Discussion with Dr. Anthony Garrett, Part 1

----- Original Message -----
Sent: 30 May 2000 21:16
Subject: Asymmetry of conversion

Thank you for replying regarding your email address. As you will see, I have
a question regarding some information I found about you on the WWW. I hope
you don't mind me asking as I appreciate you are busy and this is a slightly
personal question. Nevertheless, if you find it interesting I would be
delighted to hear back from you.

Here is my question:

I recently heard of your case. I understand that you had been a member of
the Australian Skeptics and have nevertheless converted to Christianity.
To date you are the second person I know of who has such a background.

I am doing some research for my website "Leaving Christianity" at
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html

The site is basically a resource of "testimonies" from people who have left
Christianity explaining why they left in their own words. Mostly it links to
sites already containing some collections of these stories. In the process
of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large
number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists,
missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as
members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity.
However, to date I have mostly just anecdotal information on this although
I have now asked a number of atheist etc. organisations, and some
Christians and Christian websites, for examples of converts to Christianity
who have a background of having been in an organisation that is critical of
Christianity.

I am particularly interested in the conversion and deconversion of informed
people from both the theist and non-theist camps who are well aware of the
arguments from their particular side, before they convert to the "other
side," rather than the lesser educated public. i.e. the conversion and
deconversion of trained theist and non-theist "apologists", as it were,
for and against Christianity.

That is why I have chosen to seek in addition to ex-ministers etc.
those, like yourself, who were previously members of an
atheist/freethought/humanist etc. organisation who then became
Christians. I'm not interested in those who have not studied the arguments
against Christianity very well before they became Christians, so I'm using
membership of an organisation as an indicator that they were probably quite
well read. I appreciate that being a member of an organisation does not
guarantee one is well read on arguments against Christianity any more than
those who are not in such organisations will necessarily not be well read.
But as a stab at research I think it is a reasonable quest for data, in
which I would expect a fair correlation despite some noise. (This is
discussed a little further at
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/conversion_asymmetry.html).

I really want to know if studying material critical of Christianity prevents
people becoming Christians in the first place (and if so, how much/what
kind of material), whereas Christian ministers and theologians do change
their beliefs (I have examples at
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html#profs ).
I also wish to test any hypotheses I draw from this.

So if you would like to tell me, I would be very interested in your
background, what you have read on both sides of the argument, any
material you may have previously published (even if only online) critical of
Christianity and, particularly, what it was that convinced you to become
a Christian. I am not seeking a debate and will not harangue you with
email arguments (put me in your kill-file if I do!), rather I wish to ask
people on both sides of the question for a more interesting enquiry
and hopefully honest research. I would like to enquire into your ideas
though and may discuss them on my site. However, I certainly do not
wish to be in anyway confrontational, merely examine what is going on.
You can see an example of my approach (all be it unfinished) at
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/jordan.html

I will of course continue correspondence if you wish,
it's entirely up to you (I also appreciate you are a busy person).
I have read the little I have found about yourself at
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s17040.htm
http://atheism.org/library/modern/anthony_garrett/esct.html
http://www.secular.org/library/modern/anthony_garrett/garrett-bio.html

I also tried to read www.csis.org.uk but the URL did not work for me. Is
this address correct?

I appreciate that as you say "I did not become a Christian because of
logical argumentation. Conversion is always more personal than that." I
agree that there is much to the conversion (and deconversion) phenomenon and
it is hardly a sterile phenomenon of mere logic! I have taken an interest in
the psychology of religion, particularly as it relates to conversion.
However, the only other ex-member of an organisation critical of
Christianity claims that his reason for becoming a Christian was through
pondering the evidence for the resurrection until he became convinced.
(He actually became a fundamentalist!) From his website though, I think
it was also largely a long exposure to some Christians he admired that
might have been part of the influence.

Like your interest in evolution, I am only an interested amateur in my
chosen Internet field (leaving Christianity).

I am in danger of rambling! Many details can be found at my site, which I
will leave you to peruse if you wish. My particular story is at
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/why.html

I think we may have some things in common. I am also a physicist (all be it
a meagre applied one and certainly not in your league!) and have always
accepted evolution as well attested, and been disturbed by the antics of
fundamentalists, both when I was a Christian and now when not.

Thank you for any help. I also will not think badly of you if you do not
wish to reply. This may be an entirely personal matter for you which you do
not desire to get into with a stranger.

