October 9, 2019

See Part I for background. This is a continuation of that discussion, after Joe Omundson, who runs the website, Recovering from Religion: Ex-Communications, made a second lengthy counter-reply in the combox. His words will be in blue.

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Thanks for your additional reply. I’d like especially to clarify a few things where either you misunderstood or I did not express my view clearly enough, and make some other responses. Perhaps that may set us on a course of even more fruitful dialogue and mutual understanding.

I don’t think fundamentalism is equivalent to Christianity, but I don’t think it isn’t Christianity either. 

I never said it wasn’t Christianity. It’s highly flawed Christianity: so much so that it sets off so many thousands of people straight to atheism . . .

I still think it’s a valid choice to reject fundamentalism and the rest of Christianity / all religions at the same time.

I don’t see how. It’s as if you are equating the two, when you just said you didn’t. We may call fundamentalism FC and more mainstream orthodox Christianity OC. They both share the C but are different forms of the C, just as (not a perfect analogy, but . . .) water and carbon dioxide both share oxygen but are different. Thus, logically, to reject FC is not the same as rejecting OC.

Now, if you are merely saying that all can be rejected in one fell swoop, at one time, then to my mind you would have to have additional (solid) reasons to reject OC, where it differed from FC. If someone just says, “to hell with all religion,” then that is usually mostly an emotional rather than logical / intellectual decision.

In the case of fundamentalists, they are usually mainly rejecting what they know, and (by their own account; not my mere speculation) it’s usually misguided, false aspects of fundamentalism. Having replied to many of these deconversion stories (probably 75% from former fundamentalists), I have observed this pattern over and over.

I also don’t think anyone needs an “excuse” to dismiss Christianity. It’s not an imperative. Just like you don’t need an excuse to dismiss Islam or Buddhism.

In our relativist / postmodernist / subjective world, no. They don’t, anymore than they need an excuse to change preference from vanilla to chocolate ice cream. But in the world of reason and logic, they do need such reasons: or at least such sufficient and adequate reasons ought to exist somewhere (people being of widely varying levels of education and knowledge) in the world of academia and folks like me who provide reasons for why we believe what we believe, and why we reject other religious and philosophical viewpoints.

But you might be making assumptions about people’s thought processes.

Maybe. But as I see it, I’m simply responding to expressed opinions. That’s what socratics do, and I am one of those.

Just because someone presents the most significant personal reasons for leaving fundamentalist Christianity doesn’t mean they don’t also have nuanced reasons for rejecting liberal Christianity. It just wasn’t the focal point of their own experience.

Understood. As I said, I am responding (with these deconversions) to what is written, not what is not written (which is only common sense). There may be all the submitted reasons in the world for why they changed their view, but I can only respond to what I see. And in this case, and all others so far in such analyses, I have not seen sufficient reason to reject all of Christianity.

You guys are always demanding reasons from us. I’m simply doing the same thing back. And it’s universally disliked, believe me. You have expressed one of the milder reactions, but then again, we’re not dealing with your story, so you are one huge step removed from it.

Well, that’s convenient isn’t it? How did you conclude this is the “proper” view of biblical interpretation? . . . What gives you the power to decide which parts are literal and which ones aren’t? Do sections shift from literal to symbolic as science advances? 

It’s like anything else: the consensus of those (scholars and devoted amateurs like myself) who study the Bible in great depth is that it (like, in fact, all literature) has different genres, which must be understood in order to be properly interpreted. It would be like scientists talking about the nature of scientific evidence of hypotheses.

Someone comes along and asks, “well, that’s convenient isn’t it? How did you conclude this is the “proper” view of scientific evidences and hypotheses? . . . What gives you the power to decide that?” And the answer is the same: this is the consensus of scientists.

Lots of other Christians have a wide spectrum of opinions on how to interpret these things. And they’re all convinced they have the “proper view, of course.”

Absolutely. Again, like any other field of knowledge, it takes study to develop a consistent and plausible hermeneutics and exegesis. As in all fields, there are people who go down wrong paths and who reject the consensus. The problem in Christianity is that we have millions of folks who say they still believe in it but who have rejected key parts of it (liberal theology). They are being intellectually dishonest in a similar way as young earth creationists or geocentrists are not really doing science, even though they are convinced they are.

. . . To me this very much comes across as starting with the conclusion and then finding an interpretation that fits it. Cherry picking. You can do the same with any holy book.

That’s how you would see it, yes. You are wrong. What you describe is called eisegesis (reading into Scripture what we want, from our prior intellectual commitments and opinions). That’s the very worst way to approach the Bible or any piece of literature.

We might have a miscommunication about the semantics of this. My definition of fundamentalism might not be the same as yours — but when I say I oppose it, what I mean is that I oppose people pushing the idea that there’s a literal hell, and a literal heaven,

That’s true of virtually all Christians at all times, and is simply Christianity, not fundamentalism. Jesus talked more about hell than about heaven.

and the only way to get there is through the correct form of religion,

Fundamentalists and Calvinists think that, but not the vast majority of Christians now and throughout history. St. Paul in Romans 2 makes it pretty clear that those who haven’t heard or understood the gospel can possibly be saved. To sum up: we’re judged by what we know and how we act upon it.

and you must evangelize your friends and neighbors and children to accept this idea, and sacrifice your life on earth for that eternal end.

Christians are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation (evangelism). Sadly, most don’t. And many who do, do so in an obnoxious and ineffective way.

I think that’s a virus on humanity that harms people deeply. I don’t care much if it’s called evangelicalism or fundamentalism.

I disagree as to the false parts of that, but with regard to what I have expressed, I couldn’t disagree more strongly than I do.

Generally speaking, we support people who are already on the path of leaving any kind of religion, because we believe such belief systems are illogical and can be damaging, so that’s the kind of content I post . . . 

Exactly what I was saying: your site is opposed to religion, period, not just Christian fundamentalism. Thanks for making my point for me again. And that gets back to, again, why I would spend my time critiquing one of the articles on your site.

But I think when your content makes personal attacks about ex-believers’ faculty of reasoning

To critique another’s reasoning is not to make a personal attack. I could see how it might feel that way, but it is not, because a person is not the same as his or her beliefs. They are two different things. I’m disagreeing with you now, but I am not attacking you personally to the slightest degree.

it comes across as kind of desperate. Are you threatened by what we have to say?

No, not in the least bit. That’s how you see it. I see it as simply honest, passionate disagreement on the topic of whether Christianity is a good and true thing or a false and bad thing. You defend your positions; I defend mine. Apologetics is not “desperation”; it’s the thinking process applied to religion.

You guys so often make out that Christians are dummies and ignoramuses (check out just about any combox of atheist sites online; I’ve never found one that didn’t do this, and quite a bit at that: usually the leading theme by far), yet when you run across an apologist who is certainly seeking to be rational and reasonable in religious matters, you start making this sort of quack psychoanalysis (which — ironically — is actually ad hominem or personal attack). There is no call for that.

That’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve been told many times that any true Christian would experience God’s love in such a profound way that they could never dream of leaving him. At least, that’s how my story has been discredited — I must have never been a true believer, if I ended up leaving, because if I’d really believed I would have never changed my mind…

Exactly, because that’s the fundamentalist and Calvinist line, and it is false, because it’s unbiblical (as well as viciously logically circular), as I have argued many times. The Bible, in my opinion, and that of the vast majority of Christians now and all through history. teaches that someone can be a true believer and still fall from grace and salvation. If you want to see where it teaches that, I’ll be more than happy to show you.

So what do you think makes a person want to hang around atheists and agnostics rather than other Christians? What led them to seek these alternative perspectives?

There could be any number of reasons. How could I possibly answer such a question (i.e., broadly)? We would have to ask them to see why they wanted to do so. To take Don R’s case as an example, he told us what started the ball rolling: “I believed in a literal interpretation of the bible, and to hear that someone who was as fully devoted as I was could believe in evolution was really difficult.”

He was wrong in thinking that the Bible was always to be interpreted literally, and that no Christian could possibly believe in the Bible and evolution, too, so when he discovered someone did that, it rocked his world. It was the first domino to fall.

So sometimes, folks with that background will “ride” that shock emotion and move on to start rejecting Christianity altogether, because they were never taught proper biblical interpretation and in many cases, not taught true doctrine, either. That’s just one of hundreds of possible reasons. We decide who we will start listening to and who is gonna influence us the most.

We are what we eat. So we better get it right what we decide to eat, or else we should read both sides of big disputes and make up our mind in the most objective way possible.

Isn’t God captivating enough to hold a believer’s attention?

Absolutely. But the heart can’t rejoice in what the mind rejects as false. If we don’t know and study and live our faith, and don;t know why we believe it (apologetics), that same faith teaches that the world, the flesh, and the devil can come along and erode our faith and cause us to fall away. The Bible warns about it. Even the apostle Paul said that it could happen to him if he wasn’t vigilant.

I just think you could be more effective with a less reactionary approach. It feels like you’re threatened by what these stories are saying, . . .

Now you’re back to quack psychoanalysis again . . . you can do better than this. But if simple honest disagreement is being a “reactionary” then I am proud to be one, because all it is is thinking and using our noggin.

First you say: it can’t be expected to be scientifically accurate, as it was written by pre-science cultures. But then you say it is in fact scientifically accurate and so this proves its accuracy (implying that the anti-scientific parts should also be considered to detract from its accuracy). So which is it?

This misrepresents what I stated, which was this:

It’s not a scientific treatise. It came from a pre-scientific culture (which even the ancient Greeks still were) and speaks in phenomenological terms. Yet what it teaches is true, and it sometimes touches tangentially on scientific matters.

My point was not that it was scientifically inaccurate, but that it was not scientifically technical, and not a scientific treatise, since it came from a pre-scientific culture. If I say, “the sun rose at 6 AM” (as any meteorologist might also say), I am making an accurate statement (from a phenomenological, non-technical point of view). That’s exactly what the Bible does.

Then I gave the example of “the principles of hygiene and proper sewage and disease control” and challenged you to explain how the Bible cold get this right, where science didn’t have a clue till the 1800s. I was writing today in another article how the Bible doesn’t accept the existence of mythical animals, whereas even Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), the Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, who wrote the 37-volume Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopedias, believed in legendary creatures such as the manticore, basilisk, werewolf,  catoblepas, and phoenix.

Likewise, HerodotusOvid, and Virgil all wrote seriously about werewolves. The Bible never does; nor does it accept any mythical animal as literally real.

As for that specific example, assuming it is true, why should it be surprising that some people discovered good hygiene standards before it was widespread? All kinds of different advancements are made by different cultures across history…

Oh, I agree. It doesn’t make sense only if one regards the Bible writers as ignorant iron age troglodytes (as a million atheists I have come across, do), while scientists are virtually infallible and the new gods. So given that background and baggage, I asked, “how could that be?”

In other words, how could this ancient people figure this out, whereas the “far superior” modern scientist did not till the 19th century. In any event, the Bible got that right, and it’s the perfect example of how it is scientifically accurate, while at the same time it expresses itself in pre-scientific modes of thought.

Or you could just observe that humans have the capacity for both of what we consider “good” and “bad”, regardless of what they believe, and leave out the mythological backstory that any religion uses as a metaphor.

The first clause is obvious and self-evident, but it is desirable to have a deeper understanding of why that is: why human beings are capable of such good and nobility, but also such wicked, heinous evil. I think original sin is a pretty plausible hypothesis. It’s certainly more plausible than the notion that all men are naturally good and only corrupted by their environments, or saying that all men are utterly wicked, with no good in them at all (Calvinist supralapsarianism).

If the truth is that Jesus dwells inside believers, that he washes them and breaks their bondage to sin (while the rest of the world are still slaves to sin), you’d generally expect see some decrease in “sinfulness”/strife/division/pride compared to the rest of the population, wouldn’t you?

Yes, if the Christian is truly following Him and doing what He commands them to do. I totally agree. But its a hard road, so most of us only show signs here and there of sanctity or holiness. What really reveals this are the saints.

Otherwise, what power does Jesus have? Believing in him has not seemed to reliably make people act better. I think if you explain the divisions in Christianity by saying that all humans are sinful, you’re admitting that being saved has little or no effect on a person.

There are signs that Christianity does indeed have a positive effect, as indicated even in secular sociological literature. For example, I have written about how committed Christian married couples (according to controlled sociological studies) are happier and have far less divorce, and even (surprise!) more sexual fulfillment.

There are other indications as well, that support traditional Christian family and sexual morality, such as studies showing that absence of a mother or father in the home is harmful, or that cohabitation is a strong predictor of increased chances for later divorce (if they ever marry). For example, a 2014 article in The Atlantic stated:

Since the 1970’s, study after study found that living together before marriage could undercut a couple’s future happiness and ultimately lead to divorce. On average, researchers concluded that couples who lived together before they tied the knot saw a 33 percent higher rate of divorce than those who waited to live together until after they were married.

I would also note that it is established that political conservatives (who strongly tend to be more religious) give more to charity than liberals do, and Christians give more than atheists.

OK, then you can probably understand why many people, who were severely traumatized and depressed within various kinds of religion, and who find a great deal of relief, joy, and purpose in non-theistic worldviews, might be passionate about that transition as well.

Certainly.

. . . your bad experience with “practical atheism/occultism” does nothing to discredit agnosticism or atheism as a whole. I’m sorry you spent 6 months in serious clinical depression. I’m glad you’re feeling better now. But being an agnostic atheist, for me and many others, has been nothing but a massive relief and a source of freedom and meaning.

I’m just saying that they could find a much more fulfilling and rewarding way: one of inner peace and joy and the deepest purpose and meaning. My life was transformed, too. And many millions of Christians can give this same testimony.

We’re not perfect; we still sin (as Christianity teaches us to fully expect), but our lives are tangibly different. You can point to a thousand lousy, hypocritical Christians out there. I’d probably agree on most of ’em. But there are many positive examples, too.

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Photo credit: Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, by Jan van Eyck (bet. 1430 and 1432) [Wikipedia / public domain]

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October 7, 2019

Joe Omundson runs the website, Recovering from Religion: Ex-Communications. I found the article, “My Escape from the Belly of the Beast” (9-24-18) there, written by one Don R., and replied with my article, Typical Deconversion Story: False Dilemmas & Incoherence (3-28-19). Joe in turn offered comments on my article, underneath it. This is my response. His words will be in blue.

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Hi Joe,

Thanks for your eloquent and cordial reply. I really appreciate it.

I am the person who manages the blog where you pulled this story from. Just some thoughts for you:

Honestly, the impression I get from your critique is less that you disagree with Don, and more that you have deep disagreements with fundamentalism.

Yes, we all agree about fundamentalism (in its false aspects and particularly its notorious anti-intellectualism). Where I disagree is on making that essentially equivalent to Christianity per se, and then using it as a fallacious “excuse” to dismiss Christianity altogether and become an agnostic or atheist.

As an apologist, it is my duty and burden to note that this is an insufficient rationale and inadequate thinking. It proves nothing except that fundamentalism only has many flaws, and that the person who has rejected it, specifically, has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

You are right that nearly all of the deconversion stories featured on ExCommunications are from people who have a history in fundamentalism. I have definitely noticed that people who are from more liberal sects do not tend to carry the same kind of religious trauma, or feel such animosity toward it after leaving, or have a great desire to share their stories.

Interesting observation, and thanks for the confirmation of a thing I have long noted.

And, personally, my issue is with fundamentalism more so than religion as a whole. I don’t really mind it if people have their personal fictions that help them get through life, 

Of course, we deny that it is a mere “fiction.” We would say that atheism provides that function. :-)

whether that’s Jesus, chakras, or Harry Potter. What I do mind is when young children are forced to believe it as absolute truth, when people want to impose their religious beliefs on the legal process, when non-believers are shunned and endangered.

I agree with you on all three points. No one should or can be forced to believe. Obviously, virtually all parents (of any stripe) raise young children in their preferred worldview, but when they are old enough to reason for themselves (Catholics regard this as “confirmation” age: about 12-14), it should be a voluntary thing.

