (omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent god) cannot exist.

Anonymous said...

John,

"Survival of the fittest"

Can you give me the criteria on which to determine what is in the class of the "fittest"?

So for instance if I say the best skiers are Italian - I should have some criteria to determine who the best skiers are and whether they are Italian to test the hypothesis.

streetapologist said...

Martin-

You said:

"Well, I should think the irrationality of believing in any invisible magic being for which there has never been any credible evidence ought to be self-evident."

Thank you for providing a good example of the fallacy of poisoning the well.


Further you said:

"If you haven't seen anything more than assertions regarding the irrationality of belief, then you clearly aren't well versed in the vast literature critiquing apologetics"

You couldn't possibly know this, this is an assertion on your part plain and simple. If this your idea of demonstrating the irrationality of belief it doesn't appear to have any substance
whatsoever.

Further you said:

"If you like, though, I'd be happy to give you the reader's digest version on why an O3G (omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent god) cannot exist."

How can you prove what cannot exist? Wouldn't this imply that you are in fact Omniscient?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Loftus...

The strange thing is, the more I learn about the "conversion" story and the theology you believed, the more I am beginning to think something is seriously wrong.

I think it's very simple. You left Christianity because you didn't have a solid foundation where it counts the most. Having degrees and head knowledge is fine, but it is "heart knowledge" that counts before God. As I said before after reading a comment about how you read something by Dr. Price and Reggie Findley that apparently led you down the path to atheism, if that weak document (Is Heaven the Sky?), filled with logical fallacies from the very first paragraph, can fool you and lead you toward atheism, then you were of the weakest apologists.

I don't mean that as a "put down" but as a matter of simple fact. No well-trained, spiritually grounded person would have been significantly moved by that piece done by Price and Findley. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to tell you except that perhaps you should have done as Paul exhorted in one of his letters...to prove yourself, whether you are truly in the faith or not.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon,

I cannot comment on everything here, but I want to say that I didn't know of "Is Heaven the Sky?" by Price and Findley until after I had deconverted. I did my own study from several scholarly commentaries, articles and dictionaries on these issues years before they did their piece.

Anonymous said...

How can you prove what cannot exist? Wouldn't this imply that you are in fact Omniscient?

Does someone have to be omniscient to prove that square circles do not exist? They can't exist by definition. Perhaps, this is where martin is going.

Tara said...

WOW, I accidently came across your blog. My husband and I just got baptised in October. I live here in Kalkaska. That is how I feel--guilty for not doing enough. Right now I'm just in shock and trying to think about what you have wrote.

Anonymous said...

Dear John, Good morning and greetings from your friends at the Kalkaska Church of Christ. I just want you to know how sorry I am that the Christian community has let you down so badly that it has shaken your faith - I truly do not believe that you have abandoned it altogether. Please know that our men's ministry lifted you to the Father in prayer this morning.
Dan Johnson

John W. Loftus said...

Thank you for your interest and concern Dan. For the record, I have some very fond memories of my ministry with the people of the Kalkaska church. The people there are probably the best Christians I ever knew while in the ministry.

I also thank you for the prayers you have offered on my behalf. Why not? If God answers prayers, then let it be here with me.

For others here who think I never was a Christian in the first place, you can always ask people who knew me in the churches I served; like Dan's church.

I miss these people, and I miss the people of other churches I served. But the arguments just were not there, period.

Anonymous said...

John,

Growing up around atheist my whole life and now being a Christian, there is one question that an atheist has never been able to answer for me. The void of a decent answer is what lead me to exploring Christianity (and many other religions) and eventually devoting my life to Jesus Christ when I was 20 years old. The one question is very basic and goes to the core of an atheist belief system that denies the existents of a God. The very simple but foundational question I started to ask myself was this, “What came before that?”

Evolution always said that there were some gases that mixed and blew up which we call the “Big Bang” theory. Then life on earth started and evolved into what we see today. (I know this is a very simplistic understand but you get the point. I can’t go into all the details here and you know what I’m talking about.) Anyways I sat around one day and started to ask myself the simple question of, “What came before the gases?” I got some answers to that question over time but then I would ask again, “Well what came before that?” When I kept asking this question over and over again in my own head and to others the point I ended up at was there couldn’t always be a “before that” at some point their had to be something that just was. Something that didn’t play by the rules and limitations of time. Something that had to start everything else. Now most people call that something “God”. So I believed at that point there had to be a God (something or someone who started it all). It’s the only logical conclusion to come to.

Now just knowing and believing there was a God did not convert me into being a Christian. What it did do is lead me in a search to find who this “God” was and if he did in anyway communicate with us or even cared about what he started. I looked into Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity primarily to see if any of them seem to be a legitimate message from “God”. After a search of those religions I came to the belief that Christianity was the legitimate message from “God”.

Most who consider themselves to be true Atheist have an incredible intelligence and a wonderful desire for logic in their life. The problem with their worldview is that they have gotten caught up in all the science and theories (which there is nothing wrong with) but forgot to look at the foundational question that they can’t answer. “What came before that?” Logic has to lead you to a “God”. The question that must then be answered is who is that God then and has he communicated with us?

John, I will pray for you. I hope some day you come to the conclusion I have in my search for God, because like you (at one point in your life), finding that answer and the truth of Jesus Christ has changed my life forever.

Signed,
Zimmerfly

Anonymous said...

I was just checking back to see if there was an answer to a question I wrote, but I don't see what I wrote on the board. Since this blog thing is new to me, can you tell me what happened to what I wrote? It was kind of lengthy. But I spent last Sat. writing it and now it's gone. It was from the person who invited you to Park Street Church if you are ever in the Boston area. The reason I really want to know is because I had some questions at the end of my comment, and I was hoping to read some comments. Thanks for letting me know what happened to what I wrote.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon,
Read "Our Policy Here." I deleted it because I considered it a spam-like sermon. If you have a question or a statement related to my story, then fine.

Anonymous said...

Dear John,
As I said, I have never responded to a blog before so I'm not sure what you mean by "spam-type sermon." I'm a 45-year old mom who works full-time. I'm not sure if you are saying I sounded like a preacher, but I will take it as a compliment since I never went to seminary. And I read that you are an ex-pastor. So coming from a pastor, I take it as a compliment. Anyway, I learned most of what I shared with you last week from R.C. Sproul and his weekday radio shows. I'll be out of town the next couple of weeks, so I won't be able to comment if you respond to this. My family is going to Disney, which is not too far from R.C.'s church. I hope we'll get a chance to visit his church. Thanks for letting me know why my comment disappeared. I appreciate your honesty.

treadwell said...

dear John,

I find your story fascinating... mostly because it exists in that close space where facing life's contradictions takes us to extremes. Revelation says if we are lukewarm we will be spit out. Ecclesiastes says the wise man avoids extremes. My boyfriend (who is an agnostic determinist) says I want to have my cake and eat it too because I am a Christian who cannot see life as simply this or that, free will or predestination, faith or works, et al (why does it have to be one or the other?). A razor's edge separates our blessings and curses. Quite often they are two sides of the same coin. People call life a tapestry, a poem (free verse or sonnet?), a dance - these can be complex art forms with structure and specificity or freedom and grace. The finest art is, perhaps, when the structure is well known and met with spontaneous creativity.

