Critiquing Atheist Deconversions = “Spiritual Predator”?

Critiquing Atheist Deconversions = “Spiritual Predator”? August 23, 2018

If one dares to critique an atheist’s “deconversion” from Christianity to atheism one will prove oneself (in the eyes of some – dunno how many) atheists, to be evil incarnate, the scum of the earth, and a most unsavory personage. “RubySera Martin”, a former Christian herself, leaves no stone unturned in savaging my person for this outlandishly evil sin that I have committed. The link to her post is now defunct, but I cited it in its entirety.

RubySera’s words will be in blue, John Loftus’s in green, and my older cited words in brown.


John Loftus’s “reply” to my critique of his deconversion was ridiculous enough (“He doesn’t think I was sincere. I’m probably not even a person to him. . . . You’re a joke. I’m surprised you have an audience. . . . To think you could pompously proclaim you are better than me is beyond me when you don’t know me. It’s a defensive mechanism you have with people like me. . . . damned psychobabble . . . drivel . . . It’s called respecting people as people, and Dave’s Christianity does not do that with people who don’t agree with him. . . . self-assured arrogant idiots out there, like Dave, who prefer to proclaim off of my personal experience that they are better than I”), but this goes beyond merely ridiculous, to surreal and hysterical. And the sad thing is that it is again based on a massive misunderstanding that doesn’t follow from the words and arguments I used.

So now, rather than rationally discuss the issues at hand, I have to prove I’m not the devil. See how it works? I wish I could just ignore this, but it is so absurd that I just don’t have it in me. It’s one thing to honestly disagree, but when a person has to literally demonize someone because she is unable to properly understand what they are arguing, then someone must speak out against that. It’s a true shame, that here we are again with atheists who want to resort to personal attack and insult.

Once again, we’ll see that context was utterly butchered, and little attempt was made to grant good faith to me, because, after all, I am a Christian, and I committed the unpardonable sin of critiquing an atheist’s deconversion story. I didn’t know it was the unpardonable sin according to atheists till I did it. Now I know.

Spiritual Predators

The following was said by a Christian about a person [John Loftus] who deconverted from Christianity:

So he grew up being “taught to believe in the Christian faith” yet this is how he ended the later years of his youth? Doesn’t sound like a very compelling Christian upbringing to me. Something was deficient there somewhere. On the other hand, I was a very nominal Methodist growing up, and even stopped going to Church at age 10 (because my parents also did) and was almost a practical agnostic; at the very least exceedingly secular in outlook (though never an atheist). Yet I never remotely got into this much trouble (pursuing the occult was about the extent of it).

That can be about the most scathing thing seekers face. They make themselves vulnerable, they bare their souls, hoping for understanding. Instead of understanding they are mocked for being the way they are.

The author, Dave Armstrong, claims elsewhere that he was only critiquing. No, he was not critiquing. He was being skeptical of another human being’s honesty regarding that person’s own personal experience of life. In other words, he was being skeptical about another person’s interpretation of his own life experience.

This is a complete distortion of what I was trying to do, and my interior disposition. I was not mocking at all. This is implied in the fact that I concluded my own not very stellar example of religious background. My point was that there was likely some deficiency in how John was taught the Christian faith, because, as a rule, those who are taught it properly, don’t get into all the trouble that he did (“I had dropped out of High School, and was arrested six different times for offenses like running away, theft, and battery. I had also hitchhiked around the country with a friend. I was heavily into drugs, alcohol, sex, fast cars, and the party scene”). This was all prior to age 18. I used myself as an analogy; in effect, arguing: if I wasn’t properly taught religious things and got into relatively little trouble, it stands to reason that John probably wasn’t, either, since he got into a load of trouble.”

This doesn’t involve my allegedly “being skeptical of another human being’s honesty regarding that person’s own personal experience of life.” Not at all. And that is because the statement, “I grew up being taught to believe in the Christian faith” is capable of including within it many possibilities as to factual variables: possible deficiencies in doctrine, in ethics, in bad example from those teaching it, in hypocrisy of those teaching it, etc. It is a subjective statement. I only had so much information to go by and responded accordingly.

It’s true that I am skeptical of the nature of this faith that he was taught. I highly suspect that there was something wrong there (in the teaching, not with him as a supposedly rotten, evil person), that led him to go astray in his youth. Most people who see a young person go so far astray will immediately look at the parents and what they have been doing. But this doesn’t entail some unsavory claim that John is not honest, or that he is deliberately misrepresenting his past. That simply doesn’t follow. It was a very general statement.

What I am skeptical of is whether he was properly taught Christianity. Perhaps he was. I assumed he would clarify that later, since, after all, he asked me to critique his deconversion in the first place, and we were getting along fine (so I thought) until I did so. He could easily have done so, but instead we had an explosion of irrational and emotional invective.

RubySera says I was “being skeptical about another person’s interpretation of his own life experience.” Again, this is not true. The above observation doesn’t require this sort of reading at all. I was simply reacting to the general statement that he was raised in the Christian faith, combined with his own report of his mischief and lawbreaking, and stating aloud that something doesn’t connect there. I don’t place that in his sincerity, but in problems in what he was taught, or something along these lines.

