Let me start off by stating categorically that this book is an absolute “must have” for anyone who has left the Christian faith or is having serious intellectual doubts about the Christian religion.
While the book starts out explaining some of his experiential reasons for leaving Christianity, the 216-page volume goes far beyond a mere personal testimony and dives deeply into the elemental contradictions and concerns that weaken the underpinning of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
Most readers will not find Loftus’ book one that can be adequately absorbed in an evening. Written in the style of a collegiate thesis, the plethora of scholarly works referenced in this publication places it amongst the better resources for the honest student. To do the volume justice one must be willing to follow the research that has been carefully documented by Loftus. For those without the time or interest to explore the mountain of references, this book will, none-the-less, provide a significant store for future study when time or necessity dictates.
Loftus does not come away from Christianity with the deep bitterness that affects many in de-conversion, but rather retains admiration for the good influence Christianity had on his own youth. Loftus deals evenly with the issues, carefully explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each argument.
Loftus’ coverage of the problems inherent in the claims of Christianity is comprehensive. It is obvious he did not quickly abandon traditional Christianity as the result of personal trials but spent long months questioning each of his own thoughts. Much of what he wrote sounds like an echo of many of my own introspections except expressed through the well oiled mind of an academia.
Hundreds of topics are broadly explored, any one of which could realistically occupy months of study, but two in particular struck chords in my own psyche.
On page 72 he discusses the problem of unanswered prayer. One Christian answer to this nagging concern is that we humans often have wrong motives in prayer. Loftus writes the following:
“God is under no obligation to answer selfish prayers. (James 4:3) Conversely, our prayers must seek to glorify God not us. God is under no obligation to answer prayers that fail to give glory to God. (John 14:13; II Corinthians 12:9-10). We may not even know what would bring God the most glory. (John 9:3)
But there are some very strong arguments that indicate there is nothing a human can do or say that are completely free of selfish motives. Psychological Egoism, for instance, is the theory that everything we do, even if in some small degree, benefits us the most. Even if we don’t take the extreme stance, most all of what we do is done from motives that benefit ourselves first. Most all of our prayers contain some selfish motives..”
It has been my own opinion for several years now that even the simple sinner’s prayer for salvation is ultimately a selfish act to avoid hell and gain heaven. While Christians maintain they believe because they love the Lord, without the promise of a happy eternal life in heaven I seriously doubt there would be many Christians in the world. Even Paul admitted in I Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” But I digress.
Another section that gave me marked pause for reflection is discussed on page 49, “Faith and Reason.” Quoting the English Mathematician W.K Clifford who lived from 1845-1879, Loftus says this:
“In order for a religious belief-system to be properly and rationally accepted, it must be possible to prove that the belief-system is true.” “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
From there Loftus recounts a tragic story of a ship captain who stifled doubts about the sea-worthiness of his ship choosing to rely completely on the providence of God. The ship sank killing all aboard.
”According to him (Clifford) it is wrong to believe on insufficient grounds, to suppress doubts, or to avoid investigation. It is always right to question all that we believe.”
How often are Christians encouraged to question what they believe?
Loftus admits there are some questions in life that no one can adequately answer. He does take a stance or two with which some ex-Christian readers, including myself, will disagree. Loftus, aware of this, adds this quote at the end of his book: “A conclusion is the place where you got tired thinking.” – Martin Fischer.
Whether or not any of Loftus’ conclusions are the result of mental exhaustion is moot. The point where he stops thinking in his book is significantly further down the road than many would even attempt.
If you are an honest seeker, or an honest doubter; if you truly believe, or truly doubt; I highly recommend you add this book to your collection. Regardless of your agreement or disagreement with the content, you will certainly be given some meaty food for thought.