I cannot help but see God in the world simply because the world is and I don't know of anything outside of the "natural world" that is that was not made... so i see all else that is as something that was likewise made... so I can only speak from that standpoint. The extremes teach us truths and, I believe, help us to find the solid rock in-between.

I love the fact that there is an encyclopedia of biblical errancy. It does not make me doubt my faith, rather it frees me to not try and make my faith fit into boxes that cannot hold it. The struggle is to not make errancy or inerrancy what defines faith. The struggle is to not lose all sense of grounding while playing with that freedom. The struggle is to grasp the truth while being open to the possibilities.

If proving Christianity led you to debunk it... perhaps debunking it will lead you to prove it.

with my best.

John W. Loftus said...

If proving Christianity led you to debunk it... perhaps debunking it will lead you to prove it.

Now there's a thought! What if?

But I doubt it very very much. It would prove almost imposible to return to that which I rejected later in life, having once defended it.

Trina Hower said...

John,

I think you're very brave. I'm going to look for your book. I went around the same mulberry bush a few million times, but once you see the man behind the curtain is only a man, (or the reflection of ourselves), it's difficult to unsee it. In other words, that road only goes one way. Once you see Christianity as not real, you can't go back. I sometimes wonder if the angel of light is actually religion.

John W. Loftus said...

My recent book isn't available yet, but my previous one can be found on Amazon.com by searching for my name, "John W. Loftus." Click on the "new & used" and I'll personally autograph it and send it to you.

Scott said...

I read your story and there are many points within it I would enjoy discussing with you.
Perhaps just one for now. For the record I am a Christian.

You wrote:
"... he did convince me of one solid truth: the universe is as old as scientists say it is, and the consensus is that it is 12-15 billion years old."

I agree. Have you considered the "gap" theory and if so, why did you rule it out?
One of my favorite authors, Arthur Custance, has a very well written treatise on this subject at:

http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume7/Part_VI/Thestage.html

Would you care to comment on this?

Daniel said...

Zimmerfly,

The Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy/Matter tells us that these cannot be created or destroyed, only transform into one another.

Cosmology is probably one of the most highly misunderstood and mischaracterized sciences by the layperson. It is the study of the universe in its totality, but of particular interest to the general populace, especially the study of its beginnings/origins. To most of my Christian friends, hearing the term “Big Bang” (BB) probably evokes a sort of grimace and possibly an arrogant smile: “something came from nothing, how ridiculous!” If indeed that was what science has predicted, I would grimace and scorn as well (and believe in a Creator of the universe, maybe). That is not, however, the case. If you’ve learned about the BB, also known as the Cosmological Standard Model, from a pastor or a layperson, it is quite likely that the physical basis has been mischaracterized or even entirely misunderstood. I will not go into detail here, but suffice it to say that matter − mass and energy, are taken as uncreated and eternally existent entities, which can, and do, undergo transformations. When mass and energy are related to one another in the form of space-time, we can comprehend this pretty well, because it is how the universe currently exists, and how we exist within it.

However, space-time is not, itself, eternal. It is an arrangement of mass and energy, a particular configuration, which arose out of a “singularity” (a mathematical unknown), by way of expansion. The BB simply posits that, in measuring the expansion of the universe, the background radiation, and the arrangement of matter in our universe, we can extrapolate this expansion back to a single point in space-time, which we dub the “singularity”. This singularity was not “created”, but, because time itself began with the expansion, this is quite difficult for us to comprehend. Simply put, time itself is a property of our universe in its current state, and depends upon a frame of reference.

Einstein taught us that. Einstein showed us that objects moving at extremely high velocities would mark the passage of time at an entirely different rate than we would. Therefore, time is relative. We knew long before that motion was relative, but we never knew that time was, as well.

This is one way to think about the Law of Conservation of Mass/Matter/Energy, and, by extension, the 1st Law of Thermodynamics. Einstein showed us that matter, in the forms of mass and energy, are directly related to one another by relativity [that famous equation]. The BB does not violate this axiom, and in fact, is based upon it. The BB was not the “creation” of anything, but an expansion of what was already present. I personally subscribe to the metaphysical cosmology of a cyclic universe, for its beauty and simplicity. The premise is that our universe is expanding, and its expansion is accelerating, but that one day, this expansion will slow, finally stop, and gravity (which was slowing the expansion all along) will begin to “take over” the forces at work, and pull solar systems, stars, and entire galaxies towards one another [on the whole, it already does this on local scales], and that all matter will collapse into another “singularity”, from which, another BB will occur. Black holes are one thing to think about. But I digress.

Chemistry, physics, and cosmology, as important and integral to my life as they are, are not the reason I am now without faith in God. They are crucial, however, to me having a coherent worldview, and having answers to important philosophical questions, most of which, religion offers no real answer, or even the wrong answers [as in Creationism]. I could be an atheist without a scientific background, but I would be less intellectually satisfied with my worldview.

John W. Loftus said...

Scott. I was at one time way back in my Christian past a believer in the gap theory. According to itb etween Gen. 1:1 and 1:2 is a huge time gap to account for geological the data. First proposed by Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). “Invented in order to please the scientists, it has had considerable difficulty satisfying them.” Blocher, (p. 42). It presupposes three radical phases of life on earth, but there are two insurmountable difficulties: 1) “And the earth BECAME” is an inadmissible Hebrew translation. Compare the same word used in Genesis 3:1 “Now the snake was...”). 2) It also requires that the verb “made” be given the meaning “remake.” (cf. 1:31; 2:2f; Ex. 20:11). According to Blocher, the verdict on the whole theory must be “quite impossible.”

Scott said...

You wrote:

"According to Blocher, the verdict on the whole theory must be “quite impossible.”

Fair enough. I am comfortable that my research refutes the timing, the rationale and the grammatical issues. (The aforementioned Custance reference is simply one that I highly regard.)

Thank you for your time.

Anonymous said...

"I started with faith. That faith inspired me to understand. With more understanding, my faith increased to the point where I was confident no argument could stand up against my faith. So I proceeded to gain more and more knowledge for the express purpose of debunking the skeptics. But in so doing I finally realized that the arguments on behalf of the Christian faith were simply not there."

"These are the three things that changed my thinking: 1) A major crisis, 2) plus information, 3) minus a sense of a loving, caring, Christian community."

"For me it was an assault of major proportions."

I relate profoundly to your statements above as I embarked on the same journey and likewise ended up in a completley different place. Only mine began in Judaism (I'm jewish by birth), not Christianity.

My journey into Judaism began as an adult and at first it seemed to be what I thought (dreamed, wished) I needed. The deeper I went into the communally tunnel-visioned world of organized religion however, the greater my disillusionment and disheartenment became, until it reached the breaking point.

The three things that changed your thinking are the three critical factors that changed mine. I also experienced them as an "assault of of major proportions," and the point of no return.

The experience remains a significantly dispiriting and painful one.

