John Loftus runs the influential Debunking Christianity blog and has written several books that seem to have made quite a splash. His words will be in blue.
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Former pastor John Loftus wants to be taken so seriously by Christians. And some do take him seriously (even Norman Geisler seems to). I was inclined to do so myself, until I ventured onto his blog last year and saw how he actually interacted with Christians (contrary to the noble, lofty sentiments of his blog’s stated approach to discussion).
Yet another forum that purported to abide by high standards of ethics in discussion, but in fact fails abominably in holding to them, or else enforces the rules (if at all) with a blatant double standard . . . I’ve seen it a hundred times, and (sad to say) Christian forums (Catholic and Protestant alike) do little better, if at all.
Blogs seemed to be on a higher level for a while, but now they seem to be rapidly going the way of the old discussion boards. Human nature, I reckon. It’s always been difficult to achieve a true, constructive dialogue, and it always will be, because people too often take such disagreement personally and don’t know how to do a dialogue (having never learned).
The apex of my experience at Debunking Christianity was when Loftus went ballistic because I (imagine this!!!) criticized his story of “deconversion” from Christianity. You would have thought it was the end of western civilization. He threw another hissy fit when I critiqued another argument of his, about God. This guy obviously can’t take any criticism. He’s clearly not interested in dialogue with Christians. But he loves to preach to us, because that is the one-way monologue that he prefers (more on that below). He has carried his love of preaching from the pulpit to atheist polemics.
Recently, after a similar ridiculous experience on the ExChristian.Net site (when I outrageously dared to critique the deconversion of the Grand Poobah there: Dave Van Allen), Loftus showed up on my blog and basically agreed with Van Allen that I “trolled” atheist sites (rather than attempting to engage in serious back-and-forth, socratic discussion, which is always my goal in conversing with anyone of different beliefs).
I documented how the charge of trolling was ludicrous, showing how I had stayed at Debunking Christianity for three and a half months, and had engaged in 19 major dialogues with several people. Many atheists (like many Christians and many human beings, period) don’t like it when you disagree with them and can give solid reasons why.
Loftus keeps harping on me to read his book, Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Atheist Explains. He has made the ludicrous claim that virtually any Christian brave enough to read it would almost certainly lose his faith (can you believe the hubris of that??!!). I have said that if he sent me a review copy, I’d be happy to do an extensive critique of the book.
He refuses, implying that I am simply looking for a freebie. For my part, I offered him a free e-book version of my book about atheism: Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism, saying that this dispute was not about money, but about truth.
Anyway, when Loftus showed up on my blog, I was willing to give him another shot. After all, we all blow it sometimes and hopefully we learn from our mistakes and try to do better. He seemed serious and sincere, and wrote:
Many of our beliefs contain an irreducible personal element to them, and we subsequently have a strong tendency to rationally support what we have come to believe on less than rational grounds. Some feel the need to defend what they believe more than others, like you, and me . . . I have written some things on these issues. Take a good look at them. If you choose to respond let me know when you do. (9-29-07 on my blog)
I did make it clear, though, that if I were to do this, he would have to do a better job of interacting, and not erupt again in a spasm of irrational insult, as in our previous encounters:
Hope you are doing well these days. . . . What reason would I have to believe you could maintain your composure in a dialogue? You haven’t yet with me . . . I seek dialogue with people who don’t have to make everything personal and take everything personally. Perhaps you have undergone a major change of approach since our previous encounters? (9-30-07)
John Loftus replied:
I’m doing well, kind burned out right now, but thank you. You too. . . . Our testimonies merely share a personal story. You can liken them to people at AA meetings who share what alcohol did to them and why they are leaving it behind them. They contain arguments, of course, but they are also very personal. It’s hard not to react strongly when someone basically says we shouldn’t feel the way we do, because feelings are also expressed. Doing what you do gets a rise out of us because of this. The webmaster at ex-christian.net responded beautifully to your critique, I thought. I just think you would do better to deal with our arguments, the kind that I linked to earlier, that’s all . . . the reason you provoked my ire is that you came to DC and evaluated personal testimonies, not our arguments, and as I said these stories are personal. Just like Christian testimonies they express to the “choir” their initial reasons and they express their personal feelings about why they left the Christian faith. Cheers. Tell you what, deal with what I said here. (9-30-07)
Now, does that strike you as a sincere and fairly friendly challenge? If you agree, then you got the same impression that I received myself. So I resolved to make a response to the papers he asked me to look over, but not without trepidation (as it turned out, more than justified). I wrote:
The strong insults from John, as I recall now, actually began during this series on evil, before I ever critiqued his deconversion. So he was reacting emotionally to arguments other than simply his (as he says) simplified, less-serious-of-an-argument deconversion story. I’m willing to give his papers another shot, but the proof is in the pudding, as to whether an actual dialogue will occur, minus the extraneous, unhelpful elements of emotionalism and personal sensitivity. (9-30-07)
And so, last Sunday (the entire afternoon), I issued a careful, point-by-point reply (Reply to Former Christian John Loftus’ “Outsider Test of Faith” Series). I thought this would be a good start-up of a new discussion (anyone can read it and judge for themselves), if indeed Loftus were truly willing to do that. He asked me to reply to his stuff, and I did (despite our troubled past interactions, due to his hypersensitivity to any criticism). What more can one do?
