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Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in Uncategorized Posts | 16 comments

There Isn’t a Bad Reason to Reject the Christian Faith

I have been thinking about Christianity for over forty years. I believed it. I preached it. I earned several master’s degrees in it. I taught it. I learned to reject it. Then for over seven years on a daily basis I have sought to argue against it. I have written, co-written and/or edited five published books in five years containing the results of everything I have learned, which should lead thinking people to reject it. But I have to confess here and now, up front and center, that there isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith. I don’t expect people to agree. It’s a conclusion I have come to from everything I have learned. Again, there isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith. Since there might be one I’ll leave it up to someone to suggest it. Otherwise, my claim stands.

So let me merely introduce what appears to be an overly simplistic claim and see what happens from here. As I said, I’m only introducing this line of thought. Christian people have said of me that, “Of the many atheist and theist blogs that I follow I would have to say that you are the best at consistently coming up with interesting topics and arguments even though I disagree with almost everything you say.” Okay then, here goes. I want to defend the claim of the title to this post. Let’s see if I can by taking an absurdly ignorant argument against Christianity and show why it’s still a good reason for rejecting the Christian faith.

Keep in mind that my target is evangelical, conservative, Bible thumping Christianity, the kind that would accept this Doctrinal Statement (or DS):

There is an omniscient, omnibenelovent, omnipotent God who sent Jesus to atone for the sins of all who believe in him. This same God desires everyone should be saved and that no one should be lost (See 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Evangelicals believe more than this DS, but at a minimum they believe it. Calvinists need not apply.

Keep in mind I’m also speaking of the reasons people personally have for rejecting Christianity rather than the arguments constructed to convince others. I don’t think people must be able produce an argument that will convince others of something before it can be said they have good reasons for what they think. A farmer may have good reasons to think aliens have abducted him even though he cannot convince anyone else. A lawyer may have good reasons to think someone is a con-artist even though she cannot produce an argument that will convince anyone else. People who have been victimized by someone may not be able to see that criminal in a good light. They are emotionally engaged. They have good reasons for what they think even if others don’t agree. Counter-intuitively, people may have bad reasons for conclusions that end up being true. This raises the thorny issue of Gettier Problems.

Is there a legitimate distinction then between someone’s having good personal reasons and having bad reasons for believing something? Again we’re not talking about arguments constructed to convince others, for the rules of logic dictate which arguments are good ones from bad ones. We’re talking instead about the personal reasons people have for accepting or not accepting something as true. How do we really know that what we think is justified? Do we really understand how many cognitive biases affect most all of us most of the time? Do we have a clue at how many arguments are constructed to defend what we have come to believe based on personal idiosyncratic irrational reasons? Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, the three master’s of suspicion, taught us to be suspicious of all arguments because the ones constructing them most likely have ulterior self-serving agendas.

Do people in different cultures have good reasons for what they believe? Did people in different eras in human history have good reasons for what they believed? Is the whole concept of good reasons vs bad reasons culturally relative? What exactly is a good personal reason for accepting something as true? Some things just appear to be true to us and we cannot bring ourselves to think differently.

What about someone who has a low IQ or someone who lacks emotional intelligence? What about someone who is brain damaged in some way, or who has suffered a stroke, or suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease? What about a child, or an adult who never has grown up? What if, as I strongly suspect, that belief is overwhelmingly involuntary, if not completely involuntary. Is it all just a lucky coincidence if we get something right? If any of these conditions obtain then the distinction between having good personal reasons and bad personal reasons basically flies out the window. If nothing else, there are certainly many cases where we cannot even say what it means for some people to have good personal reasons for what they believe. What we can say with virtual certainty is that any person who believes something is true, thinks he has good personal reasons for why he believes it is true (at least on a conscious level).

So, given DS above, what personal reason could be a bad reason for rejecting Christianity? Let’s say a guy named Pat thinks Christianity is false because he had a strange dream where his dead Christian mother, Patricia, tells him it’s all a ruse, that no matter what people believe when they die God is sending everyone to hell anyway. [Kinda like the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus with a different slant.]

Would Pat have good personal reasons to reject Christianity? I think so. This is not about convincing others with an argument. It’s about him believing his mother’s message in a dream, despite the lack of an argument, despite his ignorance about the real nature of dreams, and despite any attempts by us at convincing him that he’s wrong.

This is ultimately about who we are as human beings and DS. They are incompatible with each other. Now for the money quote:

If God desires Pat to be saved, and if God knows Pat will be convinced by his dream because his God-given cognitive faculties are such that he would accept its message as true, then God should not have allowed Pat to have had such a dream in the first place. Allowing a vulnerable ignorant person like Pat to have had such a dream, knowing it would lead him to reject Christianity, makes that God just as culpable as if he himself caused Pat to reject Christianity.

