Open letter to John W. Loftus

Update: For those of you who are reading this long after the fact, John has since apologized for some of his comments.

Hi John,

You’ve done some great stuff for the atheist movement. When I first reviewed your book (years and years ago, when I was still on blogspot and you were still self-publishing), I said I thought the Outsider Test for Faith deserved a permanent place in the history of critiques of religion. I still think that. In fact, I’m so enthusiastic about the Outsider Test that I’m planning to write a chapter on it in my next book (which will I will finish… ack!, I don’t know when, but that’s not important right now).

However, I’ve been noticing for awhile now that you seem to have a lot of enemies within the atheist movement. I’ve wondered why, but didn’t really know. But after reading your recent post titled “Why Must People Always Personally Attack Apostates?” I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea.

Do you realize how ridiculous that post sounds? First of all, Freethought Blogs isn’t a religion, isn’t a belief system, you can’t apostatize from it. But even if you could, you’re not being attacked simply for leaving FTB. Rather, Natalie criticized you for some of the things you said upon leaving, in particular on a thread at Dan’s blog. Furthermore, Natalie’s criticisms were fairly mild, and to call them “mean spirited” strikes me as a massive overreaction. If you felt she misunderstood your position, you could have simply said so.

In the past, when I’ve seen you complain about being attacked, I didn’t have enough context to know if you were overreacting or not. Now, in retrospect, I suspect that you were also overreacting on those occasions, and that this explains a lot of the tensions between you and others in the atheist movement.

Frankly, this puts me in an awkward position. I now realize that if I cite you in the future, some of my readers will associate your name not with the great work you’ve done, but with these outbursts of yours. I find this profoundly embarrassing, to a degree I’ve never experienced with any of current roster of my fellow FTBers, in spite of my occasional disagreements with them. For this reason especially, I hope you manage to reign in the anger and defensiveness in the future.

Best,

Chris

  • jamessweet

    I think you put it pretty well here. I hadn’t seen Natalie’s post before those, and FWIW I do think she somewhat misinterpreted what Loftus was trying to say… But Loftus’ reaction to it is just so over-the-top, of course people are going to misinterpret it! I had just spotted the spiraling thread over at Camels With Hammers yesterday and wasn’t sure what to make of it…

    I think that, in the end, we’re all in agreement here that a variety of approaches are necessary, and that what Loftus does is valuable. He’s just kinda making a martyr of himself, and that’s disappointing…

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Chris, my friend, thanks for the advice. It now looks like I will have to explain in detail the reasons why I left. you were not privy to the discussions we had when first inviting you and Mano here at FtB. I was the first one to endorse both of you. And I endorsed others.

    For now see this:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-do-not-like-arguing-with-atheists.html

  • Marshall

    John, I get the impression that your dislike of arguing with atheists is a problem. You SHOULD be pointing out and calling out behaviors and ideas from atheists that you think are wrong. Part of the reason I like this place is that, for all the people claiming this is a terrible echo-chamber of massive groupthink, most people here seem to have no problem with calling out ANYONE, theist or not, on their errors. I think there may be a difference in attitudes in that regard, in which case I could understand your decision to leave, but there seems to be a level on which you aren’t recognizing your OWN flaws and errors. I generally don’t think people here are actively trying to be mean spirited, I think it has more to do with this being a place where ANYONE will be called out, and I think when it happened to YOU there may have been a misunderstanding, and you may have failed to separate the content of the criticism from its tone. Of course, I’m not going to claim that I know all of your reasons for leaving, but from the perspective of someone who has only seen what you and others have decided to put forth in posts and comments, I would have to agree with the assessment that you are overreacting. I would certainly be willing to revise that position if your explanation of things reveals this not to be the case.

    I certainly wish you nothing but good regardless. I’m just not sure what it is that others have done that you are so upset by.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches Ed Brayton

    I’m really saddened by all this infighting, not because there is disagreement on how to approach these matters — such disagreement is inevitable, even healthy — but because it is becoming so personal and nasty. I think John has done and continues to do very important work; I would not have invited him to join FTB in the first place if that were not true. And I do understand his decision to leave FTB and do not harbor any ill will at all over it. I hope he continues to do the great work he’s always done at his own blog. But it is also clear to me that John is incredibly thin-skinned. Even civil disagreement, such as Natalie’s post, is called an “attack” by “mean-spirited” people who are out to get him. Natalie may well be wrong in her criticism — who among us has not been at times? — but that is easily responded to in an equally civil manner rather than with “Oh my god, they’re attacking me!”

