I became an atheist:
A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity
John W. Loftus
Geoffrey W. Sutton
John Loftus explains his reasons for becoming an atheist in a way that’s quite different from the likes of Dawkins (2006) and Harris (2004). Loftus knows Christianity from the inside and the outside. He graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served as a pastor.
The author covers some familiar territory by reviewing the problems with the classic arguments for the existence of God. He also challenges Christian views of the Bible.
Loftus presents his views in terms of three categories. One category is the outsider test for faith. He presents readers with stories that would sound strange to an outsider like the story of Jonah and the fish.
A second category or theme is the problem of discovering biblical truth in ancient stories reflecting superstitious beliefs about the causes of events. The Bible contains stories about earthquakes and a world-wide flood. These events are linked to punishment for sin.
The third category deserves more attention by thoughtful readers as he tackles the problem of evil. There are no easy answers here.
There are several Christian beliefs that Loftus challenges as unreasonable or improbable. These include the virgin birth, Jesus as God incarnate, and the physical resurrection of Jesus. He quotes evangelical and atheistic sources as he strives to engage readers in considering these Christian traditions.
Loftus sums up his project: “I have done what they asked me to do. I’ve examined and evaluated Christianity with the standards of reason and modern science and concluded the Christian faith is not a reasonable faith” (p. 402).
John Loftus provides some insights into his spiritual journey at the beginning of the book. I include them here because they represent my interest in the psychology of religion. In this case, Loftus offers us insights into conversion and deconversion of a person who is clearly a highly intelligent thinker.
He converted to Christianity at age 18 after a decidedly “un-Christian” lifestyle, which he succinctly describes as featuring alcohol, drugs, and sex. By all appearances, he was a committed Christian with a passion to serve Christ. He attended seminary and served as a pastor. Three events appear critical in his deconversion.
First, Loftus had an affair, which of course garners much unwanted attention for any ardent Christian—especially clergy. Second, he struggled with the Genesis story of creation, which appeared to contradict scientific evidence. And third, after resigning from the ministry due to the affair, he continued to experience spiritual struggles. Concerning these experiences, he wrote: “This was the last blow to my faith and one of the reasons why I am an atheist today” (italics in the original, p. 31).
The deconversion experience leading from Christianity to atheism is of course based on Loftus’ recollection of events. However, it is noteworthy to consider the role of emotions in these experiences. Although Loftus’ work relies heavily on reason to show why select Christian beliefs or biblical events are unreasonable, it is hard to avoid wondering about the intensity of feelings that might accompany his spiritual struggles. Rather than attribute emotions to an author I do not know, I offer this reflection to suggest looking deeply at the emotional component that gives energy to religious and spiritual conversions and deconversions.
Loftus also offers insights into consideration of another principle of psychology called sunk costs. People have a tendency to invest heavily into a career. On the one hand, Loftus invested personal resources in obtaining a seminary degree and working as a pastor. When investments go bad, many people cling to them or even invest more time and resources rather than admit to a loss. Walking away from faith and investing in a new identity as an atheist is a “cut your losses” type of move. Now he has invested in this new “career.” People are different in how they manage this investment of resources in faith. Many find it hard to move to a different church even when their current understanding of faith doesn’t fit well with their existing congregation.
Finally, I wonder if his spiritual career might have been different if compassionate Christians had offered him restorative support following his affair or if he had found a home in one of the progressive Christian congregations.
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John W. Loftus is a former Christian minister and apologist who is now an atheist. Following graduation from Great Lakes Christian College, he earned M.A. and M. Div. degrees from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a Th.M. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In addition to taking courses toward a Ph.D., he taught classes on apologetics and philosophy at Christian and secular colleges.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The god delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Harris, S. (2004). The end of faith: Religion, terror; and the future of reason. New York: WW. Norton.
Loftus, J.W. (2008). Why I became an atheist: A former preacher rejects Christianity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.
Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The End of faith: Religion, terror, and the future of reason by S. Harris]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28, 280-281. Academia Link Research Gate Link
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