Book Review: Why I Rejected Christianity – John W. Loftus

I started writing this review before I finished the book, because it grabbed me from the beginning. My initial impression, now confirmed, is that it would be a real eye-opener to this non-theist,who was raised as a Catholic, and whose sole theological indoctrination occurred at Sunday Mass and in daily religion classes in elementary and secondary school. That’s why I ordered it after seeing it mentioned over at Debunking Christianity. Those aspects of theology impressed on me at an early age consisted of cherry-picked readings of relevant selections from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the Epistles of Paul (or at least we thought they were all written by Paul). In essence we got feel good Bible stories with a moral, something akin to a religious Aesop’s Fables. John Loftus, in his well thought out, researched and developed “Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains” does of fine job of analyzing, demystifying, and eventually refuting all of the theological bases for Christianity.

The direction of my religious inquiry since I began the undertaking has always been towards the answer to this simple question: Does God Exist? What this book confirmed for me was, first, that he doesn’t, and, second, that Christianity’s cheerleaders, through two millennium, have bent over backwards, indeed sometimes split in two, in severe efforts to rationalize the assumption, without proof, that he does.

As a relative layman to Christian apologetics, then, I found this book useful on two levels. The former Reverend Loftus does a nice job of explaining the history of Christian rationalization, and then, once all of the various arguments are delineated, he shows just how vacuous they really are. He exposes the fact that the Emperor is stark, raving naked (to beat a dead metaphor, if I may).

In the first part of the book, the author begins by giving his bona fides. He was a bad kid who found God, was born again, and went on to study Christianity on his way to obtaining his Masters in Theology and Philosophy. He studied under William Lane Craig. He worked as a minister in various churches, and became an expert in Christian apologetics. He mastered the ins and outs of theology, and used his knowledge to argue the truth of Christianity. Several life crisis’s combined to lead him to doubt his thinking, and eventually to realize there was nothing underpinning his belief, that in fact all the apologetics he had mastered were a sham. This only comprises a short section of the beginning of the book (about 40 pages), but is useful to understanding his motivations in writing the book.

Then, it’s on to the Christian races. Part two, the major section of the book, tackles various arguments (apologetics to the faithful and unfaithful alike) used by Christians to justify many of their beliefs, including the presumed moral superiority of religion, the Virgin birth, the Resurrection, miracles, and historical evidence for Jesus and Christianity in general. The reader can tell that Loftus knows whereof what he speaks. There are ample cites to both Christian and non theist books and articles on the various topics, and it’s clear that he has read, and understands, them all. A skeptic might say that anyone can cite books, but does his analysis make sense? To this reader, the answer was “yes”. I was impressed, in passage after passage, with his grasp of the topics, and found myself marveling at subtle nuances to theological matters I had only a previous cursory knowledge of.

For instance, in the chapter entitled “The Passion of the Christ”: Why did Jesus Suffer?, were you aware that there were several theories, developed over time, attempting to answer the question of why Jesus had to suffer and die for the “sins” of mankind? Neither did I. According to Loftus, the earliest theory was called The Ransom Theory, advanced by some of the early Christians, whereby Jesus’ death paid a ransom to release us from the hold Satan had on us by reason of Adam and Eve’s sin. Later, Anselm came up with the Satisfaction Atonement Theory, whereby our sins, being an insult to God, were atoned for by Jesus’ suffering and death. Apparently, the theory du jour is called the Penal Substitutionary Theory, the current favorite among evangelicals. This evolved after the Reformation, when objective law, as opposed to the will of the ruler, began to form the basis for justice.

Frankly, I’m not sure I fully understand that last Theory, because it requires that Christ be punished for our sins, by taking our place in the punishment process. Since there is no evidence for such a thing as sin, other than in the conceptual, metaphorical sense, (i.e. in our minds) the idea of anyone being punished for a sin of the original human, much less having a scapegoat take our place, smacks of pure rationalization to this reader. Why God felt the need to torture and kill his son in order to sacrifice him to himself to atone for something that he was responsible for in the first place is circular, and nonsensical.

This example is just one of many that I found to be both exhaustive and exhausting. The extent that apologists have gone to justify their beliefs can wear you out, but Loftus does a nice job of showing, in chapter after chapter, that the underpinnings of Christian theology are about as substantial as dust.

I found the book to be very comprehensive, allowing me to delve into the details of apologetics, and the author’s refutations, or skimming those areas if I didn’t feel the need to know everything. In that sense, the book is good for both the reader interested in a concise summary of the essentials of Christian apologetics, and those who want more meat, and a fuller understanding, as there are ample citations to every reference for every aspect of every topic.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Why I Rejected Christianity – John W. Loftus

  1. debunking fundamentalist, literalistic christianity is not the same as debunking christianity itself. much of the bible stems from an ancient culture wherein symbolism and metaphor is used to describe much of it’s “stories” and “history”. these ways of communicating need not be taken as straightforward, literalistic accounts of reality, yet they may indeed point to a “metaphysical” reality of some sort, that is, a spiritual one. again, the point is that to take a fundamentalist version of interpreting the bible and christianity, and then to “debunk” it, this is not the same as debunking a more nuanced and sophisticated grasp of the biblical material in other ways.

