Another Look at John Loftus', "Why I Rejected Christianity"

The trend is growing. More and more often nowadays we are hearing about Christian preachers walking out of their pulpits, away from lives of privilege and honor, leaving the fold of God. Emerging from different sects of Christianity, these ex-ministers are observed to defect for strikingly similar reasons. When they let us into their lives to see why they forsook their lord and master, we see that virtually all of them found Christianity to be evidentially problematic, if not patently false.

In 1963, a young Church of Christ preacher by the name of Farrell Till left the faith. A number of years later, he became quite outspoken against his former religion in a publication he founded known as The Skeptical Review. Then in 1984, Dan Barker appeared on the scene, a former Assembly of God preacher and graduate of Azusa Pacific University. After leaving Christianity, he joined the Freedom from Religion Foundation where he is now co-president, and in 1992 published his account of the desertion entitled, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.

As of 1997, another name has been thrown into the hat of unbelievers, John W. Loftus. Like myself, Loftus was a Church of Christ minister and graduate of several Christian colleges and seminaries. Making John even more unique to the already exceptional caste of minister-turned-atheist is his education at the feet of renowned Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig. Craig is best known for his work and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and is viewed as a “Big Gun” in the world of Christian-atheist debate. Having spent a number of years as a seeker, a mere doubter of Christianity, Loftus now openly rejects his former theistic belief system and has declared why in this work, Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains.

Says Loftus, “I was a Christian apologist with several Master’s Degrees set for the express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks.” Was he successful? Could Christianity be successfully defended from the attacks of her systematically versatile secular critics? What was his conclusion after years of preaching and fighting for the faith? “I am now an atheist,” John says. Why? Because the arguments in support of Christianity “just weren’t there, period.” (p. 8)

Having left the ministry myself, I can personally relate to many of John’s struggles as a Christian minister. I have endured some fine ones in my time, plus the painful dregs of resurfacing doubts that just wouldn’t go away all throughout my Christian years. Any Christian-turned-heretic can confirm that eventually, all such doubts terminate in unbelief, and this only after a long and agonizing de-conversion process—right up there in intensity with a divorce or a death in the family. Just ask any apostate who has gone through the ordeal!

In one word…

For a little while now, I have been acquainted with John and have found him to be an upstanding individual. It’s not everyday you learn about someone with the courage and love of self-honesty to turn their back on a cherished belief system. John stepped up to the plate by being willing to follow his heart (and his mind) wherever it led him. It led him right out of Christianity!

If I had just one word to describe John, it would be “noble.” It doesn’t require much of one’s self to gloat in personal positives, but it does require a lot of conviction to expound on the negatives. John is noble and humble to share some less than flattering things about himself in his journey out of Christianity. One word describing John’s book would be “rich,” as every chapter is tightly packed with loads of qualitative information.

Style…

The overall writing style of the book is decent, while the format is at least tolerable, being tiresome on the eyes at times. The outline breakdown of content makes for a somewhat fragmented read with underlined text, bold-faced type, repeated indentations, and tabbed paragraphs not exactly aiding the “lazy eye” along. Incredibly lengthy source quotations and thick paragraphs of book recommendations can be distracting at places, but after reading a few chapters, this begins to seem less obstructive.

A number of writers make the understandable mistake of writing in an outline style, assuming that accented lines of text make for an easier read, when in fact just the opposite is the case. The eye is not only lazy, but prefers simplicity and uniformity. A traditional chapter layout would have proved more accommodating for the reader. But these are merely cosmetic critiques. I now move on to more important matters.

Content…

The book’s central strength lies in it’s information-rich content. In truth, a person could spend quite a long time following up on John’s sources and recommended reading materials. There is a tremendous well of knowledge here. The work is chock-full of great information with one major theme underlying it all; the supporting “facts,” the cardinal pillars of Christianity, cannot be rescued from unrelenting, submerging doubt—even if one happens to find belief in Christianity viable. Cause for serious skepticism is everywhere lurking. The major tenants of Christianity, the “core doctrines” at the heart of the faith, are shaky at best and vulnerable to attack from all sides of debate. John speaks the language of competent and well-known Christian scholars and apologists of both liberal and conservative affiliation, employing their own words against them, demonstrating that they themselves recognize the grave position they are in when facing the critical eye of a skeptical, modern world.

The audience…

I see this book being of exceptional value to college students, philosophy buffs, and particularly those who are “on the fence,” actively struggling with an open mind to objectively beat their doubts about the validity of Christianity. I also see it serving as an ideal study-guide for someone looking to get in touch with other excellent works on the nature of the Christian religion. John’s scholarship is solid, drawing from a host of proponents and critics in a wide range of disciplines, including history, philosophy, and theology. Loftus is very well read. Any doubts about that will quickly disappear upon reading the book.