(I also responded to your Atheism/Pantheism post).

Roger Clough said...

All of the accounts I have seen from those leaving Christianity are by those disheartened by errors in the Bible who believe in their heads rather than have faith in their hearts. They're two different things.

Martin Luther referred to these respectively as law (head) and gospel (heart). Your head cannot save you, but your heart can.

The account of Creation in the Bible is obviously an allegorical, spiritual account, to be read by the heart. The theory of evolution, like all science, is of the head.
They're both true in their own way.

I suggest that you give your heart to Jesus, not your head.

Brian said...

Greetings to all.

Loftus, I hear you. BTW I've been through this with Holeman. I've had the same doubts,

used the same arguements, and I've seen the same problems. I find difficulties in the Bible

at every turn. But the choice is still simple. It is God of the Bible or nothing.

Were it something else, you'd already believe in it, so I know you won't patronize me by

asking, "What about Islam, Mormonism, the Greek Pantheon, Hinduism, Buddhism, or the Church

of the Pink Elephant?"

Loftus, just like with Holeman, and virtually every other atheist out there I've met, you

just don't want to accept God's Sovereignty. You don't think it makes sense to dish out

eternal damnation for finite sins. That's a fine opinion. Guess what? I don't like it

either! But that isn't for us to decide, is it? We all lost our privilege to throw stones

a long, long time ago.

I sincerely hope you find your faith again. I feel for you. I tried walking in a world

without God for the space of an afternoon. Lousy day. Fortunately, I decided it was better

to live in hope rather than to give up as you have done. Swallow that pride and take the

leap again. Or do the ashes of athiesm really satisfy you that much?

God bless,
Brian V. Mansur
brian.v.mansur@gmail.com

maybeitsnonsense said...

Perhaps the answer to this question is on the blog already, if so, please direct me. I have a personal question-
how did you, or any of you that left christianity, tell other people who were in the church?

part of my struggle is accepting what i am experiencing, as has been termed -deconverted. part of my struggle is being open about it.

how do i reveal this---
to my pastor?
my friends in the christian community?

John W. Loftus said...

You'll tell others when you are sure of what you believe. It'll come naturally. You don't need to force it. You'll start by asking tough questions of them. Ask them to help you answer some tough questions and discuss these questions with them. Or tell them you're having problems with a question or two. In any case, once you tell one person it becomes easier to tell another person, and so forth. I wish you well. I understand your struggle.

maybeitsnonsense said...

this helps. i decided this morning to tell the senior pastor of the church i was part of about my blog. i invited him to it. i have kept it anonymous out of fear- then i realized that i am not alone. there are other people in the church and outside of the church that have similiar struggles. some of these people keep their thoughts a secret- i do not want to do that anymore. i am afraid, but i do not want to live my life according to other peoples expectations. i have done it since i became a christian. i thought that pleasing god was pleasing the 'leaders.' now i know that is not so. i am not an athiest- i believe there is a god. i am not decided about jesus. i believe he is real- but at the same time i have no faith.

Katherine Wilshire said...

Hi, John. I respect your journey and since you are claiming reason as part of it, I have a question and research-suggestion for you.

Your "deconversion" was catalyzed by the info on science (evidence of evolution and an old universe, etc). This is curious to me since I was at Harvard and MIT for over a decade and, increasingly, the scientists are becoming Christians (most hold a 13 billion year cosmology. Some have written in "Finding God at Harvard" IVP 2007). They see Genesis as the only origin text that aligns with the Big Bang cosmology and its momentous beginning of time, space, matter and energy. The same cosmology is carried through the Bible (eg, Job, Isaiah, John). Physicist Hugh Ross's website is full of scientific discoveries confirming the Biblical picture: www.reasons.org

Question:
What do you know of the reasonable faith of leading scientists such as:

1) Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project.

2) Jennifer Wiseman, Lead Scientist of the Hubble Space Telescope.

What do you know of their research and reasons?

Thanks for continuing your open-minded and on-going journey,

Katherine

John W. Loftus said...

Katherine, thanks for visiting. To answer your questions, not much I'm afraid. Do you think it would change my mind now?

Let me ask you a question. Have you read my book, especially where I talk about these issues?

Katherine Wilshire said...

John,
I'm sorry but I have not read your book, just your excerpts on this blog which are well articulated.

To be fair, I won't ask you to read my books, either, but we can still have a conversation here.

Yes, I do think that the reasonable faith, and humble sense of wonder, of brilliant scientists like Collins, Ross, and Wiseman could change your mind. For two reasons:

1. Thanks to the Genome Project and the Hubble Telescope, they have access to mysteries that were not known even a year ago.

2. I believe you to be a person who wants freedom, not just "freedom from" but also "freedom to" (positive freedom) to live in the largest and truest Story.

You're too smart to think that Jesus came to bring us guilt. We had guilt and shame already. He came to take it away that we could live large. John, you know that is true. But sometimes we forget. I want to encourage you to remember. To be re-membered to the one who loves you most.
Sorry if I've over-shared. :)

One last recommendation: "Finding God at Harvard: The Quest for Veritas." It's a romance. As the Gospel is, a romance.

Katherine

John W. Loftus said...

Katherine, thank you once again for commenting. Like I said, before I am asked to reinvent the wheel here, my arguments can be found in my book. -Cheers.

Robert Breaker said...

(Rom 3:10 KJV) As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

(Rom 3:11 KJV) There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

(Rom 3:12 KJV) They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

(Rom 3:13 KJV) Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

(Rom 3:14 KJV) Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

(Rom 3:15 KJV) Their feet are swift to shed blood:

(Rom 3:16 KJV) Destruction and misery are in their ways:

(Rom 3:17 KJV) And the way of peace have they not known:

(Rom 3:18 KJV) There is no fear of God before their eyes.

(Rom 3:19 KJV) Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

(Rom 3:20 KJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

(Rom 3:21 KJV) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

(Rom 3:22 KJV) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

(Rom 3:23 KJV) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

(Rom 3:24 KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

(Rom 3:25 KJV) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

(Rom 3:26 KJV) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

(Rom 3:27 KJV) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

(Rom 3:28 KJV) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Robert Breaker said...

(Rom 3:10 KJV) As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

(Rom 3:11 KJV) There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

(Rom 3:12 KJV) They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

(Rom 3:13 KJV) Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

(Rom 3:14 KJV) Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

(Rom 3:15 KJV) Their feet are swift to shed blood:

(Rom 3:16 KJV) Destruction and misery are in their ways:

(Rom 3:17 KJV) And the way of peace have they not known:

(Rom 3:18 KJV) There is no fear of God before their eyes.

(Rom 3:19 KJV) Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

(Rom 3:20 KJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

(Rom 3:21 KJV) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

(Rom 3:22 KJV) Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

(Rom 3:23 KJV) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

(Rom 3:24 KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

(Rom 3:25 KJV) Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

(Rom 3:26 KJV) To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

(Rom 3:27 KJV) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

(Rom 3:28 KJV) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Glen said...

