Part of the 10 Questions with an Atheist series.
John Loftus was a philosophy instructor at a secular college when he decided to walk away from Christianity.
It wasn’t easy.
The only thing Loftus had known since he was 18 was learning, teaching and defending Christianity.
During that time he had chased several divinity degrees and a PhD. Launched an apologetic journal. Sat under William Lane Craig. Even served as Senior Minister at Angola Christian Church in Indiana from 1987 to 1990.
But in the space of five years–1991 to 1996–Loftus endured a major crisis, crawled through boxes of new information and searched for the caring, loving Christian community that just wasn’t there.
It was these events that convinced him to reject Christianity. This is his story.
1. How would you describe yourself: atheist, agnostic or skeptic? Explain.
Thanks for wanting to learn from me. I appreciate this and would hope other Christians would follow your example rather than just blasting people like me.
Let me state for the record that I consider myself first and foremost a freethinker who especially approaches all religious claims with skepticism. All such claims are extraordinary and so they require a lot of evidence before I will believe them, just like evangelicals do with Catholic claims of miracles at Lourdes.
Skepticism is not a belief system. It’s an approach to truth claims, a reasonable one at that. Skepticism is founded squarely on the science of human nature, psychology, and the science of culture, anthropology, for starters.
We human beings are woefully illogical and gullible and trusting. We adopt the beliefs of the culture within which we were raised. We don’t understand things very well. What we believe we prefer to believe. We don’t see things correctly. What we see is filtered by what culture we were raised in.
We won’t even seriously consider we were led to believe something that is false. In fact, we may be personally offended and think anyone who disagrees is ignorant or stupid. That’s how entrenched some cultural beliefs can be. To see this argued for I recommend Jason Long’s book, the Religious Condition. See my review.
Based on these scientific studies we should be skeptical about what we believe. We should be skeptical about that which we were taught to believe. We should test claims and see if they have independent corroboration through science.
If after approaching a truth claim with skepticism it passes muster, then the skeptic has good reasons to accept it. So the skeptic does accept certain claims to be true. No one can be skeptical of everything. It’s just that each truth claim he tests for himself must pass the test of skepticism.
Such skepticism has led me to atheism. There are no supernatural entities or forces at all, although since I cannot state that with a measure of certainty I’m best described as an agnostic atheist.
2. When did you know you were an agnostic atheist? Did it scare you or was it a non-issue?
The process I went through was long, almost thirteen years. I went through several stages representative of the history of Christian theology itself, until I came to my present position today.
I questioned the Biblical accounts of creation, then Genesis 1-11, and then other portions of the Bible began falling like dominoes. I became a deist, an existential liberal, a full blown agnostic and then an atheist.
What finally tipped the balance for me was why there didn’t seem to be a reasonable initial solution to our existence. The best explanation for this state of affairs was that it happened by chance. An eternally existing fully formed triune divine being who has never learned anything did not explain anything at all for me.
While I was relived to come to this conclusion, the initial process was the most agonizing. It was indeed scary because of the eternal threat of hell. So I had to be very sure I was correct, so sure that I would be willing to risk the threat of hell if I was wrong. And I do. That’s how sure I am Christianity is a delusion. That should say something I think.
And I had invested so much time and money in my education with a hopeful career and many Christian friends that it was also scary to decide to leave that community and my goals.
It can be a painful thing to leave the faith. We like our comfort-zones. We don’t want to leave a community of friends. They won’t come with us. We leave alone. It’s literally like a divorce. I then had to reinvent myself.
3. Ever suffer persecution as an agnostic atheist?
I am personally attacked every single day because I argue against Christianity. That’s why I am forced to moderate comments on my blog.
I want a decent respectable discussion of the ideas that separate us or none at all. If it is opened up for anonymous comments the Blog would degenerate into a name calling free for all on both sides.