Concerning his own academic qualifications, John writes, “I consider my expertise (if I have one) in the area of the Big Picture.” “None of us are experts in all the areas we need to be,” and yet “someone has to stand back from all of the trees to see the forest and describe what it looks like.” (p. 59) True that. It is the job of every writer to extrapolate information, to draw from a wellspring of sources and reach conclusions of their own, and to expound upon those conclusions in a clear and thought-provoking manner. This John does, and his conclusion is that Christianity is fatally inundated with problems.

Exceptional chapters…

While I enjoyed reading every chapter, there were some that stood out as sublimely exceptional in nature. These included…The Outsider Test for Faith, The Problem of Unanswered Prayer, The Problem of Evil, The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible, Historical Evidence and Christianity, Was Jesus born of a virgin in Bethlehem?, Was Jesus God Incarnate?, The Devil Made Me Do It!, and Prophecy and Biblical Authority.

The Outsider Test for Faith is one of those chapters that says what every doubter of religion has always thought but perhaps never said so well. The chapter is an absolute jewel, an extended take on the old realization that “If you lived in Iraq, you’d be a Muslim.” John did a masterful job at making application of this truth when he made the following observations…

“If you were born in the first century B.C. in Israel, you’d be a Jew, and if you were born in Europe in 1200 A.D. you’d be a Roman Catholic. But there’s more. Had we lived in ancient Babylonia, or the Greco-Roman worlds, we would have been very superstitious and polytheistic to the core. In the ancient world, we would have sought God’s guidance through divination, and appeased his wrath with barbaric blood sacrifices. We would have also been opposed to democracy and preferred instead the divine right of kings, like Plato and people in the Middle Ages…Our metaphysical and religious beliefs are dependent to a great extent on the ‘accidents of birth’ (when and where we are born) primarily because there are no agreed upon empirical tests to decide between these metaphysical and religious belief systems.” (p. 43-44, 46)

I don’t want to give away too many goodies, but I’ll make mention of several more before moving on. In The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible, Loftus discusses the more rigorous nature of today’s standards of proof verses those in the minds of first century societies. Loftus rightly points out how big of a discrediting factor to the Bible the superstitious setting from which it emerged is. We should consider it suspect for this reason alone, if for no other…

“We who live in the modern world of science simply don’t believe in a god of the sun, or moon, or harvest, or fertility, or rain, or the sea. We don’t see omens in an eclipse, or in a flood, a storm, snakebite, or a drought, either. That’s because we understand nature better than they did, by using science. We don’t see sickness as demon possession. Nor do we think we are physically any closer to God whether we’re up on a mountaintop or down in a valley. But every nation did in ancient days.” (p. 120)

Commenting on Historical Evidence and Christianity, the chapter bearing this title emphasizes what naturalists have long since known and faulted theistic conceptions for—legends and records of so-called miraculous events cannot survive the stretch of time with credibility…

“History itself is fraught with many difficult problems when one comes to understand the events of the past. According to Beddington again, ‘Any historical account is, in strict logic, open to doubt. It is not just remarkable events long ago like biblical miracles that are not logically certain. But if non-supernatural events in the past are open to doubt, then how much more so is it the case with supernatural claims of events in the past, like biblical miracles?’” (p. 163)

And…

“The modern historian lives in the modern world, a world where miracles and supernatural events simply don’t take place. At least, that is his experience…There should be no reason to suppose that ancient historical people experienced anything different than what we experience today. They were perhaps just superstitious, that’s all, and they lived in a world where there was nothing known about nature’s fixed laws—just their belief in a God who expresses his will in all events. So when confronted with a miraculous story the modern historian assumes a natural explanation, or that the story became exaggerated in the telling, or that the cure was a psychological one, or it may simply be a legend to enhance the reputation of the miracle worker.” (p. 165-166)

The thrust of the chapter forces the believer to acknowledge that the Jesus they preach and defend originates from a limited knowledge of the past, an intrinsically fallible knowledge, one which can be misinterpreted, misrepresented, exaggerated, or just plain wrong. This realization brings shockwaves of uncertainty to an inquiring mind.