What about an insincere reason, one whereby a person lies to himself about the real causes of his rejection of Christianity? In the subconscious regions of his brain he believes Christianity is true but suppresses this truth so it never reaches the conscious regions of the brain, much like Paul writes about in Romans 1:18-32. [Paul of course, knew nothing about the subconscious mind and how it controls our conscious thinking. We didn’t know about such a thing until basically Sigmund Freud’s time. Paul is describing people who consciously knew the truth and knowingly choose to believe and act on that which they knew was a lie, which is a much too large of a claim to be taken seriously by anyone except believers. Come on now, seriously? This is where I cue in the tape recording of me saying that “mindlessly quote-mining the Bible is not thinking.”]

So, what about a person who subconsciously lies to himself? What about self-deception? A lie is a lie is a lie, right? No, not necessarily. “Our capacity for self-deception has no known limits.” — Michael Novak. We deceive ourselves almost every waking hour. It’s who we are. It keeps us sane. It keeps us encouraged to get up in the morning and go about trying to live a good life. It keeps us from being depressed with the realities of life that bear down on us. We probably cannot do otherwise, and if we do, then it’s rare. A good little article about it can be found here. It’s a real problem for human beings. Unless people are properly trained they cannot do otherwise but to think illogically, based upon self-deception. This science is not something we even knew about until the last few decades. People don’t even know enough to know that they are deceiving themselves. Let that sink in. Again, they don’t even know enough to know they are deceiving themselves. Don’t believe me? Then see for yourselves (and with it the antidote).

Since we have this strong propensity for self-deception, not just in regard to religion but in almost everything that involves us, our family, and friends, then given DS the very fact that some people do subconsciously deceive themselves into not believing is a good reason not to believe after all. For when we deceive ourselves we don’t know we are deceiving ourselves. We’re just doing what we do. We probably can’t even do otherwise in most cases, even knowing who we are as human beings. So, if someone is deceiving themselves into non-belief even though in the deep recesses of their subconscious brains they know Christianity is real, then that can no more be a bad personal reason for rejecting Christianity than when we deceive ourselves about anything else.

Now for another money quote (I oughta charge for this stuff!):

Deception, after all, is deception. The deceived do not know they are being deceived, even if it’s self-deception. Get it? So just as in the case of Pat above, if God allows us to deceive ourselves into nonbelief when we don’t know this is what we’re doing (and we don’t), then we can no more be held accountable for this self-deception than Pat can be held accountable for his ignorance. Just as Pat has good personal reasons to reject Christianity, even though they are ignorant, so also people who deceive themselves into nonbelief have good personal reasons for their nonbelief because they are ignorant of their own self-deception.

Furthermore, I don’t even think conscious rebellion against the God hypothesis is a bad personal reason to reject Christianity. We are all rebelling against all other deities anyway. I state for the record, and for all to read, that I am rebelling against Allah who is pleased with militant Muslims willing to fly planes into buildings, if called upon to do so.

*Whew* I did it. Thank you, thank you very much! Takes a bow.

I think this is a good reason to reject Allah, don’t you, by rebelling against his moral codes in a civilized society? Or, must I have better reasons? If these are good enough reasons then why can’t I rebel against Yahweh for allowing, no demanding, child sacrifices, slavery, the denigration of women, homosexuals, and for rejecting the freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, something akin to the First Amendment of the American Constitution?

So let me put it to you. There isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith given DS.


I’ll have to confess that my line of work is seasonal and the month of February is when my financial resources just about run dry before my Mom and Pop carpet cleaning business picks up a little in March, and then better in April. If you’d like to help me out because of something I’ve said that has helped you on your intellectual journey, or even as a believer if you like discussing the arguments I make from time to time, then please consider putting a few pennies in my jar. At this time of the year I need them. Thanks!

  • Clayton Flesher

    You realize that by denying normativity in personal reasons for believing, you are also effectively arguing for there not being any bad reasons for accepting Christianity?

    This is one of the worst arguments I’ve seen in a while.

  • John W. Loftus

    The difference is DS. I said science is the antidote.

  • Ronlawhouston

    This is such a meaty post that it’s going to take me some time to digest it.  However, I did want to comment on your comment.  I have severe doubts that science is an antidote to human malaise.  I think science may give clues but is not an antidote.  The root of human malaise all lies inside the individual.  In my opinion human malaise is a result of the common tendency for humans to lead the proverbial “unexamined life.”  It is due to a lack of introspection and our failure to even try to look for things like cognitive biases. 