Zimmerfly spends a lot of time making arguments for the existence of God. I'm sure this is from good intentions, but I don't get the feeling that is John's major issue, or that he even insists there is no God. Rather I get the feeling that like me, has more problems with the nature and character of the God depicted in the Bible and especially the Old Testament. Once cannot divorce this from Christianity, because Jesus affirmed and tied himself to. In many OT passages we see a God mass slaughtering thousands of men, women, children, babies and animals, besides condoning or ordering slavery, pilaging, etc. How can any rational, ethical, feeling person not have major problems with this God? How can anyone aware of these passages want to worship this God, except out of fear--which is hardly a sincere form of worship? How can one reconcile the passages with the notion that God is supposedly all loving and merciful? For years I suppressed these problems, but I no longer can. It suggests to me that if there is a loving God, he's not reflected in much of the Bible--or a lot of what goes on in the real world. And if we can't rely on the OT, the credibility of the Bible in general falls (on which much of Christianity rests), even if we ignore all the other contradictions and problems skeptics point out. It becomes a house of cards, or as John put it, spinning plates on poles that end up falling all around us. I like John once defended Christianity and seeped myself in apologetics, trying to make excuses to myself and others for the big problems I knew deep down were not really answered. If you search your heart, I think you know that a truly loving God would not slaughter innocent babies by the thousands, or torment people forever in hell--with no good purpose for them, God, or anyone else. It just doesn't make sense. It just is not compatible with any reasonable concept of love--even with other passages in the Bible itself that define it (like I Cor). For example, if love keeps no record of wrongs, and God is love, then why does he keep records of our sins? If love is not prideful, why does God insist on being praised and worshiped? Why does he exact such a severe penalty for those who cannot worship him even out of sincere ethical issues with killing babies and the like? What is patient or kind about wiping out entire civilizations? Even if every adult in them were evil (hard to believe) certainly one cannot account for the slaughter and pain inflicted on the babies and animals. To call this love is like saying up is down and black is white and 2 + 2 = 5. I cannot do it any longer. Can anyone here? Be honest with yourself. If we have to give up basic honesty and common sense and empathy to have faith, what does that say about the nature of the belief system?

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks so much Glenn, for stopping by and for commenting.

Glen said...

Squad,
I forgot to mention something. As my doubts have grown in recent months, I posted my hardest questions, including those about the passages showing God slaughtering thousands of innocent babies and animals, to various pastors and apologetics "answer people" on line. NONE of them had convincing or even very plausible answers. Most just repeated lines about having faith that God is just and all loving, or that God doesn't change, bla bla, which not only didn't answer the questions, but underscored the problem. Its as if they were in denial, and afraid to face the real question, or face the implications of the lack of an answer--that there either is no God, or he's not all loving, or that the accounts are not credible. In most cases, when I pointed out the lack of a real answer, I got no follow up response. When I did get a reply, it was generally more of the same trite cliche's and santimony (or in once case an admission that it is a "mystery.") This as much as anything convinces me that there are no coherent answers to these questions, which is compatible with the Christian claims of an all loving God. Granted, its hard to even trust the historical accuracy of the OT accounts, and the irony is that I now hope many are not true. After all, I would not want to think entire cities of people were wiped out so calously whether or not God really ordered it or not.

Chris said...

Hi John,

Thank you for sharing your story. I found it extremely interesting! I have started to read a lot of the de-conversion stories online as well as some of the recently popularized atheist books(hopefully I will read yours as well, in the near future).

First, I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate that your account isn't full of unreasonable attacks against, and belittling of, the Christian faith- just an honest account of your own logic and experience. Thanks for that! It's pretty crazy how childish and petty some debates among otherwise well-educated and intellectual people can get over this God-issue (i.e. the debate over whether intelligent design should be included in the scientific teaching at universities that happened recently where the debate was more like a name calling match rather than a discussion based on solid facts).

This lack of open-mindedness that was displayed above prompted me to start reading arguments on both sides: critiques of the faith (i.e. End of Faith, God is Not Great and God Delusion) as well as the books the defend the faith (i.e. Reason for God and Mere Christianity). More I read the arguments on both sides though, I got a sense that the arguments ultimately fall 50-50 on both sides and that it's impossible to conclude decisively based on the presented facts/evidence/theories alone. I think it takes a lot of faith to "know" that one is truer than the other.

For now, I have decided that all the raging arguments aside, I can only base my decision on what I personally know to be true: that God has always been with me, I know Him and that He loves me. For me, denying the existence of God or His love would be like denying the existence of my parents whom I know love me, even if I don't always feel it or like the way they choose to express it. I think that there is a limit to how much you can know about a person (or God) based on mere theories and data, the knowledge based on a actual relationship is probably as close to the real thing as you can get. But I still keep an open-mind and will continue to look at the arguments on both side.

I hope that you will continue to have an open-mind as well. Hopefully you have enough of the intellectual integrity you claim to possess by never saying never to rediscovering God (after all, you never thought you would lose Him in the first place!).

John W. Loftus said...

Chris, thanks so much for you thoughtful comment! I treasure such comments, and I wish you well in your intellectual journey too.

EsaJii said...

"In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to. Think about it, according to Jesus I should feel guilty for not just what I do, but for what I think about, lusting, hating, coveting, etc. I’d like every person who reads this book to experience the freedom I have found."

I found that pretty amazing too. Yet, people go and sin, repent, sin repent. The Christianity does not do much to the acerage person.

So where do you go from here? Teach philosphy?

Harry said...

Perry Marshall invites any atheist to debate him. He says, "If you can read this, I can prove God exists". Why don't you have a try?

Garg the Unzola said...

I found this blog via google. Firstly, to the author, I would like to congratulate you because you are on a quest for the truth. Your quest is noble and I sincerely hope you find the truth. Secondly, I found out about Perry Marshall and I read some of his articles. I have a biochemistry background and I am currently studying information science. This background prompted me to blog about Perry Marshall's claims. Fact remains, Mr Marshall is applying flawed logic. I blogged about it, and if you are interested read about how Perry Marshall's claims are wrong here. Any feedback is welcome!
Thank you, have a wonderful day.

Garg the Unzola said...

Interesting life story. I congratulate you on your noble quest for the truth, and you deserve further cudos for not allowing blind belief to cloud your judgement.

Concerning Perry Marshall, I debunked his flawed logic on one of my blog posts.

http://necrofiles.blogspot.com/2008/03/dna-proves-existence-of-god.html

Thank you, have a wonderful day!

Rabbit said...

I'm sorry you backed out of your Christian experience, but admire your honesty and attitude.

I grew up in church but found the place to make my own decision to trust Jesus and His way. As a science-minded person, however, the simplistic, churchy answers were difficult and chaffing at times. One day when a certain evangelist visited my town, he had been close friends of my father, in one of those reflective moments just before a heart attack, he looked at me and smiled then said, "I look at you here today, after all these years, I never thought you would make it."

Long before I went to a Christian seminary for my master's degree, I came to understand many things from my own search and study of Scriptures. You described a problem with the science and Bible connect, or lack of it, and I have to admit that a stock saying of mine has since before teenage years been, "Leave it to a preacher that if he speaks about science he will get it wrong."

