Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity

I'm done writing and editing books, so I'm highlighting each one of them in thirteen separate posts.

My first published book, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, is my magnum opus! If you don't have it you're missing out on what I consider to be my most important work. Pictured is the 2nd edition published in 2012. The 1st edition was published in 2008. Very rare is an atheist book that gets a second edition!

I'm described as a "Former Preacher" in the title. I'm not just a preacher though. I'm a philosopher with several advanced degrees and plenty of classroom time as an instructor of philosophy, ethics, critical thinking, western literature, apologetics, hermeneutics, and a few Bible classes. I taught for the Trine University, Kellogg Community College, Lincoln Christian College, and Great Lakes Christian College. So the words "Former Preacher" don't fully describe me, even though I was in the ministry for about 15 years, mostly while I was also teaching. I had wanted my publisher to call me a "Former Apologist" but they thought few people understood what that means.

I started teaching philosophy and ethics classes in 1985, first for the College of Lake County, in Grayslake, Illinois. In my first class I lost about half my students. As I think back, it was probably due, in part, because I was a flaming evangelical. A larger factor was because the students could not understand me. Yep, that's right. Being in a Ph.D. program at Marquette University, after earning three masters degrees, I didn't know how to bring the information down to college students. So I thought my teaching career was over before it began. Luckily the chair of the philosophy department told me this happens more often than not for first time philosophy instructors. *Whew*

Over time I became an expert teacher, bringing highly complex ideas down to first year students. I eventually learned how to communicate to the average educated person in the pew. My goal was, and is now, to keep it as simple as possible without being simplistic. The problem with this goal is that there are some elitist readers who think I'm ignorant, for if I was smarter and better educated it would reflect in my vocabulary. Smart, highly educated people, it's assumed, use the nomenclature requisite with their educational achievements.

You can see this same "dumbing down", as the elitists call it, reflected in my writings. While I could use technical philosophical language, and quote from the original Hebrew and Greek languages in the Bible, I found that so long as I was accurate I didn’t need to impress people by writing for the scholars.

This is reflected in a few blurbs for my books.

Dr. Hector Avalos wrote this about my book, How to Defend the Christian Faith:
I don't know anyone who can match the High Definition clarity of John Loftus when it comes to navigating the labyrinthine world of Christian evangelical apologetics for the general public.
Dr. Stephen Law said:
John Loftus is exceptionally well qualified to produce such a book (on Horrendous Suffering). Having followed his work for years - including his valuable Debunking Christianity blog - I know him to be not only a highly knowledgeable and careful thinker, but also someone who can bring philosophical issues and arguments to life.
One of the highest compliments I've received was written by biblical scholar Robert M. Price. Of my contributions in the co-edited book God or Godless? Price said that I write "with unpretentious clarity, common sense, and broad but inconspicuous erudition."

Unpretentious: I don't seek to impress my readers with technical, philosophical, theological, or scientific terminology, nor do I use the original languages of the Biblical texts much at all.

Inconspicuous: Even though Price says I have a broad erudition, it's inconspicuous or unnoticeable. It can be unnoticeable to others who are uniformed and ignorant, Price intimates.

This tweet was "liked" by @RealAtheology contributors.
Unfortunately, since I aim to reach educated people in the pew, many readers can’t see the depth and breadth of my knowledge. That's because it takes a deeper understanding of the issues to realize that I have a deeper understanding of the issues. So I have some haters because of this. They only recommend works by philosophers who specialize in a few issues using the technical language of their specialization. It appears they think sophistication and specialization are more important than having the right perspective communicated as clearly as possible. It depends on the audience and the goals. It's very hard to communicate intricate theological and philosophical ideas simply. Just take what Einstein said with a grain of salt: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." In any case, if the haters think they could do a better job then they should do it!

This book of mine is truly a counter-apologetics book, written by someone trained at the highest levels of theology, apologetics, and philosophy, that covers all of the most important issues with regard to the Christian faith. No one writing a counter-apologetics book like this can be an expert in every issue, just as no Christian apologetics book is written by someone who is an expert in every issue it deals with. Nonetheless, I refer to a number of scholarly works on the issues I write about, aplenty.

What I did in this book was the same thing I did in my anthologies. So what Hector Avalos said about them applies to my first book:
These anthologies ... signal a new era insofar as atheists are organizing coherent and scholarly responses that are wide-ranging in scope, instead of just focusing on a few traditional issues (e.g., philosophical arguments against theism, or creationism).
     1. My Christian Conversion and Deconversion 
     2.  Faith, Reason, and My Approach to Christianity        
     3.  The Outsider Test for Faith
     4.  Does God Exist?
     5.  Does Morality Come From God?
     6.  The Lessons of Galileo, Science, and Religion     
     7.  The Poor Evidence of Historical Evidence    
     8.  The Question of Miracles    
     9.  The Self-Authenticating Witness of the Holy Spirit
     10.  The Problem of Unanswered Prayer
     11.  The Problem of Suffering  My Specific Case
     12.  The Problem of Suffering Objections Answered
     13.  The Strange and Superstitious World of the Bible        
     14.  Who Wrote the Bible?    
     15.  Science and the Genesis Creation Accounts
     16.  Adam, Eve, Cain, and the Noah Chronicles    
     17.  Prophecy and Biblical Authority  
     18.  Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in Bethlehem?    
     19.  Was Jesus God Incarnate?     
     20.  The Passion of the Christ: Why Did Jesus Suffer?    
     21.  Did Jesus Bodily Rise from the Dead?             
     22.  The Devil Made Me Do It!      
     23.  Hell? No!
     24. Why I Became an Atheist

At the very end of the book I do what other evangelical apologists do. I challenge readers to seriously consider what they just finished reading. Perhaps it's time to make a commitment? Some people on both sides have disagreed that I included such a page as this, but why? If my goal is to change minds why not ask readers to change their minds after reading my book? I'm just doing what William Lane Craig does at the end of his debates, and at the end of the chapters in his book, Reasonable Faith.

