Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Revised and Expanded)

Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Revised and Expanded)

by John W. Loftus

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616145774
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 521,163
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

John W. Loftus (Angola, IN) earned MA and MDiv degrees in theology and philosophy from Lincoln Christian Seminary under the guidance of Dr. James D. Strauss. He then attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he studied under Dr. William Lane Craig and received a ThM degree in philosophy of religion. Before leaving the church, he had ministries in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and he taught at several Christian colleges. He is also the editor of The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails and The End of Christianity. In addition, he has an online blog at http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com.

Read an Excerpt

why i became an ATHEIS


By JOHN W. LOFTUS

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2012 John W. Loftus
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-577-4


Chapter One

MY CHRISTIAN CONVERSION AND DECONVERSION

In this first chapter I'll tell you my personal story of how I converted to and then deconverted away from the Christian faith. This chapter forms the backdrop for understanding me and why I wrote this book. After all, no one thinks in a vacuum. Who we are, and what we believe, depend to a large extent on the influences that have shaped us. So in this chapter you'll get to know some of the influences in my life that made me who I am. 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. What we get instead are their arguments as if they came to believe because of them. This is emphatically not how they came to believe. They hardly ever came to believe because they sat down and dispassionately investigated the various religions before choosing one of them. They usually came to believe because of personal experiences. Only later did they come up with their arguments for why they think what they believe is correct.

If there is one thing that can be said for me, it's that I am a very passionate man. When I focus on something and commit myself to it, I give it my all. My conversion experience was dramatic—so dramatic that it stunned everyone around me. There is no one who knew me during my early years as a Christian who would say I was not on fire for God. I burned with passion for "the Lord." And for good reason; I believed God turned my life around.

I was born in 1954 and grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in a Catholic home. I went to parochial school up until the fourth grade. It was in my youth when I heard of God's love for me, and of several Bible stories. Our family went to church, but we were a nominal churchgoing family, for the most part. I never experienced true faith growing up, but I did learn that whenever I was in need I should call out to God.

I was not always a good boy, being the middle child in a home with three boys separated by two and a half years on both sides of me. I seemed to be in almost every fight in the household, first with my older brother, Tom, and then with my younger brother, Jim. Tom was just too big for Jim to get into many fights with him. But not me! I fought with both of them.

My mother earned a college degree and started teaching elementary school just when I was about to enter the eighth grade. But since neither my mother nor my father would be home when we boys got home from school, they knew I would get into trouble from time to time with my brothers once school was out. So to eliminate the problem, they thought it would be good for everyone if I considered attending Howe Military School, in Howe, Indiana, for eighth grade. My mother's extra income would help pay for the costs, it would help discipline me, and my two brothers would be okay at home unsupervised.

Howe was a good school, and I learned for the first time that I could do well in school. I just hadn't applied myself before, for whatever reason. Howe required an hour of silence every night for doing homework, and because of this I received higher grades than ever before, B+s and above. I also had a yearlong math class taught by Mr. Eugene Utz, who actually taught us symbolic logic. Yes, that's right, symbolic logic! He said it was the new math. Since we didn't know any better, we thought it was math. I didn't realize what he had taught us until sometime after graduating from college, primarily because I never thought much about it. Later on in life, I actually found myself teaching logic classes for college students.

I have never claimed to have a higher IQ than others, nor that I was better than others at remembering things—sometimes I lack common sense—but what Mr. Utz gave this young passionate boy was something in addition to his passion. He gave me the intellectual tools to think through arguments. When something is taught at an early age, it can make you different than others simply because others were never exposed to anything else. If I seem to be smart, it's mainly because of Mr. Utz, who gave me the tools for thinking at an early age.

I didn't want to go back to Howe the next year, nor did I have to. But on the first day of school in ninth grade, I found myself walking to school next to a fellow ninth-grader who lit up a cigarette on the way. So in order to be cool, I had one, too. It wasn't long before I was in the wrong crowd. I also began to do poorly in algebra class. I just barely passed with Ds. Somehow it didn't dawn on me that the reason why was because I hadn't had eighth-grade math, which would have prepared me for algebra. I just thought it was a higher, more advanced form of math, and I just wasn't getting it. Plus, when I started hanging around the wrong crowd, I wasn't interested in school and all of my grades plummeted.