As for law, it is inherently moral, and thus (I would argue) indirectly religious. We live in basically a secular country. What I believe in is religious freedom and toleration for all. Too often, Christian practice is prohibited or penalized in a way that I think is blatantly unconstitutional.

If you point out discrimination against atheists, I wholeheartedly agree with you that this is wrong, but go on to also point out many instances of discrimination against Christians as well.

There are a lot of little things I could reply to, but I don’t have all day, so I’ll focus on the biggest things that came to mind.

[me] Fundamentalism is a small minority and fringe portion of evangelical Protestantism, which is one portion of Protestant Christianity, which is itself a minority of all Christians.

I don’t think this is true at all. At least, it’s far from true in the USA (I have no idea where you’re from). A quick google search tells me that 24% of Americans believe that the bible is literally true, and that’s the lowest it’s been in the 40 year history of the poll. Belief in the literal truth of the Bible qualifies as fundamentalism to me. 

I’m from metro Detroit, Michigan. Results of polls greatly depend on how they are worded, and how people perceive them (and I majored in sociology, so I know a little bit about this). For the average person, “a literal Bible” doesn’t refer to fundamentalism, but simply to biblical inspiration / belief that the Bible is true, and God’s word.

To indicate fundamentalism, one would have to probe about things like young earth creationism, views on the relationship between reason and faith, culture and faith, and “legalistic” aspects like dancing, drinking, gambling, etc. (among other things).

The proper view of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics and exegesis), of course, is that the Bible ought to be interpreted literally, not always, but rather, when it was intended to be so, and interpreted otherwise when it is determined (through study of the Bible, ancient near eastern culture, etc., that we are dealing with a non-literal / poetic / symbolic / parabolic passage (of which there are many, in many different literary genres).

Combined with the information (from the same year) that roughly 75% of Americans identify with a Christian faith of some sort, we see that about 1/3 of all Christians in the states are fundamentalists. 

Even if one accepts this figure (I don’t), that’s still a minority, isn’t it?, and not representative of Christianity as a whole: which is precisely my point. Thanks for verifying it.

Since they are also the most vocal about their views, Christianity-related discussions are going to be centered on fundamentalism more often than not.

This I do agree with. Fundamentalists are often very vocal. But we must distinguish also between them and evangelicals (my old group). Billy Graham, for example, was an evangelical, not a fundamentalist, and in fact, the later group often despised him as a supposed theological liberal.

You’re making it sound like fundamentalism is some tiny, crazy, insignificant little cult, and people are unfairly associating that with “legitimate” Christianity. But here in the US (and especially the Bible Belt) it is quite a dominant form of the religion. And it hurts a lot of people. It’s worth fighting against.

Well, I stated exactly what I stated, which you cited: “small minority and fringe portion of evangelical Protestantism, which is one portion of Protestant Christianity, which is itself a minority of all Christians.” It is certainly unfair and inaccurate to equate it with Christianity as a whole, regardless of how prevalent or proportionate it actually is.

It’s only one form of Christianity and a sub-group of Protestantism (one of three major “branches” and by far the youngest of the three: having only begun in the 16th century rather than the first). Yes, it’s very prevalent in the South (believe me, I know, from traveling there and looking for a Mass to attend!). But the South is only one part of America, ain’t it?

So, I’m a little confused why you have a problem with stories like this one. Don is critiquing fundamentalism and so are you. You both don’t agree with it, and surely you can tell the kind of damage it does to people, so why not view it as a positive thing when stories like this are posted? I understand that you want people to remain open to less literal interpretations of the Bible and Christianity. But are you so worried about liberal Christianity being lumped in with it, that you’d rather not have people discredit fundamentalism at all?

I have no problem with critiquing the errors of fundamentalism, or any other theological errors that may be found. I did so myself, as an evangelical Protestant, and continue to do so. I correct errors of reactionary Catholicism, which is sort of our equivalent of fundamentalism (far “right” Catholicism). There are even a few Catholic geocentrists and young-earthers.

You are missing the point. We agree that some things are false, even from our diverse worldviews. I am interested in “debunking” these deconversion stories only insofar as they are seeking to bash and discredit Christianity altogether; functioning basically as apologias for atheism or agnosticism.

There is no question that they (at least in part) serve that purpose. They exist so as to encourage former Christians and to confirm them in their apostasy (make them feel less alone and culturally and socially isolated). That’s not just my Christian opinion. It is your clearly expressed viewpoint, as expressed on your blog “About” page: (presumably written by yourself):

RfR is an organization dedicated to helping people navigate the path out of religion. RfR is dedicated to helping people as they reconsider their faith and journey beyond religion.

If you are one of the millions of people who have determined that religion no longer has a place in your life, this may be the right spot for you. Many people love the social support they get from religion, but can’t deal with all the illogical ideas they are required to espouse. It can be difficult to leave a religion because family and culture put so much pressure on us to stay and pretend to believe.

If this is you, we want to help you find your way out.

I see nothing about “fundamentalism” here. What I see is an antipathy to “religion” (not even confined to Christianity in this statement). You want folks to get “beyond” it and its “illogical ideas”. You can’t have it both ways. The very name of your website is “Recovering from Religion” — not “Recovering from Fundamentalism”.

So I come along — the Christian apologist — turn the tables, and show that any given deconversion story (including one I found on your site) does not in fact provide a plausible rationale for rejecting Christianity. At best, the typical one (from the ubiquitous former fundamentalist) shows how fundamentalism is unworthy of belief. But that’s like saying that a rejection of the Detroit Lions is a rejection of the NFL or football, period.

Your blog has articles with titles like the following:

My Pastor Made Me an Atheist

Religion Holds the Mind Ransom to Irrational Beliefs

The Sky without God: Ditching the Baggage of Belief

The “agenda” is anti-Christian, not just anti-fundamentalist. So why are you now making out that it’s only or primarily the latter? This ain’t rocket science. And I’ve been around the block a few times.

You mention sometimes that the explanations given by Don (and other ex-Christians) don’t prove that Christianity is false or atheism is right. I think that’s to be expected, because it isn’t the main point of telling a deconversion story. It’s a personal experience. It’s just saying, “here’s what I went through and why I don’t believe anymore”; it isn’t saying “I can prove that I am 100% right and you should agree with me”.

I understand that, but (note very closely) it is posted in a social setting where the overall thrust and goal is to discredit Christianity. This is patently obvious. Such stories provide the backdrop and framework for those who are struggling or on the fence or doubting as Christians, to start thinking in a different way, because “we are what we eat.”

If a person hangs around atheists and agnostics and not (or less and less so) thoughtful, educated Christians, then he or she will tend to become agnostics or atheists. It’s human nature, as we are social creatures, and crave to belong to a group of like-minded individuals. But what needs to be critiqued are the underlying premises (which is where I come in, especially as a Socratic)

The deconversion story serves precisely the same “exhorting” or “confirming” function in atheist circles that the Christian testimony (we used to jokingly refer to them as “testiphonies”) does in Christian circles. We hear those (in either camp) and think, “hey, I’m not the only one who thinks and feels like that!”).

You want folks to desert Christianity (think they will be far better off), just as we want folks to leave what we regard as the “bondage” of atheism or drug or sex addiction or nihilism or whatever the case may be: things that are making them miserable and unfulfilled. You offer a “better way” precisely as we Christians offer that. Is this not patently obvious?

The primary audience of ExCommunications is not Christian apologists. The goal isn’t to provide some comprehensive logical thesis in order to persuade people like you to change your mind (there are already a lot of blogs and books and podcasts, etc., that do exactly this). The main audience of ExCommunications and Recovering from Religion is people who are going through deconversion themselves, who are looking for community, solidarity, and a sense that they’re not alone in the pain they feel. While you might read this story and find it unconvincing, a lot of people can relate to the experiences/feelings/thought processes involved here.

Exactly! I am answering as I read, so I almost precisely anticipated in my last paragraph, what you state here. This doesn’t overcome my overall point of view (or the reason I offered a critique) in the least: not one bit. The deconversion story remains one piece in the overall atheist agenda (especially in online sites like yours) to undermine and discredit Christianity as untrue and harmful.

Thus, it makes perfect sense for  the defender of Christianity to point out what we believe are the inadequacies and glaring logical and factual shortcomings of any given such story. Why should this surprise you?

Finally, I just have one more thing I want to ask. This is more of a personal curiosity rather than a response to this story, and I hope you will not find it offensive,

Not at all . . . Good questions, and I appreciate you asking them, but unfortunately it is a “large and lumpy” / huge topic, along the lines of “why do you love your wife?” My 35th anniversary was yesterday and I am very happily married. Believe me, I could write tens of thousands of words explaining why I love her so much.

but as an ex-fundamentalist it’s something I have struggled to understand. I’m wondering: what is the point of believing in a Christianity that is not literally true?

We believe it is true, or the true state of affairs. That’s different from a belief that everything is “literally” true in the Bible, which applies to types of language or literary genres — as if there is no such thing as valid non-literal truth or expression.

If the Bible is a fallible document which is not scientifically accurate or reliably true;

We believe — based on many many reasons — that it is infallible and inspired (literally, “God-breathed”) revelation, and true in what it aims to teach. It’s not a scientific treatise. It came from a pre-scientific culture (which even the ancient Greeks still were) and speaks in phenomenological terms.

Yet what it teaches is true, and it sometimes touches tangentially on scientific matters. So, for example, in reply to an atheist who was bashing the Bible as “anti-science” I showed that the principles of hygiene and proper sewage and disease control was present in the Bible in a remarkable way: that wasn’t equaled in modern science till the 19th century:

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2

See also the related paper:

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities

Now how could that be? I don’t know what your explanation is, but ours is that it is inspired revelation from God, Who knows all things (omniscience). That’s why these “scientific” truths contained in it are accurate.

if the Holy Spirit does not in fact unite believers and speak to them the truth… why trust any of it?

People act precisely as the Bible says they will: selfish and subject to original sin, concupiscence, and actual sin and temptation. These sins include pride and division, as one of the many besetting sins of mankind. Thus we see the division in Christianity, exactly as we would expect. But there are solid arguments to be made as to where the reliable truths of Christianity reside in their fullness, specially guided by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that is in Catholicism, and I have devoted my life to explaining why I think so, and to sharing that good news and that “pearl of great price.” Why? Well, you’d have to read many of my 2500+ online articles to see why I think so (see the many drop-down indices above). The only way I could summarize it briefly would be the following variant of how I described my view of the so-called philosophical “theistic proofs”:

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” Christianity. But . . .

I think the belief, “Christianity is true” is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

I don’t really see the point.

The point is that God and Christianity has (at least for the more earnest and serious disciples among us, by God’s grace and mercy) transformed our lives, and given them the utmost purpose and meaning and fulfillment. We have been regenerated and redeemed by our Lord Jesus, Who is the God-Man; the incarnate God. I share this Good News with great joy as an evangelist. You and anyone else can partake in what I and many millions have found. But you have to repent and yield (ah, there’s the rub).

From the ages of 10-18 I was wrapped up in a vague “practical atheist / occult” outlook that gave me no meaning or purpose, and culminated in a hellish six-month serious clinical depression: an existential darkness and crisis. As I see it, that was the logical outcome or reduction of either atheism or a disinterested, apathetic and philosophically and personally unsatisfying agnosticism or religious nominalism. I was more or less consistent in that, and it ultimately led me to God, evangelicalism (1977), and Catholicism (1990), respectively.

Is it because I personally am not all that fascinated by mythological history, authoritarianism, tradition, fiction, unification of belief inside a community, etc.? What am I missing that makes it appealing to you?

Again, it would take tens of thousands of words to explain all that. Perhaps you might be interested in the early part of my 75-page conversion story (parts one and two), that delve into my early life and why and how I became a committed Christian at the age of 18. But (like your deconversion stories) I have no illusions that this is a full apologetic. It’s simply my own story.

My full body of apologetics provides the intellectual rationales for why I believe as I do and why I believe anyone can come to believe the same thing, with a high degree of self-consistent intellectual integrity and assurance.

Thanks for the discussion, and feel free to continue it, as you wish.

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Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.

My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2500 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will start receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers. Thanks! See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago). May God abundantly bless you.

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Photo credit: roegger (12-2-14) “Light bulb implosion” [PixabayPixabay License]

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September 4, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 1 (pp. 21-36), is entitled, “My Christian Conversion and Deconversion.”

I could only wish that Christian apologists who write their apologetic books would do the same thing. I want to know what personal experiences they have had and how they interpret them so that I can be able to judge why they believe the things that they do. But they don’t generally do this at all. (p. 21)

Once again (as with this very series), I provide what Loftus himself calls for: extensive ruminations on my own past and why I came to believe as I did. On my Conversion and Converts (Catholic) web page I have many many papers about my change from evangelical to Catholic Christian, and also a ten-part, 75-page version that discusses my entire life with regard to my religious beliefs (and other ones), drawn from my book, Catholic Converts and Conversion (2013). I welcome anyone to analyze these conversion stories mine, provided they are civil. I would be more than happy — delighted — to interact with such efforts.

I . . . grew up . . . in a nominal Catholic home . . . Our family went to church, but we were a nominal churchgoing family, for the most part. I never experienced true faith growing up . . . (p. 21)

We’ll see how much he understood Catholicism before he rejected it. This is all he says about Catholicism (at least in this chapter), and later he recounts how he “accepted Jesus” (p. 23) as an evangelical and Pentecostal. I grew up in a nominal Methodist home, as I have written about in my 75-page account. I didn’t go to church at all for 12 years: from age  10 to 22.

He mentions (p. 23) that he read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth around 1977: both books that I read, too, between 1977-1981, and that had a huge influence on me (especially the first one, which essentially launched me on my apologetics career). Then he mentioned (p. 24) that he read many books by Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis (both heroes of mine as an evangelical, with Lewis remaining my favorite write these past 40 years or so). He says (p. 24) that he later came to reject all this. 

So he was reading some solid apologetics (minus Lindsey, which is but one version of eschatology and Bible prophecy speculation). I commend him for that. Most Christians never even get to that point, of reading why they believe what they believe (if they even know and can describe the “what”). He doesn’t give the reasons why he rejected these writers’ arguments. That’s okay; he’s just summarizing here. We’ll see if he does, later on, and how compelling his reasons to reject them are. He has to provide some reasoning in order for me to interact with and disagree with the reasoning. 

Loftus states that there were three things that changed my thinking (p. 26). One of these was an affair that he had while married. The woman later accused him of raping her (I’ll take his word that this was a false accusation). He takes the blame for it and says he did wrong, and I accept that, too. But I don’t accept his take that God was at fault for his own sinful actions. This is convoluted (not to mention, blasphemous) thinking. He wrote:

The biggest question of all was why God tested me by allowing her to come into my life when she did — if he knew in advance I would fail the test. (p. 28)

On the same page he says that he was “devastated” by “God not seeming to care about his wayward soldier.”

Why didn’t God do something to avert these particular experiences of mine, especially if he could foreknow that I would eventually write this book and lead others astray? (p. 33)

When God gave us free will, He did! It means what it means. A = A. He doesn’t orchestrate everything that happens from heaven, as if we are all robots and puppets. He doesn’t overrule our free will decisions (including evil ones).  But He does take bad things and bring good out of them:

Genesis 50:20 (RSV) As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Romans 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

For Loftus to blame God for his own free will actions that were wrong, is outrageous. It’s as silly as people wanting to blame God for the Nazi Holocaust, when it was entirely the fault of naive, foolish human beings, and could easily have been prevented if folks had simply listened to the warnings for years of one Winston Churchill: who foretold the German military build-up and disastrous implications of same under the Nazis.

Loftus does rightly blame himself, too. But he feels that he has to blame God, too, and that’s just wrong. God had nothing to do with what he did. He’s not some cosmic puppet master with sinister intentions. So this becomes yet another of the innumerable confirmations of the saying, “all heresy begins beneath the belt.”

