John's Top Ten List of How to Deal With "The Christian Delusion" Book

My anthology The Christian Delusion has been out for awhile. Based upon the Christian responses I've seen on Amazon and other blogs, here are the top ten ways to deal with it:

10) Read it and then reject your faith. Actually I haven't heard of anyone who would leave the fold after reading one book, but it may happen depending on other factors. This might be a strong indication of how culturally entrenched believers are in their faith and how blinding it is. It lends more credence to our claim that believers cannot be reasoned out of their faith because they were never reasoned into it in the first place.

9) Study through it honestly and fairly to see if there is much in it that could be true. This is the honest response and not many seem to be doing this. No, Christians just know this book is wrong, or worse, evil coming from the father of lies himself.

8) Shhhhhh. Ignore it after reading it. Don't let anyone know it exists. Keep quiet about it. Put it on a high shelf and never say anything about it again. It's simply too dangerous.

7) Nitpick it to death. Find some minor statement or paragraph in it that you can show is patently false, then write a blog post about it as an indicator of how badly the rest of the book is as well. Forget that we're all learning as we go and that this is an ongoing discussion that seems never-ending. Forget too that since no book is inspired there will always be some things in any one of them that are wrong. And then ignore the over-all thrust of any chapter or the book as a whole. Major on the minors to save your faith from refutation.

6) Proclaim loudly that the book does not deal with YOUR kind of Christianity. Since YOUR kind of Christianity acknowledges that the cosmological depictions in the Bible were not meant to be taken literally, and that YOUR kind of Christianity does not think God commanded genocide or child sacrifice, and that YOUR kind of Christianity does not think Jesus bodily arose from the grave, and that YOUR kind of Christianity already acknowledges Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, say the book does not deal with Christianity at all. Yeah, and in other news Christian scholars all over the world gathered together last weekend and came to a consensus on what TRUE Christianity represents.

5) Respond to it out of sheer ignorance as one who is unskilled and unaware of it. I am constantly amazed as many Christians respond to it with a High School mentality that merely takes the Bible as a given and simply responds that we are wrong because the Bible is right. These Christians don't even know how to respond properly to the chapters in this book. All they end up doing is revealing their ignorance with a heavy dose of special pleading while begging the question.

4) Lie about it. Yep. If you'll take a look on Amazon there is a smear campaign taking place by a few Christians who simply do not want their brothers and sisters to even read this book. So they lie about it. Come on, can you really take seriously a reviewer who rates the book with one star when there are so many high recommendations written about it by Christian scholars and skeptics?

3) Attack the editor/authors. Yep. When all else fails you can always call people whom you disagree with names. Ouch! That hurt but not as much as sticks and stones do. Yeah, we're god-hating atheists who don't care about truth. We just want to rid ourselves of God and live our lives eating children, robbing, raping, and stealing to our heart's content. Right. We could say the reverse about you Christians okay, that you don't have the inner strength to do what's right because it's right. Why? Because you are rotten to the core. You have an infantile sense of morality which demands most of the ethical details to be spelled out because you refuse to take responsibility for yourself.

2) Don't ever buy it or read it in the first place. Ignorance is bliss, right? But if that's the case then with so much ignorance why aren't more people happy? In any case put such a thought out of your pretty little head. You know we're wrong because, well, you just know it. We might only confuse you. We can't teach you anything. There is nothing here. Please move along.

1) Burn it back into the pit of hell where it came from. That's what one preacher said he did when given the book. Ahhh yes, book burning. Where have I heard that before? No wait, don't tell me. It's right here on the tip of my tongue....

[First posted 7/10/10]


Benfea said...

10) Read it and then reject your faith. Actually I haven't heard of anyone who would leave the fold after reading one book, but it may happen depending on other factors. This might be a strong indication of how culturally entrenched believers are in their faith and how blinding it is. It lends more credence to our claim that believers cannot be reasoned out of their faith because they were never reasoned into it in the first place.

I simply must comment on this.

This is not something that is unique to faith. We are all vulnerable to confirmation bias on any number of beliefs to varying degrees, whether it be economic policy, political views, or preference for a certain artist.

If you are not aware of your own vulnerability to this kind of bad thinking, how can you counter-act it in your own thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Benfea, I've heard of many people who have read one book and become believers. It's called the Bible. And I've heard of many who have done likewise with the book of Mormon and become Mormons, and likewise with Muslims after reading the Koran. You see, belief is easy. Skepticism is hard. It's an acquired trait because that's not what our respective cultures lead us to.

Grouchodawg said...