I was a problem teenager. I had several problems my ninth-grade year at Lane Jr. High School. When I advanced to Snider High School the next year, I was kicked out several times for several different offenses. Then came my problems with the law where I spent many weeks in the Wood Youth Center, in Ft. Wayne. I dropped out of school. Most of my law breaking occurred during the time my mother and father were separated and divorced, and they found it hard to corral me in. They eventually remarried. But in the meantime, I was arrested six different times as a juvenile offender for various offenses. I think I just wanted to fit in. I just fit in with the wrong crowd, and I had no life goals at that time.

While I never encountered any skeptics that I could tell, I did find people who told me that God loves me and that Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters. That's all I ever heard. So it seemed natural that when I was a troubled juvenile, I would reach out to the God of the Bible and find the meaning of these Bible stories for my life. But at that age I had no way to know whether or not the Bible was true. I had never investigated it with a critical mind. I just assumed it was true and so I began reading the Bible uncritically. I thought these were God's words and that he was speaking directly to me every time I read them. It all just seemed so real.

My life was radically changed. After I accepted Jesus, I attended a youth group during the height of the Jesus Movement in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It was affiliated with the Calvary Temple Church, and it was Pentecostal in nature. I got heavily involved with several Christian friends, who went street witnessing every Friday and Saturday night on Main Street, where there were a couple of strip joints and one gay bar. We witnessed during a city July 4 celebration, and even after hockey games outside the War Memorial Coliseum. I would even go hitchhiking with the express purpose of witnessing to whoever picked me up. I witnessed to everyone almost all of the time.

In Ft. Wayne in 1973 it became cooler to be a "Jesus Freak" than a druggie. Being Jesus Freaks for us was rebelling against the establishment and the old comforting values of our parents just as much as those who followed Timothy Leary's escape through drugs. We could look the same, have long hair, wear bell-bottom studded jeans, and we could use the same slang when describing Jesus as "hip" and a "cool dude." We evangelized with sound bites like "get high on Jesus" and "turn on with Jesus."

My parents had started to attend Christ's Church at Georgetown, where Jerry M. Paul was the minister. Jerry eventually baptized me, preached at my ordination, and performed the wedding ceremony for my first marriage. That summer he had Brant Doty Jr. as a youth minister—my youth minister. He was attending Great Lakes Christian College (GLCC) and his dad, Dr. Doty, was one of the professors. He told me that with such a passion for Christ I should consider attending there, too, so I did. My parents helped me with tuition. After all, I was no longer getting arrested, and I was no longer doing drugs. While at GLCC my freshman year, I took the GED test and got my high school equivalency degree so I could eventually graduate in 1977.

At that point I began investigating my faith. I saw a book at the bookstore by Josh McDowell called Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and I read it completely through. He offered what some critics said about the Bible, and then he countered those critics with quotes from Christian apologists who argued against them. After reading that book, I thought that Christianity also passed intellectual muster. It could handle the attacks of all of the critics. I thought, "It's true! Christianity is true!"

I also read a book by Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth. It was a popular treatment of end-time Bible predictions along with the events around the world that seemed to confirm that Jesus was going to return to the earth within our generation. Once again, I thought to myself, "It's true! Christianity is true! Jesus might return any day now."

A friend told me about Francis Schaeffer's books, and so I began reading them. I began with True Spirituality, then The God Who Is There, Genesis in Space and Time, Escape from Reason, and also He Is There and He Is Not Silent. With each of his books that I read, my faith was confirmed even more than before. I also read several of C. S. Lewis's books, especially Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain. I had every reason to believe, especially since Lewis's and Schaeffer's books were philosophical in nature. There was no reason not to believe. Yet again I thought, "It's true! It's really true!"

