Am I Truly Ignorant About Christianity?

Many believers have said I'm ignorant, not only here at DC but on other Blogs I visit, and via email. It's a common complaint against former believers who leave the fold who then argue against it. Since apostates are seen as such a big threat against Christian theism believers must try to find a way to discredit the force of our testimonies. If they can do this it makes them feel better about staying inside the fold. After all, surely God would not allow us to walk away once he's gathered us up under his wings like a mother hen does to her chicks; surely if we just properly understood the Christian faith we wouldn't want to do so; and surely if there are good reasons to believe we couldn't turn around and subsequently reject our faith. Right? There must therefore be something wrong with us. What could that be? Perhaps we never had a personal relationship with God in the first place? Perhaps all we did is have some sort of mental assent without a heartfelt faith? Perhaps we never properly understood the Christian faith? Let me answer such nonsense...

Here are two comments left on an unnamed blog about me:
Well, from the sampling of John Loftus’ views on this blog, he does not know much about Christianity. He seems no more than an average atheist who sets up and argues against his own misguided and uninformed notions about Christianity. That will convince no one but other atheists. --MGT2
Actually he is an ex-Evangelical Protestant Christian & he took courses from William Lane Craig at one point. However based on my reading of his writings I would amend your statement to say he is limited to his former American Evangelical Protestant view of Christianity & seems to be ignorant of Christian history and other than Evangelical expressions of Christianity as well as other philosophical schools of Theism in general. --BenYachov
Now isn't it interesting to learn that the first person quoted is an evangelical while the second person is a liberal. You see, they both feel compelled to say I am ignorant about their particular faith. For if they can conclude I'm ignorant about their particular faith then I never rejected it since I was uniformed about it.

Here's what I wrote in response:
Now here's something very interesting to me. I'm ignorant, it's claimed. One says I'm ignorant about conservative Christianity while the other says I'm ignorant about liberal Christianity. What leads you to that conclusion? I studied with the best and the brightest evangelical professors, as well as several liberal Catholic professors at Marquette University. In fact I was a liberal Christian for a few years before becoming an agnostic and then later an atheist. I was a respondent at the annual Society of Biblical Literature's meeting last year to Harvard and Sheffield University professors. So here we have two people making snap judgments about me without needing any facts. Facts will confuse you, right?

Facts. Those damned stubborn things. Who needs them when you have faith? My informed opinion is that people who are so willing to make these snap judgments to buttress their faith cannot really think they have investigated their faith properly. It seems to me that if one's judgment is so easily made with me then one's judgment about his or her faith is on the same or similar par.

Just because I aim my arguments at evangelicals this means I don't understand the liberals, eh? Hmmm Okay, I guess.
You see, as an unbeliever I have changed my mind about Christianity. I think differently about it. I argue against it as a set of beliefs without any actually existing supernatural beings (God, angels, demons, spirits, and so forth). While I was a Christian I would have said I had a personal relationship with a gracious redeeming God. Now I don't think so at all. So I argue against it as the set of unfounded beliefs that it is. But because I do this Christians will say I never properly understood it.

Recently I provided a link to a Diary of a Beleaver who claims he was "a former Christian College professor and writer for Christianity Today." But because he or she argues from a new perspective as an unbeliever Christians claim this person was never a Christian professor in the first place. Why? Because he (?) argued that if Christians were consistent they would be like the obnoxious Fred Phelps who hates "fags" because God hates them.

Then along comes a conservative Christian to correct him. Lvka said, "God hates homosexuality, but loves all men equally." See how easy that appears? The distinction is between hating the sin but loving the sinner. How could a former Christian professor get this so dead wrong, right? Liberals might equally claim he doesn't know that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, per se, only fornication, rape, inhospitality, pederasty, and gratuitous sexual gratification.

How could a former Christian professor not understand these things, right? He's ignorant. He never left the right fold at all. He never properly understood the Christian faith, right?

I doubt this very much, so much that I'd be willing to bet a great deal of money on it. We'll only know for sure when he announces who he is. Christians will be surprised. That's my bet.

He's simply arguing, as I do, against his former faith. That doesn't make him ignorant of liberal types of Christianities at all. And since he's changed his mind about Christianity there are some other things he rejects that he didn't mention in arguing his case. I'll bet he simply denies that the distinction between hating the sin and loving the sinner can be reasonably maintained. If God hates sins and I'm sinning then he hates me. Why else does he threaten to send sinners to hell? If that's not hate what is it? Oh, but I know Christians say God sends people to hell out of love for them by letting them experience the consequences of their own choices. But that is simply bullshit from our perspective now. If "fags" go to hell then we could rightly conclude that God hates "fags." So Christians will continue claiming that former believers were ignorant about their faith. It soothes their consciences. But it's simply another one of their delusions.


Kel said...

I keep being told not only that I'm ignorant of Christianity but I'm wrong. No matter what I say, I'm wrong. But I tried to learn, I used to take what I learnt from one theist telling me I'm wrong and then brought up those points I had learnt. But I was still wrong. I just can't get why I'm so wrong all the time. Even when looking at a bible passage and taking it in context, I was wrong!

I came to the realisation that I was just arguing against people who had the presupposition that their faith had to be true so if I was saying otherwise it must have been me interpreting it wrong.

Nethertheless, it may be that I'm wrong. I could never understand the whole faith thing growing up and it might be that I'm biasing myself against the evidence. Which is why in an attempt to at least understand I'm asking for believers to show me the way. Perhaps my cognitive bias might inhibit me from seeing what is otherwise rational, but this is the best I can do. If I don't understand Christianity, then I hope that people will at least point me in the right direction because I hate arguing a straw man.

To get back to the post, to make the accusation that someone else is ignorant is easy. It's three words. Unless someone demonstrates how another person is ignorant, it's little more than name calling to dismiss the arguments.

John W. Loftus said...

Kel, thanks. Nice post over at your Blog. I hope Christians take you up on this.

Andre said...

You were spot-on in your response, John. I just think there is another, far more simple issue at hand here. How can anyone say, presumably with a straight face, that someone with your background and experience is ignorant about Christianity?

This is a religion that Jesus taught to fishermen and peasants, if you walk the walk you did, as I and millions of others did, and we find nothing there - there may be a more accurate answer than "they do not understand".

May it, by that same logic, not be fair to call into question the "understanding" of those who adhere to Christianity?

But the question, as you hint at, underlies a deep insecurity, a fear even. "Waht is it that these people are seeing?" The easy, comfortable answer is that 'They do not understand."

But there's actually nothing new there, is there? The Democrats also "don't understand", do they, and the blacks/whites/Hispanics/ Asians, and everybody knows that the Muslims don't understand. It's called a lager mentality, and the wagons being so encircled it is hardly strange to see this particular form of self-delusion.

John can either (a) be right, which calls into question my worldview and self-identity, or (b)that not-so-bright John misunderstands My Brand of Christianity. Pick (b) and all is well.

I'm sure that the last proponent of slavery muttered "But they just don't understand".

Ignerant Phool said...

For me it's always because of my fundamentalist background why I don't believe anymore. For example, my mother in-law insists on referring to me as "my agnostic son". This is because when I explained to her why I don't believe anymore, she was basically comparing and focusing mainly on the different teachings of our respective denominational upbringing. I'm just ignorant of her church's teaching.

The funny thing is I'm the only one in my entire family who's a nonbeliever and are predominantly of this same fundamentalist background. Obviously they too are "ignorant about Christianity", yet they still believe. They have no clue as to the many issues and problems Christianity faces that are discussed on blogs like this, they believe only because they've been raised to. Now what do you think some of them will tell me? Yep! That I just don't understand. But I can easily say that believers are ignorant about Christianity too, and that if they weren't, they would also not believe. Is this really the issue for belief or non-belief though?....

This accusation of ignorance is not as relevant as the christian may think, and is only a result of limiting their thinking.


krissthesexyatheist said...

They are always correct and we are always wrong. We never had strong/correct faith, even though we were devout, because we left the fold and they stayed. We were never really Christian and had weak faith, even though we were the Christians Christian at one time and the decision to leave took years of soul searching and gathering of evidence (that pesky evidence). We do not believe what they do, even though other Christianities do not agree with one another, much less other religions, then against atheist and agnostics..therefore we are wrong. Not.

DM said...

you people DON'T DESERVE TO LIVE...


christophermencken said...

"Well he just really doesn't understand..." is probably the comment I most often hear from my Christian friends when they're confronted with strong arguments by agnostics or atheists.

It's a variation on "Well, he just doesn't 'get' it," which is usually meant to dismiss and humiliate. Often times I just think it's an excuse to start shutting down the apologist's thinking process. "Epistemic closure" is the buzzword these days.

I think as Kel suggests, the next question is to ask the Christian what he or she believes on whatever the specific apologist idea is being discussed. You hear some surprising stuff, which can lead to more discussion.

Got your new book, John. Wow. Even better than I expected and I had expected it was going to be a real good book.

DM said...

make your OWN RELIGION and leave OURS ALONE...


Clare said...

You are the very opposite of ignorant, John. Can one of the Christians tell me exactly what makes a "true Christian"? For example, what would have made John not a true Christian before he started to question the veracity of it all? Is it only in hindsight that John is now not thought to have ever been a "proper Christian"?

Bronxboy47 said...

Andre said,

I'm sure that the last proponent of slavery muttered "But they just don't understand".

Hell, they're still muttering it today.

Metacrock said...

