Read an Excerpt
THE END OF Christianity
Copyright © 2011 John W. Loftus
All right reserved.
Introduction This present anthology is now what I call the third book in a series—the first of which I consider my magnum opus, Why I Became an Atheist (2008), followed by the anthology The Christian Delusion (2010), titled after Richard Dawkins's bestselling book, The God Delusion. The End of Christianity is titled after Sam Harris's bestseller, The End of Faith, which started the so-called New Atheist movement. Unlike Harris, who called for an end to religious faith as a whole, we're calling for an end to a specific kind of religious faith: Christianity. I honestly think that with this book (and certainly the series) Christianity has been debunked. The jury has returned its verdict. The gavel has come down. The case is now closed.
I think the chapters in this anthology speak for themselves, so I'll not introduce them except to say I'm very pleased and honored to be a part of this work, which includes several leading atheists, agnostics, and religious critics of our day. Once again I thank each contributor and especially Richard Carrier for the yeomen job he did with editing and peer review of nearly all the chapters.
GETTING ON BOARD WITH THE OTF
My signature argument is the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), which I defended in my earlier books. It plays an important role in this series, so I want to say more about it here. Who would have thought that such a simple and obvious argument would be so hotly contested that I would have to revisit it again? But it is contested, probably because it can and does undermine religious faith so well.
We are all raised as believers by our parents in our respective cultures. If our parents said something was true, then we believed it as children. We didn't know not to do so. One of the most important things our parents told us to believe is that their particular religion is true. And so, fundamentalists will raise fundamentalists. Snake handlers will raise snake handlers. Polygamists will raise polygamists. Catholics will raise Catholics. Militant Muslims will raise militant Muslims. Mormons will raise Mormons. Orthodox Jews will raise Orthodox Jews. Scientologists will raise Scientologists. And so on and so forth. We can even locate specific geological boundary lines of religious faiths around the globe. If we were raised in Thailand, we would probably be Buddhists. If we were raised in India, we'd probably be Hindus. If we were raised in Mexico, we'd probably be Catholics. Even if we revised our religion upon further reflection, we'd still be found doing so from the inside within that same tradition. And if we switch religions as adults, usually we still adopt a religion very similar to the one we were already taught.
As we grow older, however, we learn to question what we were taught. Skepticism is therefore a learned virtue. We must learn to question. As we do, we eventually become adults. But the strange thing is that even as adults we do not usually question our religious beliefs. They just seem too obvious to us. They have become too ingrained within us. They are part of the culture we live in. We usually see no need to question them. They are such a part of who we are that for many of us, like me, it takes a personal crisis to do what we should have been doing all along: critically examining the religion that was handed down to us. But given the proliferation of religions around the globe, they cannot all be correct. So how can we test whether our inherited religious faith is the correct one? That's where the OTF comes in.
The OTF asks believers to test their own inherited religious faith from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism they use to evaluate other religious faiths. The OTF asks believers to abandon the double standard they have about religious faiths, nothing more. The process should be fair; no one should place a thumb on the weighing scales. If we merely asked believers to evaluate their faith objectively, most of them will claim they have already done so. But ask them to evaluate their own religious faith with the same level of skepticism they use to evaluate the other religious faiths they reject, and that will get their attention. Hopefully I have their attention now.
Believers who object to the OTF must show why the anthropological, psychological, and sociological data that necessitates the test is erroneous (all of which I've laid out in the previous books in this series), or show that the test is faulty or unfair in some important way. So far, they have emphatically not succeeded at doing either.
IS THE OTF TOO EXTREME?
One objection to the OTF is that it unreasonably asks believers to do something no one can be expected to do: to give up their whole worldview—including their lifestyle. From a practical standpoint it's very hard to give up one's religious faith all at once. Still, believers should use the OTF to critically examine each and every tenet of their faith, one at a time, thus resolving this difficulty. Nonetheless, this objection confuses a set of religious beliefs with a total worldview. Former believers only had to give up a particular set of religious beliefs and a few closely interrelated moral and sociopolitical ideals. We did not have to give up our whole worldview. When I left the faith, I didn't leave my culture, my language, or most of the rest of what my culture leads me to think about history, democracy, geography, love, friendship, work, or what makes me happy. The OTF isn't asking anyone to do the impossible. In America, for instance, the religious right is conservative both religiously and socially. But just subtract the religion from these conservatives, and they usually become liberals, and their worldview then becomes skeptical or naturalistic. While doing this can be a bit painful, it isn't asking believers to do something that many former believers aren't already doing on a daily basis.