    Anyway, do take a bow.  You’ve made a post that is quite thoughtful while also being very thought provoking.

  • Rick Keuning

    Based on your own reasoning, there is no bad reason for me to reject all your reasons against believing in God. 
    Basically stupid for you to put out a challenge to find a bad reason and then claim there is no such thing as a bad reason. It leaves you with zero creditably.

  • Ronlawhouston

    He isn’t issuing a challenge.  He’s saying that if you accept the DS (which most Evangelicals would) then there is no bad reason to reject Christianity.

  • DRC

    I think your argument is sound based on the Bible verses you quoted. It particularly hinges on the notion that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). For me, this comes down to a fundamental contradiction between various parts of the Bible. 1 Tim 2:4 says that God wants everyone to be saved, yet God also sends some people a “powerful delusion” so that they believe a lie (2 Thess 2:11-12). These are not the actions of an almighty God who wants everyone to be saved.

  • Alex Norman

    Did you see the debate between WLC and Alex Rosenberg? Of course, WLC won on style & Rosenberg won on substance. I think you might want to dissect it or simply post it. It should be up relatively soon (few days) on “Open Biola”.

  • Rick Keuning

    Technically it’a a claim, not a challenge, so your right in that respect. However, putting out such a claim implies a challenge to refute it.  He is actually saying that, on a personal, there is no bad reason to reject anything. His examples are just about the DS, but he is laying claim to some, in his mind, universal principal that any personal reason is, by default  good for that person. this ia explained in the paragraphs between the DS and the first example (Pat). Therefor, there is no bad reason for me to reject his arguments against Christianity.
    In regard to the DS, he admits that it’s an incomplete doctrinal statement, so using to argue against christian belief is nothing more than an attempt to refute a straw man.

  • John W. Loftus

    Rick, I am not saying there is no bad reason to reject anything. My argument no where implies this at all. Where are you getting this?

  • Rick Keuning

    The four paragraphs after “Calvinists need not apply.”. Specifically the second haft of the fourth paragraph. More specifically “distinction between having good personal reasons and bad personal reasons basically flies out the window.” 
    Just to be clear, what I see you as claiming is that there is no ‘personal’ bad reason to reject anything.

  • John W. Loftus

    “haft” eh? You are purposely misreading me. Why?

  • Rick Keuning

    If you are just going to have cheap shots at me misspelling words, I’ll just go away. (Maybe that’s what you want?)

    I may be misreading, but I am not doing it on purpose. What I’m reading is a claim that any personal reason to reject Christianity is good. Behind that is an argument that any personal reason is a good reason to the person holding it. Which makes any personal reason to reject Christianity good by default. Which also makes any personal reason to reject claims against Christianity good by default. (Unless you are going to apply some double standard.) Which ultimately leads all personal reason for belief or unbelief being good by default as well.

    I’m very happy to hear how I have misread you.

  • John W. Loftus

    Rick in the second half of the fourth paragraph I’m using a conditional. I’m asking questions and saying that if any of these things obtain then basically, but not absolutely, the distinction between having good personal reasons and bad personal reasons flies out the window. I did not comment on whether this is the case or not. They were questions that need asked and answered. What I do think is that most of our abilities to reason are so extremely bad that science is the only antidote.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Personally, I’m very grateful for John Calvin.  He turned me into an atheist.  I wanted nothing to do with his very ugly theology.

  • John Grove

    I was reformed before I became an apostate. As a Christian I believed the “will” was enslaved to sin and the person was unable to come to Christ apart from election. Now, as an apostate, I think free will is simply an illusion in itself.

  • Rick Keuning

    Sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I’m happy to accept your explanation in regard to how I’ve interpreted your post. I still think you’ve given yourself an escape clause with those four paragraphs, but I may be reading to much into them.

    Before I go on, I really want to say that I enjoyed your book, “Why I Became an Atheist”. It was the first book I bought with the Kindle I got for Christmas, and was recommended to me by an atheist friend. I cannot remember the last time a non fiction book had me wanting to read just one more page like your book did. However, even though they were well written, I did not find any of your arguments for unbelief in any way compelling. What was compelling was the way you compiled and presented the information in the book.

    Back on topic. Your no bad reason for unbelief is based on the doctrinal statement (DS) in your post, right? The problem with your DS is that it isn’t anything like a actual DS of what Evangelical Christians (EC) believe. It’ more like a DS stump. There isn’t anything wrong in it, but it is so short of representing what EC’s actually believe that it is rendered useless as a tool for debating the merits or other wise of not believe in the EC God.