At this stage in my life, I probably had no doubts about my faith at all, and with good reason. I had never encountered anything at all to the contrary. It just all made sense. Later I found out that none of these initial reasons for believing had any real merit to them. Christian philosopher Thomas V. Morris effectively dealt with Francis Schaeffer's apologetics in his book Francis Schaeffer's Apologetics: A Critique. I learned that the critics of the Bible are right, not Josh McDowell. I am also no longer convinced by C. S. Lewis's arguments. Furthermore, Hal Lindsey's timetable for Jesus' return has been shown to be wrong. Jesus has not returned to earth. Failed predictions of Jesus' return have become such an embarrassment for Christians that there is now a movement to embrace Preterism, which is the belief that Jesus returned to earth to reign from Jerusalem in a spiritual sense around 70 CE. I've concluded that I believed in the Christian faith for initial reasons that were just inadequate—reasons that I have subsequently come to reject. I just did not have the ability to think through the intellectual foundations for my faith at such a time in my life. I believed what was presented to me because that's all I knew to believe.

Later when I was in the ministry, I visited Israel, the "Holy Land," in 1989. I was one of nine ministers who went to Israel from Indiana on a journey paid for by the Knights Templar organization in Angola. In a devotional written for the local Herald Republican newspaper (March 8, 1989), I shared what I had learned:

The stories of the beginnings of Christianity have a historical connectedness to them when contrasted with the eastern religion stories. In Christianity God reveals to man through actual historical events real answers that can be satisfying like nothing else can. For instance, Christ's claim to be "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6) has a real historical basis in actual time, and actual places of which I visited. I visited Bethlehem where Jesus was born. I visited Nazareth where Jesus grew up. I touched the Jordan River where he was baptized. I visited an ancient Jewish synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus had surely preached. I walked in and around Jerusalem where he ministered. I stood in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed, "Not my will but thine be done." I stood on the very stones Jesus walked on the night he was betrayed. I stood in the very area where Jesus was crucified, and I visited the empty tomb from which he arose from the dead. I also stood on the Mount of Olives where he ascended into heaven.

There is such a close historical connectedness to the Christian faith that one is extremely hard pressed to deny Jesus' claim to be our only Savior without also denying early first-century Jewish history. Its faith claims are also claims about a history that was checked by first-century people of that day. Since it is impossible to deny such a historical setting for my faith, it becomes extremely difficult to deny the claims of the Christian faith. Christ is the Way, the Truth and Life—truly!

Five years after I wrote the words above, I would find myself in the throes of doubt. Some of the seeds for my doubt had already been unwittingly sown at Lincoln Christian Seminary (LCS). While there I took a class with Dr. James D. Strauss, a professor with a great deal of understanding and a passion for learning. This man lit me up like a firecracker. He was what I was looking for. Following his example, I became passionate for Christian studies and for defending my faith from all intellectual attacks. However, he also set me on the intellectual path that would eventually lead me away from the faith. As I'll explain later, he drummed into his students the perfectly reasonable Christian idea that "all truth is God's truth"—that all truth, whether considered sacred or secular, comes from God. Ultimately, this idea is damaging to the Christian faith.

After graduating from LCS, I wrote an article called "A Christian Defense of the Gospel in a Twentieth Century Land," and later I wrote a devotional for the local Herald Republican newspaper (August 10, 1989) summing up and elaborating on it. I'll quote from it extensively here:

Can you prove that God exists? When asked that question what do you say? In answer to the question, you couldn't say that you believe God exists because the Bible says so. Belief in the Bible as truth only comes after one believes in God. Nor could you say that you believe because God answers your prayers. To the unbeliever this is circumstantial evidence. Nor could you say that you believe because your parents have taught you to believe. What if they're wrong? Nor could you offer the fact that God changed your life as proof that God exists. Perhaps you're deluded as to the source of the change?

You might want to argue that biblical miracles prove God exists. Here the burden of proof is yours to show that such events really occurred. Yet, for someone who doesn't already believe in God, miraculous events cannot occur. Of course, the miracle of the resurrection of Christ is a powerful testimony for the existence of a God who raises the dead, but is it proof?