Note that I am not judging John Loftus personally, in the sense that he was already beyond all hope, etc. He mentions that Christians did that. If he says he repented and was sorry, I take him at his word, and am quite happy to extend forgiveness (as God would be, too; though many Christians may not do so). I object to his unfairly judging and blaming God. To me, it appears to be an unwarranted rationalization in order to reject God, as if Loftus were reasoning, “If God would do this, He is not worthy to be followed and worshiped.” But God never did it in the first place. That’s the lie.

While he [his cousin Larry] didn’t convince me of much at the time, he did convince me of one solid truth. When it came to the age of the universe, I could trust what science tells us, and it was undeniable that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. (p. 28)

This has absolutely nothing to do with whether Christianity is true or not or whether God doesn’t exist, so it has no bearing on any serious reason to deconvert. The choice is supposedly between Christianity and science? That’s a fallacy. Most Christians accept this standard geology and indeed most even accept the theory of evolution in some form.

Two corollaries of that idea [the true age of the universe] started me down the road to being the atheist I am today. The first is that in Genesis chapter 1 we see that the earth existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were all created on the fourth day. This doesn’t square with astronomy. So I began looking at the first chapters of Genesis, and as my thinking developed over time, I came to the conclusion that those chapters are folk literature – myth. . . . (p. 29)

Here we have something that can be analyzed, to see if it is any sort of legitimate rationale for rejecting Christianity. If Loftus is correct, Genesis has a glaring contradiction. If he is not, then a big reason he gives for his apostasy is shown to be much ado about nothing. I will now proceed to show why I believe the latter is the case in this instance.

Loftus assumes (as so many do) that Genesis was intended to be presented in some rigidly (modern) scientific, rationalistic framework, including a literal chronology of events, as it is written. But is this required by the text we have? No, not at all. And herein lies his fallacy and disinformation. He shows poor hermeneutical skills here. This never had to be a “reason” to make him start doubting the inspiration of Holy Scripture.

John H. Stek, in a book whose purpose is to examine the biblical account of creation from a scientific perspective, wrote about Genesis 1-2:

As representations of what has transpired in the divine arena, they are of the nature of metaphorical narrations. They relate what has taken place behind the veil, but translate it into images we can grasp – as do the biblical visions of the heavenly court. However realistic they seem, an essential “as if” quality pervades them.

. . . He stories “events” that are in themselves inaccessible to humans, inaccessible not only as information (since no human witness was there) but conceptually inaccessible.

. . . From the perspective of this account [Gen 1:1-2:3], these seven “days” are a completed time – the seventh day does not give way to an eighth . . . because this narrative stories unique events in a unique arena and a unique “time,” the lack of correlation between the chronological sequences of 1:1-2:3 and 2:4ff. involves no tension.


. . . The speculations that have continued to fund the endless and fruitless debate have all been triggered by concerns brought by interpreters to the text, concerns completely alien to it. In his storying of God’s creative acts, the author was “moved” to sequence them after the manner of human acts and “time” them after the pattern of created time in humanity’s arena of experience. (Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation, Howard J. Van Till, Robert E. Snow, John H. Stek, & Davis A. Young, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990, 236-238)

Charles E. Hummel, in a similar book, further elaborates:

Our interpretation of a passage should also be guided by its structure. Narrators have the freedom to tell a story in their own way, including its perspective, purpose, development and relevant content. The importance of this principle comes to focus in the Genesis 1 treatment of time. The dominating concepts and concerns of our century are dramatically different from those of ancient Israel. . . . we automatically tend to assume that a historical account must present a strict chronological sequence. But the biblical writers are not bound by such concerns and constrictions. Even within an overall chronological development they have freedom to cluster certain events by topic. For example, Matthew’s Gospel has alternating sections of narrative and teaching grouped according to subject matter, a sort of literary club sandwich. Since Matthew did not intend to provide a strict chronological sequence for the events in Jesus’ ministry, to search for it there would be futile.

By the same token our approach to Genesis 1 should not assume that the events are necessarily in strict chronological order.


. . . Our problem of how the earth could be lighted (v. 4) before the sun appeared comes when we require the narrative to be a strict chronological account.


. . . The literary genre is a semipoetic narrative cast in a historico-artistic framework consisting of two parallel triads. On this interpretation, it is no problem that the creation of the sun, necessary for an earth clothed with vegetation on the third day, should be linked with the fourth day. Instead of turning hermeneutical handsprings to explain that supposed difficulty, we simply note that in view of the author’s purpose the question is irrelevant. The account does not follow the chronological sequence assumed by concordist views. (The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986, 203, 209, 214)

So this “problem” that caused Loftus to begin an unbelieving, skeptical descent culminating in atheism, is in actuality no problem at all. He just didn’t look into the passage in the depth that it required.

The second corollary for me at that time  is this: If God took so long to create the universe, then why would he all of a sudden snap his fingers, so to speak, and create human beings? If God took his time to create the universe, then why wouldn’t he also create living creatures during the same length of time? (p. 29)

Speed is not indicated in the creation account of man. Genesis 2:7 says that “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground . . . ” I see no necessary requirement that this be instantaneous. It is not inconsistent with longer periods of time or possibly evolution. The text then says that God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life . . .” This might be taken to indicate that man had a soul (unlike the animals): “breath” being a common biblical metaphor for “soul”. One could therefore take a view that what became man could have possibly evolved and then God decided to create a soul in man that set him apart (and made him truly man, which would be a quick process as far as it goes).

Christians believe that this supernatural soul is a direct creation of God. You can’t see it in a microscope, etc. In any event, a quick creation is not required by this account; nor do all Christians believe that. As long ago as St. Augustine and later St. Thomas Aquinas, Christians theorized about a creation somewhat akin to an evolutionary process. so this, too, is much ado about nothing. If this is one reason why John rejected Christianity, it is an illogical one. He only rejected one small brand of Christianity.

God can do whatever He wants (whatever is logically possible). So why should this be a reason to reject Christianity, pray tell, or the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible? There is nothing here. Loftus assumed that a quick special creation was necessarily what the Bible teaches. It is not. His “objection” is one long irrelevancy.

***

Photo creditJohn Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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June 26, 2019

For (fairly) necessary background, see:

Atheist Deconversion Story Series #1: Anthony Toohey [7-17-17]

Atheist Anthony Toohey Defends His Deconversion (Pt. 1) [7-21-17]

His deconversion is also discussed in this dialogue:

Atheist Deconversion: Dialogue #2: Jonathan MS Pearce [7-20-17]

Anthony has now responded (on 5-29-19) with his long-promised Part II. He didn’t make me aware of it. I ran across it in a search of materials having to do with me. It’s often the case that folks who respond to me don’t give me the courtesy of telling me about it (hence I will do searches to discover what is ‘out there” with reference to myself, because I like to have a chance to respond: as is only fair). Reading this Part II, one can see why: it is considerably more nasty and intolerant and “anti-theist” in tone than the previous installments. This happens with some atheists, and it’s most unfortunate.

In the following, I shall cite much of his Part II. His words will be in blue, his past words in purple, and my former words in green.

*****

Two years ago (ZOMG, really?) I had the opportunity to share a distilled version of my deconversion testimony with the esteemed Jonathan MS Pearce at A Tippling Philosopher.

A Catholic apologist, Dave Armstrong, who frequents JMSP’s page wrote a response to my deconversion. I responded to the first part of this article shortly thereafter, but as often happens, the busyness of life took over and I never got around to completing my response.

One of my buddies, Don, happened in and noticed that I’d left the thread hanging, commenting on it, wondering if perhaps my journey had gone in a different direction. It hasn’t, it’s just continued on its course. So I thought I’d take a look at the rest and see where it goes.

In the next session he starts in on my wife’s part in the story.

And so this is the oft-heard story. Christians go to college, get confronted with skeptical or atheist professors, in a very lopsided scenario, and lose their faith, if they are insufficiently equipped (i.e., lacking in apologetics knowledge: my field) to take on skeptical challenges to it.

Rereading this, it might be that I left off because Armstrong exposes himself a rather a blowhard through this next section, if the previous section wasn’t enough. Later on he’ll go on a literally irrelevant screed about John Loftus and how “hypersensitive” he is. I think Dave might want to look at his own puerile, dismissive mode of argument before pissing and moaning about others’ responses.

It was not irrelevant at all. Anthony had written:

I read Loftus’s book. Another 20 pages of notes later I set down his book and realized that 1) I didn’t know what I did believe, and 2) I was sure it wasn’t the god of the bible.

Since Loftus played such a key role in his deconversion, he was perfectly “relevant” to the discussion. I spent merely two paragraphs noting my own experience with him. This was the first:

I do wonder why — if John Loftus’ atheist polemics are so compelling –, he is so extremely hyper-sensitive (and I do not exaggerate at all, believe me) to any critique of them? I have examined his “outsider test of faith” argument (ten years ago), some of his irrational criticisms of the Bible, and his story, and he went ballistic. This hardly suggests a confident atheism, willing to take on all critiques.

That aside, he stays true to form and assumes any details left out for brevity in a light most conducive to his own predisposition. His wholly unmerited and unflattering characterization of my wife’s capacity aside, he ignorantly assumes that she (and I, for that matter) was not an engaged and knowledgeable believer.

I simply noted that college students are often ill-equipped to take on the huge challenges to their Christian faith which regularly occur on college campuses. And it’s usually because of lack of apologetics: which is vastly different from claiming that someone is not “an engaged and knowledgeable believer.” It’s two different things. One could know a lot about their faith, but not be able to defend it, because apologetics is very different from creeds, confessions, and catechetics. Now it may be that I was wrong in my guess here. Anthony can correct me if so, and I will accept it. But I don’t see why he should be so offended.

A deconversion story is giving reasons why it is reasonable to leave Christianity. As one would fully expect, my replies to these deconversions is to show that the reasons for leaving were not rational or sufficient. So often, the atheist whose story is critiqued gets fighting angry. Anthony is no exception. I reply that if one is confident in his or her reasoning, that this would preclude anger at being critiqued. It would lead to a calm counter-rebuttal. Anthony gives it a good effort, but the continual anger and insults are most unimpressive, and do not further his case.

This “rotgut” from the professor is a survey of verifiable historical fact from Professor Brent Walters, a historian, theologian, lecturer, for six years host of the weekly show “God Talk” on KGO San Francisco, currently the Scholar in Residence at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, CA, and recognized expert on early church history. Not, for example, some self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog.

And she was weekly inundated with Christian refutation. Dave hammers on as if we were pew-warming Catholics rather than committed Bible believers fervently studying and learning. If anything, she had received the Christian version for years and was only now getting a rational refutation of her indoctrination. I wonder Christians always think they should get extra chances to make their case?

Nothing here tells me whether his wife wasequipped . . . in apologetics knowledge”: as I put it. All we have is insults. That may amuse and impress the atheist “choir” but not the impartial, fair-minded, open-minded reader / inquirer.

One must read the best proponents of both sides of major disputes: not one side only or the best proponents of one side vs. the worst on the other (which is the usual atheist game: they love to wrangle with ignorant, uninformed Christians).

A sad and desperate mischaracterization of atheists. Unless, of course, he counts himself among the ignorant uninformed? Hmmm…

And it makes one wonder too, why the God who claims he is not a God of “confusion” or “disorder” would need someone running after you with a basket full of books of better authorities and refutations. You’d think an omniscient god would be a bit better at getting his message home.

Well, precisely because Christianity is a thinking man’s religion, not a simpleton’s game. My post, Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties” deals with this line of challenge from atheists.

It’s times like this that I wish I could remember the specific questions she asked, because I’m fully confident we’d also get some pabulary hand-waving answer from Dave too.

I do think at least one of them related to the doctrine of Hell, its absence in the Old Testament, and its Hellenistic origins, but it’s been awhile…

She never went to church again. She announced she was agnostic and didn’t believe what I believed.

All we know about her story is that she heard some skeptical stuff, started asking “hard” questions that were unanswered. We don’t know whether she actually took the time to read good Christian apologetics or philosophy. Consequently, there is nothing there that should persuade any other Christian to cease being so.

I’ve answered this, but maybe this is also because it’s not her testimony. Jesus, this guy majors in all the minors. It really borders on some cousin to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy, and in assuming the worst possible scenario, he displays his desperate predisposition to what amounts to an ad hominem attack – make the person, my wife, in this case, out to be ignorant, to avoid the fact that there were serious, untenable problems with Christian doctrine that went unanswered by multiple Christian “authorities” and led her to actively and rationally abandon Christianity.

Again, as explained, it’s not an accusation of dumbfounded, stupefied ignorance, but of lack of apologetics training, which is extremely common in all Christian circles. Lacking it, Christians in college will be easy pickings for clever, sophisticated, well-equipped atheist or skeptical professors. That’s a stacked-deck scenario if there ever was one.

Next he jumps to the Outsider Test for Faith.

Holy smoke… where to start? Welcome to Whataboutism 101. First, this puerile (there’s that word again) screed crawls from the same gutter as the tired Christian fantasy that brings us the fake and cloying “Christian student shuts down Atheist professor” memes we’re so familiar with today. Universities, their students and professors are as diverse, individual, inquisitive, and downright different in myriad of ways. This mischaracterization of teaching staff as a monolithic anti-Christian conspiracy is worthless and beneath discussion.

Sam Abrams, on the Heterodox Academy website, wrote an article entitled, “Professors moved left since 1990s, rest of country did not” (1-9-16). He stated:

The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA has been conducting triennial surveys of undergraduate teaching faculty for the past 25 years. The HERI samples are huge — tens of thousands of professors — and this is a robust and well-executed survey. The data is comparable and responsibly collected over a long period of time. The survey includes a question asking respondents to describe themselves using a 5-point ideology scale that offers these options: “Far left,” “Liberal,” “Moderate,” “Conservative,” and “Far right.” . . .

Figure 1 reveals a striking ideological change among faculty over time. While the data confirms that university and college faculty have long leaned left, a notable shift began in the middle of the 1990s as the Greatest Generation was leaving the stage and the last Baby Boomers were taking up teaching positions. Between 1995 and 2010, members of the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left. Moderates declined by nearly a quarter and conservatives decreased by nearly a third.

It certainly looks like a very large change that happened in just 15 years. . . .

If we compare figures 1 and 2, we see that the professoriate was changing while the electorate as a whole was not. Professors were more liberal than the country in 1990, but only by about 11 percentage points. By 2013, the gap had tripled; it is now more than 30 points. It seems reasonable to conclude that it is academics who shifted, as there is no equivalent movement among the masses whatsoever.

The people who shape the minds of America’s students have long leaned left, on average. But students who entered college before 1990 could count on the fact that their professors did not all vote the same way or hold the same views on the controversial issues of the day. Students who arrived after 2005 could make no such assumption.

This data hardly suggests that such topics are “worthless and beneath discussion”. There is a strong and distinct bias among professors, and this is verified in many polls and surveys. I’m not talking about “conspiracies” but rather, verified sociological facts.

And nevermind that it’s wholly irrelevant to the story at hand, which is mine, which has nothing to do with:

  1. College: I wasn’t in college at the time of my deconversion, and in fact had one college age kid at the time.
  2. Community: During my deconversion (again – the topic at hand) I was entrenched in a staunch Christian community as my primary circle of influence. And even for my wife, at the time of her education, she was commuting 40 miles each way to attend class and come home to her family and kid and church. Peer pressure played literally zero role for either of us. In fact, our peer pressure was opposed to our conclusions, heavily, and with serious potential social and personal cost.

This is a non sequitur, since I wasn’t responding to Anthony’s deconversion at this point of the discussion, but rather, to his statement, “It is a fact that people, to an overwhelming degree, adopt the religious tradition of their culture. To them it is accepted fact.” I was turning the tables and arguing that the college environment is one in which the opposite tendency is overwhelmingly in play: skepticism and hostility to received tradition, including religion, is dominant, in a way that religiosity is dominant in Christian sub-cultures. And so people act accordingly: many who are Christians when they go to college lose their faith because of the hostile environment.

This is not my mere speculation, either. We can enlist sociological data to document it. Another article (from 2010) cited the same research institute noted above, with regard to this question:

According to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, the number of students who frequently attend religious services drops by 23 percent after three years in college. [source data] The research also confirms that 36 percent rated their spirituality lower after three years in college.

Another study, the “College Student Survey,” asked students to indicate their current religious commitment. Comparing the responses of freshmen who checked the “born again” category with the answers they gave four years later, we find that on some campuses as high as 59 percent no longer describe themselves as “born again.” [source data]  That’s a fallout rate of almost two-thirds!

Recently, the Barna Group reported on the spiritual involvement of twenty-somethings. The findings: only 20 percent of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29. [source data]

  1. Reality: WTAF does this have to do with the Outsider Test for Faith? Atheism is the rejection of a proposition, in Dave’s case, the Catholic proposition. There isn’t anything to view as an “Outsider,” because there isn’t a positive assertion being made. If you have a hard atheist who insists they can prove there is no god of any kind, well, that’s on them. For the rest of us, we are atheist because, of all the gods so far on offer, they are found wanting in the light of rational inquiry.

I just explained why I argued as I did. Apparently my purpose and intent went right over Anthony’s head. I was doing a bit of sociology: which was my major in college after all, so he can’t make the swipe in this respect that I’m simply a “self-educated Catholic schlemiel with a blog.” But I don’t think one even needs a sociology degree or any degree to grasp the implications of polling data. I think any average student 12-year-old could do so.

I summarized my point concerning those in both camps (refusing to bow to the oft-seen atheist double standard):

Atheists like to think that they arrive at their view solely through reason, while Christians soak in theirs from their mother’s milk. But atheists are just as subject to peer pressure and environmental influence as anyone else. Most worldviews (whether Christian or atheist) are arrived at far more for social (and emotional) reasons than intellectual. I can’t emphasize it enough: “we are what we eat.”

I thought about truncating this whole section, but it’s worth seeing this irrelevant and simply dead wrong passage in its entirety, because it says a lot about Dave’s ability to address the matter and his tendency to deflect to run off on rabbit trails that aren’t relevant but that he apparently hopes will cloud any serious test of his particular faith.

Right. No need to explain further.

And again, he’s simply wrong about peer pressure and environmental influence. In fact, it’s stunning to me he can begin to say that if he takes any time at all to read and review deconversion accounts. Most of them are filled with social conflict and personal detriment because the person in question eschewed the peer pressure to toe the line and examined the faith without allowing those fears to get in the way or their inquiry.

The story of his wife (if not his own) was precisely in a college setting, which is hostile to Christianity. This was the context of my foray into environmental influences. As recounted by Anthony (not my speculation), her faith was “brought . . . deeply into question” as a result of one class in Religious History with one liberal pastor professor.

Conversely, the only way to objectively examine one’s atheism is to interact with an outsider from Christianity (someone like me, willing and able to do it) and examine your axioms and premises with the same level of skepticism that one treats Christianity. I am offering Anthony and any other atheist the opportunity to do that in this very paper.

LOL… No. The axioms and methodologies around examination of any set of claims are the same regardless of the claim. When and if I claim a proposition that I want Dave to believe, then will Dave have a basis to skeptically examine that claim with the same scrutiny that I assert he should examine any and every religion, especially his own. Dave belabors this tired fallacy that somehow atheism is a systematic belief system with a testable set of assertions and tenets.

Once again Dave mistakes brevity for absence, when this isn’t the case. The dichotomy (as in not false) between the teachings of Paul and Jesus is a well known and worn conundrum, and is the source of a number of books and articles. The concept that Paul is actually the founder of Christianity and not Jesus is also well-covered and much has been written about it. Dave shows either his own ignorance or his own denial – it matters little which it is, the outcome is the same.

Closer to my point, is that the sort of assurance and sin/body/soul relationship that is expounded in Romans 5 – 8 is different, or better said, absent from the supposed teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. I, and I know from my interactions with others that I’m not alone, could not find the solace in my struggles in the gospels that I could from Paul’s words. Compared [to] the Christianity you find both in my old Protestant circles and in Dave’s Catholic circles, there is a tremendous amount of theology and tradition that is wholly absent the words of Jesus as they’re allegedly reported in the Gospels. Also amusing is that Dave is a Catholic, which has a HUGE truckload of additive, extra-biblical tradition that it calls theology.

If Jesus truly was God, just his words, absent of everything else, should be enough. But instead it is the epistles of Paul (and whomever else was writing in his name) where we get much of our salvation, justification, and sanctification doctrines, among many other things. It’s disingenuous for Dave to wave his hands like this dichotomy doesn’t exist just because I didn’t take the time expounding on it.

It’s not a dichotomy; it is complementarity. As I stated before:

Jesus was the storyteller: more like a pastor (therefore, much better understood by the common man), whereas Paul was systematic and more abstract: like a theologian or academic: more like philosophy. 

There are tons of indications of the divinity of Jesus in His own words, and in the additional words of the Gospel writers,  as can be seen in my two papers (collections of hundreds of Bible passages): Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs and Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs. Readers can simply search the names of the four Gospels in those two papers to find all of this evidence.

If Dave would take more time addressing what I actually wrote rather than what he wishes existed in what I didn’t write, we’d get much further.

Funny: I was thinking the very same thing about him.

“Knee jerk and simplistic.” The temptation to simply tell Dave to [expletive deleted] reaches its peak right about here. And he wonders why Loftus and others react poorly to him. Hey, Dave – it’s you, not us.

It’s obviously tough to have one’s intellectual odyssey critiqued, and some folks will lash out at that.

That said, I’ll simply point out that as soon as you can start dithering with scripture and decide something ridiculous can just be called allegory, well, then it all goes out the window. Special Creation, a Global Flood, giant Nephilim, talking snakes, talking donkeys, the sun stopping for 24 hours, the parting of the Red Sea, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Lazarus, the Transfiguration, the resurrection of Christ – these are all so ridiculously impossible that, using Dave’s methodology, we are free to relegate them to analogy to the point that the whole of Christianity can be seen as a construct of fantasy that has no real bearing on the lives of actual people other than perhaps an encouragement to not be a jerk.

Here Dave is just being the aforementioned jerk. I do go into more detail on my blog (linked near the beginning of the article,) but that account is twelve articles long, and I wouldn’t insist anyone read it except for the pedantic individual who once again wants to fill in gaps with their own imagination rather than address what’s written.

I certainly wouldn’t bother, after this farcical [choke] pseudo-“dialogue.”

Christ-on-a-pogo-stick… This is after a quarter century of indoctrination and study. I picked a book from literally one of the world’s most respected apologists, actually, two of them, as I recall that this particular book was co-written by Frank Turek. But allow me to stuff a small sampling of the some of the titles I’ve perused both before and after my deconversion:

[posts a picture of many books] This looks good. Of course, one would have to find out which were rad as a Christian, and which were read after leaving.

I couldn’t jam all these together with all the titles, but these are just on Kindle and don’t include my paper library.

Suffice to say that Dave’s continual attempts to paint both my wife and I as undereducated simpletons is egregious, offensive, and wholly unsurprising. He clearly has a habit of inserting the worst assumptions into every gap he can find rather than make an honest attempt to address potential issues with any sort of respect or reasonable dialogue.

That’s his theory, and I think it is a false one. My theory of why this is a very unpleasant exchange is because atheists are extremely sensitive to criticism of their deconversion stories. It’s been my universal experience, and I have examined probably well over twenty by now. I can fully understand (as a convert to Catholicism, whose own story has been examined by hostile parties many times) why they would be sensitive about it, but it seems to me that thinkers need to rise above that and accept these critiques as an opportunity to better understand and explain their journey out of the Christian faith.

Here he goes off on a screed about John Loftus, . . . 

For all of two paragraphs, as I have already clarified. “Screed” is defined as “a long speech or piece of writing.” Two paragraphs hardly  constitutes that.

. . . who wrote the pivotal (but not only) book that helped me free myself from religious delusion. Having perused (more than skimmed but less than thoroughly read) Dave’s linked articles, I don’t blame Loftus for pissing on him the way he did. I don’t think John would deny that he can be quick on the trigger when offended. The sad part is Dave’s absolute mystification as to why. But the same pattern of awful assumptions and placing his arguments in the gaps rather than in the substance is very much on display there.

Loftus’ feuds and spats with fellow atheists like Jeff Lowder and Richard Carrier hardly suggest that the problems here are only with Christians or only supposedly “jerk” Christians: that Anthony thinks I am. Nor does this theory of Anthony’s explain why atheist friends of mine whom I know in person, are virtually uniformly scornful of both  Loftus’ arguments and demeanor in debate. They are embarrassed by him. And if they’re telling me that, it’s pretty bad. It’s “damage control.” I know the feeling. There are plenty of Christians who embarrass me as a Christian, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them in the slightest.

In conclusion, I don’t see anything here in this deconversion story that would compel anyone else to forsake Christianity. At best it is an account that raises serious questions about extreme fundamentalist Christianity, which I fully agree with. But since that is merely one fringe element of Christianity, it is irrelevant as to the truthfulness of larger Christianity, let alone atheism as a supposedly superior and more rational and cogent alternative worldview.

Suffice to say, I’m deeply unimpressed with Dave’s rebuttal, and especially with his offensive and puerile tactics of belittling the writer because of what he imagines in the spaces rather than respond to what he actually reads in the words. I think it would behoove Dave to assume the best in the gaps. Provide the (ironically named) benefit of the doubt to your interlocutor, because responding in that nature will either strengthen your arguments or show you why you should abandon them.

But I’m guessing this belittling trick has been working for him for too long to give it up now.

What I would classify as hard-hitting [but not personal] criticism, he can only characterize as “belittling.” This is unfortunate. But it’s becoming very familiar by now. And it demonstrates that many atheists can “dish it out but they can’t take it.” I wrote at the beginning of my critique (obviously to no avail):

I am not questioning the sincerity of these persons or the truthfulness of their self-reports, or any anguish that they went through. I accept their words at face value. I’m not arguing that they are terrible, evil people (that’s a child’s game). My sole interest is in showing if and where certain portions of these deconversion stories contain fallacious or non-factual elements: where they fail to make a point against Christianity (what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “defeating the defeaters”), or misrepresent (usually unwittingly) Christianity as a whole, or the Bible, etc.

On a final note, Dave had already responded to Part 1 of this response when we were first interacting. I read it then, but have wholly forgotten it. I didn’t want to reread it and have any possible backtracking (of which I’m expecting little, but at least some) color my direct response to the rest of his initial post.

PS: Finally, regarding Loftus, I’ll leave his links and comments before, because I think they’re very telling to Dave’s dishonesty and even more illustrative of his tactics of sticking his assumptions into the gaps and using those moments to insult his subject, before pretending to be naive and innocent.

The main takeaway is that Dave is reading a deconversion story, and is mystified that in 2,701 words he can’t find a book full of arguments as to why Christianity is not to be believed. And he trashes John for it. John calls him stupid. I don’t think he’s far from the mark there, if we’re being honest. John’s challenge is for Dave to put his money where his mouth is and actually read the damn book. Dave won’t.

That’s not true. I was perfectly willing to read it and respond, if he would send me a free copy. But I wasn’t gonna buy it. He refused to comply with that request, so that was that. Get it straight! Here was the actual exchange from one of our farcical interactions (his words in brown):

You are an idiot! . . . If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. Other than that, you can critique a few brief paragraphs or a brief testimony, if you want to, but that says very little about why someone left the faith. You walk away thinking you have completely analysed someone’s story. But from where I sit, that’s just stupid. That’s S-T-U-P-I-D! If you truly want to critique a deconversion story, then critique mine in my book. I wrote a complete story there.

Dave, I can only tolerate stupidity so long. I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. It’s a complete story. A whole story. It’s mine. Do you accept my challenge?

1) First of all, why would you even want to have your book critiqued by someone whom you routinely call an “idiot,” an “arrogant idiot,” a “joke,” a “know-it-all,” and so forth? I’ve never understood this. I have four published books (soon to be five). The last thing in the world I would want (on amazon or anywhere else) is for a blithering idiot to either praise or bash one of my books. I want respectable people to do so.

I have less than no desire in any of my dialogues to interact with the worst examples of opposing views. I want the best. Of course, if someone has a personal ax to grind, that’s different, isn’t it, John? If your goal is to embarrass and belittle someone who disagrees, then this would explain the big desire to wrangle with so-called “idiots.”

2) It is a hyper-ludicrous implication to maintain that deconversion stories are immune to all criticism simply because they are not exhaustive. It’s embarrassing to even have to point this out, but there it is.


3) I have already long since taken up your “challenge.” I said many weeks ago that if you sent me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. I actually try to comprehensively answer opposing arguments, not just talk about them or do a mutual monologue.


You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.


4) One wonders, however, with your manifest “gnashing teeth” attitude towards me, what would be accomplished by such a critique? You’ve already shown that you can’t or won’t offer any rational counter-reply when I analyze any of your arguments. You didn’t with the deconversion thing and refused again when I wrote about God and time. On both occasions you simply made personal insults. There is no doubt about that. It’s all a matter of record.

Why should I think it would be any different if I were to spend a month writing a detailed critique of your book? Maybe then you would get so mad you would sue me for libel or hire a hit man? LOL

Guaranteed. If I were to be like Dave, I would use this gap of information as to why he won’t and insert “cowardice.” Goose, gander, innit.

Except that this is based on a lie about me: that I was supposedly unwilling to read his book. My offer stands to this day: if he sends me a free e-book copy, I will refute the “damn book” point-by-point. Loftus would sooner crawl on his hands and bare knees across a whole football field over burning broken glass before he’d ever do that. He made that crystal clear back in 2006, and I highly doubt that he has had any change of mind. If he has, then he can send it along (emboldened by your rapturous encouragement, no doubt). My email is apologistdave [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Photo credit: wilhei (5-12-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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May 2, 2019

Dave Gass was an evangelical pastor for some forty years. He took to Twitter recently [but he has now restricted access] — starting on 4-30-19 — in order to proclaim that he had forsaken Christianity. I make replies to his claims below. His words will be in blue. I have no beef with him saying he’s sorry to his former congregants, etc., and so I will not critique those sorts of statements; only reasons he gives for his decision.

*****

For those of you who want to yell at me, that’s fine. I know that many will call me an apostate, say I was never really saved, that I was a wolf in sheeps clothing, and that a hotter hell awaits me. And to you I say I love you. My heart is tender toward you.

No one can definitively know those things. Even John Calvin taught that no one knows for sure who is among the elect. We know from the Bible (i.e., those of us who accept its inspiration and status as a revelation) that there is such a thing as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We can’t know for sure if Dave is or was that. He is an apostate, which means, former Christian or one who has rejected Christianity. That’s uncontroversial.

Most Christians throughout history have believed that one can fall from grace or salvation; can lose salvation. I believed that as an evangelical, and I do now as a Catholic. So I need not deny that Dave was ever a Christian. I assume that he truly was one. There is also a real hell that awaits those who know that God exists and that Christianity is true, and who reject both. We can’t know for sure that Dave is headed for this hell. He may be; he may not be (he could return to faith again, for all we know).

Nor do I have to “yell” at him.  My job as a Christian apologist is (for others’ sake) to demonstrate how nothing he says refutes Christianity or provides sufficient warrant for him to forsake the faith, and (for his sake) to charitably try to persuade him of his errors, if he is willing to listen.

Eventually I pulled the lever and dropped the bomb. Career, marriage, family, social standing, network, reputation, all gone in an instant. And honestly I didn’t intend to fully walk away, but the way the church turned on me forced me to leave permanently.

Well, I would have to know more about the details of how “the church turned on” Dave, to make an informed comment.

I was a part of a system that enslaves people, and I was both a slave and a slave driver. We called chains freedom, and misery happiness. We had impossible standards that we could not meet so we turned the attention on others so the spotlight wasn’t on our own inadequacies.

That’s an extraordinary accusation to make, and it does not describe true Christianity or the best that can be found in Christianity. It’s ridiculously broad and thus has little meaning. For those who don’t like God’s laws and moral precepts, I suppose it would feel a bit like being a slave. But the question then becomes: why don’t they like them? What is it about God’s revelation and Christian teaching that is so terrible, so as to feel oppressive rather than freeing? A simple broad statement like this has little content to examine.

I agree that Christian standards are impossible to meet: under our own power. This is precisely why we have grace and the Holy Spirit to give us the power and ability to abide by Christian teachings. All Christians agree on that. But if those are spurned (which are the result of sin and rebellion, or false premises leading to an intellectual rejection), then this would be a serious problem, and we wouldn’t be able to live out the faith. Dave wants to blame God and the Christian system for that shortcoming. I would tend to suspect that the root of the problem lies somewhere in him.

I learned that love is real. That acceptance is possible. That life is vibrant and full. But the church burdens people with fear, shame, and guilt, all for the purpose of maintaining control. I now see the church as a system perfectly curated to control people and culture.

Again, such super-broad statements are difficult to critique, or for Dave to prove. On the surface, they appear to me to be over-emotional and irrational. The last sentence seems to come right out of standard anti-theist-type atheist talking points. “We are what we eat.” If Dave started reading anti-theist polemics, then he would start to change his thinking, until one day everything just snapped, and he felt that atheism was more plausible than Christianity.

There are millions of us who have found an inner peace and joy and fulfillment in Christianity that we have fond nowhere else. We’re happy. We have no reason to leave. Quite the contrary. Our experience is not Dave’s. I was a practical atheist / non-practicing Christian / occult enthusiast for ten years. I certainly was nowhere near as happy and personally fulfilled as I have been since committing my life to Jesus. Dave has his experience; we have ours.

During this time I also found something amazing: I found a handful of people who were more Christian than any Christian I had ever met – and they weren’t Christian. I found love in places where love wasn’t supposed to exist. I found acceptance among people who were godless.

One can find good people in any belief-system. I suppose this would also entail defining what Dave thinks is “Christian” and “love.”

Eventually I could not maintain the facade anymore, I started to have mental and emotional breaks.

And how is that all God’s fault, or Christianity’s fault? It’s not specific enough. It just sounds like atheist talking points and saying what his new “choir”: the atheists –, love to hear.

My internal stress started to show in physical symptoms. Being a pastor – a professional Christian – was killing me.

There are many possible reasons for that: none of which necessarily stem from God or Christianity, rightly understood. He could have gotten a raw deal from certain Christians, who sinned and mistreated him. Maybe he was in the wrong profession in the first place, which would be highly stressful. We don’t have enough information. But a certain number of Christian sinners don’t disprove Christianity at all, just as the atheists (at least the ones politically to the left) always tell us that Stalin and Mao and Marxist atheism doesn’t mean that all atheists or Marxism / Communism are that way. 

This massive cognitive dissonance – my beliefs not matching with reality – created a separation between my head and my heart. I was gaslighting myself to stay in the faith.

Once again it’s too vague to be able to critique. He has to offer objective and not just subjective reasons at some point.

I spent my entire life serving, loving, and trying to help people in my congregations. And the lies, betrayal, and slander I have received at the hands of church people left wounds that may never heal.

What happened? But even if terrible things did happen and he was wronged, this is no disproof of Christianity or God. It’s proof that Christians are sinners like everyone else and capable of great sin: which is what Christianity taught all along.

And the entire system is rife with abuse. And not just from the top down, sure there are abusive church leaders, but church leaders are abused by their congregants as well.

And there is nary a ray of light or hope anywhere in the whole system? He expects us to believe that this is true of the entirety of a billion Christians? If it were truly that bad he would have never devoted 40 years of his life to the pastorate. That would only have proven that he was virtually self-deluded and acting irrationally the whole time: if we accept his report of universal sin and drudgery and bondage and cruelty, etc.

All the while, the experience I had within the church was that a lot (granted, not all) people use the church for power and influence. Many involved people in churches use it as their small kingdom for personal control and ego.

This is better: finally a qualification. Some Christians do indeed fall into those sins, and others don’t do this. Of course it’s patently obvious that any large social group will have good- and bad-behaving people in it. All this amounts to saying, then, is “there are good and bad people on the earth, and I’ve personally run across a lot of bad ones.” We already knew that. So his claim is that other huge social groups are exponentially better than Christian ones? I don’t think so. That’s just not reality or the real world.

An inescapable reality that I came to was that the people who benefited the most from organized religion were the fringe attenders who didn’t take it too seriously. The people who were devout were the most miserable, but just kept trying harder.

That’s the exact opposite of my experience and that of millions of other Christians, and also the opposite of many secular social studies showing that the most devout, observant Christians are happier and more fulfilled: even including their sexual and marital happiness. That ain’t just Christians saying it (what we would expect): it’s social science.

I traveled on speaking teams, preached to thousands of teenagers at a time, wrote blogs, was published, formed curriculum, taught workshops, was an up-and-comer reforming my denomination. The whole time hoping at some point it would click, and become true for me.

So he did all this for forty years, not believing it was true? That would be deceptive. It sounds like he was trying to coast along on his own power, and this is precisely what Christianity itself teaches is impossible (that would be the heresy of Pelagianism, or salvation by our own self-generated works, apart from the grace that alone can enable good works and salvation). Something’s gotta give there. But he was responsible for actually believing what he was teaching others, instead of playing some game of going through the motions (and getting paid by his congregants). If that’s the sort of “dual life” that he has been leading all these years, I can certainly see how he could grow tired of it.

But the blame lies on him, not God, or the Christian system. He wants to blame God. No one forced him at gunpoint to be a pastor or to do all this stuff. I do what I do as an apologist (in some form for 38 years now) because I absolutely love it and  believe 100% in what I am doing, and believe with every fiber of my being that God called me to it. I don’t have to pretend that I am something I am not.

I pastored mega churches & tiny churches. I did college ministry, camp ministry, youth ministry, music ministry, preaching ministry, church planting – everything in the church except work in the nursery. And what I saw was people desperate for the system to work for them.

Yeah, he did a lot of stuff. Jesus said there were people who did all kinds of things and called Him “Lord, Lord” yet were never among His flock to begin with. We don’t know if Dave is in that category, but it’s not an impossibility. All those ostensibly good works and sacrificial service don’t necessarily prove anything. And was it truly out of love? St. Paul observed:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

My devoutly christian parents were abusive,

Was that God and Christianity’s fault, or theirs?

my marriage was a sham,

Was that God and Christianity’s fault, or his and/or his wife’s?

prayer was never answered, miracles were never performed. People died, children rebelled, marriages failed, addictions occurred – all at the same rate as non believers. The system just doesn’t work.

That was his experience. It is not that of many millions of Christians. Just in my own family,  my wife and I and our oldest son Paul have all experienced healing. 

In 40 years I never witnessed a single event that was supernatural. Not one. Time and again I watched people die of cancer. I did funerals for 47 people from the age of 4 to 96. I prayed in faith with hundreds of people for healing to no avail. god didn’t answer prayers.

So what does this prove? People die; therefore, Christianity isn’t true? How much longer was the 96-year-old supposed to live, in order for Dave to believe that it wasn’t God’s fault that he or she died? It becomes absurd . . . Miracles are always very rare by nature. But they do exist. And there is plenty of documentation for them: some of which I have written about.

The more I read and studied the scriptures the more questions I had. Literally from the first chapter to the last, so many problems. And the more I learned about how the scriptures were canonized, the less I could believe in the “inerrancy” model that I had to espouse.

At last he finally provides some objective reason for his apostasy. The atheists can provide hundreds of supposed biblical contradictions. I’ve dealt with dozens of them, and they are uniformly unimpressive. But if one keeps reading their stuff along those lines, one will tend to start believing it. Loss of faith has to be coddled and cultivated. It’s a long process.

I’ve written about canonization, and see nothing in that process that would be a knockout punch against biblical inspiration or Christianity.

I devoured all the “christian apologetics” books that came out, and none of them answered my questions regarding the nature of god and the problems I found within the Scriptures. I found these books to be trite, dismissive, and full of pseudo science and evidence.

None of them helped in the slightest. They were complete bunk, and anti-science to boot. This is becoming ludicrous and ridiculous. It’s the refuge of the person who has few effective arguments, to make absurd generalizations of this sort.

I was fully devoted to studying the scriptures. I think I missed maybe 12 Sundays in 40 years. I had completely memorized 18 books of the bible and was reading through the bible for the 24th time when I walked away.

Yeah, we know . . . already answered.

As an adult my marriage was a sham and a constant source of pain for me. I did everything I was supposed to – marriage workshops, counseling, bible reading together, date nights every week, marriage books – but my marriage never became what I was promised it would be.

But that wasn’t Dave’s fault at all. After all, he did all he could! Much easier to blame God and one’s faith community, isn’t it?

I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist family, and it felt good to be in a system that promised all the answer and solutions to life. The problem is, the system didn’t work. The promises were empty. The answers were lies.

Ah, now we may finally have gotten to the real root of the problem. I have long noted how so many atheist deconverts were from a fundamentalist background. They then equate fundamentalism with all of Christianity. In fact it is an anti-intellectual, stunted fringe offshoot of one portion (evangelicals) of a minority (Protestantism) of all Christianity (which also includes Catholicism and Orthodoxy). It ain’t the whole ball of wax. And I get sick and tired of folks who leave this system, pretending that it represents Christianity as a whole. It does not.

***

While I was writing this — almost finished –, Dave restricted access to his Twitter account to followers only. I saw that he had mentioned that he read Greek philosophy early on and that the seeds of doubt planted “never went away.” This was exactly my point. He never fully believed in Christianity, yet he was willing to be in that system as a pastor, supported financially by those who did believe. So maybe they found out at length this two-faced, intellectually dishonest existence he had been leading, and were not pleased, and some (being flawed human beings, as we all are) acted sinfully, and maybe others simply rebuked him; but he took all of it as sinful, traitorous treatment.

And so he rejects the Christian community as a whole. It sure sounds like sour grapes: he wants to blame them and God and the Bible (and fundamentalism) for many things which were in fact his fault. I’m just going by his own report and making conclusions: admittedly speculative, but not, I don’t think, beyond possibility or plausibility.

But once again, we see nothing compelling whatsoever here to lead anyone else to believe that Christianity must be false, and that God doesn’t exist. I see a lot of griping, grumbling, blame-shifting, broad-brushing, straw men, and rationalizing self-justification. He never believed in it the entire time; hence, he wrote:The whole time hoping at some point it would click, and become true for me.”

So now he offers up atheist talking points and preaching to the atheist choir (who predictably respond with their droning, clone-like “rah-rahs”). He will get plenty of praise and adulation there, and if this is what he seeks, then he’ll be happy as a pig in mud. We all love to be admired and acclaimed, don’t we? But it’s not the lasting, inner peace and joy and fulfillment that true, full-bodied Christianity offers: Christianity that he never seems to have either understood or experienced, because he was within mere fundamentalism, and tried to do things on his own power, minus the Holy Spirit and grace, which is how God always intended it to be.

May he yet discover true Christianity and the true God by God’s grace.

***

Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

***

May 2, 2019

VicqRuiz was replying to one portion of my paper, Unanswered Questions for a Former Catholic Atheist, in the combox underneath it. His words will be in blue.

*****

[me] 5. Could you have passed a quiz on the basic doctrines of Christianity(say, those agreed-upon by virtually all Christians: Nicene Creed-type beliefs): let alone the more specifically, distinctively Catholic doctrines?

(Apologies if I’ve posted the comment below on your site before, I have raised this question several times on several different blogs)

I spent the first sixteen years of my life as one of the few Scandahoovian, unbelieving kids in a very Eastern European (mostly Polish and Czech), very cradle Catholic, neighborhood of Chicago.

And to the best of my recollection, most of the neighborhood kids and their parents were not particularly learned in theology. Their Catholicism seemed very much centered upon custom and ritual, rather than examination of the doctrines of the faith. In other words, they “just believed”.

That’s perfectly fine by me. I have no desire whatever to weaken the faith of those who “just believe”, and would never press the works of skeptical philosophers upon then with the insistence that unless they can read and disprove them, their faith is unsubstantiated.

I don’t think it works both ways.

It seems to me that Christian apologists, and in particular Catholics, are unwilling to accept the idea that unbelievers, whether of the cradle sort or whether “deconverted”, are entitled to “just not believe”. There is an insistence that unless the unbeliever can in detail dispense with the specific creeds and dogmas of Christianity, that his unbelief is not to be fully respected.

Again, as I have already alluded to, it’s two different things. The average Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox has a lousy, usually nonexistent knowledge of apologetics. I totally agree there. But they are not making the claim, “I believe in x because of a, b, c, . . . ”

The deconvert, on the other hand, who takes the trouble to publicly write about their reasons for leaving Christianity, is making the claim, “Christianity [and the Bible] are false because of d, e, f , . . .”

In other words, if they want to “just not believe” and go about their business and not pester Christians for their beliefs, or in effect, “preach atheism” then the question to be asked is, “why are they making this a public issue and making claims that can now be examined in the public arena of ideas and inquiry?” If they aren’t willing to engage on that stage, then why did they write their story? Just for the atheist choir?

If they write about it in public, then they are in effect implying that they are willing to engage one who disagrees. Yet when I come around and disagree, it’s 90% rank hostility for even daring to think of doing such an outrageous thing (with some of the more well-known atheists, like John Loftus, getting the most angry and out-of-control offended). It makes no sense.

If you want to be a blissfully happy atheist who can’t defend why you are one (just like most Christians can’t defend their beliefs, either: which is why I do what I do), then go do it and be silent. But if you “come out and fight,” don’t urinate your pants and moan if an apologist like me attempts to be a gadfly and puncture this bubble of reality that you have constructed.

All I’m doing as an apologist is taking a critical look at d, e, f, and any other reasons given, to see if they can stand up to scrutiny. So far, in my opinion, with over 25 or so such analyses done, I’ve yet to find a former Christian whose reasons d-f, etc. could stand up to and withstand critique. That is my experience. I can’t change it. I don’t claim that it’s universal. But it is a striking unanimity of theological ignorance and straw men.

Therefore, I conclude that the given rational reasons in these particular cases, for rejecting Christianity, fail.

In order to overcome those arguments of mine, the atheist or agnostic has to show how my counter-reasoning goes astray. So far, few if any want to do that. They go right to meta-analysis: much like you have done here. That’s fine, but it’s fundamentally different from my endeavor.

Lastly, my #5 that you cite, and my #4, dealt with catechesis (what we believe), not apologetics (why we believe what we believe). Thus, I was simply looking to see if this person could identify basic Christian beliefs in, say, a multiple-choice test.

***

Photo credit:  Alberto G. (7-26-06) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

***

April 27, 2019

From the combox of the post: A Conversation About Deconversion, And Why People Share Their Stories (Luciano Gonzalez, 7-23-17).

*****

Bravo Sierra:

The question that matters to me with regard to Dave Armstrong is: Why would a person go to such trouble to pick apart a deconversion story if they know that a deconversion story is a personal narrative which is not meant to apply to all followers of Christianity ™ and will convince no one who is not already in your camp?

The answer, I suspect, is to ingratiate oneself with one’s fans. As motives go, it’s selfish and unkind.

I made quite clear what my perspective and motivation was, in the Introduction to two of my critiques (if you saw or read those at all):

Since these are public (else I wouldn’t know about them in the first place), it’s reasonable to assume that they are more than merely subjective / personal matters, that have no bearing on anyone else. No; it is assumed (it seems to me) that these stories are thought to offer rationales of various sorts for others to also become atheists or to be more confirmed in their own atheism. This being the case, since they are public critiques of Christianity (hence, fair game for public criticism), as a Christian (Catholic) apologist, I have a few thoughts in counter-reply.

I am not questioning the sincerity of these persons or the truthfulness of their self-reports, or any anguish that they went through. I accept their words at face value. I’m not arguing that they are terrible, evil people (that’s a child’s game). My sole interest is in showing if and where certain portions of these deconversion stories contain fallacious or non-factual elements: where they fail to make a point against Christianity (what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls “defeating the defeaters”), or misrepresent (usually unwittingly) Christianity as a whole, or the Bible, etc.

Agree or disagree, that is my motivation. But rather than address that, you choose to second-guess my motives and make unfounded accusations: “The answer, I suspect, is to ingratiate oneself with one’s fans. As motives go, it’s selfish and unkind.”

As to my fans, very few Christians have any interest at all in my critiques of deconversions. This is shown by how few likes and comments these articles get when cross-posted to Facebook. They care very little about it. Thus, that makes no sense as any kind of motive. There is huge interest in the atheist community (as witnessed by this very post and several others), but of course they are not my “fans.” So that is dead-wrong.

As for “unkind”, somehow, all the main atheist figures that I have interacted with have been perfectly gracious, and have not indicated at all that I shouldn’t have done what I did. Jonathan MS Pearce just put up a post saying that he hoped I would continue. He challenged me to interact with his extensive material on the infancy narratives of the Bible, and I agreed to do so.

Dr. Daniel Fincke seemed almost ecstatic that I came around. He called my critique “very genial” and said that it was “serendipitous” that a Catholic apologist showed up at an opportune time; that this caused him to come out of a blogging hiatus. Hardly offense or antipathy or “hurt” there, as to whether I should do it at all . . . Quite the contrary!

Anthony Toohey, whose story I critiqued, has also been very friendly and we are in ongoing discussions.

So if they don’t care and don’t make these accusations, why should you? And why couldn’t you simply make your point without the attack on my motives and character? Luciano didn’t have to do that. He stated that he thought I was “honest” and felt no compulsion to attack me for merely doing some critiques.

***

Jon Morgan:

For me it always felt wrong that the standard of evidence for leaving Christianity would be higher than the standard of evidence for accepting Christianity (in my case, being brought up with it would be the biggest factor). And yet there is a feel that no matter what reasons you give someone will say “You should have investigated this other thing” or “I accept that and I’m still Christian, so you should accept my rationalisation and return to Christianity”.

No deconversion story is going to be complete, and it’s certainly not going to contain the years of doubts and questions and explorations that some (including me) have followed before reaching our current point.

Likewise, nothing we ever say convinces the atheist that we have warrant for our beliefs. Works both ways.

Instead, we are constantly accused (by many but not all atheists) of being gullible, infantile, stupid, anti-science, anti-reason, etc.

If you’re confident in your beliefs, you will welcome challenges to these stories (just as I absolutely love to be challenged), and in fact, so far that has been precisely the response from two of the three that I critiqued. The third hasn’t commented on it.

***

[more from the Facebook cross-posting]

Jon Curry:

Do you think the standard you have for deconversions matches the standard you have for conversions? Every conversion story I’ve heard from someone personally is not rational. In fact they have admitted as much to me. Very depressed or emotional, people turn to faith and find comfort, community, friendships. Later they might become convinced of evidence, but it’s rarely if ever an actual reason for joining.

Yes. I do what I do every day because of the lack of knowledge of the “whys” of Catholicism and Christianity, Ignorance is a scourge in every class of people.

Rejecting something and accepting something are different, however. If someone says that “x is untrue” then they need to offer serious reasons for such a claim. I analyze those, and I have found them wanting in the case of deconversions.

But the basis of the warrant or justification for accepting Christianity is vastly different than the reasoning (real or imagined) used to reject same.

You and other atheists are free to critique our reasons for being Christians. Likewise, we are free to critique yours for splitting.

***

(originally 7-23-17)

Photo credit: paulsbarlow7 (5-19-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

***

April 25, 2019

I think these exchanges are models of what is indeed possible, if both sides will listen a bit and stop the incessant suspicion and insults; just talk to each other. This occurred on my blog.

*****

“Illithid” I don’t usually read your blog, though some of the articles seem interesting and I may start. You seem thoughtful and polite.

Casual recollection of many atheist deconversion stories makes me suspect that I disagree with your point here, at least partially. I have read numerous accounts of atheists who left Christianity because they began to study it in depth. Who read apologetics in a sometimes desperate attempt to retain their faith… and failed. I’ve also read atheists’ comments and blog posts that recount how other atheists’ works helped them discard their faith.

I’d like to edit and expand this a bit, but I have to get to work.

Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate that.

Yeah, me too (as to your opinion expressed). But also (invariably in my experience), the reasons given are insufficient, in my opinion, to compel anyone to reject Christianity. Oftentimes, it is a matter of basic facts of error or in logic. I just finished a critique of one such deconversion story today. But my point in the post above is quite simple: atheists mostly preach to their own choirs, just as Christians preach to theirs.

Jon Morgan In my experience, no person ever gives all the reasons for rejecting Christianity (or, on your side, for accepting it). They may give arguments that they feel more compelling, they may give arguments that they think simpler to explain, they may give personal experiences which compelled them but which they know cannot compel anyone else.

I think there is also some amount of “death by a thousand cuts”. There are many things that as a believer I could defend with no trouble, and so if I now raised them as objections you would be equally entitled to say they are insufficient to compel anyone to reject Christianity. But I think the hundreds of details I now see problems with have a cumulative weight that the isolated examples lack.

I moved from a fundamentalist Christianity to a more liberal Christianity, I understood the principles of literary interpretation used, and I had plenty inviting me to move further along the spectrum. But ultimately, I didn’t consider it compelling. To me, the elephant in the room is burden of proof. There needs to be a reason to accept the Bible as God’s inspired word, and, crucially, there needs to be a reason to accept one of the hundreds of competing Biblical interpretations. I felt too many said “It is possible to interpret the Bible in this way that would remove doubt X, so therefore it must be the correct interpretation” or “The Bible is never wrong, it’s your interpretation that’s wrong”. Giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt would be consistent with an inspired book, but to me does little to prove it is an inspired book. Similarly, many of the literary characteristics discussed in less fundamentalist circles are consistent with human authorship of the book – but do they show divine inspiration of those humans?

I’m not going to go into details just because I find in such discussions neither side can do full justice to their position. But rest assured that I have probably heard most of your arguments, and you have probably heard most of mine.

Good comment. Thanks. Are you still a liberal Christian, or now an atheist?

Atheist.

Another question that came to me (which you may partially answer in your reply to Illithid above): You talk about insufficient reason to compel someone to reject Christianity. Do you think the bar should be higher for deconversion than it was for conversion? For me, my first reason for being Christian was that my parents were, and I always “knew” it was right. I didn’t make an objective assessment of all religions and choose Christianity as most likely to be right. So in principle there was no reason (other than social) for me to privilege the Christian worldview or start by assuming it was correct.

I, like you, have seen atheist testimonies where their objections or doubts seem fairly simple. But as far as I can tell they were never given much stronger reasons to believe. Is it so unreasonable? There seems a danger of viewing their oversimplistic faith as good while it lasts, then blaming it when it fails. But they’re two sides of the same coin.

Yes, I did develop a more complex faith, and a combination of social and intellectual reasons meant I wanted to be as sure as I could be before quitting. But really, I had never viewed it from any perspective other than “this must be right – let’s just figure out how it’s right”. And that’s not a good frame of mind for assessing whether it truly is right.

Sorry, my comments always seem to drag on longer than I intend…

This is a great dialogue. Thanks.

I think conversions (or adherences) either way should ultimately be based on (or at least be in harmony with) rational considerations.

Not everyone has the same intellectual capacity, of course, but in proportion as we are able to think deeply, I think we all have a responsibility and duty to pursue reason, evidence, and intellectual justification and warrant.

I’m not saying that either religious or atheist belief is solely intellectual, either. But insofar as they are, they should be deeply reflected upon from the standpoint of reason.

In my case, I would roughly describe it as “Emotional reasons caused me to re-investigate my faith. That re-investigation led me to rational 
reasons to disbelieve, and I quit because of those rational reasons.”

But I know if I mention the emotional reasons, some will critique them as if the rational reasons didn’t exist. And I’m sure emotions play a part even in the section I’d like to call “rational”.

To me it comes down to this: Just because I cannot articulate all my reasons (let alone persuade others they are good) doesn’t mean they’re not there. And that applied to my Christian belief just as much as my current atheist position. Even before rationally analysing reasons to believe, it took a long time to understand more than just a feeling there were good reasons why I was still Christian.

It’s true that not all are able to articulate reasons for some change of mind (be they good or bad reasons). I understand that.

Part one of my story is that I didn’t think much about religion as a preteen, being raised by a Methodist-raised “apatheist” father and a lapsed Catholic mother, it just wasn’t discussed. I don’t know if they had some sort of armed truce on the subject or just didn’t care that much. But I apparently absorbed enough cultural Christianity to be susceptable at age 13 to a brief conversion by a pair of suited teenagers in a mall. Ten minutes and I was in tears reciting the Sinner’s Prayer.

They probably felt a sense of accomplishment. However, as a result I started to read the Bible. At Genesis I was saying, “ummm… no.” At Job, what struck me was the offhand killing of the family and servants. But he got replacements, so no harm done, right? Then Exodus. God sends Moses “so that my name may be magnified in the land of Egypt”. Twice Pharoah (which one?) is going to release the Israelites, but God hardens his heart. So much for free will (I thought later). Then he kills all the firstborn, who had nothing to do with the situation. Monstrous.

Also, I was praying. Not for a pony or such. To be a better person. To understand. What I gradually understood was that I was talking into a dead phone. Not even a dial tone. Like writing a letter to Santa.

I didn’t know the word, but two weeks after my teary mall conversion I was an atheist.

So you think now that you were capable of understanding all the complexities of the Bible at 13, so that you were justified to become an atheist?

I’ve written about the hardening hearts issue, twice (one / two). It’s a typical example of the Hebrew / biblical “both / and” mindset.

This seems uncharitable. I did say that was “part one”. It’s not as if I thought I had it all figured out at 13 (36 years ago, by the way) and never troubled myself again about the subject.

Well, I wasn’t referring to your development since then: only to the fact that at 13 you felt you could reject the Bible in all of two weeks and move to atheism.

So I asked specifically whether you think that is plausible: to have such knowledge in two weeks at age 13. That’s what I wondered about. No one can even read the Bible in so short a time, let alone have ample reason to reject it and move to atheism.

The hardening hearts thing is just one example where you misunderstood. I wouldn’t expect a 13 yo (or most adults) to understand Hebrew both/and reasoning (because it’s very different from our Greek-derived approach). And this is my point.

I wasn’t trying to be uncharitable at all, but rather, I was appealing to fairness in judging other views, and the folly of a 13 yo thinking he can make such major decisions, and in so short a time.

I figured that you would readily agree with that much.

This is the kind of thing I was talking about, though. I’d probably agree that a few weeks study at age 13 is too short a time to categorically reject Christianity. But that cuts both ways: 10 minutes and a sinner’s prayer is far too short a time to credibly accept Christianity. Two weeks seems to me quite sufficient for recognising you have been pressured into a hasty commitment and backing away again (almost sounds like “counting the cost”…). I think this is similar to what I said earlier about burden of proof: if a person has not had a chance to evaluate all the arguments, atheism seems to me a reasonable default position. Not a form of atheism that rules out any further investigation, but a “lack of belief” form that does not preference any particular religious tradition for cultural reasons.

I agree. That’s why Catholics don’t go for this “instant salvation” nonsense. It’s not biblical, it’s not sensible, and it is foreign to most forms of Christianity throughout history.

Weren’t there mass baptisms during the conquest of Central America?

That’s regeneration in our thinking, but not necessarily assurance of final salvation (as in some Protestant views).

I suppose that’s fair. I’ll admit to having a very incomplete understanding at the time. I don’t even claim to be an expert now, and I knew a lot less then. But I had examined the subject and decided I didn’t believe the claims of Christianity. I had no belief in any gods, and was therefore an atheist.

Stick around. We are able to talk constructively. Right now I’m being pursued by about 40 atheists; more than half of them think I’m a dishonest scumbag.

Gads! Well, if it’s any consolation, I don’t think you’re a dishonest scumbag, I think you’ve been misled by an institutional con job that’s refined its methods over millennia. :-)

***

(originally 7-18-17)

Photo credit: The Kingdome demolition (Seattle: 3-26-00; courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives). It had been constructed in 1976. [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

***

March 28, 2019

I have long noted as regards deconversion stories from Christian to atheist, that, very often, these accounts of an exodus out of Christianity have the following characteristics:

1) an initial fundamentalist belief, which is thought to be the sum total of Christianity (as if there are no other more thoughtful and nuanced species of it).

2) rejection of various straw men, which do not represent the most informed versions of Christianity; “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

3) highlighting of terrible, hypocritical Christians, rather than the best examples.

4) acceptance of the notion that atheism is the only alternative to rejection of (what amounts to) straw men and lousy, inadequate versions of Christianity.

I have observed these motifs in these stories over and over and over, as I have critiqued a great number of them (word-search “Deconversion” on my Atheism web page). As long as atheists keep writing their stories, and implying that they can offer profound and supposedly solid, unanswerable reasons for leaving Christianity, we Christians (especially apologists like me) can just as easily critique them and show how and why the reasoning is fallacious and unsuccessful in establishing atheism or the falsity of Christianity.

Goose and gander. Yet, I often meet with great hostility when I do so (atheist author and “debater” John Loftus being the most outrageous and hilarious example): as if it were the rudest thing in the world and essentially improper and unethical to examine a public attack on Christianity.

I ran across a deconversion story by one Don R., on the Patheos website, Recovering from Religion: Ex-Communications. It is entitled, “My Escape from the Belly of the Beast” (9-24-18). It exhibits all of these typical traits. Don’s words will be in blue. I will go right to examples of fallacious thinking, false dilemmas, needless exaggerations and category mistakes, false dichotomies, factual error, etc.

*****

[W]e were brought up in a very strict fundamental Christian household.

As so very often in these stories . . . Fundamentalism is a small minority and fringe portion of evangelical Protestantism, which is one portion of Protestant Christianity, which is  itself a minority of all Christians. Thus, to reject fundamentalism is not at all to reject all of Christianity (not even all of evangelicalism or Protestantism).

It is a rejection of what is in many respects the very worst and insubstantial and least intellectually respectable form of Christianity. Yet we’ll see that Don never seriously considers any other form of Christianity before departing. Those of us who never grew up as fundamentalists never cease to marvel at these sorts of “tunnel vision” dynamics.

You see, our father was a pedophile and was molesting my sister and I for years. Our stepmother had very little use for us, . . . 

I am very sorry to hear about this tragic situation. But this is the motif of the “lousy, hypocritical” Christians: often (in these stories) subtly implying that a huge number or even a majority or most Christians are this way (not just pedophilia, but any serious sin), which is not true. Christianity has its “bad apples” just like any large social group does.

But it’s not fair to judge a religion based on its worst practitioners, or in some cases: literal “wolves in sheep’s clothing”: folks who never were Christians at all and only claimed to be (the ones that Jesus condemned because they say “Lord, Lord” but refuse to do what He commands them to do).

Our stepmother remained very religious (to this day she is fanatical in her beliefs) . . . 

Again, if this is true fanaticism, rather than what Don thinks is fanatical simply because it is Christian, then it is an example of the extremes of Christianity. In other words, to reject true fanaticism is to reject a distortion and corruption of Christianity (which I have always done, myself), rather than the thing itself.

From early teens to mid-twenties, I still held a belief in god, but I just didn’t want to be around any of his people.

One can see why. If he had actually met some good, loving, Christlike Christians, then things might very well have been much different, right? If the terrible Christians drive one away, then it stands to reason that good examples of Christians would draw one in. Don does talk about his increasing church involvement as being “rewarding and fulfilling” and states that he “really loved the feeling of community.” So he must have found some (good) Christians that he enjoyed being around. Glad to hear it!