I do see, however, that there were two things I could have expressed in a better way: the use of the phrase, “on the other hand,” which can (I see now) be taken to imply that I was contrasting myself (by this phrase) as (an inherently) “good kid” over against John as a “bad kid” (and then using this presumption of his “badness” to dismiss his reasoning thereafter). But that was not my intention at all. I intended the phrase to contrast the two following things, by reverse analogy:

1. John: good Christian upbringing — wild youth.

2. Dave: nominal Christian upbringing — relatively docile, trouble-free youth.

My reasoning (I grant that it is not totally clear) was that good religious teaching usually corresponds to kids getting into less trouble. So if John got into a lot, I was saying that maybe the teaching or the environment in which it was presented wasn’t that great. He may have sincerely thought that it was. But reasonable people can differ on that.

RubySera herself was brought up as a very conservative Mennonite (she describes it as a “horse and buggy Mennonite community”). She now thinks it was a terrible thing. So why is it unspeakably evil for me to simply question whether there were deficiencies in John’s upbringing, too? It’s only permissible for atheists to critique such things, but Christians dare not, on pain of being publicly savaged and demonized as wicked scoundrels? Atheists can critique errors in practice of Christians, but Christians cannot?

The second thing was my use of the word “deficient.” I meant it strictly to imply to the teaching he received. But I can see how, grammatically, it is possible to think that I was referring to John as a person. I was not. Even if I were, this would make little sense in the context of a Christian understanding, because we say that everyone is subject to original sin, and everyone actually sins (except for Mary in Catholic theology and the unfallen angels). We’re all sinners in need of a savior. I might make judgments that a person is lacking in this or that quality, if it is repeatedly manifest.

But I can’t imagine saying “x is a deficient person.” I don’t think I’ve ever said since I have been a serious Christian (almost 30 years): “I’m better than that person.” That’s just not the way I talk or approach people, so it wasn’t what I meant here. It’s completely foreign to my worldview and thinking processes. I would say (and have, many many times), “we’re all sinners; myself foremost; Exhibit #1.” But I recognize that it could legitimately have been misunderstood here, and to that extent I accept my share of the responsibility and even offer an apology for the poor wording, leaving myself open to be misunderstood.

But even that, in my opinion, doesn’t excuse how RubySera has responded to me. She has the choice of whether or not to believe my report of my intentions, just as she is protesting against my imaginary doubting of John’s personal report. So stay tuned for that. It’ll be very interesting either way.

Before we proceed further, let’s look at the context of my remark. This is easy, because there is only one additional paragraph, right after what was cited, before moving onto other sub-topics. Here it is. Note the information that gives a quite different impression from the one RubySera drew from the isolated paragraph. It’s a classic study in quoting out of context:

I’m not questioning John’s sincerity; only saying that something was missing for this sort of rebellion to have occurred. It could still occur even in a profoundly Christian home (e.g., Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who later straightened up and became a minister), because we all have free will, but generally this indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching. And that, in turn, influences one’s thoughts and opinions, which has relevance to a “deconversion” and sad descent into atheism.

First of all, one observes my making very clear that I am not questioning John’s sincerity (first five words). The choice, then, is to either believe my report of my interior disposition and opinion of John or not. I am being chided for supposedly not granting this charity and benefit of the doubt to John. But ironically, now I find myself being subject to the same thing I am being falsely accused of. We’re supposed to believe that atheists are sincere in their stories, but Christians are not in their critiques? If not, why does RubySera continue?:

That is outside the boundaries of anyone except for the individual who has the experience. Telling a person that he did not experience things that way is like telling someone, “No you are not cold when you are cold.” It denigrates a human being’s perception. We must protect ourselves against that kind of person. They are destructive in all their ways.

But I didn’t do this! I just stated that I don’t question John’s sincerity! I even granted that there are exceptions to the rule of the “kid gone astray” (thus, John’s case may have been one itself). There is no question that youth go astray overwhelmingly when there is some serious deficiency in the home. This could be either from teaching or disciplinary chaos or lack of one parent or drug use. It could be any number of things. But it is completely rational to suspect that something seriously wrong (i.e., from the parents) went on.

If anyone doubts this, go interview juvenile delinquents or adult criminals and ask them about their childhoods. Only a fool could deny the connection. I don’t know more particulars about John’s childhood unless he decides to let me in on them. But it was entirely rational and reasonable (and, I say, not unethical or uncharitable) to suspect what I did, based on the information I had.

Secondly, one phrase makes it clear that I was concentrating on the Christian teaching (or lack thereof) when I referred to something being “deficient”: “generally this [rebellion] indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching.” I think this easily explains my use of that word, in context. But by omitting the second paragraph, RubySera could have a field day in distorting my intentions, and then moving on to “argue” (based on this false premise) about what wicked, evil — indeed, even “dangerous” — person I allegedly am. I think it also explains the intent of my phrase “on the other hand.”

