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Review of John Loftus, “Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains”, part 1 of 2
Having reposted a long lost and ancient manuscript of IrishFarmer’s essay Can Christians be Freethinkers? (ok, maybe it is not ancient) I thought to continue reposting some of his writings in the form of his review of a John Loftus book.
Following is the text of IrishFarmer’s review (with very minor stylistic changes and a succinct addendum):
One Infidelity Often Leads to Another I'm purposefully skipping chapter 1 and 1:1 because they have little to respond to. John simply explains his conversion and the grounding for his faith.
It is important to note, however, that John Loftus was involved with the Church of Christ, which in some cases is known for being overly literal and rigid in its Christian beliefs. This often leads to some intellectual crisis where none is needed. John's case, of course, will stand on its own, however.
Chapter 2 is where things start to get interesting. Titled, "Why I Changed My Mind: My Deconversion", it explains the beginning of his doubt, and the events that led to his rejection of Christianity.
At this point, any Christian should be challenged in their faith. At least if we're truly being given valid reasons to reject the faith. This is where the Christian reader's faith should begin to crumble like so much dry bread.
I want to encompass the entirety of John Loftus' reasoning, while still keeping this down to a decent length. With that in mind, I'll try to list the main ideas of the chapter, and respond when necessary.
1) Loftus explains that he wasn't afraid of any idea, being convinced that Christianity could withstand any intellectual attack. I agree, but I didn't start with this assumption. When I was younger, before I knew what apologetics was and before I had encountered a single fundy atheist, I honestly can say I didn't know that my faith could stand up to any attack.
I developed the attitude that my beliefs were invincible by encountering weak argument after weak argument, as well as familiarizing myself with the stronger arguments for Christianity.
There were times when, like Loftus, "I wasn't smart enough to answer the critics," p. 21. At those times I simply admitted that I personally didn't have an answer, and I set that argument aside. Ten times out of ten, I've found a proper answer, or discovered that I was hinging too much on rigid beliefs and that I didn't have to have an answer.
The reason I'm blabbing on about that is that I think John Loftus confuses two issues here. John's lack of an answer, with the lack of an answer altogether. John explains that his desire to understand all sides of the argument eventually led him to doubt the faith he defended.
2) Three people were responsible for setting him down the path towards atheism. Linda, who represents a crisis for John; Larry, who represents knowledge; and finally Jeff, who took away his sense of a loving, caring Christian community.
The story is certainly a sad one, but certainly not challenging to my faith.
Linda. This is a woman whom John had an affair with (he was married at the time) while working for Operation Shelter. Clearly a low-point in anyone's life. However, John Loftus makes some interesting observations: quoting from Richard Taylor's book, Having Love Affairs, John points out that,
Though a wife may be ever so dutiful, faultless, and virtuous in every skilled required in the making of a home, if she lacks passion, then in a very real sense she already is without a husband, or he, at least, is without a wife…
What has to be stressed is that the first infidelity may or may not have been committed by the one who is having an affair. The first and ultimate infidelity is to withhold the love that was promised, and which was originally represented as the reason for marriage to begin with.
I'm not going to spend much more time on this point, because ultimately I want to address his arguments against Christianity itself, but I think this sort of reasoning is important to note.
Mariano’s addendum: IrishFarmer failed to provide an interesting, revealing and very odd statement in this regard as John Loftus wrote the following about Linda and his psyche,
She practically idolized me. She did everything I said to do….What man doesn’t want to be worshiped? I guess I did. I was having problems with my own relationship with my wife at the time, and Linda made herself available. I succumbed and had an affair with her [p. 21].
This appears to call for a “Speak for yourself.”
Note also, that now, as an atheist, he states,
I am living life to the hilt everyday. I’m living without the guilt that Christianity threw on me, too! Life is good–very good! I feel better about it now than I ever have! [p. 273].
What he means by “hilt,” “without the guilt,” and “good” remain a mystery. Yet, one thing is certain: he decides what “good” is and what is “good” (an atheist rendition of the Euthyphro Dilemma seems applicable). Living without the guilt is wonderful if you have nothing for which to be guilty but living without the guilt is monstrous when you have something for which to be guilty.
Also, note that with regards to committing adultery John Loftus’ “logic” runs thusly,
1) he committed adultery (which his faith commitment; the Bible, Christianity, etc. forbid)
2) the Holy Spirit was dwelling within him (this is questionable as per 1st John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”)
3) God, through His Holy Spirit, did not stop John from exercising free will.
4) therefore, it is God’s fault that John committed adultery.