    At the same time, I think some of his worst critics have been every bit as ridiculous; anyone who thought his declaration that he was going to “turn his guns” on some of the people here meant he was going to actually shoot someone is massively overreacting. He clearly meant that metaphorically. Is there anyone who hasn’t used such a metaphor at one time or another? Did anyone really think that John Loftus was going to kill someone? I simply can’t imagine anyone could believe that. It was just a convenient way to bash him and unfair to the point of absurdity.

    I wish everyone would just back away from the ledge a bit. John Loftus is a very important member of the atheist community. Yes, I think he can be a bit of a prima donna and has a persecution complex that is too easily triggered, but that doesn’t detract from the brilliance or necessity of his writing. And John, I wish you’d stop taking any criticism so personally. We have disagreements among us, both on substance and on tactics. PZ and I went 10 rounds over this a few years ago, calling each other nasty names in an episode I think we’d both like to take back. But we decided to put that rancor in the past and behave like adults. There are disagreements among the FTB bloggers on many issues, and we have often debated them on our blogs in a civil manner. The fact that John is no longer at FTB should not change that dynamic at all, for either side.

    • Marshall

      I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all points here, Ed. One of the reasons I really like this place is that there ARE active disagreements and discussions, even between bloggers, because I think a certain level of conflict and debate (even when things get heated) can only more clearly elucidate the truths of opposing positions and expose the flaws in the same.

      And I will be showing up over at your place soon, whenever I get around to registering. Your blog is pretty much the first thing I read when I wake up each morning while I drink my coffee.

    • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

      Thanks Ed, I would be very happy if this whole episode has ended with your comment:

      http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/02/ed-brayton-founder-of-freethought-blogs.html

      Cheers

      • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ JesseW

        I really want to quote this part of Mr. Loftus’s post (on his blog) linked above:

        I dispute that I’m thinned skinned though. I’ve taken the heat from the other side for years. I do however, feel that the criticisms coming from my own side have more of an effect on me because I don’t want to feel like I’m going it alone.

        I think this is a really important point. It’s not that he’s thin-skinned in general, it’s that he’s put such a large proportion of his armor on the side facing the Christians that he’s wide open on the side facing the atheists. This is a fully-understandable occupational hazard of his chosen approach. And I, for one, am very glad to see him acknowledge it.

    • Ace of Sevens

      Thanks for weighing in, Ed. I agree on this whole thing. I liked Debunking Christianity when it was here and continue to follow it at its new home and couldn’t understand all the fuss. If this were Facebook, I would like your post.

    • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. Claw

      Ed, I do believe that “he clearly meant that metaphorically” is true for you. But the thing is, you know him. A lot of readers here don’t know him at all, except by what he has said here on FtB. For those less informed readers (me included) it wasn’t at all clear. And perhaps to non-US readers, even less so. The gun metaphor isn’t that common a metaphor elsewhere, I think. Known, yes, but not so common where guns aren’t such a big part of the culture.

      Of course, I’m very glad John Loftus came back to clarify, and that you were correct.

  • Eric Sweeney

    The problem is, Loftus is a god damned liar. He even got caught making up blogs about people.

    We don’t need him.

    • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

      Eric Sweeney is a Christian poser who stalks me relentlessly because he fears my influence.

      Tell us this Eric, deny that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.

      Then maybe you would have some credibility.

      Go ahead, Do it.

      • Eric Sweeney

        Just go fuck yourself Loftus. Deny that you were caught lying about people, you arrogant sack.

        • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

          Deny it Eric. Go ahead.

          • Clarissa

            This is just the kind of thing Johnny relies on to fuel hie persuction complex. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Ignore him

            And of course he does not deny that he has been caught lying.

            When the new edition of his book comes out you will all see his changed deconversion story.

      • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

        Hey, with idiots like this following you around, I see how one could develop a persecution issue… egads!

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    It was obvious during the past few months that FtB and John Loftus were not a good fit. John is more comfortable discussing Christianity with Christians than with atheists. I wasn’t surprised that John left and I wish him well.

    I only wish John would get rid of the giant chip on his shoulder. The majority of people who disagree with him on various topics are not out to get him, we just disagree. I’ve been a regular on Pharyngula for several years and I’ve had arguments with PZ, corrected him when I thought he was wrong, and poked fun at him. PZ has never complained about this sort of behavior, either from me or anyone else. Most of the FtB bloggers take similar attitudes. I’m sorry John Loftus can’t or won’t act in the same way.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus
    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      Fine, you’re making a difference. Hooray for you! You’re on your own now. Mazel tov! Now give it a rest. The thrill of you being you has worn off for the rest of us.

    • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

      Several years ago I punched a die-hard fundie Christian forced-birthing misogynistic bigot in the nose and followed it up with a kick to the groin.

      Today he’s an atheist who does escort duty at a clinic that provides abortion.

      Since this proves that I have made a difference using my method, I will now go from blog to blog here at FtB throwing a hissy fit everytime someone even remotely suggests that violence does not solve problems.

  • Azuma Hazuki

    We need John for one simple reason if nothing else: the man studied under William Lane Craig. More than anyone else, he knows how to kick Craig’s lying ass up and down the aisle.

    We already know Billy is scared of arguing with a former student. John’s problem here is twofold: 1) needs to calm down and 2) needs to stop showing the man so much respect. He is not a good person, former mentor or not.

    Why is this important? Because Bill is the golden boy of modern apologetics, and he manages to look sane enough that many people take him seriously long past when they should. Someone who knows him inside and out is the perfect antidote.

  • Justin Allen

    Clarissa,

    It doesn’t come up as much on the atheist side, but amongst Christians on apologetics sites on the internet, one in particular that associates with tektonics, there is quite a big of hatred for John here.

    I’d like to echo Chris’s bravo for the OTF. My own deconversion was due in large part to trying something like that out long before I knew any other atheists and it makes me happy that someone else thought of it too and phrased it so well :)

    I love to go toe to toe with people as much as the next guy, but John’s velvet approach is something we totally need. I think he overreacted, but seriously, we all just need to relax and work together as much as a herd of atheists can manage. Nobody wants to feel like their going at it alone

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      John can use whatever approaches he feels comfortable with. Nobody is telling him not to have the discussions he’s having with Christians. What we are telling him is to stop whining and complaining about everyone else.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    All I know is that I am making a difference. Speaking of Bill Craig, see this:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/02/dr-james-east-recommends-wiba.html

    Here’s what I just posted on Natalie Reed’s Blog:

    If people don’t like me and want to make a public display of it then they ought to at least acknowledge that all they’ve got on me is that I don’t suffer fools gladly.

    Socrates was bombastic. Read the ending of the Euthyphro Dialogue and see for yourself. You realize that after the Athenian senate condemned him by a narrow margin he was given a chance to plead his case and blasted them, even saying they ought to pay him a pension for what he does. That didn’t help his case for after his speech they voted overwhelmingly that he should die. While I’m not worthy to be in his presence, so what if I might be like him too. Nietzsche was, as was Marx. Big fucking deal.

    Sometimes it’s personality types like ours that get things done. Natalie just might have the same personality type, but I don’t know. Kudos to her if so! But it has little or nothing to do with whether or not we are effective in that which we do.

  • http://chessconfessions.blogspot.com Blue Devil Knight

    Yes, it is strange how few people from the skeptical community saw this until now.

    • sc_00c990740e8bdb15c080f28031b88fec

      Cheers for John

      Does anyone know what Loftus has had to put up with since he first came out as a non-believer and wanted to share his story with others, especially fellow Christians? I might be one of the few who do know, perhaps the only one who knows the whole story. He contacted me years ago, back when he was finishing his first self-published manuscript about leaving the ministry, which was before he dialogued with Christians on “Theology Web,” and even before he started his own blog.

      I’ve seen the treatment Loftus rec’d from conservative Christians from the start on Theology Web in 2005, and I’ve seen several anti-Loftus blogs they constructed, some purely mocking with mocking versions of his name and anyone he was associating with, and the fake “Loftus disciple” that Paul Manata invented and played to the hilt for months including a radio interview on a Christian station, and the parody music video someone composed to continue mocking and belittling things John or his friends said, wrote, did, even mocking his home. Yet that made John more eager to finish the books he had planned, which he did, in record time, and they outsell those of the leading (self-published Christian apologists) who mocked him. So thank Yahweh and Jesus for all that mocking I suppose, without which John might have instead have made some pleasant polite Christian friends over at tweb.