But the Bible isn't a science text. For that matter it is often accused of being a questionable history text. The Bible is a record of people who had direct interaction with God. Take for instance the Jonah story. In the KJV the Old Testament account says it was a big fish, but in the New Testament Jesus 'said' it was a whale. In both cases, however, it was simply a blanket expression (Hebrew and Greek)for a big, yet undefined, sea creature that the translators had to somehow put the meaning into understandable English.

One of the problems with science, however, is they have blinkers/blinders on, to use a horse and buggy analogy that few today can identify with. The tunnel vision has tunnel walls that are defined by the physical universe as we see it. As a kid I read of C.S. Lewis' description of 'nature' being a box that humans conveniently use, but God is supernatural, God is outside the box. Humanistic science confines itself to understand everything that is inside the box.

I stumbled across this note when looking for something else and this event follows a presentation by my pastor this last week, who got his doctorate preparing to literally be a rocket scientist, and the week before with a presentation by an engineer from the Fermi Lab. Some of the common features of both their descriptions was that science has a ceiling (Relativity) and a floor (Quantum Mechanics) and both have features alien to the 'ordinary world' we see about us. Then, if you include the string theories or the Higgs theories, we have to include dimensions to the universe that are beyond the three physical dimensions, plus time. The guy from Fermi included models of nano devices, like pumps that are inside our cells, but superior to the nano pumps and motors that engineers are elsewhere trying to build. The universe is just too strange, and our part too unique, for it all to be an accident. The part that gets me is that if most of the universe is supposed to be dark energy/dark matter, and we haven't a clue to what it is, and if that is 75-95% of the universe, then what little part of the universe we think we have a handle on isn't even part of the bulk of the universe.

John, you've read the book, you know the end. To think that some day when the maker of your soul calls you forward, you won't want to see Him as family or friend, that is the sad part. Since you don't want to be associated with Him, then he honors your choice and separates you from him. It isn't too late until He says it is, fortunately. Thanks for something to think on.

Keith said...

Congrats on your deconversion. My life has been AWESOME since I stopped trying to make Christ fit into it.

To cling to the myth is just madness and it tells us a great deal about those who choose to 'believe' even when confronted with truth.

Keith said...

"The universe is just too strange, and our part too unique, for it all to be an accident"

Why does this make my stomach turn? Why do so many believers pull the "this just can't be an accident" card when they try to explain why they are so convicted to believe.

Rabbit, what is this unique'part'you're talking about?

denniscav said...

As is evident with many others who benefit both by notoriety and monetarily by creating controversy where none should exist in reality, Loftus is no different. Unless, or until, he addresses the beneficial 'need' that belief in a religion serves in most humans, he may as well charge a wind mill on a horse.

Christian UberCynic said...

What an amazing post. I’m have been an evangelical (pronounced fun da•men tal•ist) for 33 years and share some similar passions and observations, I was happy to see your book synopsis. Hell John, your veritable voice crying in the wilderness. (Sorry, that was a cheap shot at all the intellectually challenged and ego development challenged Christians that love to argue the facts but miss the point about their role as Christians). Apologetics without relationship and genuine caring is the stuff Pharisees are made of. I think it was Augustine that made the distinction about treating people as means vs. ends. Many Christians have only transformed the message but are still treating others as means. I would suggest this oversight is at the root of the Evangelical church’s complete failure to create genuine community.

oscarspaz said...

I fully respect Dr. Loftus' journey of "de-conversion". The part that I do not understand is that "I became an atheist by not being a christian." It seems absurd. Rejecting Christian may turn one into a skeptic. With Dr. Loftus educational and ministerial background, I would expect his train of thought on not only rejecting Christianity but also rejecting the notion that human is a spiritual being to support his conversion to be an atheist. I found that disappointing.

Stephen Akinduro said...

Hi John. I am currently reading your book (why I became and Atheist) and am very impressed with the way that it is written. I really thought that it would be a rant from a disgruntled former-Christian, but it is really a thorough intellectual analysis of the loopholes in the Christian doctrine. I am a Christian, albeit a dissilusioned one. I could write a whole essay on the reasons why I am dissilusioned, but I won't bore you with too much detail. Suffice it to say that there are a number of issues that have led me down this path of doubt. One - my struggle with addiction and me praying and praying for some relief from God and not getting it (I know, I know, Christians will often point out that even Paul had his "thorn in the flesh", but doesn't 1 John teach that if you are a son of God, you shall sin no more? And doesn't God say that if I ask for something in His son's name, he will give it to me). The second issue is the problem of suffering and the empty answers that Christianity gives using the Bible. The inference is that people suffer because we have free will, we are in a fallen world, and original sin contaminated our existence. But then these same people will turn around and quote Galatians where it says we reap what we sow, infering that suffering is a consequence of things that we have done wrong. Try telling that to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, or to people who have lost loved ones in a plane crash, or parents who lost a baby to a fatal disease (what sin did the baby commit to deserve such a death?). The bottom line is that the formulaic answers that people give based on the "infallable" teachings of the Bible no longer make sense to me. Did Job really have to suffer like that because God made a cosmic bet with the Devil? Yeah, preachers love to point out that Job got double what he had at the end of the story, but let's be frank, can material posessions take the place of the people who died earlier?

My second issue is with the whiole salvation by grace and not works thing. If it is true that we are saved by grace and not works, then why should it matter whether or not people "accept" Jesus as their Lord and savior? And if it is true that we are saved by grace, why do Christians then insist that even if you still don't obey the Bible (after you are saved) you will still go to hell, thus nullifying the fact that Jesus died for our sins. SO which is it? Christians say that they are saved by grace, but then use the self-righteous card to keep some people in and some out (depending on which denomination they are a part of)..I could go on and on, but I will stop there.

John W. Loftus said...

Stephen Akinduro, thanks for your comment. Keep thinking and growing.

Cheers.

Liz said...

[from Stone; not Liz, my better half]

[warning: long]

Part 1

Your essay certainly underscores the extent to which modern science has shown just how much of what is in Scripture is really myth and not history. It also underscores the extent to which evolution is a far more plausible model than anything in Genesis. As an atheist for most of my life, I never had any difficulty accepting that evolution has been shown as scientifically verifiable and that Genesis remains strictly a myth. Today, I would have no quarrel with any of that either. Consequently, for me, the dynamics of speciation within evolution and of individual fitness development for individual species are central to any understanding of what makes humanity tick.

In my 30s and 40s, I became fascinated with, and a compulsive reader of, any and all written treatments of and on the various ways in which individual species manage to thrive and grow stronger and more fit in a variety of ways. And I began to be intrigued by the various steps through which humanity had managed to thrive and adapt in its behavior sufficiently to develop the kind of close cohesion within certain communities that we see today.

To begin with, I'd guess that moral/ethical codes are an inevitable development for any species dependent on socialization of any kind, the way humanity clearly is. That guess alone got me interested in turn in all countercultural manifestations throughout the ages of socially frowned on expressions of solidarity with the helpless and the left out.

