Authors: John W. Loftus
Tags: #Religion, #Atheism
“No collection better demonstrates how taking Christianity seriously reveals its all-too-human origin. This superb, often witty, and exceedingly well-researched collection explains how early Christianity is only a pale resemblance of any of the diverse Christian sects today. As well, the authors reveal how vastly improbable Christian dogmas are, such as the notion that a god designed the universe, that life replete with personal identity continues after death, that hell represents divine justice; and that morality is exclusively Christian. Overall, very sobering for Christians, and so wonderfully delightful for the rest of us.”
—Malcolm Murray, PhD, associate professor of philosophy,
University of Prince Edward Island;
The Atheist's Primer
The End of Christianity
reads like a family reunion that brings together the family of disbelieving intellectuals we've grown to love and respect. The stories that form the great narrative of the history of unbelief find in this book fresh voices with new and exciting angles. Loftus and his friends annihilate the Christian Goliath with their disputatious slingshots. The reader will probably hope that believers will not shy away from this text if only so that Loftus will soon publish yet another exciting anthology.”
—Johnnie Terry, instructor in philosophy, Sierra College
“This fascinating book's beefy arguments as well as its tasty tidbits of information are all geared to show that when it comes to ‘God talk’ and the ‘revealed religion’ known as Christianity, the questions outnumber the certainties. And though Christianity and religion in general will certainly endure long enough for John Loftus to edit additional works, that sort of blessing does not appear to be one for which some Christians will be eager to thank God.”
—Edward T. Babinski, editor of
Leaving the Fold:
Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists
The Christian Delusion
is the first book I give to anyone who wants to understand why I am no longer a Christian. Loftus and company have returned with
The End of Christianity
, which will now be the
book I give to anyone who wants to read a substantive case against Christian faith.”
—Luke Meuhlhauser, owner of the popular blog
Common Sense Atheism
, which named
Why I Became an Atheist
Best Atheism Book of the Decade (2000–2009)
Published 2011 by Prometheus Books
The End of Christianity
. Copyright © 2011 by John W. Loftus. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover image © 2011 Media Bakery
Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Inquiries should be addressed to
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The end of Christianity / edited by John Loftus.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978–1–61614–413–5 (pbk.)
ISBN 978–1–61614–414–2 (e-book)
1. Christianity—Controversial literature. I. Loftus, John W.
Printed in the United States of America
his present anthology is now what I call the third book in a series—the first of which I consider my magnum opus,
Why I Became an Atheist
(2008), followed by the anthology
The Christian Delusion
(2010), titled after Richard Dawkins's bestselling book,
The God Delusion. The End of Christianity
is titled after Sam Harris's bestseller,
The End of Faith
, which started the so-called New Atheist movement. Unlike Harris, who called for an end to religious faith as a whole, we're calling for an end to a specific kind of religious faith: Christianity. I honestly think that with this book (and certainly the series) Christianity has been debunked. The jury has returned its verdict. The gavel has come down. The case is now closed.
I think the chapters in this anthology speak for themselves, so I'll not introduce them except to say I'm very pleased and honored to be a part of this work, which includes several leading atheists, agnostics, and religious critics of our day. Once again I thank each contributor and especially Richard Carrier for the yeomen job he did with editing and peer review of nearly all the chapters.
GETTING ON BOARD WITH THE OTF
My signature argument is the
Outsider Test for Faith
(OTF), which I defended in my earlier books. It plays an important role in this series, so I want to say more about it here. Who would have thought that such a simple and obvious argument would be so hotly contested that I would have to revisit it again? But it is contested, probably because it can and does undermine religious faith so well.
We are all raised as believers by our parents in our respective cultures. If our parents said something was true, then we believed it as children. We didn't know not to do so. One of the most important things our parents told us to believe is that their particular religion is true. And so, fundamentalists will raise fundamentalists. Snake handlers will raise snake handlers. Polygamists will raise polygamists. Catholics will raise Catholics. Militant Muslims will raise militant Muslims. Mormons will raise Mormons. Orthodox Jews will raise Orthodox Jews. Scientologists will raise Scientologists. And so on and so forth. We can even locate specific geological boundary lines of religious faiths around the globe. If we were raised in Thailand, we would probably be Buddhists. If we were raised in India, we'd probably be Hindus. If we were raised in Mexico, we'd probably be Catholics. Even if we revised our religion upon further reflection, we'd still be found doing so from the inside within that same tradition. And if we switch religions as adults, usually we still adopt a religion very similar to the one we were already taught.