John - I have just finished reading the "The Christian Delusion" and it confirmed my atheist beliefs. I have had a long journey from Catholicism to atheist. I was always had an interest in early Christian history and started reading Bart Ehrman's books. This made me question more and more of the bible, especially when Ehrman renounced his Christian Beliefs. Also, Christopher Hitchens' book, "God is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything", tipped me over the edge from religions beliefs. I've also recently read, "Why I am not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq. This refutes Islam the way you, Ehrman and Hitchens do to Christianity. The world would be a much better place with secular belief. Also, now that have read books about Christianity and Islam, are there any books regarding debunking Judaism?

Keep speaking the truth, John.

Miles Rind said...

Grouchodog asks: "Also, now that have read books about Christianity and Islam, are there any books regarding debunking Judaism?"

I'll take that question. I know of two titles that I can recommend:

(1) R. D. Gold, Bondage of the Mind: How Old Testament Fundamentalism Shackles the Mind and Enslaves the Spirit (Aldus Books, 2008). The subtitle, with its reference to the "Old Testament," misrepresents the subject of the book. I suspect that it was pressed upon the author by the publisher, who wanted to make the book interesting not just to Jewish readers but to all who are interested in fundamentalism based on what non-Jews call the "Old Testament." In fact, the book is specifically about Jewish fundamentalist beliefs, which is to say the "doxy" of Orthodoxy. These beliefs owe far more to the Talmud and rabbinic tradition than they do to the Jewish Bible. (E.g., the belief that the Pentateuch was authored by Moses comes from the Mishnah and not from the Bible itself.) The author examines these various beliefs and exposes the bad reasoning by which they are maintained. It's not profound or original, but it is instructive to see what absurdities even adherents of so-called Modern Orthodoxy are willing to embrace in order to sustain the idea that their way of life is founded on divine commandments.

The book is not, by the way, an argument for atheism or against Jewish religious belief per se. It has a sub-subtitle, "Toward a Better Understanding of the Religious Experience." This reflects its second part, which comprises the last 30 pages of the book. In this part, the author defends a liberal interpretation of Jewish belief and practice. I don't think, though, that anyone will find this part as interesting as part 1.

(2) Solomon Schimmel, The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth (Oxford University Press, 2008). This book is an attempt to understand the psychology of fundamentalist beliefs in all three of the Abrahamic religions, but I think that it merits mention here because the author's primary attention is given to Judaism, which is, so to speak, his home. This is just a wonderful book. I have read it once and mean to re-read it soon.

I don't know if there is much else in the way of books, but there is a LOT on the Web in what is called the "J-blogosphere." I can't forbear to mention my own blog, Skeptical Jew, but I admit that it is not informed by any deep knowledge of Judaism. There are, however, numerous blogs written by disaffected Orthodox Jews, some of whom wield quite profound knowledge of Orthodox practice and doctrine. Above all others, I would recommend the blog Modern Orthoprax and Heterodox, by "XGH." I recently figured out that "XGH" derives from the same writer's previous blog, Not the Gadol Hador ("X" meaning either "not" or "ex-," and "GH" for "Gadol Hador"). The writer deleted this blog, but someone else reposted its contents here.

Rocky said...

I know these comments are about TCD but I just finished WIBAA and was blown away by your scholarship. Your section on the resurrection was the best I've ever read. I love your blog and truly respect your goals. It's people like you that might just save us all from Christian fascist. I have TCD and will read it soon. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rocky for your feedback. I appreciate it so much!

Rob R said...

6) Proclaim loudly that the book does not deal with YOUR kind of Christianity. Since YOUR kind of Christianity acknowledges that the cosmological depictions...and in other news Christian scholars all over the world gathered together last weekend and came to a consensus on what TRUE Christianity represents.

This is still the all or nothing thinking that pervades the bigger issue of religious diversity, that only the differences matter, which is as bad as the religious pluralists thinking that only the similarities matter.

Could be that some people have significances of differences on origins and cosmology and Genesis and STILL have the same Christian faith in terms of what is acceptable to God. Where in scripture does it say that the faithful must understand everything? Where does it say that all believers must have a perfectly defensible rational world view. One could argue that it's recomended by Paul, and that's about it. It's not that none of these disagreements are important, but many aren't THAT important (while, yes, some are, like the idea that you're a Christian if you deny the bodily resurrection).

And at the end, we still see this mirror image of the falacious appeal to authority which I call the falacious appeal to controversy, the idea that just because the authorities disagree, that one can't be justified in holding a position on the issue.

jwhendy said...

@Rob R: I can see your points.

As I contemplated, them, however, I think that there are two responses:

1) With respect to your particular argument (interpretations of Genesis & cosmology), I think it more comes down to a question of the reliability of the Bible.
--- There seems to be a very fine tension between how much leeway one can give the writers of scripture and still hold on to god having directly inspired them to write his word
--- In other words, how much discussion of the earth on pillars, 7 days, the earth being 'fixed in the firmament', etc. can be allowed before it becomes improbable that the god who would have been able to inspire someone to write, 'In the beginning there was nothing. Then, due to the instability which will be discovered by quantum physics, nothing sprang forth to produce something in an explosion of heat and light to create a distribution of atomic elements, universal laws of physics that will be well described by Newton and will be superseded in some areas by Einstein...', actually inspired to be written what was written. I think you get the point.