It appears that some Christians feel personally attacked because I disagree with their ideas and that’s a non-sequitur. Since I begin my book as a “tell all” account of my personal life they have used that information to personally malign me at every occasion they can.
My initial reactions to such abuse were polite but then degenerated as I wallowed in the mire with them. I’ve since become inured from such attacks and I ignore them for the most part.
It would seem that the Christians who do so probably cannot deal with my arguments so that’s the only thing left they can do. There are several blogs dedicated to maligning me personally and hardly ever seriously engage my arguments. One intelligent Christian wrote me about one such blog writer: “You clearly have gotten under his skin and he clearly feels that he cannot take you on intellectually or else he would make each blog post a critique of your work – either that or he is childish.”
The way I have been verbally attacked leads me to think that if they had the political power of the church during the Inquisition they would’ve lit the fires that burned me at the stake while singing “Kumbaya.”
4. What do you want to accomplish with your life?
I have several personal, private goals, like being happily married to my wife Gwen until death do us part. She’s perfect for me.
Other than that I want to change the religious landscape in America bit by bit, one person at a time. I think we’d be better off without religion, especially the fundamentalist kind. I really do, although it’s probably never going to go away.
I do think that just as the liberalizing tendencies have changed Christianity down through the centuries, they will continue to do so into the future. As such, fundamentalists will be forced to choose to live in the backwoods without having much political power.
What’s interesting to me is how Christianity is debunked in every generation but rather than admit their debunking and leave the fold Christians reinvent their faith in light of skeptical arguments.
The Christianity of today is not like the Christianity of a hundred years or a few centuries ago or like the earliest varieties of Christianity in the beginning few centuries. The Christianity of tomorrow will not look like the one that exists today, either. They will think their version is the correct one and that the Christians of today were wrong about several things, possibly significant things. Too bad we cannot compare those Christianities because they are not here yet.
You see, since death ends my life I must give everything I can to the present one. That’s all I have. And I want to make a difference for my children and their children and their children because I care about them. I do not want it to be said in the future that I didn’t do my best for my future great- great- great- Grandchildren. I want them to remember me with fondness for what I did for their future.
And it’s too bad that if I’m right about death no one will ever know that I was, because we won’t wake up after death to realize that death ends it all.
We go where dogs and parasites and sharks go when they die. Any account of heaven that leaves all other living creatures out of it is seriously deficient, but then having mosquitoes and skunks in heaven would be deficient as well.
5. Who are your heroes? Why?
My wife. She’s my main encourager and motivator. My rock. She believes in me like no one else.
My intellectual hero by far is Bart D. Ehrman. He is dismantling evangelical Christianity like probably no one has ever done in any generation. He has the knowledge and the recent tools at his exposure.
And he treats Christianity with respect. He writes both scholarly and popular books. My philosophical heroes on a very short list in modern times are Michael Martin, William L. Rowe, Paul Draper, Keith Parsons, Theodore Drange and J.L. Schellenberg. My heroes in the recent past are Bertrand Russell, and J.L. Mackie.
Among Biblical scholars of today Hector Avalos and his efforts stand head and shoulders above others. I also respect the efforts of Edward T. Babinski (who first encouraged me), Robert M. Price, and Richard Carrier.
David Eller, an anthropologist, is the one voice that should take atheism into the future. He should be one of the main spokespersons for atheism. There are others.
And not to mention the so-called “New Atheists,” I appreciate the way they have grabbed the attention of believers in America. Like many minorities of the past someone had to stand up before the world and say unabashedly with force that the Emperor has no clothes on. I appreciate their courage and conviction.
Now people are looking seriously at our claims and there are even shelves for atheist books in major national bookstore chains because of them.
6. What would you like to accomplish with your blog?
I think I already answered that in question #2. Needless to say I believe the Blog will outlast me and be a force for debunking Christianity long after I’m gone, as long as there is an internet.
I want to treat Christianity with respect while I debunk it as a delusion, i.e., as false.