DOES THE OTF UNDERMINE MORALITY?
Another objection to the OTF is that it should equally be applied to morality, and any sociopolitical ideals based on it, otherwise the test unfairly targets only "religious faith" for criticism. But this misses the mark, as illustrated by a sharp disagreement in this book between Richard Carrier and David Eller. Carrier argues in the last chapter that moral facts exist and that science can find them, while Eller, a cultural anthropologist, has argued instead in favor of cultural relativism. In neither case do their views on morality undercut the OTF, although they are both antithetical to a faith-based morality. If Carrier is right, then all discovered moral facts will pass the OTF, because they will be found by science. If Eller is right, then the claim that there is an absolute, unchanging, universal, cross-cultural morality simply fails the OTF. The one argues morality can pass the test, while the other says it fails the test. Thus both of them are using the standard of the OTF to assess morality. And regardless of their disagreement, as outsiders they both reject Christian morality. Try to show people like them otherwise, okay? You'll need the OTF to do it.
I personally find it very difficult to argue against cultural relativism once we grant evolution. Yet at the same time there seems to be some moral values that human beings all share irrespective of their religious beliefs. Political freedom seems to be one of these values, best seen in the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and in the Muslim world with the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. These shared moral values, if that's what they are, might not undercut cultural relativism, but we still share them.
Nonetheless, one problem in subjecting moral values to the same skepticism demanded of religious faiths is that we need common shared moral values to live our lives in our respective cultures, whereas religious faiths are irrelevant and unnecessary, and can even be harmful. So even though we should be skeptical of our moral values, we still need them in order to live our lives in our respective cultures (which is arguably one way they do in fact pass the OTF, whereas we do not need religious faiths at all.
One thing we can all agree upon is that we want to be happy. The need for happiness drives all our moral values (regardless of what others claim). That we want happiness is an empirical fact. It cannot be denied. It passes the skepticism of an outsider's test because it is indeed a fact. It is, as Aristotle argued, always desired in and of itself and never as a means to something else. He was speaking about holistic happiness and not merely about a pig who is satisfied. What that means is up for debate, of course. But whatever it is, it's the thing we do everything else for. And it's precisely because we want to be happy in this way that we also want the people close to us to be happy, and in turn we want the people close to them to be happy, and so on. This then, if anything, is the basis for our choosing which moral values produce the most good for the most people, and the basis for our caring about that in the first place. And if the sciences can't find what makes us happy as human beings, then nothing else can.
The bottom line is that no matter what we think is the case, and no matter what we think about morality, or how we justify it, we all know what it is to doubt something. I'm asking believers to doubt their own inherited religious faith. Just their faith. One thing at a time. You can question the validity of your inherited morals later, which, when you do, will help you see morality better without being hamstrung by a religion that cannot be defended. I see no reason why someone cannot do this. As I said, many of us have done just that. My contention is that one of the main reasons there is moral diversity is because there is religious diversity. So as religions are debunked by the OTF, there will be a greater potential for achieving a global moral consensus.
DOES THE OTF UNDERMINE ATHEISM?
Another objection to the OTF is that it should equally be applied to the atheist position, otherwise the test unfairly targets religious faith for criticism. But the truth is that atheists are almost always nontheists or nonbelievers because they are, first and foremost, skeptics. Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth. Consequently, atheists do not technically have a "viewpoint" to subject their nonbeliefs to except the evidence itself. Atheists are skeptics who do not believe in supernatural beings or forces because we conclude the evidence is not there. We are nonbelievers. That's all there is to it. We came to disbelieve because there just wasn't enough evidence to convince us otherwise. We can't subject these nonbeliefs to any further testing! They are tested only by the facts. Atheism is simply what we have left when all religious beliefs fail the OTF. Just present us with facts that pass the OTF, and we'll believe.