Gems…

In addition to possessing some very fine chapters, such as those already mentioned, this work covers some ground that is seldom touched on in other comparable freethought works. These include such things as references to the apocryphal Book of Enoch and Jude’s quotation of a passage from this obvious fake as a divine prophecy from God (Jude 1:14) (p. 153-154). It also delves into a biblical problem with the resurrection story I find to be particularly intriguing—the biblical claim that Pontius Pilate’s guards would approach the chief priest and elders of the Jews to suppress the knowledge that they were actual eyewitnesses of God’s miraculous power in the moving away of the stone from the tomb…

“These soldiers wouldn’t have reported to the chief priest and elders, but to Pilate whose guards they were (Matt. 27:64). And what was the lie? They are to say; “we were asleep” while the disciples stole the body. Now it’s one thing to lie, but another thing for soldiers to spread the word that they were derelict in their duty in order to help people they didn’t care for, especially in light of their vivid experience, and with the possibility of being severely punished for it…But the truth is that it’s a useless and stupid lie. If they were asleep, how did they know what happened?” (p. 213)

John does a number on this and other major logistical problems with the resurrection narrative. Was Jesus God Incarnate? is an especially juicy chapter that focuses on the many serious absurdities and troubles created by the idea of a “fully God and fully man” Jesus. Scholars have unendingly tried to work out the manifold difficulties that the notion of a man-god brings to the surface, one of which has to do with sin and temptation…

“We’re told that Jesus was tempted (Matt. 4:1; Heb. 4:15). To be tempted would entail having thoughts about sinning. One cannot be tempted to do something if there is no desire to do it…But since Jesus was tempted to sin there seems to be some small imperfections in him, since to be tempted means to have desires that do not accord with the nature of God.” (p. 198)

Loftus also mentions the very common (and comical) discrepancy concerning Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a colt, or (depending on which gospel account you read) one young colt and a fully-grown ass! This problem – by far one of the most embarrassing biblical discrepancies of all time – comes from five conflicting passages of scripture (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:2; Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30; John 12:14-15). All but Matthew mention Jesus riding on a colt, whereas Matthew mistakenly and ridiculously concludes from Zechariah 9:9 that “riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass,” refers to two mules, which it clearly doesn’t as John points out on page 234.

Many other gems are found throughout that are worth mentioning but are far too numerous, like how the words of Mary at the announcement of Jesus’ miraculous conception, “How shall this be seeing I know not a man?” are a complete literary invention (p. 188). Loftus rightly bears out how Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation tale) is an older mythical epic, from which Genesis steals its framework (p. 108-109). And on and on we could go.

Criticisms…

Aside from format and basic literary concerns, I do not take issue with many of the claims John makes, and those small tidbits we might happen to disagree on are not even worth commenting on here. But here are a few things I will take issue with…

My biggest complaint is with the tone of the book. It is not aggressive enough. A writer must accept the challenge to exude personal authority, to tell the reader what should be believed and why. The occasional lack of this quality is found throughout the work in certain places where John seems rather withdrawn; namely, I would love to have seen more of John’s own sentiments and less a barrage of thoughts and facts presented by others, which in certain places, can seem rather dry and aloof. A hefty number of sections and chapters, however, including The Outsider Test for Faith, The Problem of Unanswered Prayer, and The Problem of Evil, are fittingly exempted from this criticism.

I would like to have seen John elaborate more on the popular Josephus forgery that some uninformed Christians still claim was Josephus’ testimony of Jesus (found in Antiquities 18.3.3), though even many Christian fundamentalists now realize that the text was in fact doctored by later Christian interpolators, making it royally unlikely that Josephus wrote very much of that text, if any of it (p. 156). More supporting material would have been helpful on the discussion of the Exodus and the Canaanite Conquest (p. 157-158). I happen to agree that the evidence for the traditional view of an Egyptian Exodus is extremely wanting.

I wish John had devoted more space dismantling the Kalam cosmological argument, though he does deal with it (p. 75-76). The same criticism goes for his hasty development and critique of the mildly confusing ontological arguments in Faith and Reason (p. 72-73). John’s writing is not difficult to follow, but with strained and nebulous arguments like those of the Ontological persuasion, more attention and space are needed to exhaustively deal with these subjects as deep as they are, and with as much weight as some contemporary Christian thinkers put on them. This brings out what would be a concern for some—the book is, in a few places, a little too deep for the average reader who may not have at least a tad of familiarity with these philosophical arguments.

A few small criticisms notwithstanding, the book cuts the theological lifeline of mom and dad’s “old time religion.” It is a more than worthy read, making it a fine addition to the freethinker’s library.