When people would come to me with their hard questions, I would share my process with them and help them come to “correct” answers, always based on the infallibility of the bible and the pure goodness of god. And every time I did that, there was a little voice saying “that doesn’t make sense”, which I ignored… because it felt so good to know that I was helping people be stronger in their faith.

This is rather subjective. We could simply reply that he wasn’t very good at apologetics and didn’t provide (or find in research) the best answer that could be given; therefore, he felt a nagging doubt. It doesn’t prove that there were no solid, plausible answers to be had.

I remember when I realized that even the people I believed were fully dedicated to god had their own doubts. 

Everyone has doubts and befuddlement about various doctrines and beliefs: whether concerning Christianity or anything else. The question is whether they add up to outright unbelief, or are simply areas that require further thought and study.

Eddie (not his real name) was every bit as passionate about god as I was, and we had many nights of great discussions. I knew that he was fully committed and sought god with all his heart. So, when I found out that he believed in theistic evolution (the theory that god used evolution to create the earth), I was stunned.

Why? There have been Christians who were theistic evolutionists right from the beginning of Darwin’s theory in 1859; for example, the botanist Asa Gray. Darwin wrote to Gray in 1881, “there is hardly any one in the world whose approbation I value more highly than I do yours.” Darwin conceded to Gray that his theories were “not at all necessarily atheistical.” This was also the position of Darwin’s good friend Thomas Henry Huxley: himself an agnostic, but without insisting that the only form of evolutionism must be materialistic (i.e., atheistic). Darwin, after all, had developed his theory while he was still a Christian or at least theist. That is beyond question.

You see, I believed in a literal interpretation of the bible, and to hear that someone who was as fully devoted as I was could believe in evolution was really difficult.

Exactly. This is fundamentalism. But an informed, educated approach to the Bible understands that the Bible has many literary genres and modes of expression, and is not always to be taken literally (though many times it is). To hold that it must always be interpreted literally is simply “Bible ignorance.”

I had just assumed that god made everything clear to those who diligently sought him, so how could we believe two very different things about the creation of the world?

They could and did because Christianity has enough latitude to  allow different views on the particulars of scientific matters. The Bible isn;t a scientific textbook. Good, orthodox Christians believed that the creation story was not necessarily literal (literally, six 24-hour days) at least as far back as St. Augustine (354-430).

This was the first of several times that my beliefs were shaken by things like this.

There was no need for such a crisis at all, if he had simply realized that he was in a fundamentalist fish tank and couldn’t imagine any other Christian paradigm. So because of that he gets “shaken” and this is included in his story of why he eventually forsook Christianity. It’s not an adequate reason at all.

Earlier in his story he noted how “Many evenings I would read Christian authors and study apologetics. I had 2 large bookcases filled with religious books and had read every page.” So we’re to believe that he had never encountered a good Christian or Christian book who believed (or which explained) that God used evolution as His method of creation? That’s hard to believe. What: did he only read fundamentalist apologetics?

There would be two writers that I deeply respected who held opposite beliefs on the role of women in the church. There were very different views on the “once saved always saved” or can you lose your salvation issue.

Yes, Christians differ on many issues. But disagreement doesn’t prove that no one got it right, or that there is no one correct position. If, for example, one person believes that the earth is flat and a second believes it is shaped like an egg, this doesn’t disprove that it is actually a sphere. All it proves (by strict logic) is that they can’t both be right. But they may both be wrong, with the actual truth found elsewhere.

But we can say concerning the “losing salvation” issue, that the vast majority of Christians (Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, many Arminian denominations, pentecostals, a good proportion of Baptists, etc.), have believed that one can lose salvation or fall from grace or the Christian faith.  It’s mostly Calvinists / Presbyterians and fundamentalists who disagree.

On most issues we can look to determine whether a large majority of the sum of all Christians accepts a thing, while a much smaller minority does not. And that should tell us something. But internal Christian disagreement is no compelling reason to become an atheist. All it proves is that Christians disagree and often are shortsighted (and too often, plain stupid), just as any group of people do.

Science is largely the same as theology in this “sociological” respect. Fifty years ago, things like the Big Bang Theory or plate tectonics were not as firmly established as they are today, with the vast majority of scientists agreeing. Some still disagree, but the likelihood or plausibility is that a view taken by almost all scientists will turn out to be the actual fact of the matter.

But I couldn’t understand why the deeply faithful would come to opposite decisions about the biggies. . . . I just couldn’t ever fathom why there would be such discord among the “true believers”.

For the same reason that scientists and philosophers have massive disagreements amongst themselves, and especially through time: over hundreds of years. There can be many reasons (good and bad) for why folks disagree with and contradict each other. But to add these up and conclude, “I reject the entire system as rubbish” is quite a jump and a stretch, and exceedingly difficult on an epistemological level.

One week, he began a 4 part series on the story of Noah and the flood. He came at it from a totally different perspective than I had ever heard or thought of before, and I was enthralled. On the 4th Sunday, he mentioned that there were different interpretations of the story within the church, and he brought up the fact that the flood story actually appeared in earlier writings that were not biblical at all. I was stunned. Could it be true that the bible borrowed the flood story from earlier secular writings (hint: Epic of Gilgamesh)? It was just a fable?

Huh? The reasoning here is very convoluted. How is it that simply because another culture also had a story of a massive Flood, therefore, somehow it becomes a “fable”? Isn’t it much more likely and plausible that an event of such shattering magnitude would be recorded by someone besides the Hebrews? Therefore, the mere presence of a similar story elsewhere is no disproof of the biblical account at all.

Pagan or heathen parallels or precursors do not necessarily “disprove” the biblical account. Thus, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) notes how such parallel stories of the Flood, confirm, rather than disconfirm, the historicity and trustworthiness of the Bible:

The historicity of the Biblical Flood account is confirmed by the tradition existing in all places and at all times as to the occurrence of a similar catastrophe. F. von Schwarz . . .  enumerates sixty-three such Flood stories which are in his opinion independent of the Biblical account. R. Andree . . .  discusses eighty-eight different Flood stories, and considers sixty-two of them as independent of the Chaldee and Hebrew tradition. Moreover, these stories extend through all the races of the earth excepting the African; these are excepted, not because it is certain that they do not possess any Flood traditions, but because their traditions have not as yet been sufficiently investigated. Lenormant pronounces the Flood story as the most universal tradition in the history of primitive man, and Franz Delitzsch was of opinion that we might as well consider the history of Alexander the Great a myth, as to call the Flood tradition a fable. It would, indeed, be a greater miracle than that of the Deluge itself, if the various and different conditions surrounding the several nations of the earth had produced among them a tradition substantially identical. Opposite causes would have produced the same effect.

I was deeply shaken to realize that the bible was not the historically accurate document I was always told and completely believed it was.

I don’t know why. It certainly wasn’t because of the above things mentioned, because that conclusion simply doesn’t follow.

How much was allegory? How much was literal? How much was parable? How could you tell which was which?

Obviously by searching related cross-references, studying biblical commentaries, and especially by researching biblical genre, literary types, the nature of different books (Psalms and Proverbs are poetry, etc.), and ancient near eastern culture and ways of thinking. Apparently, it never occurred to Don to do that (tons of books about these things) — otherwise he wouldn’t have asked this rhetorical question — , and this is usually the case in a fundamentalist paradigm.

Is god a god of confusion?

No, but human beings often bring about confusion by ignorance, stubbornness, pride, self-interest, etc. So we wind up with lots of disagreements. Catholicism offers one self-consistent, historically continuous view of Christianity, which is why I am a Catholic. No form of Protestantism possesses these traits.

I began to look for what set Christianity apart from all the other false religions in the world. I knew that they all had holy books, and the bible was very suspect at this point, so that wasn’t it. 

Again, nothing presented in this account proves that the Bible isn’t what it claims to be.

There were several times in my life where I KNEW that god had spoken to me. Times of deep struggle and fear that he had comforted me. Surely that must be unique to the Christian religion. Nope. People all over the world had their own profound experiences that proved their god to them. 

Why must Christian religious experience be unique? The Apostle Paul Romans 2 teaches that people can possibly be saved, who have never even heard the Christian message. Jesus talked to a pagan Roman centurion and concluded that He had rarely seen such faith in Israel. So this man had religious faith, yet wasn’t an observant Jew. Truth is truth, and God can reach men in many different ways, including religious experiences.

It’s simply silly and shallow thought, to think that because non-Christians have also had spiritual experiences, therefore our own personal spiritual experiences that we “KNEW” actually happened, somehow get nullified as pipe dreams and self-delusion. That doesn’t follow. It’s lousy “reasoning.”

Nor does atheism at all follow from this: “lots of people have had spiritual experiences; therefore there is no God”? What?! How does that follow? I must confess to being mystified as to how that “logical chain” works. If atheists think it does, then they must explain it to me.

I begged god for some kind of sign that he was real, and I really expected him to answer, because he would know that my very faith was at stake. Nothing…

Very often, God will not comply with such a request, because He knows it is a cop-out: “show me some huge miraculous sign to prove that you exist!” People know enough to believe God exists, simply by looking at His creation (as it states in Romans 1).

I had to learn I was not the complete piece of trash that my religion had taught me I was . . . 

That’s what fundamentalists and Calvinists believe (total depravity and a completely fallen, corrupt human nature), but not what the vast majority of Christians have believed (fallen, subject to concupiscence, but still capable of good and freely receiving God’s grace). So once again, Don rejected a straw man that only a tiny number of Christians believe.

If he truly wants to see a worldview that results in human “trash,” he has to look at hundreds of millions of aborted babies: killed by Christians who no longer follow the historic teachings of their own group, secularists, atheists, and all who have started to believe that an innocent, helpless human being can be utterly worthless, so as to be torn to shreds and murdered (all the way up to full term at nine months, and now even after birth) for the “sin” of existing because of someone else’s actions.

That is acomplete piece of trash”: not the biblical and Christian teaching on original sin, as taught by the great majority of Christians.

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Photo credit: ||read|| (5-28-09) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

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September 13, 2018

Daniel Morgan (atheist) responded in my comments boxes, with regard to my critique of John Loftus’ deconversion story. This is my reply. His words will be in blue; my older cited words in green.

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Hi Daniel,

Thanks much for the rational response. It’s good to know that at least one atheist who comments here has his wits about him [see, e.g., John Loftus’ astounding display of hostile non sequiturs, in “response” to my critique] . Y’all are generally a pretty sharp group.

generally this indicates a less-than-stellar foundational Christian teaching

So him being in trouble is worse than you losing faith? 

Losing faith is bad, though I really didn’t do that. I didn’t have any decent religious instruction or any informed faith to lose. I was abysmally ignorant. It was a sort of vacuum, rather than an active rejection. I was only ten years old at the time we stopped going to church. But I was still interested in spiritual things, which is precisely why I became fascinated with the occult.

But my point in context was that John’s account did not suggest to me that he had any good religious instruction or example himself. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but generally that great of a rebellion lends itself to a deficient upbringing as the cause or partial cause. Just ask about the childhood of criminals if you doubt this. Take a survey.

Seems odd to claim, esp given some Biblical characters, whose troubles were always overcome by faith, rather than vice versa.

See my last comment.

Even that won’t suffice to prevent apostasy if there are other deficiencies because the mind is only one aspect of a well-rounded faith.

Do you think that belief is not a completely mental affair?

That’s correct. Grace and faith (and the soul itself) are supernatural in character. The intellectual aspects of Christian faith are only one aspect of it.

Much philosophy can make one go astray as well, if too much skeptical and fallacious philosophy takes hold on one’s brain. But in the end it comes down to God’s grace and whether we accept it and continue to live by it, or reject it.

I can honestly say that this is why I no longer believe – atheological and philosophical arguments.

It seems you have an interesting change-up in views – before you are emphasizing the integral issue of apologia, now you are cautioning those who may want to build defenses not to allow “much philosophy” to “take hold”

Obviously in context I meant “bad philosophy”; not philosophy per se. I love philosophy. But there is plenty of it that starts from false premises and goes from there.

. . . how can a Christian interested in answering doubts and such know which philosophical ideas will “take hold”, and does this “taking hold” indicate that the philosophical arguments are actually strong?

It may or may not. If a person isn’t equipped to answer a bad (but clever and prima facie plausible) philosophical argument, then he is dead meat. There may be excellent Christian replies. But obviously they do little good if one is totally unaware of them.

If you take a relatively ignorant (in things of faith and also other subjects he is, after all, there to learn), inexperienced, idealistic, (usually) herd-mentality young person of 18-21 and throw him into an environment where it seems like the “smart” people (the professor and other smart alecky non-Christian students) mock Christianity and Christian morals, then what would you expect?

He isn’t presented with both sides, generally (I took about eight philosophy courses; I know what goes on, and psychology and sociology are the same). It is oftentimes the best atheist arguments against the worst, or caricatured Christian or theist arguments. Really fair, ain’t it?

So is it any surprise that the Christian student often loses his faith? Usually he had no apologetic background with which to counter this utterly slanted onslaught. This is why I do what I do! Lots of young kids read my stuff. I’m delighted to be able to help them through this ordeal of relentless, almost forced secularization at college.

Your answer seems to waver here as you indicate God’s grace, something that always seems difficult to flesh out from free will. Do you think God’s grace may be lessened or withdrawn if someone is reading “bad” philosophical ideas? 

If one accepts false ideas, that may counter grace, yes. But it’s complex. It would depend on how much one really knows. If he deliberately rejects a God and a Christianity that he truly knew, then the consequences for lack of grace would be worse. But if he is simply ignorant (as I was, up to age 18, in matters of theology), then I think it is a very different situation.

Do you liken such reading to going into a strip club and expecting God to protect you from it?

Any false idea has (somewhat like lust and sex, but on a totally different level) an attraction to one who is predisposed to accept it or too ignorant to counter it, or lacking a superior alternative. It should frighten all of us. Truth is oftentimes difficult to attain in our society.

The philosophical arguments are as “seductive”? Is it perhaps because they are sound and difficult to reply to?

The ideas are received in an environment which is strongly weighted against theism and faith. That’s supremely important to understand and take into consideration. We’re not all calculating rational machines. We accept things usually because everyone around us, or some respected figure does first. Some are “good” arguments as far as they go. This is why we home-school our children: not because we want to insulate them from reality, but because we refuse to leave them open to the distinct possibility of being brainwashed in the overwhelmingly secularized, literally anti-Christian public school system (as I was in the Detroit schools).

By the time they go to college they will be equipped with apologetics and solid Christian philosophy and the ability to think critically and to be able to spot false premises and ideas when they see it, with the knowledge to withstand them when necessary. I hasten to add that I don’e believe every parent must home-school. It’s impossible in some cases. But every Christian parent must provide some Christian counter-weight to the onslaught of secularism and profound anti-Christian bias in the schools.

If the student never sees any alternative, then what would you expect? On my website, I give people the alternatives. They can read both sides and decide for themselves which is more worthy of belief. I don’t just present the Christian view and ignore all the other ones. That’s why I have almost 360 dialogues posted. I’m a totally committed Socratic in method.

There is a reason many Christians lose their faith in college.

I wrote a post on this phenomenon. Do you think it possible that it is because many Christians are insulated from the most serious objections to faith, and evidence that damages their conception thereof? 

That’s part of it; absolutely. The atheist “evidence” damages only insofar as a student is unfamiliar with the best Christian replies. Christians need to know not only how to defend their own belief, but how to refute competing ideas, of varying levels of respectability. Young Christians usually have neither skill when they go to college. And the skeptical or atheist professors (the ones who deliberately — and I would say, unethically — try to undermine the faith of their students) know this full well and cynically exploit it to their advantage.

I certainly do. I think this is a huge reason for it – the whole reason for going to college is to enlarge your borders/perspectives/knowledge, but this is dangerous to any religion. 

