Book Review: Why I Rejected Christianity

Rooted in biblical studies and a transformative encounter with Jesus, John Loftus lived a life of an Evangelical minister. During years of study and ministry he rigorously researched and publicly expounded a fundamentalist world view. Like most ex-Christians, Loftus had to first encounter a life situation that created emotional dissonance before he could do a rational recalc on his beliefs. His story is not an unusual one. What is unusual is Loftus’s breadth and depth of research in defense of the Christian faith before finally calling it quits.

“Recalc” is nerd-speak for re-running the numbers: dusting off old dogmas and evidence, adding any updates, and re-computing the conclusions. Once personal weaknesses and human hypocrisies opened the door, Loftus applied himself to this process with the same intellectual rigor he had applied to defending the faith.

Because of this rigor, Why I Rejected Christianity offers a window into a vast array of arguments relating to orthodox Christian assertions about the nature of God and reality. It is thoroughly referenced and quotes extensively from scholars on many sides. This makes it a great launching point for someone who is a relative newcomer to apologetics.

Approaching the text as a psychologist as well as an ex-fundamentalist, I found many of the arguments fascinating on multiple levels.

One was the logic and evidence in play. Particularly interesting were discussions about the historicity of biblical texts and demon-haunted world in which they were written. Glimpsing this world, one realizes quickly that superstitions of all sorts abounded: meteorological signs and wonders, virgin births, magical cures, resurrections, ghostly apparitions . . . . Most of us look with patronizing bemusement at the many superstitions of the Medieval Europeans, and yet we are taught that the perceptions of our Bronze Age spiritual ancestors should be taken at face value. Loftus brings together a chorus of experts and erases the double standard.

At another level, I found myself marveling at the impressively contorted reasoning used by apologists through the ages in defense their received traditions. Arguments on behalf of the “self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit” and the incarnation are extraordinary in this regard. These arguments are testimony to the power of the human mind when we are determined to make the evidence fit a preconceived story line---or when we are determined to hold an appealing belief despite being backed into an evidentiary corner. They are worth reading from the standpoint of cognitive psychology alone.

Why I Rejected Christianity opens weakly, I think, with a personal narrative that is more confessional than it needs to be. Loftus lays out both his failings and his credentials as if to head off critics. He doesn’t need to. As a writer, he hits his stride when he enters the arena of scholarly discourse. His encyclopedic knowledge speaks for itself.