The warning flags went up even before I had issued the new paper. Loftus (bless his ex-Christian heart) had to act like an idiot before he even saw what I wrote. He regurgitated on my blog:
I don’t care if you give us another shot. You were personally rude. You have all the answers. The rest of us are just dumb. Or you can help Scot out who earlier asked you to answer me. [indeed, I did that] You could just wait to see my book, Why I Became an Atheist due out from Prometheus Books at the end of February. No freebies, like you had asked for earlier. While my focus is on evangelical Christianity, your view won’t escape criticism either. Cheers. (9-30-07)
One can only shake one’s head at such foolish stupidity. Like I said, Loftus wants so badly to be taken seriously, yet he seems paradoxically determined to destroy his own credibility with behavior like this. But this was only the beginning, pitifully enough, as we shall see. Now he has proved that he wasn’t even asking sincerely for me to critique his thoughts, and was merely playing games. I protested:
What a shame. And I thought it could have been a good discussion too. So many times with (usually angry, irrationally emotional) atheists, it is over before it even begins. He asked for a reply, I gave it, and before he even waited to see if I would reply or what I would say, he has insulted me as a pompous know-it-all. (9-30-07)
Rather than make the slightest counter-reply to my lengthy, substance-filled paper, here is how Loftus reacted:
I have answered your objections clearly and decisively in my book, which is being recommended by some interesting and important people. You seem to only be aware of my older book which is no longer available. [I merely used a photo of the older version because it had his picture on it] Get my present book. Or better yet, pre-order the Prometheus Books edition.
I’m not interested in giving out a free book to you, because I do not believe you will give it a fair hearing, and I certainly don’t think it will change your mind even if what I wrote is the truth, which I think it is. It’s a non-sequitur to argue that I won’t give you a freebie because I am interested in your money. I am not interested in your money, but I won’t buy my book (which is what I’d have to do), and give it to you. Maybe you can contact Prometheus Books and maybe you can have them send you a free copy for review. That’d be fine with me. (9-30-07)
And (as if I hadn’t written anything at all):
This post of mine is a good summation of what I’m arguing for. How exactly is it that what you just wrote refutes it? (9-30-07)
This seems to be a new pattern of atheist-Christian interaction, too (along with the angry atheist tendency and the ubiquituous charges that we are unalterably opposed to science and reason itself, are “insane” and “hateful” and need infantile “crutches” and so forth): Loftus himself asked me to respond to his reasoning in some particular papers, and I took my time to carefully do so, and then he acted like this. Loftus continued to relentlessly hound me to read his book (as if such pleas and provocations are what motivate me to write anything):
Dave, have you seen this? You really ought to take a good look at my book. People are being led astray from reading it, ya know. And you could set them straight. The longer you wait…..well, you know. (10-3-07)
I made the obvious response:
I made a lengthy critique of exactly what you wanted me to critique, and it wasn’t your deconversion. Ball’s in your court. Why should I move on to something else when that wasn’t yet responded to? (10-3-07)
That’s fine. I respond to your objections in my book, and it would take too lengthy of the comment space here to deal with what you wrote. If you don’t understand that, then fine. Cheers. (10-3-07)
I had had more than enough of this run-around-the-rosie silliness and folly by then, and blasted Loftus (with complete justification, as far as I am concerned):
Great. Next time you challenge me to respond to something you write, I’ll understand that you have no intention of counter-responding, and will take that into account as I decide what is worthwhile to spend my time on.