John, I don't think you are ignorant, the problem is you are not all knowing. You are Wrong, but you are not ignorant, you have a depth of knowledge in many segments of Christian tradition, though not all.

But then no one has all all knowledge.

Metacrock said...

I tried to get the Christians in my little sphere of influence, such as it is, to stop ragging on John becuase the unfair things they were saying about him were so like the things atheist say about me.

I contacted Craig and learned that John was a student of his and he considers John to have been a fine student. So I have told people John is not considered ignorant by William Lane Craig.

But the only people who have really listened re readers of my blog and the CADRE.

Now this doesn't preclude us calling you wrong you know. But friends can tell each other they are wrong.

Metacrock said...

You are the very opposite of ignorant, John.

He's not ignorant.

Can one of the Christians tell me exactly what makes a "true Christian"?


For example, what would have made John not a true Christian before he started to question the veracity of it all?

not all Christians believe tha one can't really be a christian and then fall away. That's basically a Calvinist thing becuase they believe in eternal security (once saved always saved).

of course they have to explian how it is a saved person is running saying salvation is meaningless, so the obvious way is to deny that he was ever saved.

for those of us who are not Calvinists, we do accept loss of salvation based upon Hebrews 6.

of course this whole discussion must back way up and talk about what is saved what is not saved.

Since I don't accept conventional concepts of hell those terms have different meanings for me.

Is it only in hindsight that John is now not thought to have ever been a "proper Christian"?

According to Craig he was a proper Christian.

We would need to discuss this at length it was get complex because it runs slap dab into the major differences between Calvinism and other forms of Christianity.

Clare said...

Thanks Metacrock (love the name!)for explaining. I am not sure if John was a Calvinist or not.

Bronxboy47 said...


I honestly believe the work your doing is every bit as important as that of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. And quite frankly, I don't know how you can stomach it sometimes. I'm grateful it's you on the line and not me.

I've just made a small contribution to your book fund. It's not much--I am saving up to purchase your latest book--but I'm sure every bit helps.

Keep up the good work.

aprice2704 said...

Hi John!

As you are probably aware, this approach to dismissal of apostates is equivalent to the "No true Scotsman" argument. See: wikipedia no true scotsman

Keep up the good work!!


Lvka said...

If God hates sins and I'm sinning then he hates me.

If doctors hate cancer, and you have it, then they hate you too. So much so even, that --when they see you-- they're gonna tie you to a bed cut you open with knives!!! (Those mean, evil doctors...)

Why else does he threaten to send sinners to hell?

Why did your parents threaten you with drowning when you were a kid and wanted to take a swim in the Ocean?

feeno said...

Mr. Loftus could be called many things, but ignorant isn't one of them. Why he left the church is his business, well kinda, if you broke asses go buy his book you can read for yourself.

I know Chuck is lurking out there somewhere licking his chops and ready to pounce on me if I am "mean" to John. So I will be respectful as possible.

Although John is a very interesting, complex and unique guy, his "deconversion" story is not.

The Apostle Paul speaks about this very issue many times in Scripture. He compares the Christian life to a fight or a race. He speaks of having to have perseverance or to be like Christ who "endured the cross".

He also speaks of the boldness of some cat named Demas who helped him out while Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Then later we find out that Demas "fell in love with this present world" and deserted Paul.

Mr. Loftus, Demas and others who have left the fold may or may not be Christians? Mr. Loftus claims he is not and is really trying hard to prove that. But ultimately that is up to the Lord to decide.

I also am not trying to say that those who have left the church just couldn't make it. What I do want to say is this "not everyone will".

I remember about 10-15 years ago at a Promise Keeper convention at Riverfront Stadium here in the 'nati, some dude who got up to speak said "look around" there was about 30,000 people there. He said many if not most here will not finish the race. And he challenged us to run the race as to win a prize. And all Christians who do finish the race will receive a prize. (the crown of life).

I'm still waiting and praying for the day when Mr. Loftus writes another book about how he "re-de-converted or de-re-converted?

Peace out and floor grout, feeno

Bronxboy47 said...


All you've done is to reinforce the notion that God's so-called "Salvation Plan" is pretty slipshod and devil-may-care. No guarantees everybody, but keep trying, you could be on of the lucky ones to win an all-expenses paid trip to cloud cukooland.

feeno said...

'Sup BB

If by "slipshod" you mean it's free and it's for everyone, then you are correct.

Salvation is easy, the Christian life isn't always.

Peace be with you, feeno

Clare said...

So Feeno, John and I and all the other atheists will go the Heaven if we have led good lives and your God decides we are OK after all? That sounds like a catholic friend of mine who justifies our friendship that way. She cannot bearthe thought that I might go to Hell.
If that is the case, why bother going to church, reading the Bible etc.? YOu might as well be an atheist and save yourself a lot of time and money!

feeno said...


Let me rephrase. The plan of salvation is easy.