As I said, this first book of mine is considered my magnum opus. It went through a few self-published editions starting in 2004, and two editions from Prometheus Books, the premier atheist publisher of our generation. In it I used a simpler language style to reach down to educated readers in the pew rather than scholars. And it garnered some very high praise from Christians and atheists. I think the high praise it received was off-putting to Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens, if I ever wanted their recommendations! Here are a few of them:

--Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry wrote: "Doubting Christians beginning to doubt will find this book a juggernaut. If you seek an encyclopedic compendium of arguments against almost any imaginable defense of the Christian faith, this is your book. The reader seeking a comprehensive disproof of Christianity as contemporary evangelicals defend it can do little better than to consult this volume.[Vol. 30. No. 3. April/May 2010]"

--Richard Carrier, author of Sense and Goodness Without God: "John's book addresses almost every conceivable argument for Evangelical Christianity in extraordinary and sobering detail. Every important aspect of intellectual Evangelical Christian belief comes in for critique, and often in more depth than you'll find in any other pro-atheism tome. Indeed, unlike, say, Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, Loftus is a fully-informed insider who knows what he's talking about. He was fully immersed in making the very case for Christianity that he now tears down. He was trained by the best, is well-read in the field, and gets all the nuances that apologists accuse pop atheists (like Harris and Dawkins) of missing."

--Dr. John Beversluis, author of C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion: "No review can begin to do justice to an ambitious book of this scope or to the sustained theological, philosophical, scientific, textual, and historical critique of Christianity that it contains. Suffice it to say at the outset that I have never read a book that presents such a massive and systematic refutation of the claims of Christianity, and I have seldom read a book that marshals evidence (from such a wide variety of disciplines) and documents its claims in such painstaking detail."

--David Mills, author of Atheist Universe: "John W. Loftus is to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf, or what Babe Ruth was to baseball. Loftus has provided, in this superb and entertaining volume, the crown jewel of the new atheist movement. As much as I admire and enjoy Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, Loftus is, far and away, my favorite author on this riveting subject. Loftus' esteemed reputation within the freethought community is indeed richly deserved. But this book exceeded even my highest expectations."

--Luke Muehlhauser, author of the popular blog Common Sense Atheism: “Best atheist book of the decade” [2000–2009]

--Dr. Mark D. Linville, Christian philosopher and contributor to the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology: “Of the spate of books coming from the so-called ‘New Atheists’ that have appeared in the past few years—Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and so on—John W. Loftus’s critique of Christian theism is by far the most sophisticated. Where, say, Dawkins might be found attacking a man of straw, Loftus understands and assesses the arguments of today’s premier Christian apologists and philosophers. Evangelicals cannot afford to ignore Why I Became an Atheist.”

I think this high praise was also off-putting to some others. If a new kid on the block came on the scene spouting shit, you wouldn't like him. You'd be looking at ways to knock him down. Who does he think he is, right? For this reason I have not been treated very well by some atheists, agnostics, and humanists who have an axe to grind for some cocky reasons. For the record it's not me saying these things. Others do. Sorry if you don't like it. But because they don't, every once in a while one of them picks a fight with me out of the blue, like Justin Schieber of @RealAtheology, who claimed I agreed with something that was "fucking stupid."

Getting this book published.

Edward Babinski heard I was a former student of William Lane Craig's when my self-published book went online. As the editor of the 1995 book "Leaving the Fold", Babinski was interested in deconversion stories, and still is. He told me it was significant that I was a former student of Craig's. I hadn't kept track of Craig's doings and didn't know what a big deal he had become. It certainly didn't occur to me at that time.

Babinski told me I should engage the people at the TheologyWeb forum, where apologist JP Holding hangs his hat. It was an acid bath of hatred based on intellectual dishonesty. I was still upset about it in 2013 when I acknowledged their influence on me in the book, God or Godless, writing a note of thanks in the Acknowledgements:
When I first went online to discuss my doubts in 2005, I found a particular evangelical forum that treated me with disdain and vitriol simply because I disagreed. I knew most Christians were not like this, but this group poured gasoline on the fires of my passion like nothing else. They provoked me to go for the jugular vein of a faith that could be used to justify their treatment of people like me. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably would have moved on with my life. So I want to acknowledge them for helping to motivate me.
I wonder what would've become of me if they hadn't pissed me off?

I sent my self-published book to Paul Kurtz, the editor-in-chief of Prometheus Books. He loved it and wanted his senior editor Steven Mitchell to publish it as soon as possible, putting it ahead of other books in the review queue. Mitchell, however, did not stop working on other books to do that. There was a window of opportunity that vanished as my book slowly worked its way into publication in October of 2008. At the time I submitted it there was a media frenzy over New Atheist literature, beginning with Sam Harris' book in August of 2004, then Daniel Dennett's book in February 2006, Dawkins' book in October 2006, and Hitchens' book in May 2007. Had it been published as Kurtz wanted, I might be a New York Times bestselling author, who knows?


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 13 critically acclaimed books, which are not very popular judging from the meager sales. At this season I'm retired with a fixed income and would appreciate a one-time solstice gift to help me get by. If my work has benefited you at all, it would encourage me to keep doing what I'm doing for as long as I can. My marriage has suffered because my wife often complains I spend way too much time online. But if I could make a little money doing what I do she probably wouldn't complain any more, and you would see me writing more.

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