At the same time, it's basically a chicken/egg problem to me, I guess: When I studied history as an adult non-believer, I approached it pretty much as a natural phenomenon akin to something described in Stephen Jay Gould's excellent book, The Panda's Thumb. Since I've never bought into the presumed dichotomy of nature versus civilization -- primarily since our civilizations seem to me an expression of our nature anyway -- I've always viewed all of our ethical values as contingent responses at discrete levels of our natural development. This became a chicken/egg problem to me because when reading up on history as a non-believer it struck me forcefully that the natural processes by which the earliest ethical codes expressing solidarity with the vulnerable have come about inevitably seem to entail some particular individual's expressed awareness -- hallucinatory or not -- of some new and deeply personal and visceral sense of deity as well, usually a countercultural and risky "spin" on deity at that, personally dangerous to the given individual in her/his particular culture at the time.

So it's a chicken/egg problem because often it's impossible to tell if the "hallucination" of a deity inspires the new ethical code or the new ethical code inspires some newly minted "spin"/"hallucination" of a deity. Certainly, at the least, there often seems to be an oddly symbiotic relationship between the two.

Yet before jumping to any conclusions on this, I got keenly interested in the history of the opposite side of the coin: the pioneering self-centered philosophies instead. Recent evolutionary studies like those from Stephen Jay Gould, Ed Wilson and others seem to show that when certain species whose daily existence depends heavily on socialization subsequently develop a support system that regularly looks out for the more helpless among them, that species tends to thrive better than those that stall at a discrete point due primarily to individually selfish behavioral patterns that are ultimately a species' undoing (in many cases). If modern evolutionary studies from Gould, Wilson et al reveal self-centered behavioral patterns as being ultimately self-destructive to their species -- as indeed they do -- then what exactly make similar self-centered philosophies in humanity's own history tick? Why do they arise? How do they arise?

Liz said...

[from Stone; not Liz, my better half]

Part 2

Most importantly, what is the earliest (extant) example of an unequivocal self-centered philosophy overtly deaf to any claim on society by the more helpless among us? That question can be answered. It is the ancient Lokayata philosophy in ancient India, ca. the 7th century B.C.E. No earlier such philosophy can be traced. There may have been some earlier such philosophies, but this is the earliest for which we have any info. This philosophy claims, first of all, that resting places and watering holes for travelers are a waste of time and designed only for people who, being indigent, are therefore of no value. It also decries the notion of general dining invitations to people in the neighborhood, decrying these precisely because they are ultimately of benefit to the indigent only while inconveniencing those of greater substance and therefore of greater worth. Instead, it should be the interests of oneself only that guides individual behavior. Here is the earliest direct quote of the founder of Lokayata, Brhaspati:



"Chastity and other such ordinances are laid down by clever weaklings; gifts of gold and land, the pleasure of invitations to dinner, are devised by indigent people with stomachs lean with hunger.
"The building of temples, houses for water-supply, tanks, wells, resting places, and the like, please only travelers, not others.
"The Agnihotra ritual, the three Vedas, the triple staff, the ash-smearing, are the ways of gaining a livelihood for those who are lacking in intellect and energy."



Now, an odd coincidence here: Lokayata is not only the earliest overtly self-centered philosophy extant. It is also the earliest extant overtly atheist philosophy as well. Ascertaining the latter gave me, as an atheist, a bit of a shock, I can tell you. At the same time, I still think it very likely that certain primitive theistic assumptions (addressing the how and/or the why of the intricate ways of this universe) should still be viewed with some wariness today. And I have to say that I also view warily certain primitive concepts of deity itself that still prevail today as well. But the behavioral tendencies of those countercultural figures throughout time who feel a visceral sense of deity around them (such as Buddha et al) and link this with a pioneering "spin" on altruism, versus those tendencies of those who counterculturally articulate both self-centeredness and nonbelief as a linked philosophy, certainly make one wonder which philosophies are more conducive to a thriving and evolving human community, as described by Gould et al.

This accorded with a general pattern for all the pioneers in non-belief down the centuries. Lokayata is not alone in advocating a self-centered way of life instead of a caring one. The earliest extant overt articulation of atheism in ancient Greek literature comes from Critias, who was the ruthless leader of the Thirty Tyrants at the end of the Pelopenesian(sp.?) War, at the end of the 5th century B.C.E. The earliest overt expression of atheism in Enlightenment France comes from the early 1700s, from Jean Meslier, who linked his posthumously issued atheism with a call to brain everyone who disagreed with him, and a wish that every noblemen might be strangled with the ripped-out guts of every remaining priest (evidently a believer in collective punishment........)

I was thus disappointed to find that, although there have been plenty of atheist social reformers of great altruism -- one thinks of humanitarians like Bertrand Russell, or Mr. Ingersoll, or Baron Holbach -- there does not seem to be a single such altruist who actually introduced both her/his new atheism and her/his own pioneering ethical code at the same time -- symbiotically -- and whose twin introduction of same resulted in a "fast-tracked" cultural impact on everyone around her/him. This contrasts with the picture for countercultural theist altruists.

Liz said...

[from Stone; not Liz, my better half]

Part 3

Now, within the four corners of this phenomenon, the strict historical approach would be to ascertain which factor is the variable that causes such a pattern to obtain for one group (countercultural theists) and not the other (countercultural atheists)? If this evolving process for ethical codes comes from nature itself, and I would guess that it does for precisely the reasons provided by Gould et al, then how can the "hallucination" process of deity from specific -- (?)highly attuned(?) -- counterculturalists not come from the same thing, nature? -- particularly since it so frequently has this symbiotic relationship with ethical evolution? Of course, ascribing the "hallucination" of deity to the general nature of our species still doesn't automatically make deity real. It just makes the "hallucination" natural and inevitable, which says nothing about its reality. But since the practical value of evolving ethical codes seem all too real and urgent to me, not an illusion at all but an urgent reality without which our species would eventually sink into anarchy, I have to ask why an individual direct deity "hallucination" isn't also reality-based after all, given the (apparent) symbiotic relationship between the two -- "hallucination" of deity and insightful countercultural ethics -- throughout history.

If someone could uncover a peer-bucking atheist who introduced her/his atheism out of whole cloth to her/his own culture and did so in tandem with a profound social reform of that culture of some kind, the apparent monopoly that countercultural theist "spinners" have on jump-starting this seemingly natural process of evolving ethical codes throughout history would be broken. There would then be no reason at all for explaining this "hallucinatory"(?) deity phenomenon among the most altruistic and impactful pioneers. I could simply drop this notion of deity as something real altogether. But right now, given the historic patterns I've observed, it would seem intellectually dishonest for me to ignore the possibility of deity entirely. Even the introducer of the first thoroughly atheistic philosophy in Western Europe of the second millennium C.E., Matthias Knutzen in the late 1670s, while his ethics happen to be quite other-centered, shapes the ethics of his philosophy around the injunctions of another, the Roman jurist, Ulpian, instead of arriving at a new "spin" on altruism of his own.