It’s dangerous if the situation is abominably unfair and extremely biased to one side only. Very few young people, who want to be accepted by their peers and thought to be intelligent by their professors, can withstand that. It’s a stacked deck.

All religions work via identifying “us/them” and most have a protective effect (purge “them” if they infiltrate “us”).

All belief-systems whatsoever do that, I would contend. Atheists do the same exact thing. Hence, we have blogs with names like, oh, how about Debunking Christianity? LOL It looks like I may soon be banned from commenting there myself, judging by John’s current hysteria and profound hyper-sensitivity to critique. If so, then that is an atheist “purge” of the oddball Christian “them.” I mustn’t be allowed to mess with the status quo of atheist profundity and skepticism by giving cogent answers and rational alternatives to misguided atheist rhetoric (I hope I’m wrong about that, but we’ll see soon enough). I made a point somewhere about how John Loftus puts up a site like that, whose purpose is almost entirely negative. He doesn’t put up a blog called The Joys and Rewards of a Life of Atheism. Christianity at least offers some positive, constructive vision.

lest we get duped by truly stupid, utterly unnecessary dichotomies such as this “dogma vs. philosophy” or “faith vs. reason” claptrap

Responding to this adequately would take a lot of time, 

It was a very general statement.

so I would just quote Aquinas and Gregory the Great: Aquinas said, “If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections – if he has any – against faith.” 

Yep; I agree. Apologetics (particularly with atheists) is largely about the removal of “roadblocks” or obstacles. Once those are disposed of, then the apologist can defend Christian doctrines that ought to be accepted in faith, with a rational (and not at all irrational) basis, as far as reason can take one.

He admits this directly after quoting Gregory the Great, “faith has no merit in those things of which human reason brings its own experience.”

St. Thomas Aquinas believes that faith and reason can be totally harmonized. I agree with him. Are you claiming that he is teaching otherwise here? You provide no reference for the sake of consulting context.

Surely you will admit that a careful handling of dogma, philosophy, faith and reason does lead to some dichotomies? Esp the problem of revelation v reason?

I meant irreconcilable dichotomies. There are different kinds of knowledge. The atheist wants to rule out that one can attain knowledge in certain ways (e.g., revelation) and that certain things can happen (miracles), or (often) that anything non-material can exist. But that is not a real dichotomy; it is an artificial one.

in the end, belief-systems must be analyzed of their own accord.

I agree, but we must keep in mind that Xianity has a particular truth claim to evaluate and analyze that involves the indwelling, sanctification, etc., of the believer. One of the few truth claims that we can evaluate just from observation.

No particular reply . . .

The fact that my wife or child may die or that my reputation is ruined, or that I go bankrupt or get a fatal disease, or become handicapped due to an assault has nothing to do with, that I can see, of whether the truth claims of Christianity are acceptable or not.

It certainly depends upon your interpretation of Xianity, doesn’t it? 

Not really. What is it about a person dying or going through problems that disproves Christianity? Nothing. Just like the problem of evil doesn’t disprove that God exists. Atheists tried for centuries and had deluded confidence in that, but now it is in shambles and they are left with far less impressive, highly subjective plausibility arguments.

Some going through such tragedies would point to the covenant nature of Xianity, and question if God was involved in another “bet” with the devil. Some would question the idea that God speaks to them at all, if they spend hours each day “communing” yet had no warning whatsoever that their child had an advanced stage of cancer and that no one knew until it was too late . . . etc., etc. Surely you can see how the question of the relationship of the believer to God falls under this category? 

Yes, but I thought we were talking about how this supposedly is a disproof of Christianity (related to John’s deconversion).

There are many teachings about the “covenant”, and so I would think you could see some falsification potential here.

One particular theology may be proven wrong and that disproves Christianity? Again, you lost me.

People know that’s not possible on merely human power alone. It contradicts everything we know about ourselves.

Ah, so you believe in Allah now?

How so?

He shows poor hermeneutical skills here.

And this is what Steve Hays would say to you. (Steve is a YEC) And AiG, and ICR, and etc., they all have their “experts” who would disagree with your interpretation of Genesis and its exegesis.

Every movement has its fringe groups. YAWN Even atheists!

That’s the view of many of us Christians, and we’re not all losing faith like John. Quite the contrary. I’ve been doing Christian apologetics for 25 years now, and I’ve never been caused to doubt my faith as a result of further study (and I’ve done tons of that). I’ve always had my faith strengthened, in defending the faith, seeing how solid it is on rational grounds, and observing the weakness of attacks upon it.

Up above, you cautioned those who would delve into “much philosophy”. Do you see how one could read your words before, and these words, and see a bit of a contradiction? 

No, because you took that completely out of its context. I meant “bad philosophy.” I have entire web pages on philosophy, and excruciatingly long debates on heavy philosophical issues with atheists and scientists. You have simply misunderstood my meaning, in your zeal to find a contradiction somewhere.

Either you can admit that there are rational grounds for rejecting Christianity or not, 

Conceivably, but I’ve yet to see one in my rounds as an apologist. The Problem of Evil is instructive. For centuries atheists strutted around like poeacocks thinking that was the Knockout Punch. Turns out it wasn’t. I suspect this is the case for all the other currently fashionable arguments too.

but you seem to admit there is some sort of grounds that people do, upon having “too much [secular] education” . . . 

They have grounds for rejecting a caricature for a seemingly plausible view in an atmosphere thoroughly hostile to Christianity. I was saying that in the context of Christian college students losing their faith. Like I said, it’s a “stacked deck” and they don’t have a chance in that situation, if they are inadequately equipped. Belief systems and reasons for adopting them are exceedingly complex. I’ve always thought that: at least as far back as my first philosophy course in 1977 as a freshman in college, if not before.

No, but they could explain how a person would be more open to thoughts of a contrary nature to Christianity, if one is going through a period when he wonders about why God might do thus-and-so, or not do this or that, and if Christians are not being particularly consoling or understanding of his crisis. We don’t develop in a vacuum.

Ah, now we’re back to the catch-all factor: God’s grace.

I don’t see that I was talking all that much about grace in this particular remark. I was talking about hostile environments that one may find oneself in. That can explain loss of faith on a personal, emotional, human level, but that doesn’t disprove Christianity. That was my point.

There is no question that this happens, and that intellectual rationales are only the merest facade for the real or far more important reasons.

Sometimes it does, just as many people merely believe out of tradition, fear or hope, and not serious rational analysis.

Exactly.

One thing to keep in mind though is that freedom does not necessitate atheism. Rejecting Christianity is just that, and it leaves one with quite a number of options for “freedom” if that is all they want – from Buddhism to Krishna to any other Eastern philosophy, then to a sort of open/loose theism or deism, then agnosticism, etc.

Of course.

Everyone wants others to think that they made these big changes in opinion based on complete rationality and objectivity.

I agree – we all want to at least THINK that we’re rational, and appear that way to others.

But any look at ourselves quickly disabuses us of that notion: at least in any pure sense.

That’s a difficult claim to back up. First, looking inward is subjective, definitionally. Now, we all act irrationally at times, and often in retrospect we can even see it and admit it. But to say what you’ve said, bereft of argument, is, well, just another assertion.

Okay; so I am to view you as this perfectly rational, objective thinking machine, immune from all human influences, emotions, biases, pressures of friends and admired ones, family, any number of possible false premises, possible unsavory motivations, pride, jealousy, etc., etc., etc.? I dont think so.

I wonder if he still does, and if not, why atheism would change a respect for the rights of the most defenseless and innocent of human beings? It seems to me that the pro-life position is almost self-evidently right and moral, without the necessity of any theological basis.

I will admit you will find some sympathies with me, esp regarding late-terms. However, in the end, it comes down to a question of value – what makes human what they are, what gives them rights, and what rights does one have over their own body?

A male child is not the same body as his mother, unless you want to argue that females possess male sex organs. Nor is a female baby, for that matter, because she has an entirely different DNA. A human being is the offspring of two other human beings. This ain’t rocket science! It is what it is, genetically, from the moment of conception. A preborn child has rights from simply existing, according to every system of human ethics there is, if it is regarded as a person and a human being (that’s what it boils down to).

There is no good argument that would deny personhood to a preborn human being. What you are now began at the time you were conceived, and cannot possibly have any other logical starting-point. Anything after it is arbitrary; anything before is senseless since the DNA that you possess was not in its present combination. This stuff has to be argued with a graduate student in chemistry? It’s practically self-evident.

I choose to place someone’s legal right to decide whether they will abort a 2-3 month old fetus above any presumed “rights” of something which can rightly be described as less complex, less value-laden in the biological and psychological sense, than a mouse. 

Then you have adopted absurd and monstrous ethics, to regard something you can’t rationally argue is not a human being as of less value than a mouse. This is what atheist (as well as liberal Christian) ethics usually amounts to in practice: animals considered more valuable than human beings. We can’t kill a protected species without penalty, but we can legally slaughter a human being and be patted on the back for it by people like you.

I wanted to know if John changed his mind on abortion, and if so, why? He knows what goes on in abortion, if he used to oppose it.

I think the difficulty in separating this from theology lies in the concept of value – Xians believe the soul itself is an embuement of value.

And atheists believe it is perfectly just to deprive this human being being slaughtered in its mother’s womb of the only life it will ever have. This is the same mentality that ruled the Nazi Holocaust: the notion that there is such a thing as a human life unworthy to be lived, due to inconvenience, or someone else’s lousy science and even more atrocious and selfish ethics.

It did? Not if it doesn’t exist!

He certainly should’ve stated this (and the next statement) otherwise here. The only way to make sense of it, in light of his perspective now, is to inject, “What I thought of as…”

A bad habit of speaking; a remnant of his past fantasies?

But Christianity (rightly understood) is the remedy of that, not its cause.

Hardly. Christianity creates guilt for normal and biological urges and behaviors. It is a source of much guilt where there is no moral argument contrariwise, especially with respect to doubt, sex, self-interest-first behavior, etc.

Not going down that huge rabbit trail . . .

Want a speculation? I’ll bet it’s because there are far fewer “true Christians” than you’d want to believe, and most just go through the motions out of tradition, to keep up appearances, and because of family. Just a speculation.

It depends on how you are defining “Christian” and “true Christian.” The first can be defined doctrinally and discussed in an objective manner. The second: who really is a Christian (really eschatologically saved, or of the elect, etc.), — apart from doctrinal considerations — cannot be determined with any certainty by human beings, only God. But that there are many “wolves in sheep’s clothing” is undeniable. The Bible clearly teaches that.

Does John give far less to charity than he used to, because he is free from guilt?

Speaking for me only, I now see the huge waste in tithing that could be going to real charities –

I wasn’t talking about tithing, but about charity in general. I think it was a good and fair and relevant question, given his rhetoric about guilt. Lots of people give money at church out of guilt or dead, begrudging obligation, not with joy.

places that use >90% of their resources to actually help people, rather than provide infrastructure and etc. for their organizations.

Like pro-life groups? They help real little people . . . to live and be allowed to have a life in the first place.

I see. So the more we can sin, the less guilt we feel? That couldn’t be more opposite of the truth than it is.

Perhaps the better way to see this is, “Why adopt ridiculous notions of perfection that don’t comport with reality, which induces guilt, rather than building an ethical system that actually comes into contact with real life, and living by it, so that you don’t have to deal with guilt?”

Guilt (and the related conscience) is a necessary part of any ethical system and any normal human being. To attempt to get rid of it simply because one has an extreme, distorted sense of guilt (and false attribution of this to God) is as foolish and irrational as trying to get rid of all automobiles because the one you had didn’t run properly.

I’d lay my “sins” on the table next to anyone else’s, any time. I’m a quite transparent kind of guy. People know when I feel bad, and I am a terrible liar.

That’s how I (admittedly, probably cynically) read this. So he has simply gone from overscrupulosity (one extreme, and a distortion of Christianity and discipleship), to another (a marvelously “guilt-free” existence: so he says, anyway). But I don’t believe it. I believe guilt is there, down deep, and knowledge of God is there too (buried and suppressed).

You believe that, and maybe you’re right, although you have no evidence, but you also should consider that people are the products of their environment, and John was a minister for a very very long time. You don’t “shake off” deep-seated convictions overnight, nor the guilt response you’ve held since you were 18. [assuming you’re right]

That’s true, too. But I am saying that he had an incorrect notion of the place and function of guilt as a Christian. He rejected (in that respect) a gross caricature of the proper Christian view and went to the other extreme.

Two considerations:

1) Do we justify Jesus’ words that it is the same to hate someone as to murder? Was this merely a metaphor to point out that bad thoughts are bad? Ditto with adultery/lust?

The thought is that the interior disposition precedes the act and is the essence of the bad act. To murder, one must have a motive, and that motive is immoral and unethical. The hatred is the key to the act.

2) His point is that overscrupulosity can be avoided by saying, “How silly is it to think that we can control our thoughts!”

Of course we can control our thoughts, with God’s help. This is the whole point. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a perpetual struggle. But it is possible. When I fall into lust or jealousy or greed or pride or any number of sinful thoughts and feelings, it’s me; it ain’t God doing that. We cultivate and coddle sin when we fall prey to it. The proper response to lust (something I’ve struggled with a lot through the years, as have most men) is to run, as Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife.

That’s the only thing that works. Run! Otherwise we can quickly become consumed by it. But it’s our free will. The response to jealousy is to recognize that we are no better than anyone else under God, and to rejoice if someone else has some blessing we don’t have; not to dwell on ourselves and what we don’t have, etc.

All these things are cultivated by force of habit. Jealousy and slander and malice develop in group gossip situations. It’s obvious how lust is fostered everywhere in our culture. Greed flows from the excessive materialism of our society, and the selfishness that we all must fight constantly. But to just throw in the towel and think that we are at sea with regard to our wills and controlling decadent and immoral habits: that’s asinine and absurd. It’s no more true within an atheist ethical framework than a Christian.

But I have never doubted the fact that God loves me and that He is merciful and all-loving.

Never doubted that, eh? 

That’s what I said. And the Christian believes this is only possible itself by God’s grace, not our own power.

I guess some of us can believe easier than others. I always had doubts, and fears of going to hell, ESP as a devout Christian.

I think a lot of that has to do with our innate temperaments, as I alluded to in my critique. A worrier by nature will obviously worry about matters of faith, or worry that he is good enough, etc. There are many different temperaments. The trick for us is to understand when some objection or feeling we have flows from that rather than the nature or necessity of our belief system.

My temperament is very even keel, easy-going, not moody at all (though I did suffer a serious six-month depression as a one-time event in my life, so I understand that firsthand). It obviously grates upon someone like John, who has a different temperament, and so he has to call me names. But we need to learn to live with and accept (without senseless knee-jerk reactions) human beings who are different from us in gender, age, temperament, culture, politics, religion, worldview, IQ level, class, body type, etc. . . .

Nor do we see even a trace in this in someone like the Apostle Paul, who has a confident, almost boasting faith.

The least of the apostles? The guy who appealed to people he knew in order to make his case that he was authoritative in knowing what God wanted?

The guy who said he was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees” and killed Christians earlier in his life?

Exactly. He was very confident as a Jew and again as a Christian.

Perhaps he just wasn’t as well-endowed (conscience-wise) as some of us, huh?

Before his regeneration, certainly not. But this is what we teach, so no big deal.

So this becomes a major factor. Personal elements that made John feel this excessive guilt and inability to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness, are neither Christianity’s nor God’s fault.

I’ll agree with you on this – guilt and community should have very little to do with our analysis of Christianity.

Good.

Personal elements aren’t determined or caused by God? 

I would say they are largely caused by genes and early upbringing.

So the density of one’s conscience (a cultural and mental phenomenon) has nothing to do with God? How sovereign is your God?

Conscience is only one aspect of temperament of self-aware personhood. We can cultivate conscience just like anything else or gradually cause ourselves to be dead to it. We all have it originally, but it can clearly be abused.

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(originally 10-16-06)

Photo credit: Demolition of the Sydenham Heritage Church (New Zealand) in February 2011 (Bob Hall) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]

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