But you do raise another question. What is a good life? Compared to a Holy God none of us are "good" enough.

At one time or another we all have sinned. But Jesus said "My yoke is easy" meaning you don't have to follow a bunch of rules, you just need to follow him.

Late, feeno

Bronxboy47 said...


You know exactly what I mean by slipshod. God forces (and I do mean forces--non of us asked to be created) creatures into existence, equips them with a nature that is bound to give offense eventually, and when the inevitable offense occurs, sends his son to save only those willing to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Sounds pretty slipshod to me.

Greg Mills said...

LVKA --We wouldn't have gone on vacation to the seaside if that was a problem.

Gandolf said...

Feen said..."I know Chuck is lurking out there somewhere licking his chops and ready to pounce on me if I am "mean" to John. So I will be respectful as possible."

Ohhh i think you`ll be fine Feen ,here take a hug from me.And then i`ll get ta chewing your ear off a lil, later on..But by the way,Chuck just shoots a little straight from the hips thats all,but you need to try to understand many folks like this do have some real good reasons.People who shoot straight from the hip usually do so when its about matters they think serrious and so naturally are hoping others see its a serrious matter thats being dealt with also.

Feen you said ..."The Apostle Paul speaks about this very issue many times in Scripture. He compares the Christian life to a fight or a race. He speaks of having to have perseverance or to be like Christ who "endured the cross". "

But Feen that local gang around the corner from you, probably uses some of the very same type of pep talks.Those running the show will be there, ralling all the troops, saying look we just gotta persevere! and fight the long fight!, and those still around at the end! will be the ones to benefit!.Any big difference?

Feen you often remind us of all these sweet little dittys, like they is something so very strange and far away from the realms of any normal human nature!, we might ever likely observe anywhere else.

Tell me whenever you read these sweet little numbers ,do you ever stop for a second or two and quickly use some sceptical thinking, and wonder to yourself just how strange and totally different to normal human nature, they really might be ? .Or do they just have this kinda nice ring! to them, that sounds automatically pleasing to thine ears?.

Just wondering .

Take care Feeno.

Amy B said...

I've been wondering about this issue of testimonies about one's religious experiences, or lack thereof. I am a Christian who has been questioning my faith for awhile, and when I push Christians to give a reason for their faith, it comes down to either a religious experience and/or a desire to believe. I'm trying to decide how much credence to give such experiences because I do think there are many ways of knowing. So, I am interested in how atheists, who were formerly believers, make sense of any religious/spiritual experiences they had in the past.

Bronxboy47 said...

Amy B:

I'm not certain how I would explain the religious experiences I had as a believer. And I did have them. But one thing I do know, religious experience is not limited to Christians. Hindu's and Buddhists, Jainists, Bahai's, Jews, Muslims, and even atheists have had religious experiences. And with the possible exception of the Atheist, these experiences served in most cases to strengthen their allegiance to their respective religions. Until we know more about the working of the human brain, this will have to remain an open question.

For those uncomfortable with uncertainty, this may present a problem.

flounder said...

This is what I believe:
To a christian an atheist is someone who doesn't understand christianity.
To an atheist a christian is someone who doesn't understand christianity.

Gandolf said...

Amy B what do you suggest as a religious experience?.Ive found warm fuzzy feelings can be found in many situations, amongst good people you love or after climbing very high mountains.Ive also now learned to be much more extremely careful of my thoughts and judgment, when considdering anything that seems might possibly be supernatural .Its just far to easy to freely atribute the supernatural, to things that actually has some natural answers.That dont mean that now days i dont still look out for supernatural things, it just means when i think something might actually have a supernatural factor i first study it more and more and question and reason and look for any other possible answers.

L.o.L...and so far the answers have mostly been rather simple, even if not so obvious to observe and understand at first glance.

Amy B said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Bronxboy47 and Gandolf. To Gandolf, my reply is that my definition of religious experience is very broad, to include any experience interpreted by someone as such, no matter their belief system. Within my denomination, I primarily hear people interpreting life experiences as being the result of God's intervention (such as knowing the right thing to say or do in a situation) or believing God gave them an intuition or thought that they acted on. Occasionally I may hear someone believing that God spoke to them through dreams.

Bronxboy47, your point is well taken that religious experience is common to a wide range of people. That is partly why I have trouble believing it confirms any one point of view. On the other hand, the fact that so many experience something that feels transcendant makes me wonder if it does point to something supernatural, whatever that may look like.

My own experiences have mainly been a longing/desire for depth and meaning in my life as well as a sense of awe and joy when in the presence of nature, loved ones, and humanity transcending human nature.

Gandolf said...

