On My Reason for Critiquing Atheist “Deconversion” Stories

On My Reason for Critiquing Atheist “Deconversion” Stories September 16, 2015


Photograph by Danny Birchall [Flickr / CC By 2.0 license]

Jon Curry is an atheist I actually know in person and consider a friend. I’ve invited him twice to my house, to do presentations. His son and my daughter attend a group homeschooling place together, and we know his wife, too, from that school. He invited me to his group of atheist and agnostic friends, where I was treated with courtesy and politeness. This exchange occurred in the combox for my post, The Atheist Obsession with Insulting Christians. His words will be in blue.

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I think critiqueing someone’s deconversion story is a dangerous game. When a person explains the reasons they changed their opinion on such a critical, life changing type issue, and if you reply to that in a way that is dismissive or pronounces the person irrational, well that’s going to evoke anger.

If I tell you some of the individual reasons for why I changed my view and you respond with “Well, that alone is an irrational reason to leave the faith”, that’s probably going to bother me a lot, because it’s going to say to me at a moment when I was trusting you and sharing with you hoping you could empathize with me, it’s going to say that you aren’t listening to me because you care. You’re listening only to dismiss me as irrational or to find some ammo against me. You’re not being a friend to me. If you dismiss me as irrational you in a sense reject my efforts at connecting, and it’s hurtful. If you want to argue, that’s fine, but if you want to know me personally and how I got to where I am you should focus on listening.

I think there is a lot of validity in what you say; a legitimate point. It’s difficult to draw a proper balance at times. A lot depends on the situation. One can listen and extend sympathy in one situation and critique ideas in another. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. I simultaneously critique atheism and try to find common ground with atheists, too, in an attitude of respect and listening (exactly what I’m doing right now). When we got together at the restaurant, I spent a great deal of time listening: probably at least as much as I talked (especially with Vijaya: is that how her name is spelled?); and there was only one o’ me and six o’ y’all.

You spent most of the time, as I recall, preaching left-wing politics . . . LOL

If you and I were sitting somewhere and you said something like, “these are the reasons why I left Christianity; what really hurt me and caused me a lot of pain . . .” etc., then absolutely that would be a time for listening, friend to friend, man to man. Surely you would know that I would disagree with many of your reasons, but I would listen and hopefully be a friend.

But as an apologist, generally speaking (in the public arena), I have to defend Christianity, and that includes critiquing reasons given to reject Christianity. If those reasons are inadequate, then it is my task to show how and why they are, in order to prevent existing Christians from using them as reasons to leave (which is, of course, a large part of the reason for these deconversion stories: to persuade others to forsake Christianity as well).

In effect, these deconversion stories are the atheist equivalent of Christian preaching or evangelism. They are intended to persuade; to make the movement grow; to embolden others to “come out” and do the previously unthinkable thing: reject Christianity: very much in internal purpose like our own testimonies.

Therefore, we are equally entitled to critique them; since they are presented in public in the first place, not in private, man-to-man, eye-to-eye, sitting by the fire or in some restaurant talking about the problems of life, kids, work frustrations, etc. Public material (that attacks Christianity) is fair game. Surely you can’t object to that!

I recall that when John Loftus explained the process that led to his change of views he really bared his soul, admitted to infidelity, admitted to various failings, and the reaction of some Christians, particularly those at Triablogue, was so callous, so dismissive, that it was really quite grotesque. They quickly revealed that they have no concern for John as a human being. They don’t want to understand his feelings and his hurts. They want to twist the knife, make it as painful as possible. He was angry in response, and I think anyone with normal levels of empathy can understand. At Triablogue though they are on another level of cruelty. Atheists are not just people with which they disagree. Atheists to them are animals. For me animals deserve kindly treatment, so really I should say atheists are less than animals. Hurting atheists really gives them pleasure. Atheists get angry in reaction. It’s not surprising.

You bring up Loftus. First of all, we should note (full disclosure) that you and your friends agreed that he often does a terrible job debating, and puts forth a negative image of atheists.

Secondly, he put up his website called Debunking Christianity. The whole purpose of the enterprise is right in the title. His own endless articles, including his deconversion story, are part of this effort. I don’t see how you could argue that he should be able to write that and tear down beliefs that we Christians consider sacred and true, while we cannot critique them at all? Of course we can! If he wants to try to publicly “debunk” Christianity (including his deconversion story), we have every right to defend it and show where his reasoning went awry and astray.

You make a great point about how some Christians treated John Loftus. Whom do you mention as examples, though: the people at Tribalblogue: Steve Hays et al. Per the point I have made above, these are fundamentalist bigots, who are also anti-Catholics. Hays believe in a 10,000-year-old earth.

I know how they treat people they disagree with because I have been a target myself, and I’m a fellow Christian (but they deny that I am one). Hays has described me as “of an evil character.” So I get that.

But that is not all Christians, and I did not treat Loftus in this atrocious, unethical fashion. I simply critiqued his ideas (because I think erroneous ideas are the primary cause of atheism, not necessarily wickedness and rebellion). But that was enough for him to act as atheists so often do, and go spastic and call me an “idiot”: and all the rest. Anyone can read my critique of his story. [part one / part two]

He could dish it out but he couldn’t take it. It’s really as simple as that. He wants to have a public website with that name, and run down Christianity and Christians day and night, but don’t let us dare to utter a critique of his story of apostasy! I guess only truly stupid Christians are allowed to show up and comment on that site; so they can fit the stereotype that Loftus desires to promulgate.

I think when you see poor behavior you should look at causes, maybe look in the mirror a bit. It’s easy to just point a finger, but if you’re really interested in improving things it’s worth asking what you might be doing that contributes.

I half agree with you and half disagree. If you want to encourage listening in a friendship context, I’m all for that. If you want to say atheists should be treated charitably, I’ve always said that and try to model it as best I can. And I think you know that, having met me at least half a dozen times now.

If you say, on the other hand, that we can’t defend our beliefs against frontal attacks or critique the ideas in deconversion stories, I must respectfully disagree. But we do have to do that without attacking people. I sought to do so with Loftus, as I do with everyone, but I’m sure I didn’t do it perfectly, either. Mea maxima culpa . . .


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