As we grow older, however, we learn to question what we were taught. Skepticism is therefore a learned virtue. We must learn to question. As we do, we eventually become adults. But the strange thing is that even as adults we do not usually question our religious beliefs. They just seem too obvious to us. They have become too ingrained within us. They are part of the culture we live in. We usually see no need to question them. They are such a part of who we are that for many of us, like me, it takes a personal crisis to do what we should have been doing all along: critically examining the religion that was handed down to us. But given the proliferation of religions around the globe, they cannot all be correct. So how can we test whether our inherited religious faith is the correct one? That's where the OTF comes in.
The OTF asks believers to test their own inherited religious faith from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism they use to evaluate other religious faiths. The OTF asks believers to abandon the double standard they have about religious faiths, nothing more. The process should be fair; no one should place a thumb on the weighing scales. If we merely asked believers to evaluate their faith objectively, most of them will claim they have already done so. But ask them to evaluate their own religious faith with the same level of skepticism they use to evaluate the other religious faiths they reject, and that will get their attention. Hopefully I have their attention now.
Believers who object to the OTF must show why the anthropological, psychological, and sociological data that necessitates the test is erroneous (all of which I've laid out in the previous books in this series), or show that the test is faulty or unfair in some important way. So far, they have emphatically not succeeded at doing either.
IS THE OTF TOO EXTREME?
One objection to the OTF is that it unreasonably asks believers to do something no one can be expected to do: to give up their whole worldview—including their lifestyle. From a practical standpoint it's very hard to give up one's religious faith all at once. Still, believers should use the OTF to critically examine each and every tenet of their faith, one at a time, thus resolving this difficulty. Nonetheless, this objection confuses a set of religious beliefs with a total worldview. Former believers only had to give up a particular set of religious beliefs and a few closely interrelated moral and sociopolitical ideals. We did not have to give up our whole worldview. When I left the faith, I didn't leave my culture, my language, or most of the rest of what my culture leads me to think about history, democracy, geography, love, friendship, work, or what makes me happy. The OTF isn't asking anyone to do the impossible. In America, for instance, the religious right is conservative both religiously and socially. But just subtract the religion from these conservatives, and they usually become liberals, and their worldview then becomes skeptical or naturalistic. While doing this can be a bit painful, it isn't asking believers to do something that many former believers aren't already doing on a daily basis.
DOES THE OTF UNDERMINE MORALITY?
Another objection to the OTF is that it should equally be applied to morality, and any sociopolitical ideals based on it, otherwise the test unfairly targets only “religious faith” for criticism. But this misses the mark, as illustrated by a sharp disagreement in this book between Richard Carrier and David Eller. Carrier argues in the last chapter that moral facts exist and that science can find them, while Eller, a cultural anthropologist, has argued instead in favor of cultural relativism.
In neither case do their views on morality undercut the OTF, although they are both antithetical to a faith-based morality. If Carrier is right, then all discovered moral facts will
the OTF, because they will be found by science. If Eller is right, then the claim that there is
absolute, unchanging, universal, cross-cultural morality simply fails the OTF. The one argues morality can pass the test, while the other says it fails the test. Thus both of them are using the standard of the OTF to assess morality. And regardless of their disagreement, as outsiders they both reject Christian morality.
Try to show people like them otherwise, okay? You'll need the OTF to do it.
I personally find it very difficult to argue against cultural relativism once we grant evolution. Yet at the same time there seems to be some moral values that human beings all share irrespective of their religious beliefs. Political freedom seems to be one of these values, best seen in the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and in the Muslim world with the ousting of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. These shared moral values, if that's what they are, might not undercut cultural relativism, but we still share them.
Nonetheless, one problem in subjecting moral values to the same skepticism demanded of religious faiths is that
we need common shared moral values to live our lives in our respective cultures
, whereas religious faiths are irrelevant and unnecessary, and can even be harmful. So even though we should be skeptical of our moral values, we still need them in order to live our lives in our respective cultures (which is arguably one way they do in fact pass the OTF, whereas we do not need religious faiths at all.