Hi Amy B thanks for all what you said ,im really guessing , but by "transcending human nature" im thinking you would be including some special things, like where we notice certain people will be fully prepared to just go out of their way to try to be helpful and loving and extra thoughtful towards you.If so, im all for this too , we sure need to try to cultivate more of this fine feeling in this world.Im not sure its connected to Gods or anything supernatural though, im not sure about your experience, but if im honest id have to say personally in my experience ive experience much more of this phenomenom the less of a believer somebody is.

And id also have to say seems to me some of the more tribal people in this world, often seem to be the ones longing and desiring less for that depth of meaning, you are maybe speaking of?.This is not to say these people have easier lives,but its often lack of money and resources which seems to make life tougher for them.And yet often even though they live in great poverty and hardship, i find myself continually impressed by these wonderful people and how happy they often seem.

Is it about why we are here-what happens after we are gone?.If so well "traditional" tribal folk to me show a wonderful display of a great reality of this honest depth and meaning.There whole life seems to often become etched into the very nature of the tribe/family/community/country,which never even seems to cease much, even long after they have actually passed on.Even here in the NZ traditional families still remember and cherish their loved ones from long long ago.

With regards to the idea of "God's intervention" in my opinion i think this is far more about such things as insight intuition and experience,and maybe comes from deep thinking and being fully prepared to alway try to be observant and aware etc.I personally have not seen any evidence to suggest its the religious/faithful that have a "honest" control of this, and to be quite honest i tend to have more doubt of claims made by those "also" claiming to be the spiritualist types.

Dont you considder maybe if this was actually honestly connected to spiritualism, the benefits of it would have likely become far more widely used on planet earth by now?.Like for instance if certain spiritualist really do have so special power that allows them to find lost people and murder victim.Why are more of them not to be found employed by the police in our everyday life ?.Surely the supernatural spirits are not against/apposed to lost people and murder victims being brought home and returned to their loving and grieving families?.

I have dreamed or thought of people and then suddenly have a visit from them or they ring me.But just as i think of them,they will very likely think of me likewise .In my opinion i dont see it as anything spooky spiritual,i think it has more to do with our familiarity and then coincidence added in to the mix.

I think the big key is in what you said "believing God gave them an intuition or thought that they acted on" and "believing that God spoke to them through dreams".

Its all in the "believing" bit.Some folks "believe" the dead speak to them.Some jungle people really "believe" you can read messages hidden in the gut linings of freshly killed chickens.Some "believe" in rune stones or tarot cards or coloured crystals rocks that heal you.

The only thing i can see that they all "honestly" have in common is the "believing" bit, as well as maybe being some people with intuition insight and experience etc who maybe might be deep thinking types also.

When we start thinking its honestly anything more,is when it opens the door! for some folks to be abusing it.And thats when the positive thats good for human health and survival, sometimes is able to get turned into a negative instead.

Chuck O'Connor said...


I could care less if you are rude to John. You have the right to defend your ideas and I expect humans to be competitive. I just find your defensive indignation a defeater of the doctrine of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit (a core Evangelical assertion) and therefore it exposes Christianity as just another man made idea. Your behavior is expected from an evolved primate and contradicts the claim you have a personal relationship with a supernatural omnipotent and omnibenevolent being.

zenmite said...

... religious experience is common to a wide range of people. That is partly why I have trouble believing it confirms any one point of view. On the other hand, the fact that so many experience something that feels transcendant makes me wonder if it does point to something supernatural, whatever that may look like.

My own experiences have mainly been a longing/desire for depth and meaning in my life as well as a sense of awe and joy when in the presence of nature, loved ones, and humanity transcending human nature.---Amy B"

Amy, as a christian when I prayed I would often "hear" the voice of god talk to me. When I was scared the voice would sometimes comfort or reassure me. It seemed my actions had some cosmic significance. I was being guided this way or that by god. If tragedy befell me it was all for some higher good. If a good thing happened it was because I was following god. This was a kind of always be engaged in some battle of cosmic importance.

Later, when my belief system collapsed I also realized that the voice that I heard in my head was one part of me talking to another. Nothing mystical, just fragmented thought. The voice was my own sub or semi conscious mind, sometimes accusing me and causing guilt and other times reasurring.

If you've ever used a Ouija board they really work. The pointer really moves if two people do it right. It can answer questions and spell names. It's the same phenomena. Our subconscious minds move the pointer here or there. If you introspect closely this can be observed. Of course if you want to believe in spirits then you won't be inclined to look for other answers. The same with prayer.

The feeling of transcendence comes from stepping momentarily out of our straitjacket of thought. Anyone can experience this, even atheists. It can happen via music, nature or any number of stimuli, even sex (really good movies sometimes do it for me.) We do experience something 'larger' than ourselves. In my view this 'larger'that we experience is simply our everyday world seen from outside our usual narrow point of view. It does not necessitate any supernatural entity or interpretation. If we've been conditioned to interpret such experiences as coming from god, we do so.

