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.