Conclusion…

Why I Rejected Christianity is the story of a once invigorated believer who, having seen Christianity from the inside out, chose to reject it. In an age when evangelical Christians have decided to spread their nets to catch a much larger audience, an audience of more critical minds than the average churchgoer who sits in the pews like a wooden Indian, the contents of this work should be considered all the more valuable to them. It will challenge the faith of believers, and only the most wayfaring of them will accept this challenge. The progressively-minded faithful owe it to themselves to strongly consider the material presented herein, forgoing the usual aversions that popular Christian scholars “already answered that.” The biblical incongruities John addresses are “alive and kicking.” They have not been laid to rest by Christian defenders as some assume and would love nothing more than to believe. The rifts and divisions in scholarly thought alone bear witness to this fact. These problems are formidable, and they aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

(JH)

13 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

I want to thank Joe for this well written review...if only I had his talent for putting words together. I appreciate his honesty and I value his thoughts.

In a few months my book will be reviewed by a scholarly Christian journal. We'll see if they liked it as much as Joe did. ;-)

As far as I can tell, the connection that several of us ex-Christians have with the Church of Christ is just coincidental. Anyone who tries to make something more of this better have some hard cold evidence to the contrary.

DBULL said...

I check your website off and on and often my jaw hangs open at the things you write that confirm and reinforce directly what the bible says. You know the bible talks about a GREAT apostacy at the end of the age right? See text below for current headlines lol

The trend is growing. More and more often nowadays we are hearing about Christian preachers walking out of their pulpits, away from lives of privilege and honor, leaving the fold of God.

If people wonder why so many are falling away, see the resume below:

graduate of several Christian colleges and seminaries. Making John even more unique to the already exceptional caste of minister-turned-atheist is his education at the feet of renowned Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig. Craig is best known for his work and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and is viewed as a “Big Gun” in the world of Christian-atheist debate.

In the eyes of the WORLD, it sounds like John has the perfect setup to know God right?

Mark10:15 Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it."

You guys are way too impressed with your degrees and how educated and wise your arguments are to ever approach the kingdom this way. You have determined you are either going to argue your way in, or argue your way out. You have done the latter without recognizing that the first option was impossible to begin with. John's already told me I must be "uneducated because only uneducated people would argue against education"-thanks for the compliment, refer back to Mark 10:15.

In the not too distant future I expect you folks will be amazed at how all the "uneducated" people got into heaven, and all the tons of books, educated men and scholars on both sides of the debate ended up not in heaven. I can't recall any little children with seminary degrees....cheers

Berlzebub said...

dbull said:

In the eyes of the WORLD, it sounds like John has the perfect setup to know God right?

Mark10:15 Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it.
...
John's already told me I must be "uneducated because only uneducated people would argue against education"-thanks for the compliment, refer back to Mark 10:15."


So, the same people that are supposted to accept xianity could just have likely broke their arm, while jumping from the roof of a shed with a red cape tied around their neck? Wait... Does that mean I should keep up my dream of attending Hogwarts?!! WAAHOO!!

"In the not too distant future I expect you folks will be amazed at how all the "uneducated" people got into heaven, and all the tons of books, educated men and scholars on both sides of the debate ended up not in heaven. I can't recall any little children with seminary degrees....cheers"

Ahhh... The End is Near! argument. I think of it as the Cry Wolf! argument. Sorry, but that doesn't hold any water.

If you want to blindly follow a book written (and organized) by a group of people intent on using superstition to control the masses, go for it. Me? I'll be living each day as if it's my last, and working to leave something worthwhile behind to future generations.

-Berlzebub

Anonymous said...

I sorry you have chosen to leave the Church. I'm not going to judge you or knock you for whatever reasons.

I want to suggent something that you may have not considered.

Being an evangelical Christian has, in my opinion, become something of a joke. What with guys only in it for fame, money, sex, big houses, cars, etc, people, understandably look at Christianity with a jaded eye and think "what greedy, two-faced corrupted people".

What about looking into the real Christianity? I'm talking about the centuries-old Lutheran churches. A lot of people I know are disenfranchised by what they see, and wish to attend real worship services. I could be wrong. You may have rejected God outright, and you have been given the freewill to do so, but have you looked into a non-evangelical synod that is centuries old and follows 1st century practices? Not a modern-man inspired farce of a church that is more concerned with judging people?

Anonymous said...

Jesus acknowledges outright that there are different perspectives/influences at work - ones that see Jesus as crushing/cruel or nonsensical and others that see Him as a safe place to be a human that is broken and with faults. All too often religion turns the gospel into a contest amongst people for moral superiority/empowerment or to target sinners for venting hostility - too often in religion, the truth is stigmatized rather than embraced. How can a moral or legal code be promoted when we are to witness about spiritual salvation?

I expect that D'Bulls words are intended to offer insight and compassion, consistant with a position of belief.

Gina

Glenn Dixon said...