Believers with doubts now have a place to be able to learn from us and express themselves in a respectful environment. In the church doubts are not expressed, nor are questions encouraged. So they have little option but to look on the web for answers, and you know the answers we’ll provide them.
7. What’s your favorite part about being an agnostic atheist?
My favorite part is being able to do what’s right because it’s right and not because I have to find a Biblical passage that tells me it’s right. I can think for myself.
I don’t have to try to justify what I do from the Bible. I don’t have to try to justify why I never tithed the whole ten percent (Christians do not do this by far–as a former minister I know they don’t), or why I never spent enough time in prayer, or why I did not give thanks for everything, or why I did not evangelize all of the time, or why I didn’t do more in response to my belief that God sent his son to atone for my sins.
And I no longer have to gerrymander what the Bible says in order to make the unreasonable and improbable believable. I never could figure out how Jesus could be 100% God and 100% man, nor was there any cogent way to understand how Jesus atoned for my sins, nor do I have to try to justify why there is so much evil in the world if there is a perfectly good and omnipotent God, nor do I have to justify my belief that women are equal to men from the Bible, or why slavery was okay in the Bible but not now, or why genocide was a command that a perfectly good God who cares for every individual person commanded.
8. Are there any Christian concepts that you respect?
You mean distinctively Christian concepts, don’t you, since we all share many other concepts and ideas. There are no distinctively Christian concepts that I accept. The ones I do accept I do so because of other reasons.
I think marriage should be monogamous between two committed people. I think it’s better to tell the truth and to forgive people who do you wrong. I fully accept democratic capitalism, the rights of all people to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness until someone harms another person or group, and I support the first amendment, for starters.
But when it comes to respecting distinctively Christian ideas, it’s hard to do. I do treat these ideas respectfully, but I do not respect them at all. I do recognize certain Christian scholars who are experts at mental gymnastics and I marvel at the contorted reasoning they use to support these ideas, so I respect their intelligence at defending delusional beliefs, yes.
But the beliefs themselves are complete and utter hogwash, most notable Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology, which if that was the very first issue he ever wrote about in his career would probably have been ignored even by most Christian scholars.
There are, though, several major Christian thinkers who have proposed what I called the “Six Major Ideas That May Help Save Christianity From Refutation in Our Generation,” (some others are mentioned in a comment by Heyzeus7 below mine).
I have to respect Christian thinkers who can do this for their faith even if I think what they defend is utterly false.
9. Does it irritate you when Christians try to share their faith with you?
Not at all, unless they simply quote the Bible to me and refuse to think about the ideas they believe based on what they quote. Bible thumpers are complete ignoramuses and do irritate me.
10. Were you ever a Christian? Would you go back?
This first question is a double-edge one. On the one hand I believed the Bible and trusted in God’s salvation, studied what I thought was his word, prayed daily, and sought to share my faith, yes. I was a Christian in the same sense that any believer you know, including yourself, professes faith in Christ.
But on the other hand, from my perspective today, I was never a Christian, if by that one means someone who was actually in a saved relationship with God-in-Christ. I was never Christian in the sense that there is no truth to Christianity.
If being a Christian means that I had a personal relationship with God-in-Jesus Christ, then I never had such a relationship, for such a supernatural being is based upon non-historical mythology. There is no divine forgiveness because there is no divine forgiver. There was no atonement because Jesus did not die for the world’s sins. There was no God-man in the flesh to believe in. My petitionary prayers were nothing but wishful hoping.
And this goes for any professing believer, too. You are not a Christian, either, because there is no Christ, no Messiah, no God-in-the-flesh, no Holy Spirit regeneration, no devil and no heaven to go to when you die.
Would I ever go back? Not to evangelical Christianity, that’s for sure. I left that for good.
John, I want to thank you very much for taking the time and being so frank and honest. This was a very compelling and rewarding read. Anyone have any questions, comments or concerns? Have at it.