Reading John Loftus's introduction to The Christian Delusion I felt a bit like a democrat hiding out at the Republican National Convention. There I sit, wedged in between a Texas cowboy and a suburban soccer mom. But while the crowd around me is whooping it up in a frenzy, I find myself taking issue with the speakers: "That's just rhetoric." I grumble to myself. "No, that's not Obama's position." "That's a false dichotomy." Suddenly I notice "Tex" staring at me with a suspicious glower. Time to start applauding.
Anyway, that was my reaction to the introduction: an unsympathetic and overly rhetorical characterization of the Christian religion. Let me give some examples.
First, Loftus notes how Christians continue to adapt and change their positions, ever nuancing their worldview in light of new data. Hmmm. Reminds me of the 2004 presidential election. John Kerry, as you will recall, was known for having changed his policy positions over the years. The democrat would chalk it up to an open mind which grasps the complexity of the issues in question. (Surely we don't want some knucklehead who will "stay the course" no matter how wrong that course may be.)
Sadly, republicans at rallies responded to Kerry's nuance by picking up sandals and chanting "flip flop, flip flop!" That's what Loftus does. He chants "flip flop, flip flop!" But if I'm a democrat, don't expect me to accept the interpretation.
Further, Loftus's description of Christian "flip flops" is occasionally askew. For instance, he incorrectly defines "annihilationism" as cessation of existence upon death (17). (In actuality the standard definition is resurrection unto destruction; the "unto" is added because it sounds more "King James biblish"). In addition, Loftus incorrectly conflates process theism and panentheism (18). But then, I guess you don't ask a republican for a nuanced summary of Obama's healthcare proposal.
Loftus also repeatedly makes extreme either/or statements to maximize the Christian's dilemma. For example, he notes that Christians have modified their interpretation of the Bible on a number of points over time and then he concludes: "how can exegetes really think they have the correct interpretation of it at all?" (19) Way back when I did a degree in English literature and believe me, the disputes of interpretation extend far beyond the Bible. Indeed, some literary critics will get in debates over the interpretation of a Stop sign. So if there are worries reading the Bible, there are also worries reading The Christian Delusion.
Finally, Loftus launches a masterful bit of rhetoric, masterful because it insulates him and all his authors from criticism. He note that there are two kinds of Christians, the dishonest, brainwashed lot who will not accept the arguments of The Christian Delusion (they're too far gone) and the "intellectually honest" folk who will accept the arguments and thus abandon their faith:
Shouldn't Christians just walk away from their faith and recognize it as the delusion that it is, once it has been shown to be false? [That is, rather than seek refined versions of Christianity.] But that's not what they'll do. Instead, they will reinvent it. This happens in every generation, even if there remain pockets of Christians who embrace the views of the past. It's too bad, really. Like a chameleon, Christianity will always change its colors as the surroundings change with each subsequent generation.
So with a book like this one it'll be no different. Rather than admit the arguments contained herein have been successful, Christians will simply change what they believe in order to keep their faith. [...] But for believers who are intellectually honest with themselves and the arguments, I suggest it's time to get rid of the dizziness that swirls in your head by jumping off the merry-go-round of faith. (19-20)
And it's just that simple.
This leaves me in a tough spot. You see, I finished The Christian Delusion and I don't fit into either one of Loftus's Christian categories. That is, I didn't jump off the "merry-go-round of faith". But neither did I find myself changing anything I believe in response to the book. What's wrong with me? Maybe I belong to that pocket of insular irrational Christians who cling to the past.
Hey, why is Tex still staring at me?