So when Christians ask if I have taken the outsider test for my own "belief system," I simply say, "Yes, I have; that's why I'm a nonbeliever." Then they'll ask if I am equally skeptical of my skepticism, or whether I have subjected my nonbelief to nonbelief, or my disbelief to disbelief. These questions express double negatives. When retranslated, they are asking me to abandon skepticism in favor of a gullible faith. For that's the opposite of skepticism—something no thinker should do. Doubt is, again, an adult attitude.
The bottom line is that skepticism is a word used to describe doubt or disbelief. It doesn't by itself represent any ideas we've arrived at. It's merely a filter we use to strain out the bad ideas, leaving us with the good ones. We cannot be skeptical of that filter because there is no alternative except gullibly accepting anything and everything, which is so self-evidently a recipe for failure it's clear that it is skepticism, and not gullibility, that passes the OTF.
Christian thinkers, in a desperate attempt to defend their faith with Orwellian double-speak, will claim that they are more skeptical than I am because they are skeptical of skeptical arguments—a "full-blown skepticism." (Yep, just ask Christian scholar Thomas Talbott). Their claim is that a true skeptic is an open-minded one who is open to the miraculous, which in turn is supposed to leave room for their faith. They will even claim not to know what an extraordinary event is (something I call definitional apologetics, that is, defining a problem away in the face of a concrete example like the virgin birth or a bodily resurrection). But when we truly consider what must be believed to be a Christian, we find here a prime example of what I mean when I say Christianity is a delusion. If this contorted epistemology is embraced, then "skepticism" becomes an utterly unjustified open-mindedness, leaving us with no way to test what to believe. Then other religionists can use this same epistemology to defend their own faiths, and so every claim that a witch flew through the night to have sex with the devil would be, technically speaking, on the boards. No, I am not open to that extraordinary claim without a lot of evidence to support it. With such an epistemology, we would have no way to determine which faith—or which wildly improbable claim—is true.
On top of this, if nonbelievers are to take the OTF, then Christians need to tell us what an outsider perspective for us would be. Is it the perspective of Catholicism or Protestant Fundamentalism? Is it the perspective of snake handlers, holy rollers, or the obnoxious and racist KKK? Is it that of a Satanist, a Scientologist, a Shintoist, or a Sikh? What about that of a Mormon, a militant Muslim, or a Moonie? How about a Jew, a Jain, or a Jehovah's Witness? The problem is that there just isn't a worthy religious contender from out of the myriad number of religions that can be considered an outsider perspective for nonbelievers. This is not a fault with the OTF. It's the fault of religion.
In desperation to avoid facing the OTF themselves, Christians have actually asked me if I have ever examined modernism from a nonmodernist point of view. Believers will even go so far as to say that they don't even know what the scientific method is (yep, just ask Christian scholar Randal Rauser, another case of definitional apologetics). Perhaps they might try explaining why science continues to advance without one, because I'm all ears. We might as well return to the prescientific, superstitious era of ancient peoples. While philosophers debate the minutia of what makes science science, science proceeds to deliver the goods in chemistry, astronomy, geology, medicine, physics, biology, meteorology, and so on, and so forth. Christians themselves accept the results of science in a vast majority of areas except in those rare ones that go against what some prescientific "agency-detectors" wrote in a collection of ancient superstitious biblical texts. There is a reason why atheist groups state that they promote science and reason. And there is a reason why faith-based groups sneer at them both.
We simply cannot turn back the hands of time and become Amish. We can only go forward with the sciences. To the outsider, the sciences are the paragon of knowledge. That's why they replaced our former ways of knowing. Scientific knowledge has so decisively passed an outsider test that we must examine all religious faiths in light of it. Show me the math, and we agree. Show me the experiment, and the argument is over. Show me the scientific poll, and the case is closed. Show me what we learn from brain science, and there can be no dispute. The sciences, then, are the only way to keep us all from deluding ourselves. So for a religious faith to pass the OTF it must be detectable by the sciences. Period. If believers want to claim that the sciences cannot detect God, then that means we cannot objectively know God at all. For the sciences are based on the evidence of the senses. If they reject the sciences, then let them propose a better alternative. What is that alternative?
Excerpted from THE END OF Christianity Copyright © 2011 by John W. Loftus. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.