Book Review: Why I Rejected Christianity

Rooted in biblical studies and a transformative encounter with Jesus, John Loftus lived a life of an Evangelical minister. During years of study and ministry he rigorously researched and publicly expounded a fundamentalist world view. Like most ex-Christians, Loftus had to first encounter a life situation that created emotional dissonance before he could do a rational recalc on his beliefs. His story is not an unusual one. What is unusual is Loftus’s breadth and depth of research in defense of the Christian faith before finally calling it quits.

“Recalc” is nerd-speak for re-running the numbers: dusting off old dogmas and evidence, adding any updates, and re-computing the conclusions. Once personal weaknesses and human hypocrisies opened the door, Loftus applied himself to this process with the same intellectual rigor he had applied to defending the faith.

Because of this rigor, Why I Rejected Christianity offers a window into a vast array of arguments relating to orthodox Christian assertions about the nature of God and reality. It is thoroughly referenced and quotes extensively from scholars on many sides. This makes it a great launching point for someone who is a relative newcomer to apologetics.

Approaching the text as a psychologist as well as an ex-fundamentalist, I found many of the arguments fascinating on multiple levels.

One was the logic and evidence in play. Particularly interesting were discussions about the historicity of biblical texts and demon-haunted world in which they were written. Glimpsing this world, one realizes quickly that superstitions of all sorts abounded: meteorological signs and wonders, virgin births, magical cures, resurrections, ghostly apparitions . . . . Most of us look with patronizing bemusement at the many superstitions of the Medieval Europeans, and yet we are taught that the perceptions of our Bronze Age spiritual ancestors should be taken at face value. Loftus brings together a chorus of experts and erases the double standard.

At another level, I found myself marveling at the impressively contorted reasoning used by apologists through the ages in defense their received traditions. Arguments on behalf of the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit” and the incarnation are extraordinary in this regard. These arguments are testimony to the power of the human mind when we are determined to make the evidence fit a preconceived story line---or when we are determined to hold an appealing belief despite being backed into an evidentiary corner. They are worth reading from the standpoint of cognitive psychology alone.

Why I Rejected Christianity opens weakly, I think, with a personal narrative that is more confessional than it needs to be. Loftus lays out both his failings and his credentials as if to head off critics. He doesn’t need to. As a writer, he hits his stride when he enters the arena of scholarly discourse. His encyclopedic knowledge speaks for itself.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Columnist George Caylor once interviewed a molecular biologist for an article entitled "The Biologist," that ran on February 17, 2000, in The Ledger (Lynchburg, VA), and is in part reprinted here as a conversation between "G: (Caylor) and "J" (the scientist). We joint the piece in the middle of a discussion about the complexity of human code.

G: "Do you believe that the information evolved?"

J: "George, nobody I know in my profession believes it evolved. It was engineered by genius beyond genius, and such information could not have been written any other way. The paper and ink did not write the book! Knowing what we know, it is ridiculous to think otherwise."

G: "Have you ever stated that in a public lecture, or in any public writings?"

J: "No, I just say it evolved. To be a molecular biologist requires one to hold onto two insanities at all times. One, it would be insane to believe in evolution when you can see the truth for yourself. Two, it would be insane to say you don't believe evolution. All government work, research grants, papers, big college lectures—everything would stop. I'd be out of a job, or relegated to the outer fringes where I couldn't earn a decent living.

G: I hate to say it, but that sounds intellectually dishonest.

J: The work I do in genetic research is honorable. We will find the cures to many of mankind's worst diseases. But in the meantime, we have to live with the elephant in the living room.

G: What elephant?

J: Creation design. It's like an elephant in the living room. It moves around, takes up space, loudly trumpets, bumps into us, knocks things over, eats a ton of hay, and smells like an elephant. And yet we have to swear it isn't there!

Valerie Tarico said...

I'm afraid that the opening fragment exposes more than the interviewer, anonymous scientist, and anonymous commenter mean to reveal: "nobody I know in my profession believes it evolved."

ID theorists claim usually that they can't get their opinions published because they are in the minority. This anonymous scientist alleges 100% consensus which is then forced underground by social/governmental pressures. This oppression somehow takes place in a country where the supreme court endorses faith-based social programs, our president launches a war on advice from his heavenly father, fundamentalist appointees in the NIH block contraceptives that have passed medical review, over 90% of the populus believes in some kind of God, and almost 100 million people that humans were made in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. Hmmm.

Given the bounteous evidence to the contrary, I am fascinated by the continued insistence of believers that they are a beleaguered, oppressed minority. Psychologically this is highly effective in rallying the troops. Consider the "war on Christmas" the "war on Easter" the "homosexual agenda," "rampant secularism," etc. Pushing the threat button triggers an instinctive circling of wagons that binds moderate believers to fundamentalists. But with only six percent of the populus claiming to be atheist or agnostic, how exactly does the cognitive slight of hand work? What is the structural flaw that makes us vulnerable to such appeals regardless of their actual merits?

Anonymous said...
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John W. Loftus said...

Anon, if I thought you were sincere, I would answer your questions.