  2. debunking fundamentalist, literalistic christianity is not the same as debunking christianity itself. much of the bible stems from an ancient culture wherein symbolism and metaphor is used to describe much of it’s “stories” and “history”. these ways of communicating need not be taken as straightforward, literalistic accounts of reality, yet they may indeed point to a “metaphysical” reality of some sort, that is, a spiritual one. again, the point is that to take a fundamentalist version of interpreting the bible and christianity, and then to “debunk” it, this is not the same as debunking a more nuanced and sophisticated grasp of the biblical material in other ways. the “truths” of the bible and christianity do not stand or fall with fundamentalist, literalistic versions of it.

  3. I wonder if David has actually read the book. My problem with the book is that it is poorly written. I have set it down for a while, but I still intend to keep it as a reference.

  4. The book is being re-published by Prometheus Books, though I don’t think it’s out yet. John had self published it at first, which usually means that it lacks professional editing. I’d be interested in seeing what an editor did to it, because while I did think it was a marvelous rebuttal of Christian theology (and not just the fundamentalist variety) it could have used some polishing. I may pick up the new version.

  5. Conversely.. to say there is no possibility of a creator.. is like saying a dictionary is the result of an explosion in a book store :)

    The word sin was a greek archery term. Without full meditation on the concept of sin, and in context.. you won’t comprehend it. And it sounds like you don’t comprehend it. Return to GO.

    Frankly I think the idea of someone being punished for a mistake one of their predecessors made, through laws of inheritance, is trivial, but you miss it completely. You see examples in DNA, in culture, in language, in behaviour etc… too many examples to list.

    “Why God felt the need to torture and kill his son in order to sacrifice him to himself to atone for something that he was responsible for in the first place is circular, and nonsensical.”

    Many possibilities for explanation here.. how about YHWH identified his creation’s corruption after the initial creation (try debunk that), and YHWH offered a solution. Ever heard of refactoring? :)

    Don’t forget we are created beings of free will.. with eternal potential ..

    The laws of the universe follow a presedence.. The Creator always before The Created..

    We were initially created in the image of YHWH, “I am that I am”, how then can anyone refute the concept of YHWH, just for subsequent actions and subsequent repercussionary circumstances of a future free-willed creation. These are mutually exclusive arguments.

    People are fckin stupid yea and there’s a thousand breeds of christianity.. but how do you get off on writing bollocks like this?

  6. People are fckin stupid yea and there’s a thousand breeds of christianity.. but how do you get off on writing bollocks like this?

    The same way you get off writing inane analysis like the above.

    Let’s start with your first comment

    Conversely.. to say there is no possibility of a creator.. is like saying a dictionary is the result of an explosion in a book store

    Bad analogy, and by extension, bad logic. We know books have a creator. We have proof. The Author is over there, the publisher is in New York, the printer is down the street. Etc.

    Show me your Creator. I’ll wait….

    ….can’t do it, can you?

    Many possibilities for explanation here.. how about YHWH identified his creation’s corruption after the initial creation (try debunk that)

    Hard to debunk stupidity, but OK, I’m game.

    Your perfect, omnipotent god created something…imperfect? Something that was corrupted? How could he be so clumsy, so inept if he’s so powerful? Couldn’t a perfect, omnipotent god create something uncorruptible? If not, then he’s not so omnipotent, is he?And why go through this weird machination of sending a human/godlike person to earth to live for 33 years, so he can be tortured and killed? What exactly did that accomplish, and if the purpose was to “refactor” us, to eliminate the corruption, he’s failed miserably, hasn’t he? I don’t see perfection all around me, so it appears his creation is still awfully corrupted. What an inept, bumbling god you must worship. He didn’t get it right the first time, nor the second time, and apparently hasn’t shown his face because of it for 2000 years (except on the occasional grilled cheese sandwich).

    The laws of the universe follow a presedence.. The Creator always before The Created..

    Which Law of the Universe was that again? I missed that one.

  7. Frankly I think the idea of someone being punished for a mistake one of their predecessors made, through laws of inheritance, is trivial, but you miss it completely. You see examples in DNA, in culture, in language, in behaviour etc… too many examples to list.

    Wait, you’re going to cite evolutionary examples to justify original sin? Well that deserves a gold star for creativity at least, but it’s still stupid.
    Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

    Don’t forget we are created beings of free will.. with eternal potential ..

    To obey or be punished. Nice.

    The word sin was a greek archery term. Without full meditation on the concept of sin, and in context.. you won’t comprehend it.

    And you don’t have a fucking clue either. First, the Greek word isn’t “sin”, it’s “hamartia”. Second, the Greek understanding and usage of the word went far beyond a simple archery allusion. It played a large part in Greek tragedies as a hero’s fatal flaw, crucial error, grave trespass and yes, missing the mark. This was the keystone to every Greek tragedy and arguably still true today in modern tragedies where the protagonist is the architect of his own tragedy (although in America, such characters usually have a repentant phase followed by redemption because Americans like happy endings).

    It was with this understanding of the word “hamartia” that the NT was written in Greek, which echoes the usage of sin in Judaism (what you Christians call the OT) which was understood as an act, not a state of being (although the Jews had several words for sin, they all referred to acts). All of that nonsense of original sin were later concoctions that grew more and more nefarious as the power of Christianity grew and the desire to control the masses grew along with it.

    Your hamartia is a cocktail of ignorance and arrogance. FAIL, or maybe I should say HAMARTIA.

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