One thing we can all agree upon is that we want to be happy. The need for happiness drives all our moral values (regardless of what others claim). That we want happiness is an empirical fact. It cannot be denied. It passes the skepticism of an outsider's test because it is indeed a fact. It is, as Aristotle argued, always desired in and of itself and never as a means to something else. He was speaking about holistic happiness and not merely about a pig who is satisfied. What that means is up for debate, of course. But whatever it is, it's the thing we do everything else
And it's precisely because we want to be happy in this way that we also want the people close to us to be happy, and in turn we want the people close to them to be happy, and so on. This then, if anything, is the basis for our choosing which moral values produce the most good for the most people, and the basis for our caring about that in the first place. And if the sciences can't find what makes us happy as human beings, then nothing else can.
The bottom line is that no matter what we think is the case, and no matter what we think about morality, or how we justify it, we all know what it is to doubt something. I'm asking believers to doubt their own inherited religious faith. Just their faith. One thing at a time. You can question the validity of your inherited
later, which, when you do, will help you see morality better without being hamstrung by a religion that cannot be defended. I see no reason why someone cannot do this. As I said, many of us have done just that. My contention is that one of the main reasons there is moral diversity is because there is religious diversity. So as religions are debunked by the OTF, there will be a greater potential for achieving a global moral consensus.
DOES THE OTF UNDERMINE ATHEISM?
Another objection to the OTF is that it should equally be applied to the atheist position, otherwise the test unfairly targets religious faith for criticism. But the truth is that atheists are almost always nontheists or nonbelievers because they are, first and foremost, skeptics. Skepticism is an adult attitude for arriving at the truth. Consequently, atheists do not technically have a “viewpoint” to subject their nonbeliefs to except the evidence itself. Atheists are skeptics who do not believe in supernatural beings or forces because we conclude the evidence is not there. We are nonbelievers. That's all there is to it. We came to disbelieve because there just wasn't enough evidence to convince us otherwise. We can't subject these nonbeliefs to any further testing! They are tested only by the facts. Atheism is simply what we have left when all religious beliefs fail the OTF. Just present us with facts that pass the OTF, and we'll believe.
So when Christians ask if I have taken the outsider test for my own “belief system,” I simply say, “Yes, I have; that's why I'm a nonbeliever.” Then they'll ask if I am equally skeptical of my skepticism, or whether I have subjected my nonbelief to nonbelief, or my disbelief to disbelief. These questions express double negatives. When retranslated, they are asking me to abandon skepticism in favor of a gullible faith. For
the opposite of skepticism—something no thinker should do. Doubt is, again, an adult attitude.
The bottom line is that
is a word used to describe doubt or disbelief. It doesn't by itself represent any ideas we've arrived at. It's merely a filter we use to strain out the bad ideas, leaving us with the good ones. We cannot be skeptical of that filter because there is no alternative except gullibly accepting anything and everything, which is so self-evidently a recipe for failure it's clear that it is skepticism, and not gullibility, that passes the OTF.
Christian thinkers, in a desperate attempt to defend their faith with Orwellian double-speak, will claim that they are
skeptical than I am because they are skeptical of skeptical arguments—a “full-blown skepticism.” (Yep, just ask Christian scholar Thomas Talbott). Their claim is that a true skeptic is an open-minded one who is open to the miraculous, which in turn is supposed to leave room for their faith. They will even claim not to know what an extraordinary event is (something I call
, that is, defining a problem away in the face of a concrete example like the virgin birth or a bodily resurrection). But when we truly consider what must be believed to be a Christian, we find here a prime example of what I mean when I say Christianity is a delusion. If this contorted epistemology is embraced, then “skepticism” becomes an utterly unjustified open-mindedness, leaving us with no way to test what to believe. Then other religionists can use this same epistemology to defend their own faiths, and so every claim that a witch flew through the night to have sex with the devil would be, technically speaking, on the boards.
, I am not open to that extraordinary claim without a
of evidence to support it. With such an epistemology, we would have no way to determine which faith—or which wildly improbable claim—is true.
On top of this, if nonbelievers are to take the OTF, then Christians need to tell us what an outsider perspective for us would be. Is it the perspective of Catholicism or Protestant Fundamentalism? Is it the perspective of snake handlers, holy rollers, or the obnoxious and racist KKK? Is it that of a Satanist, a Scientologist, a Shintoist, or a Sikh? What about that of a Mormon, a militant Muslim, or a Moonie? How about a Jew, a Jain, or a Jehovah's Witness? The problem is that there just isn't a worthy religious contender from out of the myriad number of religions that can be considered an outsider perspective for nonbelievers. This is not a fault with the OTF. It's the fault of religion.