What about fulfilled prophecy in the Bible? We would first need to show that the prophecy was written before the prophesied event actually occurred. Even if it was, then we'd have to show that it wasn't just a lucky guess. The many prophecies concerning Jesus as the Messiah in the Old Testament, taken together, serve as a powerful testimony to a God who sees the future, but is it proof?

I think I can prove that God exists. Does that surprise you? But before I can attempt that feat, I have to know what standard of proof you are looking for. Scientists cannot prove with certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, only that it has risen in the past. Neither can they prove with certainty that we have existed for more than one day, because every argument used to show this could be a pre-programmed memory in you. There is no proof that other minds than our own exist with whom we can converse, because it could all be in our heads. Nor could you prove that you exist as you appear to exist, rather than being brains in some future mad-scientist's vat who is causing you to experience the life you once lived all over again. Isn't that a scary thought? Now it is reasonable to believe the sun will rise tomorrow, that other minds exist, and that we have existed as we appear to have existed, even if these things are not subject to proof talk.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from why i became an ATHEIS by JOHN W. LOFTUS Copyright © 2012 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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Edward T. Babinski....................7
Introduction....................11
1. My Christian Conversion and Deconversion....................21
2. Faith, Reason, and My Approach to Christianity....................39
3. The Outsider Test for Faith....................64
4. Does God Exist?....................79
5. Does Morality Come from God?....................103
6. The Lessons of Galileo, Science, and Religion....................127
7. The Poor Evidence of Historical Evidence....................146
8. The Question of Miracles....................170
9. The Self-Authenticating Witness of the Holy Spirit....................190
10. The Problem of Unanswered Prayer....................200
11. The Problem of Suffering: My Specific Case....................214
12. The Problem of Suffering: Objections Answered....................234
13. The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible....................255
14. Who Wrote the Bible?....................295
15. Science and the Genesis Creation Accounts....................320
16. Adam, Eve, Cain, and the Noah Chronicles....................339
17. Prophecy and Biblical Authority....................349
18. Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Bethlehem?....................370
19. Was Jesus God Incarnate?....................382
20. The Passion of the Christ: Why Did Jesus Suffer?....................399
21. Did Jesus Bodily Rise from the Dead?....................410
22. The Devil Made Me Do It!....................443
23. Hell? No!....................447
24. Why I Became an Atheist....................459
Commitment Page....................467
Notes....................469
Bibliography of Selected Works....................525