You act as if you’ve written nothing except your blasted book. You write tons on your blog, yet you act as if none of that ought to be critiqued or examined. We’re all supposed to accept it as Gospel Truth, and if we don’t, we get sent to your book because you are unwilling to give any answer to us mere mortals and can only preach to the choir on your blog.
That is intellectually unimpressive in the extreme . .. .
I gave it my best shot with a serious extended reply to exactly what you asked me to reply to. But you had ridiculously insulted me before I even completed my reply. And now this is how you respond.
One either wants to engage in true dialogue with competing ideas or they don’t. You clearly do not, and only want to preach (which makes sense, being a former pastor; you just changed congregations). (10-3-07)
Well, lo and behold, now new self-revelations from Loftus come out. He was never serious in the first place about wanting a reply, and was just playing games. In a word, he is a liar. He wrote on a thread at ExChristian.Net: the same one I participated in, in my visit there:
Dave Armstrong is not worth people’s time. He comes blasting in, we blast back, he demands an apology, we apologize, he accepts without doing the same, he moves on. So what I do is to challenge him to respond to an argument of mine. That keeps him busy for an hour or two or three. I figure the time it takes for him to respond keeps him out of my hair. But it does no good to dialogue with him, I’ve found. So when he’s done I thank him and refer him to my book. It’s fun really. Like I said, if he was worth my time I would dialogue with him. But he’s not for several reasons. (10-6-07)
There you have it, folks: the perfect, most appropriate, tragi-comic ending to the whole fiasco: Loftus wasn’t the slightest bit interested in dialogue from the outset. He was lying and attempting to manipulate my use of time, by pretending to want a dialogue when he really had not the slightest intention of doing so from the beginning. The behavior doesn’t exactly line up with the rhetoric . . .
Or else (since John Loftus is manifestly a liar, anything is possible now), he actually did want to dialogue, but saw my response and concluded that he had no decent reply, and so (as an evasion tactic) had to revise the history of what happened, to make out that he never did want to dialogue. Rather, he ventured bravely onto fellow atheist territory to announce further insults.
Either way, the man has amply proven how pathetic his personal ethics are, and what an intellectual coward he is. All he had to do was shut his big mouth for a few hours, read my lengthy, serious reply that he asked for, and make an intelligent, non-insulting counter-reply. That could have put us on an entirely different plane of discussion. It would have been a positive, hopeful thing. Something good may have actually resulted from it. But he just couldn’t do that.
And why is that? Because I am an “idiot” (as he has called me in the past) and “not worth people’s time”? Or is it because he cannot answer a serious Christian objection to his skeptical atheist nonsense? You decide. I have laid out the history of what happened, so you can use your critical faculties and decide what has gone on here. For my part, I think the truth is plain to see.
My blog is all about friendly, open, honest, mutually respectful dialogue and hearing both sides. I debate all kinds of belief-systems, and have engaged in somewhere between 450 and 500 dialogues (I no longer keep track, but I know it is at least 450). But Loftus and Van Allen and their blogs are not about that. They are about preaching to the choir, mocking and trashing Christians and Christianity and emotional backslapping and warm fuzzies: one atheist to another.
One can still find fair-minded, rational atheists (like Jim Arvo and Huey Heard) even on blogs like these. But for every one of them there are at least nine (vocal) insulting, irrationally angry or mocking atheists / agnostics / skeptics. And it is almost impossible to talk intelligently with an Arvo or a Heard without a bunch of patronizing nitwits trying to butt in and immediately bring the discussion down to the mudslinging pit.
But as soon as Heard came over to my blog, such a normal conversation was entirely possible and we actually came to a refreshing friendly agreement and a measure of understanding.
Photo credit: Fight with Cudgels (1823: detail), by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]