2) With respect to your argument more generally, I can here you but also object. The less one claims to actually know about the supernatural facts, the less one can claim to have any authoritative prescription about the reality of this being, what he/she morally desires, etc.
--- To simply concede that 'all is mystery' but to insist that the stories, miracles, words of Jesus', etc. remain viable is, in my opinion, to be inconsistent. One can't make a loose interpretation of every instance of conflict (Genesis, whether there was a flood, Jericho having fallen prior to the date of the trumpet story, etc.) but insist that it is literal and factual everywhere else (god hates homosexuality, this is my body, the grave being found empty, etc.).

Lastly, not everyone shares your sentiment. Take the Catholic Church for example... they are never going to be willing (as far as I can tell) to 'let up' on interpretations regarding homosexuality, females as clergy, or the strongest issue of all: the Eucharist. Anyway, don't get me wrong... I see your point, but to be made manifest, denominations would need to echo your sentiments but I strongly doubt most will concede that 'True Presence' = 'symbol' or that 'Mary as intercessor' = 'praying to Saints is near-heresy.'

Does that make sense?

Rob R said...

Hendy, your first post is aimed at an issue that isn't even directly being addressed. Genesis is brought up as an example of an area where Christians have a diversity of views and it is the diversity itself that John is trying to make a problem of. Diversity is not the problem John makes it out to be. It is problematic in some ways but in others it isn't.

Again, I raise the issue that you seem to ignore. So what if I disagree with the catholics on some things. Maybe my reasons are better. Maybe there's is. But if you point to that disagreement and then say that therre is no reasonable answer to come to on the grounds of what is most Christian, you've just made a logical error. You've asserted the fallacy of controversy and though I brought it up, you made that fallacy again. It is just not logically defensible to say that just because authorities disagree that one is not justified in holding the positions that they hold. To make a real criticism, you're going to have to go into the actual thinking behind the positions. (and you did that to some extent extent on Genesis, but that was going off topic and the topic was not about going into the specifics but criticizing on the mere grounds that there is a controversy).

For your second point, it didn't have much to do with what I said. I don't believe God is absolutely inscrutible and I find that a horrid position. But what I do claim is that how much one knows factually, which may be important, does not make or break the quality of one's faith. That isn't to say that the factual knowledge isn't worth pursueing. but It's only one part of the whole.

jwhendy said...

Rob -- after reading my response and yours, I can understand where you're coming from but think you've overstated my misunderstanding a bit...

Anyway, you are suggesting, from what I can tell, a sort of 'open' Christianity. Everyone might possibly right and since we don't know for sure:
1) Everyone is justified
2) The disagreements themselves don't say anything about the beliefs

Going back and re-reading John's #6 in full, I don't know that he's even really arguing for what you accuse him of. He's talking about a response to the book in which the reader chooses to find his arguments unconvincing because they don't hold water in their particular variant of Christianity.

This is a far cry from what you seem to be implying, which is that John has said: 'Hey, look! Christianity's denominations are divided! All should deconvert!'

What I tried to do (and in doing so don't think I missed the point of your post) was show what happens if you take your position even farther. To take to the extreme that 'We all might be right in some sense but God's cool with that' completely yanks the rug out from under you in terms of having any degree of certainty about the God you presume to worship.

It opens the door to tons of questions (like I suggested re. Catholicism v. Protestantism) like:
- how does on interpret scripture?
- how do we determine god's will regarding homosexuality and female clergy?
- what did Jesus mean when he said 'Take and eat'?

Anyway, I don't think I was that far off of being 'on topic' as you suggest.

Am I seeing this accurately? Again, my understanding (just so you can have something very specific to respond to) is that you would claim that most disagreements don't matter and that anyone is a Christian so long as they believe (feel free to alter this):
- God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- God created the world from nothing
- Man has fallen from God and needs redemption
- Jesus was God incarnate
- Jesus was sinless, died, and rose which gives us confident that Jesus provided this redemption
- Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as guide after ascending
- Heaven is attained through faith in Jesus supported by good works which demonstrate that faith

Is that approximate enough? If so, would you say that no disagreements John alludes to really matter and that he should simply stick to challenging these 'true' Christian beliefs?

Thanks for the continued discussion. It seemed like your response was a bit defensive... I didn't mean to provoke that; in re-reading my post I didn't see much of a basis for being upset so my apologies if it had that effect.

Rob R said...