Anyway, for details of what I have gathered so far on this question, see
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/conversion_asymmetry.html

Regards,

Steve
----------------
Leaving Christianity:
www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html



----- Original Message -----
Sent: 31 May 2000 23:45
Subject: Re: Asymmetry of conversion

At 09:16 PM 5/30/00 +0100, you wrote:

>In the process
>of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large
>number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists,
>missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as
>members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity.


Surely not - Christian bookshops are full of such testimonies!

I'll gladly say more about myself. I left Australian Skeptics not because I
became a Christian but because I left Australia to return to my native
England. When I was active in skeptical organisations my activity was only
ever to defend and advocate proper science and scientific method in areas
where it was patently being abused. I continue to approve of this part of
what skeptical organisations do and I still subscribe to Skeptical
Inquirer. I never got involved with the ghostbusting side because I
regarded it then as "not my department", and nowadays I am profoundly glad
I didn't. The occult is dangerous.

I was glad that the early Skeptical Inquirers didn't mix the skepticism
with the humanism even though most contibutors were humanists - they put
that in a separate magazine called the Humanist which even as a secular
scientist I thought was trash. I regret that Skeptical Inquirer now
includes a lot of waffle about humanism, psychology and belief. (I do not
deny psychology but it's in the wrong place there!)


>I really want to know if studying material critical of Christianity prevents
>people becoming Christians in the first place


I don't believe so. I think people study such material because they are
already hostile to Christianity.


>So if you would like to tell me, I would be very interested in your
>background, what you have read on both sides of the argument, any
>material you may have previously published (even if only online) critical of
>Christianity and, particularly, what it was that convinced you to become
>a Christian.


That I only tell to people in person, and then only to certain people for
deeper reasons than study! Sorry.


>I also tried to read www.csis.org.uk but the URL did not work for me. Is
>this address correct?


Yes; keep trying!


Best wishes





Anthony Garrett

Managing Editor,

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----- Original Message -----
Sent: 03 June 2000 23:58
Subject: Thanks and a couple of questions

Dear Dr. Garrett,

Thank you very much for writing back. I have some more enquiries and follow
up questions based on your reply if that is okay. Sorry for the length, but
I hope you will find it interesting.

Thanks for clarifying that your area was countering pseudo-science rather
than religious claims when in Australian Skeptics. Based on this I think
that you are probably not someone with the kind of background I am looking
for. Actually, when you mentioned not being involved in "ghost-busting"
initially at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s17040.htm I
wondered if that was possibly a coy term for criticising religion. However I
take it you literally mean debunking such things as alleged hauntings etc.
which you were not involved in. It looks like religious discussion was not
even on the agenda of Australian Skeptics in the early days when you were
involved, and they were more into debunking pseudo-science, ghosts, UFO's
etc.

I wrote:
>In the process
>of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large
>number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists,
>missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as
>members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity.

You replied:
<< Surely not - Christian bookshops are full of such testimonies! >>

I want to ask more about these books, but some background first to better
clarify what I am looking for:

You also wrote:
<<  I think people study such material because they are
already hostile to Christianity. >>

I acknowledge part of your point in that critical material is typical
reading for someone hostile to (or at least critical of) Christianity but
often the situation is quite otherwise. The fact is that I, and many others
whose testimonies I have, read critical material whilst we were Christians
because we were curious. It was this research that often was our "undoing."
Initially often quite painful and surprising for a Christian to discover
that they can no longer find Christianity tenable (for which we get no
sympathy from Christians). Research is, from the stories I have read, the
number one reason for "deconversion" so it certainly isn't true that the
reason for reading this material is necessarily (at least) because people
are hostile to Christianity. Indeed, most of the people I know of continue
to read critical material because they are fascinated by the subject, rather
than reading it because they are hostile. If one is surrounded by Christians
then we are quite likely to be interested in reading the full picture. I
take it you wouldn't advise people only to read pro-Christian material?

One must also bare in mind that throughout history and still today,
particularly in fundamentalist parts of the USA, it is Christians who are
very hostile to atheists rather than visa-versa. Indeed atheism is often
spoken of as "the last taboo" and many of the ex-Christians I have spoken to
are regularly condemned to hell by family members and friends as soon as
their new beliefs become known. We escape most of this in liberal Europe,
but in other parts of the world the situation is very claustrophobic for
non-Christians to put it mildly. To guess that people study such material
because they are already hostile to Christianity is to too easily demonise
other humans, so I really feel I have to stand up for my fellow infidels on
this one. The situation is certainly more complex than your portrayal.