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Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Revised and Expanded) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
random_skeptic More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very enlightening. Mr. Loftus has some very importnat points to make and he argued them with clarity and reason. Not only has it given me insight into Atheism, it has also given me a better understanding on why a person would choose to abandon theism. I recommend this book to any open minded individual.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John W. Loftus has written an important book that should be read by every Christian who cares about truth and reality. This is not the angry rant of some disgruntled former believer with an axe to grind. Loftus is thorough, fair and convincing. As a former Christian minister and apologist who became an atheist, he knows both sides of the belief question very well. The insights and detailed information contained in this book make for enlightening reading. There is much for everyone, from believers who are courageous enough to think more deeply about their faith to nonbelievers who want to better understand the arguments Christians make in defense of their religion. I highly recommend this outstanding book. --Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
mrwhiteout More than 1 year ago
john w. loftus' book is the almost the best atheist book next to the richard dawkins, victor j stenger, bart erhman, and michael sherman. I enjoy mr. loftus book best cause of the detail and the really hard arguements that christian apologist make to support a claim that god exist. i found this book very interesting. im an open minded person and i read book on both sides for my own opinion. and this book is a must. i the christian aruguements were hard to understand but i got it.
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
Really detailed, informative book. Fascinating read b/c the author is a former religious insider; now on the outside. I would describe this book as geared toward doubting and non-doubiting believers (specifically Christians) rather than non-believers as I found it to be soft and sympathetic toward the typical (non-fundamentalist/extremist) point of view.. The text includes a lot of direct quotes from the bible which I found interesting as I have been an atheist for many years and have never read much of the bible (and what I have read, I certainly don't like). Loftus makes some valid, thorough points regarding the argument from evil and I especially enjoyed that chapter. I would def recommend this book to believers and non, as well as students and their teachers. If you like more of the scientic proof against the existence of god, I would for sure recommend anything by Richard Dawkins and Victor J Stenger.
Zylphan on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Atrocious editing ruins what otherwise could have been a throughly interesting story.The mistakes were so distracting I could barely stand to finish the book. The biography is interesting and I would highly recommend it after it has been reprinted and hopefully edited properly.
bruneau on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A fascinating book thoroughly reviewing all the arguments of Christian fundamentalists and counter arguments of atheists, presented by an author who flipped from one side of the debate (as a preacher) to the other (as an atheist). There may be no such thing as an objective observer on such matters, but this book provides an edifying and much needed read on the clashing perspectives (particularly given that politics and religions are getting intertwined nowadays), and an impressive in-depth coverage of all the issues on the table.
juglicerr on LibraryThing 7 months ago
John W. Loftus has written an unusually rich book about Christianity and atheism. He is a former clergyman who lost his belief in Christianity. He approaches the subject from many angles: philosophy, theology, science, as well as personal experience. There is a mammoth amount of research in this book, which include notes and an extensive bibliography. The one disappointment is the lack of an index. Very well worth reading.
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John W. Loftus has written an excellent detailed explanation of his reasons for rejecting Biblical faith and embracing atheism. I urge you to purchase a copy of his book. Loftus now stands thoroughly refuted, however, by David Reuben Stone (2010), The Loftus Delusion: Why Atheism Fails and Messianic Israelism Prevails. This is the critique Loftus hopes you'll never discover.
TheologicalDiscourse More than 1 year ago
This is book that is designed to make the uneducated Christians question their faith, obviously due to lack of space I cannot point out all of the factual and logical errors in this book. On page 85 he states "David Ramsay Steele reminds us that according to quantum mechanics "Things begin to exist without any cause all the time." So if some things can begin to exist without a cause, the universe could be one of them, which does not require a creator at all" The problem with this is is no such thing as NOTHING in quantum mechanics. "Nothing" in reference to quantum mechanics has properties and a measurable existence as part of the quantum-mechanical vacuum, so there is SOMETHING there, but it is referred to as 'nothing' because there is no matter, but there are physical fields, so there IS something there, not to mention an entire universe of existence around it. Furthermore, the things he is talking about that exist without a cause are quantum fluctuations, but to say they exist without a cause is a downright lie, since they pop in and out of existence due to the uncertainty principle, not to mention that these things happen when there is ALREADY something in existence, principles, fields, physics, etc. On page 85 he also criticizes william craig on his premise (Kalam cosmological argument) that the universe began to exist. Loftus states "Craigs second premise is that the universe began to exist. It too has difficulties when it comes to scientific discussions abotu time, relativity, cosmic singularities and quantum mechanics." Then on page 266 he states "There is overwhelming evidence our universe originated from a big bang." He quotes Wes Morriston on page 84 in response to william craigs assertion that 'tigers don't spring into existence uncaused' (they were talking about the kalam argument, premise 1. Everything that beings to exist has a cause of its existence) "We have no experience of the origin of worlds to tell us that worlds don't come into existence like that. We don't even have experience of the coming into being of anything remotely analogous to the 'initial singularity' that figures into the big bang theory of the origin of the universe. That is why the absurdity of tigers and the like popping into existence out of nowhere tells us nothing about the utterly unique case of the beginning of the whole natural order." But on page 85, as I noted Loftus tries to use quantum mechanics as an analogy that the universe could exist without a cause, not only that but referencing david ramsey steele as a source on quantum mechanics? that guy is an author and is hardly an authority on quantum mechanics, he also cites Richard Carrier on metaphysics who is a historian which qualifies as 2 fallacious appeals to authority, since I highly doubt Loftus or any other atheist would accept an argument on the evidence or proof of God found in physics from a P.E. instructor or someone with a P.H.D in Botany. I don't recommend this book to anyone, although the first couple pages are interesting as it shows Johns de conversion is purely emotional and not intellectual or rational at all.