DBULL wrote You have determined you are either going to argue your way in, or argue your way out. You have done the latter without recognizing that the first option was impossible to begin with.

You couldn't be more wrong. Most of us did not argue our way in to Christianity. You'd have to agree this would be quite unusual at the age of 7. And doesn't the same Bible which you quote say "study to show thyself approved?" Is study of the Bible something you also discourage people from doing in order to prevent them from losing their child-like approach? Because those who study it the most risk seeing it for what it is -- a collection of myths and legends.

Anonymous said...

My daughter loves the Magic Eye books - upon first viewing the pictures, they appear a conglomeration of colorful splotches and beautiful disorganization. But if one gazes more intently, and focuses the eyes, suddenly, a magnificent 3-D picture emerges.

The Bible is written in a similar way. It can be used corruptly to condemn and marginalize people or used to offer grace. Jesus's words that one must enter the Kingdom as a little child mean that we cannot "see" Jesus or heaven with pride blinding our sight. God is not stupid - one cannot reduce Heaven into a formula or material object that can be usurped and destroyed by those seeking to control and manipulate, much as we are in the habit of doing. I used to be invested in seeking my own power and I was successful at it so I was not interested in the gospel - to me it was unnecessary and it looked like the "badpel" - my trust had been broken and I didn't want anyone lording over me.

Having said that, there is grace for running hot or cold - God still loves even when we do not, but it is our awakening and loving Him back that creates an eternal saving bond. Scripture alone, moral and legal codes alone, cannot accomplish that. His love defies logic because it sacrifices even in the face of persecution and hatred.

The many issues you mention about scripture are a reflection of a pride filled perspective -I had all the same questions and doubts. There aren't as many problems where love resides - grace is more powerful than evil and God is not restricted by religious or national divides to connect and rescue people.

I still can suffer from pride but it is slowly and surely losing its appeal - I'm learning that God's grace is sufficient for me - my "bad" is not bigger than His grace.

Thanks and God Bless.

Gina

Glenn Dixon said...

Gina said My daughter loves the Magic Eye books - upon first viewing the pictures, they appear a conglomeration of colorful splotches and beautiful disorganization. But if one gazes more intently, and focuses the eyes, suddenly, a magnificent 3-D picture emerges.

As I just mentioned, unfortunately this approach does not work for the Bible. The more intently one gazes at it, the more the problems emerge. Imagine if you could not see the 3D images in those Magic Eye books but were told they were there and that you should just believe this by faith! A similar approach is used with all Bible doubters.

Joe E. Holman said...

I wonder how a Magic Eye 3-D picture book of Numbers 31:15-18 would look? It would be something else to see a graphically illustrated version of Moses and the Israelite soldiers plunging rusty, bronze-age swords through the wombs of pregnant women and 4 year old children!

Or perhaps 2 Chronicles 25:12 would be funnier (in a cruel slapstick sort of way)...

"And the other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they were all broken in pieces."

*Whooooaaaaa..."Splat!"*

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Joe and Glenn. We remain uninfluenced by one another.

Thanks!

Gina

Anonymous said...

Postscript: I wanted to add something more - All differences of belief/nonbelief aside, one human to another, I really love and appreciate Joe's sense of humor and his talent for writing. I'm not familiar with Glenn's writing but I'll give you this - both Glenn and Joe could have been way more harsh on me for that 3-D post (I don't think I could have restrained myself as much as you both did)- don't think I haven't noticed that. One other thing, if I had given up looking at the 3-D pics and dismissed them based on my frustration, I would never have enjoyed getting to see them.

Thanks.

Gina

Anonymous said...

This is hillarious, a cultist/wolf in sheeps clothing turned atheist/communist tries to debunk something he has never been a part of (Church of Christ is as Christian as the Church of Satan or why not the Church of Rome) and calls himself a freethinker when in reality he doesn't even know how to think. Thanks for the laughs. By the way are you guys sodomites and pedophiles aswell? Your kind usually are. Just like your Catholic buddies. Thanks again for the laughs.

ruraldean said...

Well, here I am, a year late for the debate as usual...

I love the post above, as I was just about to go out and find some small children, and my neighbour and I have an arrangement on the sodomy front. Oh wait - that's not true - I am in fact a normal sentient being who's capable of making a judgement against the claims of Christianity without having to fit the mold that "Anonymous" has created. And it's great to see that the Christian in-fighting continues to programme just as many posters on this site have commented.

But actually, my comment centres around this:

"Mark10:15 Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it."

Can we paraphrase this into:

"whoever will not abandon reason, experience, knowledge and free thought will in no way enter into it"?