Nevertheless, I’m happy to acknowledge that one might misinterpret those words; particularly because it is an emotional and personal topic, etc. That often causes lapses in logic and reading comprehension. If John (and/or RubySera) immediately got angry with my first paragraph, then they read the rest of the paper in that fog of misguided anger. I’m saying that it was ultimately unjustified. It certainly is now, at any rate, after my elaborate explanations. But if they insist on having an axe to grind against me, on a groundless basis, all of this won’t amount to a hill of beans.

In our search for what is right for us we need clear-headed, honest people to help us understand ourselves. People who talk in the tone of voice Dave Armstrong talks are among the most dangerous people to listen to. The problem with not listening to them is that they will get emotionally vicious. They will make personal attacks. They will threaten that bad things will happen. Those are a few of the things they will say.

I did none of these things whatsoever. I just didn’t. It’s amusing to me that she talks about “tone of voice” when that is precisely the thing that is lacking in written material. Anyone who has met me would never say this nonsense. I appeal to those who know me in person, just as John has done. Even two fellow atheists in the very thread discussing my critique recognized that I was not intending to attack John personally.

Matthew Green, for example, wrote on John’s own blog: “. . . the tone of Dave’s critique is a bit pleasant and not really nasty, . . . At least Dave Armstrong seems a likeable kind of a guy, . . .” And “whizler” wrote: “I don’t believe Dave Armstrong’s response was directed at you personally.” So this personal interpretation is often wildly subjective. These are four atheists all looking at the same exact thing. John and RubySera go nuts and start attacking me personally, whereas Matthew and whizler make rational comments and form a very different impression.

Moreover, I made it very clear in my comments underneath the critique on my blog, that I do not hold the unsavory opinions about John, that have been falsely attributed to me:

Dave, as I read this I thought to myself, he doesn’t think of me as an equal. 

Quite the contrary; we’re all sinners. No one is any better, at bottom, than anyone else. Whatever good is in us is because of God’s grace, not our inherent superiority to someone else. 

He looks down his nose at me. 

Not at all. I simply disagree with your positions and your denigration of Christianity. Your position is not you. If you write about such things publicly, then do you not expect that Christians will respond to them? You actually encouraged me to respond to your deconversion, so I did.

As I’m writing he looks for loopholes. He doesn’t think I was sincere. 

Really? That’s news to me. I never remotely implied such a thing; nor do I believe it. Your problem (at least insofar as this version of your story suggests) is intellectual, not a matter of dishonesty. 

Bad premises lead to bad conclusions. I didn’t see anything that would bring any Christian doctrine into question at all. Sorry, that’s my honest opinion. Or am I dishonest?

I’m probably not even a person to him. 

Wow. Well, I know one thing: you are extremely sensitive to Christian critiques, even when done respectfully and not attacking you as a person or immoral scoundrel, etc. I can understand that, but it has the effect of alienating those (such as myself) who simply don’t have the attitudes you are attributing to them. 

I understand that many Christians have treated you rottenly. I’ve seen some recent things that shocked me and were terrible witnesses to Christianity. That’s contemptible. But I am not among them. I don’t share their attitudes. I never said you were especially evil (more than any other sinner, of whom I am foremost) or damned, etc. Catholics (to their credit, and we have many faults, believe me) generally don’t do that. We leave those judgments up to God.

[Of, course the net is impersonal anyway so some of this is excusable]. 

This is true. But I take great pains not to fall into the common shortcomings of Internet discourse. You think I’ve attacked your person? Good grief. You should see the amazing things that are written about me. And the worst comes from fellow Christians (some of them even Catholics). 

I dare say Dave that if YOU were to write about your CONVERSION story I could pick it apart no matter how much you write too IF I DIDN’T CONSIDER YOU TO BE A SINCERE AND HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL PERSON. 

Now get this straight, John (in big capital letters): 


Got that? Now if you say I am lying, then obviously all discourse is over. But it wasn’t because of me. God is my witness for that, and also (since you think He doesn’t exist) all who have read our exchanges.

RubySera could easily have read that, if she is so interested in figuring out exactly what my intentions, opinions, and interior dispositions were. Instead, we get her ludicrous attack. It ends with this ultra-absurd rant:

I call them spiritual predators because that is exactly what they are. They attack, maim, and torture. Only when they have their victim completely within their power to do release the pressure. It is possible to escape even then, but it is extremely difficult and dangerous.

Further comment on this paragraph would obviously be superfluous and futile and would be an insult to my readers.

There is nothing to these charges. But if it floats RubySera’s boat to falsely demonize me based on no evidence at all that I hold these alleged opinions (and much flatly stated evidence to the contrary), what can I do about it? All I can do is use reason, as I have, and hope that fair-minded atheists will try to persuade this woman that she is only hurting herself and the cause of atheism by this sort of groundless attack.


(originally 10-28-06)

Photo credit: werner22brigitte  (12-24-12) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


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