After he is accused of raping his woman-on-the-side, and discovers that she was some kind of habitual liar, he reflects on his infidelity and thinks,
I was supposed to be smarter than that... [1, p. 22]
Mariano’s addendum: True story: once, a friend admitted to me that he was a compulsive liar—I did not know whether I should believe him.
I think this might be a reflection of John Loftus' general state-of-mind, in the sense that John has a poor means of dealing with what he perceives to be personal failure. From reading the later chapters in John's book, it seems that John definitely takes his beliefs very personally, and was probably overly rigid with them.
I think that the difference in his and my own way of approaching challenges to the faith is in John's tendency to react poorly to personal failure. That is, when he lacked an answer to an objection, it couldn't be that there was an answer that he simply didn't have. Instead, it seems that John had the attitude that he "was supposed to be smarter than that," and if he wasn't smarter than that, then (to put it bluntly) he seemed to think (and seems to think) that no one can possibly be smarter than that.
Just a theory, I could be wrong.
I find it rather interesting, even if it seems to be a non sequitur to me, that one of the catalysts in John Loftus' loss of faith was a personal crisis.
One would hope that given the nature of the issue there would be some intellectual reasoning. If there is, it certainly can't be found in a personal crisis. So I'll move on...
3) Larry, John's cousin, led John to question his literal belief in Genesis. Ultimately John says - and I agree - that this is irrelevant to the truth of Christianity. But if that's true, then I have to wonder what this has to do with his deconversion? Was it his decision that he was going to believe the humanity had evolved?
While I certainly think evolution is not an easy thing to hold to as a Christian, it doesn't seem to follow from evolution the Christianity is false.
Mariano’s addendum: IrishFarmer did not define what he meant by “evolution” so let us consider it to mean something to the likes of life just happened to have happened and thus, God is, at best, superfluous.
John speaks of skeptics on page 24, but I have to think that his allegiance to so-called skeptics isn't as truthful as he would like people to think. Recently, on his blog, I expressed my skepticism of a writer named John Shelby Spong, and I brought up solid examples of poor reasoning on Spong's part and I was told that the likely reason I rejected Spong's writing is that I didn't like the fact that he was a liberal Christian.
Mariano’s addendum: If rejecting every Christian tenet that one can imagine makes one a “liberal Christian” then Spong is definitely a “liberal Christian.” But there are perhaps other terms for people who rejecting every Christian tenet such as “non-Christian” or CINO (Christian in name only).
Apparently skepticism is a worthy trait, unless you're disagreeing with a "skeptic", then you're not really a skeptic, you just have some deep-seeded psychological reason that invalidates your skepticism.
Regardless, this chapter was supposed to be about John Loftus' deconversion but I haven't seen any reason for why John deconverted, except vague references to how information caused him to reject his beliefs.
4) His local branch of the Church of Christ kicked John out, essentially for political reasons, which is rather pathetic as far as the church is concerned. This sort of pulled the rug of Christian community out from underneath John's feet.
5) John's first of many fallacious arguments comes in this next section. Jeff, another of John's cousins, for whatever reason thought John was trying to usurp his position as pastor and so left his church.
From this familial misunderstanding, John Loftus doubts that it is possible to correctly interpret the Bible. I honestly wish I were kidding. But a non sequitur like that was one of the links in the chain that pulled John from Christianity.
As a parallel example, John says that in trying to solve a dispute, both sides of the dispute at John's church used the Bible to back up their position. Ultimately, the dispute was over a woman who had yelled at someone else out of anger.
John Loftus uses this as evidence that the Bible cannot possibly be interpreted by modern people. Of course, a plurality of interpretations does not mean that none of them is correct. This is the same mistake atheists make when they claim that a plurality of mutually exclusive religions proves that none of them is true.
6) John wonders why Christians, who claim to have the Holy Spirit can't act better than other people. I would think the answer is obvious. That is, Christians aren't some kind of "superhuman", and further I don't remember which Bible verse it was that claims the Holy Spirit does your thinking for you. We're still allowed to stumble and make mistakes.
But, John says this was basically the final nail in the coffin of his faith.
None of these reasons is anything other than flimsy. Nothing John outlined in this chapter of his book has disproved Christianity, and based on John's lengthy discussion of his "life crisis" and the like, I think the issue was (as it is with all apostates) more emotional than anything.
In a telling expose of his supposed move to "free thinking", John Loftus cites Robert Price. If John wanted to add credibility to those who take these issues seriously, he could have avoided using Price as a source.
That's essentially the chapter. It was light on arguments, but some of the later chapters are more interesting.
It may be republished in part or in its entirety on websites, blogs, or any
print media for whatever purpose (in agreement or in order to criticize it) only as
long as the following conditions are met: