John Loftus served in the ministry for 14 years, first as a youth minister, then a minister, then a senior minister for a number of (conservative) Christian churches of Christ. He studied under the likes of Dr. William Lane Craig and has degrees from Lincoln Christian Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He’s taught apologetics classes at Christian colleges.
And now, he’s an atheist.
He’s also the author of the soon-to-be-released Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.
He recently answered questions via email:
Hemant Mehta: How “strong” of a Christian were you in your earlier life?
John Loftus: For a long time I had no doubts whatsoever about the Christian faith. I was a believer, not just to the bone, but to the very marrow. I was as passionate as one could get about the faith. That passion was what motivated me to want to study about my faith, to share it, to preach it, and to defend it.
HM: Was your change to atheism sudden or gradual?
JL: Perhaps the more entrenched one is both emotional and intellectual, the longer of a process it is. The process for me took about six years, perhaps due to the fact that I suppressed my doubts, perhaps because I was involved in the church, perhaps because of my education. After six years I became a liberal existential deist, who simply chose to believe in God and the afterlife. Then I became an agnostic. I wrote my first book as an agnostic in 2004. Then I became an atheist shortly afterward.
HM: When your doubts began to form, how did you justify your religious faith before finally abandoning it?
JL: Out of ignorance; at least, that’s what I think now. I was blinded by my upbringing to believe. I was raised to put on God glasses, which only allowed me to see the world through Christian eyes. I discounted disconfirming evidence. I didn’t understand Biblical archaeology. I didn’t understand the nature of historical studies when it comes to supporting a historical religion like Christianity. I didn’t understand the true nature of the ancient superstitious and barbaric writings found in the Bible. I didn’t understand science. I didn’t understand that philosophy can be used to confirm what I wanted to believe, but that what I believed could not be sustained by a true reading of canonized Bible. I simply read the wrong books. Because of a blinding faith I just could not see things differently.
HM: What were some of the reactions you received when you told others you were no longer a Christian?
JL: “You need to seek counseling.” “I feel very sad for you.” Most of the Christians I knew simply asked me what happened, “why did you change your mind?” That’s what prompted me to write my book, to help them understand. Christians who never knew me while I was a believer drill me with questions looking for anything that might evidence I was never was a true believer in the first place.
HM: Do you think a Christian audience will read this book or will it just reiterate to atheists what we already know? How do you get Christians to take a look at a book like this?
JL: I think many Christians will read this book, because I wrote it with them in mind, not the skeptic. I treat their beliefs respectfully, too, without demeaning them for believing, because I myself believed what they did with all seriousness. I have a unique pedigree among evangelical thinkers as I studied under some of the best of them, like Dr. Craig, Dr. Strauss, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Kenneth Kantzer, Dr. Stuart C. Hackett, and Dr. Ronald Feenstra. There are many books written on both sides of this great debate that merely “preach to the choir.” Mine is not one of them. Most skeptics who read it will see, for perhaps the first time, how Christian apologists defend their faith. I don’t think most skeptics understand Christianity enough to be able to deal effectively with believers. So skeptics will learn some valuable lessons and arguments if they want to convince believers they are deluded.
HM: How could you convince someone to become an atheist if they’re not quite religious anymore but not yet ready to abandon their faith?
JL: I don’t know what will convince any particular person to become an atheist, since that which is considered convincing to people is person-related. There is an irreducible personal element involved in whether an argument is convincing or not, in the absence of a mutually agreed upon repeatable scientific experiment. That being said, I think the arguments in my book will push the reader in that direction. The major goal in my book is not to convince people to become atheists, though, although I do argue for this. My major goal is to do the hard work of pushing Christians off of dead center. I aim to dislodge them from their certainties, to provoke them to doubt; intensive doubt if possible. Where they end up after I get them to think for themselves, without reliance on dogma or an authoritative inspired book, will be up to them. But I show them the way if they wish to follow in my path.
HM: What changed the most for you when you became an atheist?
JL: Well, I didn’t become a serial-killer, if that’s what you mean I’m the same person I was when I believed. Nothing much has changed in that department, except I don’t go to church activities and I no longer feel guilt for the lack of tithing or prayer or evangelism or unforgiveness, and so on and so on. I feel, well, human!
HM: Where do you agree and disagree with the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc)?
JL: I am grateful for the awareness these men have created among the English speaking world. Just like the gays had to grab our attention by being obnoxious, so also Dawkins in particular, had to treat religion in demeaning ways to provoke believers to really think about what they believe. He treats the monotheistic religions just like everyone else does to dead gods like Zeus or Apollo or Poseidon. We easily dismiss these mythical characters. Sam Harris reminds us that the sole difference is that the majority of people alive today believe in the God of the Bible. Now that these “New Atheists” have accomplished this rise in consciousness I want to treat the arguments of the believers seriously, and show why they are deluded to continue believing in a non-threatening, respectful manner.
HM: Are you optimistic about the future of atheism?
JL: Yes, very much so. I think it’s the wave of the future, even if it is sloughing along at a slow but steady pace. There will always be believers, of course, but skepticism will continue to rise in the polls.
Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity is slated for release on July 15th.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask him, leave them in the comments and I’ll pass them along.