We all long for depth and meaning. Because this desire is so strong, we can easily fool ourselves. Believing I'm the reincarnation of Julius Caesar or a chosen prophet of god can give my life depth and meaning. So can believing that I'm having a personal relationship with the ruler of the universe. It seems many believers assume atheists are forever trapped in some meaningless, gray reality composed only of rational thought or an empty room as a christian here described it. I can assure you this isn't the case.

Ryan Anderson said...

For me, the religious experience felt like a transcendental sense of relief or peace and came about when I finally turned myself over to Jesus one day in church (no doubt a Christian here will nitpick on my use of terminology and claim I was never a Christian because I used the phrase “turned myself over” instead of “gave myself to”, etc…). Looking back now, it would appear that when one has hellfire, damnation and the notion that they are a worthless sinner hammered into them for a good portion of their childhood, it produces a sense of existential dread and when you finally figure out there is a way to be "saved", there is a feeling of transcendental, supernatural, relief.

I noticed later in life, while still a Christian, that I would have similar feeling in mundane situations, such as public speaking, stage acting, athletic competitions. The pattern was the same though, I had a heavy sense of doom, followed by a feeling of relief.

Obviously, the feeling that came from the mundane activities wasn’t as deeply moving as when I was “saved”, but it was similar enough to get me thinking… especially after I’d already started to doubt the historical accuracy of the gospels.

I can’t speak for the experiences of anyone but myself, but I do hear lots of experiences from evangelicals that are strikingly similar to mine.

Bronxboy47 said...


Just wanted to let you know how much I prefer your reply to Amy B to my hasty one. Your reply provides much more substance and food for thought, not surprising for someone conversant with Zen Buddhism.

Chris Jones said...

There are some general similarities between John's path and mine, so this resonates with me. I, too, came out of a conservative/fundamentalist background and migrated through a progressively more liberal theology before hopping onto the "agnostic express" and finally atheism.

My experience with Christians has been much the same as well. This was an astute remark:

"You see, as an unbeliever I have changed my mind about Christianity. I think differently about it. I argue against it as a set of beliefs without any actually existing supernatural beings ...(clip)... But because I do this Christians will say I never properly understood it. "

If you aren't in full agreement with them, the only apparent explanation can be that you don't understand the story or that you never really did what was required. It's a bullshit explanation, but that's what comes up over and over. Your critical point is that you have changed your mind about Christianity and now think differently about it. Bringing that up hadn't occurred to me, as obvious as it seems now that you've said it.

Amy B said...

Your comments about tribal people bring up an interesting point about our modern culture and the pervasive feeling of emptiness those who are the most affluent often feel. When we are living hand to mouth, not only do we not have time to reflect on existential questions, but our struggle to survive and to help our family survive gives us purpose. People from tribal societies also have more well defined roles and rites of passage that provide meaning. This discussion makes me think about Joseph Campbell and his work on myths. I have been drawn to his works recently to help me understand how humanity has made sense of our existence. I agree with Zenmite that the desire for meaning is strong. I suppose it helps explain the long attraction to religion. Zenmite, you mentioned transcendent experiences being the result of getting out of our straightjacket of thought. This would imply that we can deliberately construct these experiences, which we do. I have begun yoga recently and have found it to provide great peace and joy. I agree that many of these experiences can be found without believing in the supernatural. As I spend less time in prayer and Bible study, I find a need to look elsewhere to feel the need for reflection, introspection, connection to higher values. This is why I've taken up reading about mythology and practicing yoga.I have found it all meaningful and rewarding. At the end of the day, I still wonder why I am this way. I think that Gandolf, Zenmite, and Ryan all make cases that factors other than the supernatural can explain religious experience, I just wonder why we have them. I suppose I need to do some reading in the areas of neuropsychology and emergence as well.

GearHedEd said...

Amy B said,

"...My own experiences have mainly been a longing/desire for depth and meaning in my life as well as a sense of awe and joy when in the presence of nature, loved ones, and humanity transcending human nature."

Question, Amy: Is it not possible to find depth and meaning in one's life without appealing to some nebulous invisible god?

I personally have never experienced what some call a 'religious' experience'. Nor have I ever truly considered myself a "Christian", even though I went to church with my family as a child and teenager.

But even without any transcendent experiences, I still feel like I've had a good life so far. And it's only getting better, even without God.

zenmite said...

"Zenmite, you mentioned transcendent experiences being the result of getting out of our straightjacket of thought. This would imply that we can deliberately construct these experiences, which we do."

Amy, I would describe it more as 'deconstructing', but yes. As a side note, atheists Sam Harris and Dr. Sue Blackmore are both avid meditators that have no problem with transcendent experiences. But like myself, they see no reason to impute supernatural or mystical woo to these.

Bronxboy, thanks for your kind words.

Amy B said...

GearHedEd and Zenmite,
I agree with both of you that these transcendent experiences can stand on their own without being attributed to the supernatural. I have no problems believing that one can experience depth and meaning without being a believer of some sort. I see that in others. I'm just trying to determine what these experiences mean for me and how I should make sense of them. I suppose it's what I'm holding on to at this point as I have watched so much of my Christian belief system being challenged and dismantled.

GearHedEd said...

Amy B said,

"...I suppose it's what I'm holding on to at this point as I have watched so much of my Christian belief system being challenged and dismantled."

You'll have to make your own choice there, obviously. But if your belief system is crumbling from within, why hold on? And if it's crumbling from external pressure but it still makes you happy, then you should keep it, and work through the issues.

Whichever way you go, hope it worls out for you.

GearHedEd said...

that's "works"

bob said...

flounder said..."To a christian an atheist is someone who doesn't understand christianity.
To an atheist a christian is someone who doesn't understand christianity."


AmyB, I kept a very hap-hazard journal when I was a Christian and have posted it as the lead to my equally hap-hazard blog. You can get a sense of my "religious experience", up to and including my deconversion.

Amy B said...

GearHedEd, Thanks for your well wishes. The crumbling is coming from internal pressure and I will continue to face it. There are many aspects of being a Christian that are positive for me that keep me going. Also, I can't get rid of the pesky fear of hell, both for myself and my family.

thanks for sharing your journal. You went through quite a long period of struggle. It makes me feel alittle better to know that others take a while to sort things out as well. It seems one of your primary religious experiences was guilt or a sense that something was wrong with you. Very miserable. I thought that quote you had by Ingersoll was beautiful.

Kel said...

"I hope Christians take you up on this."

So far it's been a bit of a dud, which is unfortunate. I was really hoping that instead of just being called ignorant or close-minded that there would be those willing me to point me in the right direction so I could at least try to understand the appeal. So far only a couple of wikipedia entries.

Danny said...


Let begin by saying that I have not had any formal education in Christian theology, so I do not claim to have a knowledge that is superior to yours. I am a diligent student of the Bible and a Christian psychiatrist. In my early adulthood I went through an extremely difficult time and an agnostic phase after a series of letdowns. Over time I turned away from the denomination in which I was reared, and have been gradually letting go of pain that I could not understand at the time I was going through it. I have since returned to the Christian faith. If you are looking for someone to "show you the way", I was hoping I might be of some help. I have one big question to start- what did you feel you needed from your previous Christian experience that that you never got?

John W. Loftus said...

Danny, nice to see your comment. To answer your question, nothing.

If you want to read why I became an atheist you will see for yourself in my book WIBA. Other than that I don't answer questions that have already been answered in my books. So if you're really interested in helping me see the light again, read them then let's talk.

Sorry, but I cannot have this conversation repeatedly over and over with every single person who wants to save me. I hope you understand.


Wesley said...

Danny, I see John has answered already. But for myself, I find it interesting that as a psychiatrist you are inclined to think that the de-conversion process is usually a result of personal or emotional traumas, or in your terms, "letdowns". This is the belief of many christians.

My personal experience of de-conversion (46 yrs as an evangelical w/a Th.B. from a well-known Bible College) was simply a result of rational and intense examination of the foundations of Christian belief and theology. It started with the concept of hell and just expanded from there. Please believe me when I say that I did not seek or want to become an unbeliever. I had a good supporting church family. But in the end, I could not betray my findings, which is that christianity, along with all religions, is a man-made construct. It was primarily an intellectual activity, but in many ways my heart also followed.

Though you may wish to think that you could help de-converts to re-convert, I think the author of Hebrews maybe had it right when he said, "once having been enlightened ... and having fallen away ... it is impossible for those to be renewed again to repentance." That used to scare the hell out of me, literally, but now I just think, yes, I could never go back into that make-believe world.

PhilosophyFan said...

To simply answer your question, and I mean to truly keep it simple: I do not believe you are IGNORANT in a negative sense, Loftus, but more precisely not informed as much as you MIGHT think. No one is, though...not even the best among us.

PhilosophyFan said...

On Hell: Why does no one seriously consider the great Catholic thinkers on this when they tell us and even Francis Beckwith joins their theology??---Purgatory, my friends... and maybe annihilationism?? I cannot claim to know exactly the One True Doctrine of Hell...but it seems everyone simply shuts out the Catholic doctrine. Does anyone here ever actually read their Catchism?? Peter Kreeft did a good job of explaining a lot of the doctrine ImhO.

John W. Loftus said...

PhilosophyFan, I don't think you're is a position to say I'm not as informed as I think. Really now, do tell me. What do I think? You don't have a clue what I think in order to make that claim. Are you a mind reader or a psychic? Read this, given what I've heard from you and this last comment I'm confident it applies to you.

PhilosophyFan said...

Oh..but you know me so well, Lofrtus. I am humbled before you. Shall I bow down? LOL

Gandolf said...

PhilosophyFan said..."Oh..but you know me so well, Lofrtus. I am humbled before you. Shall I bow down? LOL"

No PhilosophyFan id say its not really your style "either".Elsewhere you have "said" that evidently you far prefer! to attack the idea!, (not the person).So then surely you wouldnt be inclined to be attacking the need for somebody to bowdown?,after all it seems its something you yourself would often very likely also refuse to do!?.

So im wondering are you actually here to be attacking the idea?, or is it more actually the person you are attacking?.Im just not quite sure at present, what to make of just where you problem honestly actually rests.Its slightly confusing really.

Also im wondering might i be able for a few minutes to entice you away from your sharing in the fine company and wisdom of the likes of Blaise Pascal, like it did seem maybe you did considder yourself to maybe also occupy.

To come back toward this thread here for a moment

Where i had suggested an "opinion" of mine, and a "question" of you, in regards to your thoughts about the fine matter of "wisdom" and "death" , and i still do happen to await on your very fine Blaise Pascalinian profoundly knowledgeable type university skilled reply.


Hendy said...

Nice post, John. I wrote Adam of Daylight Atheism a bit back about how frustrating my quest for truth has been. Every time I raise issues or ask for answers from those in my Christian circle, I'm simply pointed to talk to 'this guy' or 'that guy' or read 'this great book I know of.'

No one just answers my questions. And the answers I do receive are unsatisfying. This has made coming to a resolution to all of this very frustrating!

I wrote this:

"I more just feel stuck and hate the idea that I need a PhD or comparable in Catholic theology and apologetics to be able make a decision in some people's minds."

Adam wrote back:

"Have you ever noticed that no one needs this level of expertise to join a religion? No one walking in the doors of a church is barred by a priest who says, "Hold it! Until you've completed a rigorous Th.D program and read books by a dozen famous apologists, you don't have enough evidence to decide for yourself whether you really believe this."

Of course, that never happens in real life. Churches will welcome any applicant with open arms, regardless of how much or how little they know about the beliefs being taught there. They'll even accept children, as long as they can be taught to say the right words during their confirmation! No, this impossible level of expertise is never demanded of anyone seeking to join a religion - it's only ever demanded of people who are considering the idea of leaving."

Interesting, huh!? I completely agree.

Another point of irony is that I've heard it at least a few times that 'God has hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to children' or something along these lines. Essentially, that translates to 'you're thinking too much about all of this and just need to give in and believe.'

Yet what's the answer to doubt or argument? Referring up the chain to the theologian brainiacs, better books, or simply 'getting your understanding corrected' about what the real faith is.

Yet, I would say that in my case, my de-conversion is occurring (has occurred) as a result of self-education.

So which is it in all of this? Are non-believers too smart, or not smart enough?

And if I'm not knowledgeable enough to reject the faith, are Christians attacking their brethren on a daily basis since most of them aren't knowledgeable enough to accept it?

Xander said...

I am curious as to what people define as a personal relationship with Jesus.

The you didn't have one claim is easy to make, but what is the one that I am supposed to have?

GearHedEd said...

"I am curious as to what people define as a personal relationship with Jesus."

A delusional fantasy?

Just taking a stab there...

Hendy said...

@Xander: probably is defined by a 'feeling' of closeness or 'sense' of Jesus' true existence as a real live person.

I have been involved in a charismatic Catholic community for quite some time and would say that (also from the fact that I would have said I had this personal relationship as well) it is defined by the above as well as, perhaps, hearing him speak through scripture, conversing with him daily about problems and perceiving answers, blind assertion that he is alive and well, a joyful and vibrant activity of praise of him... stuff like that.

Really, all it does is add either emotion, interpretations of life's happenings, or blatant/blind assertion to the mix.

All is subjective. The problem John runs into (myself included) is that it's a self-fulfilling condition: if you don't believe, then obviously you never had a personal relationship with Jesus. If you do believe, then if you say you do, you do.

No way to say that you did have one, but now see it as a natural phenomenon or delusion with believers able to accept that. Now they will pull the Scotsman fallacy card and say that no person who had a true relationship with Jesus would ever turn away...

Breckmin said...

Perhaps in God's Omniscience there is something painfully wrong with the man made "No True Scotsman" fallacy itself...

and its entire *application* to logic?

Question everything.

Double A said...

Once in awhile (very rare; like 5 or 6 times in my life) I have intensely realistic dreams in which I sense, strongly, the use of my touch, sight, smell, hearing. Without my physical body I feel and I see and I live and I love. My interpretation of this is that the possibility of a true mystery, of heaven, of a place for our souls, is very real.
When we leave our bodies behind the eternal experience we have will be one of clarity or one of fog, one of happiness or one dreary, one fascinating or one horrifying. There is an infinite mix of what is in store. God loves you.