From my first post, I want to highlight that I didn't have one problem with John's 6th point but two. Number one, Just because two people disagree on some doctrine doesn't mean that they have different Christianities, or that one has an authentic faith and the other doesn't because Christianity as taught by Christ wasn't that we should have an exhaustively worked out world view or theology on every matter. But that's not to say that it isn't important to work towards that end. But that's a task for the church as a whole, not for all individuals of the church who play different roles and have different talents.

I'm not advocating a wide "open" anything goes Christian faith either.

As I indicated, it's no less wrong to conclude that the differences in the variety of Christianity is what really matters than it is to conclude that only the similarities matter. Both are important but some differences are less important than others.

I'll admit that John's argument isn't necessarily that we should abandon Christianity because of the variety. It's a bit much to draw out of a sarcastic comment. But I don't know how else his comment was meant as a response to what is a very good objection to the arguments in one of his books. If one position by a Christian is problematic where another is not, then it stands to reason that Christianity has resources to meet the problematic issue. So what if not all Christians agree to that answer. Maybe their objection isn't good. To merely refer to the controversial nature of the response to brush it off just isn't a good exercise in rationality.

To take to the extreme that 'We all might be right in some sense but God's cool with that' completely yanks the rug out from under you in terms of having any degree of certainty about the God you presume to worship.

Not at all. What God will tolerate and what is the best way to approach the understanding of these things are two different issues.

That God tolerates a mistaken doctrine in his people doesn't mean that God hasn't given the church means to move beyond that mistake. And that we haven't all moved passed some mistake doesn't mean that it isn't happening and that progress isn't possible in faith. The Christian faith doctrine wise is not a frozen thing but has been developing for 2000 years and it was developing for a long time before then as Judaism.

All of the disagreements that John alludes to matter, but they don't all matter equally. What one thinks of genesis and evolution doesn't make the difference between an authentic Christian and one who isn't. For that matter, I don't want to say that what one thinks of the trinity is determinative, but for one of the most important and informative Christian doctrines, it is a very poor understanding that rejects the trinity which makes sense of such claims as God is love. Love in the abstract after all is not worth as much as love that takes place in actuality.

As for my post, I wasn't offended, perhaps I get impatient but I appreciate your approach to this discussion.

jwhendy said...


Thanks for the continued discussion.

I agree that disagreement does not indicate falsehood. I would probably disagree that differences in dogma/doctrine don't imply different Christianities. While I absolutely agree that there are some far more important than others... to take the easiest, I cannot see how the differences in teaching on the Eucharist do not equal two different Christianities.

One is commemorating an event as a reminder and on believes it is real flesh and blood and proclaims a miracle where the Eucharist even turned into a real heart! Catholics revere the Eucharist and many churches have perpetual adoration where the Eucharist is presented in a monstrance (if you weren't familiar with them).

Would you agree that this has to indicate a different fundamental understanding of Jesus in some way?

Either he's present in a piece of bread in spirit and flesh or he's not. I see this as a profound difference in the fundamental nature of how god interacts with man -- through remembrance or through bodily manifestation.

This is by far the most major that I can think of but use it as I really do think there's good reason to suspect enough of a 'different Christianity' to acknowledge that fact.

I see your point about how to take #6 as a whole and I can't really fault how the point would come across to someone who obviously takes his faith seriously.

Lastly, as a current doubter/questioner, it seems that far too few actually are interested in sorting out what 'true Christianity' is. For most, god/Jesus seem to serve more of a concept position rather than a belief in a tenable/cohesive/intellectually valid description of reality.

So, my points really boil down to 2:
1) one cannot know what god is and is not satisfied with. He may be satisfied with the various denominations' disagreements... or he may not be.

2) I still hold that the more vague/unsure/accepting of numerous interpretations as possibly valid one is, the less certain one can be about who it is he actually worships. If you did not know me and proclaimed that you could either be talking to:
- a male or female
- a teenager, 20-ish or 40ish aged person
- a west coaster, midwesterner, or European
- so on

Then how would you be confident in the mental image you might try to potentially form when carrying on this discussion?

My examples are probably poor as I don't what the analogous qualities of god would be to form something as radically defining as male vs. female for a human, but I think you get the point.

Thanks again.

nate51 said...

John, just wanted to let you know that numbers 9 and 10 are possible, though rare. I just recently deconverted from Christianity and now consider myself an agnostic. And your book Why I Became an Atheist was a major factor in my decision. Thanks for all your work in a rather thankless field...

Anonymous said...

nate51, it's not a thankless job so long as a few people like yourself are helped by what I do. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

You know, speaking of #6 (That's not MY kind of Christianity), is there even such thing as a coherent theology behind cafeteria Christianity? Many passages can be interpreted differently, of course, and in the pre-scientific world that was the reason for most sects. But, today it seems that it comes down to just ignoring huge sections of the Bible altogether. I've never heard of a coherent rational for doing this, though. The Catholic Church still uses 1 Timothy to stand behind their non-ordination of women, even though it is known to be a second century forgery.