I should add, BTW, that I don't think I have any great emotional attachment to my newest conclusions that deity is (probably) real after all. If this described monopoly pattern were to be broken, I would then calmly conclude that I was originally correct to be an atheist. But right now, since it seems intellectually dishonest for me to stick with my erstwhile atheism, I won't do that. At the same time, the most extensively documented figures who articulate new and deeply personal "spins" on deity and new "spins" on altruism symbiotically -- Buddha, Socrates, Christ -- are not agreed on an afterlife. So I still feel the jury is out on an afterlife, even though I now view deity itself as a probability and no longer a possibility.

Clearly, atheists are just as likely to feel the call of the helpless on our conscience as are any believers. The question is not Are all atheists all-good or all-bad? In fact, they show the same mix of good and bad common to the rest of the human family. Instead, the question is, Where do humanitarians like Russell get their inspiration?

Liz said...

[from Stone; not Liz, my better half]

Part 4

The key point here is that the startups of pioneering countercultural expressions of atheism within many historic communities and cultures always seem linked with countercultural calls to unalloyed self-centeredness, and vice versa, while the startups of pioneering countercultural conceptions of deity within many historic communities and cultures always seem linked with countercultural calls to unalloyed altruism, and vice versa. These curious symbiotic relationships at the startups of creeds on either side of the divide appear to hold firm throughout history. It's only later in the history of these creeds that positions sometimes get reversed: Hateful figures like Torquemada sometimes emerge who warp a theistic philosophy of caring into a savage orgy of blood, even as peaceful and humane figures like Holbach and Ingersoll similarly tend to emerge who then transform an initially callous atheistic philosophy bent only on self-satisfaction into a gentle warning that the people at large should eat something more than just cake......... (BTW, contrary to some assumptions, Robespierre, one of the most brutal of the French Revolution's leaders, actually singled out atheists for the guillotine[!] along with the royalty and the nobility, being a devout believer himself -- oh yes! -- so it's a canard that atheism was always at the back of the most brutal tendencies of the Fr. Rev. -- unless one blames everything on Meslier, of course.)

Since I view humanity today as staring down the barrel of "perfect storm" conditions for its imminent extinction within one or two generations at most, either through ecological collapse or WMDs run amok or something else even more horrific, it is imperative that all our available brain power be used in ascertaining as accurately as possible each and every comma of whatever was said or done by figures like Buddha, or Jesus -- or Tolstoy, or Gandhi, or Mandela, etc. We must gain a proper understanding of how these ethical insights were arrived at in the first place. Knowing exactly what was said and understanding precisely the mainsprings behind what was said is more important than anything. Knowledge is power. And it took the writings of the sometimes skeptical Jesus Seminar researchers to make me see this, and it was my own historical research that made me see as well that deity might quite likely be behind such insights. For the first time in my life, I took Scripture seriously: at the least, it is one of humanity's preserved written laboratories of altruism versus self-centeredness in a fearsome agon.

So, when we have a closer knowledge of whatever facilitated a Buddha's or a Christ's transformative impact on a selfish culture, we'll have a better knowledge of how we can trigger the better angels of our nature today without the jackboot (which is already a sell-out right there) and thus stave off the imminent extinction that not only seems highly likely today but -- IMO -- totally inevitable under current circumstances within many of our current lifetimes. Wherever the Seminar works of Borg or Crossan or others lead us, that can only be to the good. Wherever biological or chemical or general scientific research leads us, that can only be to the good --

http://www.slate.com/id/2165026/

-- . If such research leads us to the conclusion that something other than deity is at the back of these altruistic cultural reformers, then that's fine. If it confirms my working conclusion that deity is the common denominator behind these altruistic cultural reformers, then that's fine too. This question is worth pursuing today because we have no other choice. The selfishness and the smallness and the violence and the stubbornness of most world leaders today have left us with no choice. We have to pursue this kind of study, whether it be of Jesus or of Urukagina (the earliest known cultural reformer of all [in ancient Sumeria]), without fear or favor. Otherwise, we can kiss our grandchildren's adulthood goodbye.

Liz said...

[from Stone; not Liz, my better half]

Conclusion

Finally, putting all that aside, I would have to say that, while I'm no longer an atheist, and while I now accept a concept of deity, I don't necessarily believe in deity as conceptualized in any one creed. If forced to choose, I feel more comfortable choosing particular individuals as models of ethical fitness rather than institutional creeds. And if forced to choose certain individuals, then I'd say that the most closely vetted individuals via modern secular scholarship who appear to have genuine interaction with deity of some kind, and whose ethics also seem to stand up to the strictest scrutiny, appear to be Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Socrates and Jesus of Nazareth (Christ). We probably come closer to the essence of deity by restricting ourselves to the earlest textual strata on these three figures specifically, courtesy of modern secular scholarship, than we do by adherence to any one creed.

Thanks for having the patience to slog your way through all this!

Best,

Stone

Roger said...

Hi John,

Cards on the table - I'm a Christian.

I wonder (as if it's any of my business) how your personal relationship with God was over this time? You seem to know more than most ABOUT God, but did this actually result in a strengthened and authentic personal relationship with God himself?

A concept, group of concepts or system of doctrines is much easier to walk away from than a person with whom you are in an intimate realationship with.

I guess the best lesson to be learnt by believers and non-believers alike is that pure knowledge about God will not result in a stable Christian faith. In fact, without this head knowledge somehow seeping into the deepest reaches of the heart/cor/soul/spirit, an overly-intellectualised approach may well knock the stuffing out of someone's Christian faith.

All the best,

Roger.

http://www.faithinterface.com.au/

Vera Keil said...

Thank you for this blog. It may be that the voices of former religionists (like myself as well) are insignificant in any era, but I think it is a noble effort and will help and encourage some to reclaim their self-trust and mental freedom.

I, too, am happier than ever and find I don't need any particular beliefs to treat others well and live fully.

Keep up the wonderful work!

Rick Frueh said...

A literal interpretation of Genesis is a colossal stumbling block since it defies reason. There are no believers, me included, that can withstand the comparison concerning what we say we believe and what we actually live in conjunction to our beliefs.

You have accurately identified the greates hypocrisy of all; the way we live and the eternal destiny of our neighbors. In response to that hypocrisy, and to eleviate that tension, we must espouse Calvinism, universalism, or use God's grace as conscience salve.

There are very few believers in history whose hypocrisy is less than their commitment. Our statements of faith are much more accurate than is our organic manifestation. In the end it will completely rest on who was Jesus. If he was just a man then all opinions are equally valid.

If he was God in the flseh then all truths are tethered and captured by that single reality. He is, in effect, the Big Bang.

Ruth said...

Stone:

I was surprised at your statements regarding Lokayata.

I am nearly finished reading Doubt: a History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. I thought if the Carvaka had advocated selfishness, how did I miss that? So I looked it up.

I suspect you misinterpreted the meaning of materialist and thought it meant interested only in acquiring things rather than the belief that the universe consists only of material - no souls, etc. On page 99 Hecht quoted, "We ought to keep a degree of kindness because it functions to our own advantage--it works..."

The Carvaka probably bahaved no worse any other group so you needn't use them as a reason reject atheism.

