On p. 22. of Why I Became An Atheist, Loftus asks “At what point can someone say she can make an informed decision about the Christian faith?” Similarly, on p. 29 he states that he “began to ask whether it’s possible to have a correct understanding of the Bible if people as close to each other as he and I had such a misunderstanding.”
These quotes are paramount because they are substantial to his method for rejecting Christianity. They indicate his mindset and impetus for developing the rest of the book that follows after the first chapter. It is critical in the context of this book to understand that Christianity literally is a relationship with Jesus Christ. To answer the first question, the point at which a person can make an informed decision is when they realize that Jesus loves them and they accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. That’s it. Everything that occurs afterward indicates the state of the relationship at that time. Relationships wax and wane, ebb and flow, crest and trough. People are closer to each other when they put effort into the relationship, reciprocate and prioritize each other’s needs. A relationship with God is very similar. Even if you are a Calvinist, you have a choice to put effort into a relationship with God or let the relationship deteriorate. Loftus implies with the two quotes I cited and throughout the first chapter that having a correct understanding of the Bible and making an informed decision is the crux of Christianity. Knowledge is fantastic and a great aid to us in many ways. Despite that, it remains just one aspect of Christianity and Christian apologists often acknowledge that intellectual information is not what transforms lives. Genuine prayer, fellowship, service and worship are other factors that figure prominently in a relationship with Christ. Knowledge can serve to strengthen faith but, Loftus in the first chapter turns to it almost exclusively. Indeed, the rest of the book consists of intellectual objections to Christianity.
At this point, a non-Christian could certainly say that observing a Christian is the best test for discerning what Christianity looks like. In doing so, do Christians have adequate knowledge to make an informed decision and conclude that Christianity is the best representation of truth? The caveat of that method is that it is incredibly difficult to judge a relationship unless you are the one in the relationship. If this weren’t the case, there would be no need for counselors and psychologists. A relationship would be nothing more than a prescribed set of actions for each person to perform. In reality, we know that relationships are much more complex than that. Therefore, to assess someone’s knowledge and then pronounce that their lack thereof indicates they aren’t intellectually equipped to make an informed decision about a relationship with God, as Loftus stresses, is to commit a philosophical category mistake. It’s akin to the color of hot or the taste of joy. We all know that intellect and information do not drive our relationships. Relationships are too complex to rely so heavily on knowledge to establish the legitimacy of a relationship with God. It seems to me after reading the first chapter that Loftus stressed intellect in his relationship instead of the kinds of relationship building interactions I mentioned earlier. Basically, he put the cart before the horse.
It’s difficult to judge the authenticity and desirability of a relationship by assessing the knowledge of the person in the relationship. Even relationship counselors sometimes have failed relationships because both parties didn’t invest in the relationship to the extent of their abilities, despite one of the two being an expert in relationships. The success of a relationship isn’t dependent on how much knowledge is possessed. Success is based on how much each person invests in the relationship over time; the longer the better. Naturally, former Christians often say that they vigorously pursued a relationship with God for years but, once they learned the intellectual objections to Christianity, they couldn’t maintain their faith. The problem with this statement is that it is guilty of the same misunderstanding of relationships outlined earlier. There is an outcome of science called reductionism. The conclusion is that we are basically the product of our genes and determined circumstances. In other words, we are not free. Based on the physical unfolding of the universe, we are predetermined to meet a certain person at a certain time and our genes dictate that we are attracted to them. According to reductionism, love is an illusion. It’s just a blind combination of inorganic and biological circumstances. Despite this, people continue to pursue relationships and “fall in love”. That’s because we know that the knowledge in question can’t account for our feelings. A relationship with God is much the same. It requires that we genuinely invest in it especially since there has never been an intellectual objection to Christianity that has gone unanswered.
Additionally, he states on pp. 27-30 “I did find people who told me that God loves me and that Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters. So it seemed natural that when I was a troubled juvenile, I would reach out to the God of the Bible and find the meaning of these Bible stories for my life”. Even in this statement, it seems he is looking for what he can get out of the relationship as opposed to what he can invest in it. Regardless, notice how different the purpose in this statement is to rest of the book (intellectual objections to biblical miracles, the creation account in Genesis, the reliability of the Bible, etc.). He says “Jesus is the one person who could help me through troubled waters” but throughout pages 20-33, he chronicles several conflicts with fellow Christians. There is no mention of relationship with Jesus in this section. During these episodes, he seems to have turned away from the relationship he might have had at one time. Only John Loftus can look back on his life and say that he genuinely had a relationship with Jesus in the time period he records. It just seems from what he writes that he didn’t. Unfortunately, that’s not all. He furthermore sanctions intellect as what should be the concluding force in a relationship-oriented issue.
Of course, the non-Christian is going to attempt to preempt all this by saying that it takes intellect to even determine whether or not Jesus lived and died for us, whether or not God was with the Hebrews in the OT, whether or not the Bible has been faithfully recorded and handed down throughout the ages. In other words, it takes intellect to know whether Christianity is true or not for us to even consider it a basis for a relationship with Jesus. To the non-Christian, religion is just a spiritual placebo and there is no real supernatural truth. This objection seems to have great force to it and indeed many non-Christians bank their spiritual eternality on it. Consequently, Christian explanations that clarify all the false accusations and misconceptions that have ever been raised against Christianity get blithely rejected because of that kind of thinking. In the end, these Christian responses reasonably show that Christianity is based on truth as best we can understand truth. For the person who has established God as their ultimate authority, the responses to objections to Christianity are sufficiently explanatory.
In summary, it just doesn't seem like Loftus ever had a relationship with God to begin with and that his motivation was suspect. From the first chapter, there seems to be none of the elements that make up a Christ follower's life; service to others in the name of Christ, joy, fellowship, etc.