      Today whenever Prometheus publishes another word by Loftus e-apologists from two conservative Christian groups rush to produce full length manuscripts to try and refute it. They hold back little of their vitriol in doing so, and they advertise their anti-Loftus “books” in conservative regions of the Christian web. So Christians get to read these free rebuttals soon after John’s book first appears on sale, and they can read t hem in lieu of actually reading what Loftus was written. Dawkins has his many “fleas,” but Dawkins doesn’t deal with the kinds of biblical and theological questions that Loftus’ writings delve into. Such questions inspire the utmost resistance from the conservative Christian, since they often target inspiration/inerrancy, points of doctrine, specific theological conflicts between Christians, biblical history, and Gospel veracity. Loftus, being an ex-seminarian, delves such questions deeper than Dawkins does.

      And the fact that John was a seminarian is another reason why such folks want him discredited to the max, to keep fellow believers away from his works, to put up police tape around Loftus’ writings, yellow tape of jaundiced prejudice against his works and his person, to keep their fellow Bible believers safe from exposure to such an author who is also an apostate who asks more specific questions concerning their beliefs than Dawkins does.

      John’s Christian detractors even advertise lists of each and every failing of Loftus, real or imagined, searching his life and psyche for sins. I have read comments they left on the blogs of moderate/liberal Christians who dare to associate in a friendly fashion with Loftus. Randal Rauser and James McGrath and Thom Stark are all Christians lying outside of the conservative spectrum, and all of them have rec’d comments on their blogs saying that they ought to disassociate from Loftus, and if listing Loftus’ sins (as they see them) doesn’t work, then they start to speak against these less conservative Christians themselves.

      Dawkins can always go back to writing strictly about science. Dawkins’ theological pronouncements are generalizations compared with Loftus’ approach. And Dawkins’ personal background is non-threatening to conservative Christians. Dawkins was never heavily involved in Jesus or Christianity in a personal sense, nor a graduate of an Evangelical Seminary.

      I think John’s rubbing elbows with a certain apologist and his fans over at “Theology Web” irritated John but also enervated him, charging his batteries to submit his first book proposal to Prometheus and to write/edit more. If any other skeptics at freethought bloggers spent time at tweb trying to discuss biblical/theological topics with those same folks, or even tried to make them come to terms with the simplest points concerning biblical scholarship, I think they would have given up quite soon. (How many freethought bloggers have other people forming multiple blogs in an attempt to discredit them alone, and/or mock them, and have Christians warning others to avoid them at all costs, with insults and slurs aimed directly at them, and could also remained focused, writting/editing about a book a year?

      I’m not saying all conservative Christians are the same. Far from it. I’ve had dinner and discussions with a few teachers and students from the local fundamentalist university, Bob Jones, who ran across my book, Leaving the Fold (which mentions some graduates of Bob Jones U in it), and the conversations were congenial. I’ve had congenial conversations over the internet with others. But there are Christians of a particular type on the web who make it a point of honor to try and thoroughly dishonor anyone who attempts to question their point of view, and unfortunately it only incites them more to try and dialogue with them. They cannot discuss an argument for or against a Christian doctrine without taking it as an “insult to God” that in their minds must be called to account in a highly “shame/honor” based fashion), not simply corrected in scholarly tones.

      So I don’t blame John, I’m amazed at what he’s accomplished. And I’m amazed that he engaged with such folks with for as long as he did. No doubt he sees part of himself in them, and imagines that many of the same ideas and arguments that changed his mind might seem at least somewhat valid to them as well, and that by dialoging with them he might find the right words to help them see things differently, or at least challenge them.

      Lastly, I think the internet can run people down. In the old days it took over a week for a person to receive a letter, consider a reply, and send it. But the internet is open 24-7, it never sleeps. And in the old days you were writing a letter to one person in most cases, so you didn’t expect to receive a barrage of insults (or applause) from others as a result. You weren’t playing to a crowd, you didn’t envision yourself on a soapbox. It was mano y mano in the majority of letter-writing cases, just like in the case of writing a book for a singular reader. On the web with the advent of blogs and forums disrespect and respect gets magnified out of bounds with whatever topic is being discussed. We have the potential and reality in many cases of people getting on each other’s nerves, 24-7. “Come to bed.” “No, someone’s wrong on the internet.” And unlike a letter in which you may know from the recipient whether you affected them by something you wrote, a person’s internet persona is not the same, they don’t want to show weakness in a sea of sharks, and they crave attention in a world filled with so many people speaking at once. On the internet some people have the knack of being able to wear off even the thickest of skin of others, till both are down to their last raw nerve. *smile*

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus
  • John W. Loftus
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    Looks like cross-blog pingbacks are broken again, so, um, ping.

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