I suggest that you read Doubt. Through the years many atheists stayed in the closet because they valued keeping their heads. Most of them might have even been better people than the religionists who would do anything to quiet them.

My 1976 dictionary's entry for deist says to see atheist for synonyms!

http://www.celebatheists.com/wiki/Main_Page

Ruth said...

An Atheist Manifesto:
www.positiveatheism.org/hist/lewis/lewis03.htm

Atheism:
http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/lewis/lewis06.htm

Index to Joseph Lewis' writings and books on line:
http://www.positiveatheism.org/tochlews.htm#LEWATH

M. C. Evers said...

Apologies if this sounds strange, but it seems as though you and I encountered some very similar things in our lives, except we went in entirely different directions.

The irony is that the science that seems to have shaken your faith reinforced mine and I can say that during the period when I rarely went to church, it was seeing the universe as it is (without bending around the laws of science or math) that maintained my belief in a Creator. I think that very often there is a conflict--a very acrimonious one on both sides--where one need not exist. I don't have the expectation that the Bible is going to be a scientific treatise, nor do I have any expectation that science can unequivocally prove anything theological. (I do think that someone had a vision--but expecting it to be rendered in scientifically coherent terms, or even in sequence, is not necessary as purpose is what we're to draw from it, not a how-to manual.) And that I say even in light of my experiences when engaged in its study.

There are other points I could take on right now, but above all I want to apologize for the lack of grace you experienced in the church. I know it's not much (right now I have just a tiny startup blog), but I have tried to dedicate myself to helping to make us as a community more aware of how our lack of self-awareness as a community brings pain to others. Some of us are trying, and it's hard, but there are those of us out there. You mention guilt, and I recognize how I fall short--but if approached levelheadedly, it is not something in which one must or should drown. Again, if people were unkind or condemning to you, I'm sorry.

Basically, I just wanted you to know that not all people of faith simply blow off the experiences of those who have left the faith, or been outside it. I see it as feedback to try and do better.

Jack said...

John,

I just came upon your blog about your deconversion from Christianity. I have to say it hit home to a lot of what I've gone through in the past. I was heavily involved in church for about 4 years from 1999 to about 2003, not long compared to a lot of people, but it was a huge part of my life during that time, and I grew up going to church and like you, everyone believed and it was just something that seemed obvious to believe in.

I left church for a number of reasons, namely addiction and probably the lack of not finding churches where I felt I could relate to the people in the church, whether it was fundamentalist or liberal. However,until very recently, I never really confronted or was honest about why I left the church, I just did it and haven't thought much about it until now. The main reasons I gave myself then were the need to focus on my job and have a sense of balance and not being so isolated from the world.

I've read Thomas Paine a while back, I've taken astronomy courses and geology courses in college and those have really made an impact into what I believe now. But, even though I wasn't involved in church and had doubts about God, I tried to find reasons for why God still exists even though there is evidence for evolution and evidence for our existence because of the evolution of the universe.

The reason I've been looking more at this now is because of certain circumstances in my life. I'm in college away from home and feel isolated from the world and have problems with anxiety, so I've thought about going back to church to at least have some sense of support, but that's difficult with the realization that I'm happy with the way I am now, for the most part, and don't want to give up a lot of things, which I believe is necessary if a person is involved in a church. I'm talking little things like music, movies and so on. Also, I'm a journalist, so I thought to myself, I need to see and understand both sides of the issue, so I've read a Don Miller book, "Blue Like Jazz" and now I'm reading more about reason and science.

But, even with all of my reading about these topics, the one thing that seemed to break through to me just now was your struggles with guilt while involved in church and another person's comments about the five stages of grief.

I nearly cried when I read these things. When I was a Christian, I felt guilty every day for everything, nothing I did was right. I at least knew that we weren't saved by works but by grace, we just had to ask for salvation, and I was a pretty unselfish Christian, I wasn't in it for Heaven, I was in it for the love of others. I could go on and on about that, but let me get to the point.

Since the point I got so involved in church and Christianity, I've struggled with guilt, even to this day, 7 years after I left church. I've come to realize that I have an anxiety disorder that may be a result of the consistent feelings of guilt. And, what you said made me realize this, that I had the same experience as you did and probably many others. Another commentor said this "A friend of mine made an interesting point once pertaining to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, negotiation, despair, acceptance. As regards one's own mortality, religion stymies this process at the negotiation phase, making the believer continually fearful that they may yet slip into hell's fires if God ever grows sufficiently displeased with them, thus perversely making them more dependent upon the faith for any fleeting sense of emotional peace."

I couldn't agree more with both of you. I haven't gotten passed the negotiation phase, even after 7 years from leaving church and Christianity.

There' so many other things that could be said about it, but I just want to say thank you for your work and what you're doing. It's nice to know there are others out there that have had the same struggles I've had.

John W. Loftus said...

Jack, thanks for writing. Go on now. Enjoy your life. There is no reason to feel guilty from religion anymore.

Jack said...

John,

I just wanted to drop you another comment and again say thank you for what you're doing.

When I posted a while back, I didn't know where all of this was going. I have to admit, I thought it was wild that I was considering atheism. Although I had left church 7 years ago, I never confronted the big questions. Since I left you the first comment, I purchased your book "Why I Became an Athiest" and have read most of it. It's amazing how many questions we have or didn't know we have and thank you for answering so many of them.

I've realized through your work and others, from watching/reading deconversion stories on YouTube and exchristian.net and here, that I'm not alone in any of this, and even in today's society on a somewhat smaller scale, how Christianity has affected so many people in such a negative way.

For the first time in a long time, I feel in control of my life and my future and I'm seeking answers to the truth. It's difficult, it's uncomfortable, but it's worth it.

Here's a quote I found that I think you'll like.

"I want do what little I can to make my country truly free, to broaden the intellectual horizon of our people, to destroy the prejudices of ignorance and fear, to do away with the blind worship of the ignoble past, with the idea that all the good and great are dead, and that the living are totally depraved, that all pleasures are sins, that sighs and groans are alone pleasing to God, that thought is dangerous, that intellectual courage is a crime, that cowardice is a virtue, that a certain belief is necessary to secure salvation." -- Robert Green Ingersoll

Thanks again!

jbrother37 said...

"Alice in Wonderland" is a marvelous story, but I'd never assume the existence of the Mad Hatter based on it.

Roger said...

Hi John,

A couple of things occur to me when reading your deconversion testimony.

It seems despite all your study and training (which is enviable), you have fallen into a couple of elementary errors of thinking.

1. A literalistic account of Genesis 1, which has led to...

2. An 'all or nothing' adherence to Young Earth Creationism. There are, of course, other alternative paradigms within Christian thought available such as Day/Age Creationism and Theistic Evolution. Not agreeing with YEC should not have to be a 'deal breaker'.

3. A misunderstanding of the role of Law vs Grace regarding the moral standards in the Bible. Of course the moral standards of the OT and Jesus were impossibly high - that's exactly the point. Post the cross, Christians live under grace, not Law. Surely you know that.

Anyway, best of luck with your journey.

Roger.