Meanwhile, reading reviews of such critical books at Amazon also shows that
current Christians do occasionally read such material, although admittedly
not as many as non-Christians. From my research ex-Christians in particular
often have read such material before they left Christianity, as well as
continuing to read it afterwards. A perusal of some of the "testimonies" via
my site would demonstrate this. I also remember reading a book of Christian
essays which started "If you are not aware of the seriousness of the
arguments for atheism then you probably do not understand what we mean by
saying we believe in God" (or words to that effect). All said though, I
think it is generally good to read material on both sides of the fence if
one wants to be fair and to understand a position well. To discuss
creationists it helps to know what they are thinking of course, as
nauseating as their writings may be!

Speaking personally, it was rather a curiosity, a search into the heart of
questions and a search for a deeper faith that made me decide to read
material critical of Christianity, which obviously I started doing whilst I
was still a Christian. A far cry from reading it because I was hostile to
Christianity. (Now I read it because it continues to fascinate me, as you
can see on my story on my website, not because of hostility). Also whilst
still a Christian, some material (like Karen Armstrong's "Tongues of Fire")
I read because it looked interesting from the blurb on the jacket, quite
unaware of that it would challenge me.

From my discussions with Christians it appears true that as you say it is
generally critics who read critical material and, as I have found, in
general there is a lack of knowledge of arguments against Christianity.
However, most ex-Christians, at least, and some present Christians, have
read critical material when Christians out of curiosity and even in order to
refute it. I know someone who did a conservative theology course that starts
with reading Russell's "Why I am not a Christian" in order to refute it. On
university courses it is often core reading of academic historical Jesus
research that causes people to loose their faith. I have spoken to such
people myself e.g. the Vice-Principal of a major UK theological college who
left for that reason. The Principal himself also discussed with me how many
of his students (many were mature students and some current clergy doing
further study) loose their faith in the course of their studies. He himself
remained a Christian, all be it increasingly liberal. (I used to date his
daughter, hence the inside knowledge). I was also told that some found it
liberating whereas others were pretty devastated by the discovery. After
all, apart from the obvious shock of having one's whole world rewritten,
many were in their 40's or 50's and had devoted a large part of their
personal and professional lives to religion and were (apparently) bewildered
as to how to start again.

An example of another typical academic course (at Birmingham university
where ex-priest and renowned biblical scholar Michael Goulder was a
professor) is available online at
http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/goodacre/jesus/

What I can't find though is equivalent proportions of people in freethought
etc. societies who become Christians to balance the proportions of
ministers, missionaries, apologists, theologians and other well-churched
Christians who subsequently leave. I hope that will encourage you to dig out
some book references of such stories that you alluded to for me. Any such
resources I will add to my website under the section for counter examples,
so it will get a fair readership (currently about 30-40 per day). I don't
consider the likes of C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell to have been very aware
BTW. Certainly not of the calibre of members of the Sea of Faith, the Jesus
Seminar, Michael Goulder, Gerd Lüdemann etc. (see my site for details). I
also know that Josh McDowell is not recommended by some Christians and C.S.
Lewis' reason for believing in the divinity of Christ was very weak indeed,
disappointing for me too when I read him when a Christian. He says in
"Surprised by Joy" << When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is
the son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly
spent the journey in thought. >> On the other hand, if someone like Jeff
Lowder, James Still etc. of secular web fame or other knowledgeable infidels
converted then I, and many others I have spoken to, would like to know why
and ask them further if necessary. Are there any testimonies like this in
the books that you mentioned?

It is important that these are from people who were previously well educated
in the arguments against Christianity as this would be just what I am
looking for to have to reassess my ideas. I have been in many Christian
bookshops in my time and am aware of conversions of course, and have read
and heard many Christian testimonies but virtually none from people who have
left an organisation critical of Christianity because they became
Christians. I have examples of books and testimonies of ex-ministers etc.
via my site, but I can't find much on the opposite. I also know of others
who have been asking for this information for years (e.g. the ex-minister
Farrell Till who you may know of).

I hope you can see by this discussion the magnitude of what I am after. I
don't know whether you have seen the material you refer to or rather assume
it is there or mistakenly thought I mean conversion stories from those
uneducated or semi-educated in arguments against Christianity. Nevertheless
after years of looking in Christian bookshops, church bookstalls, religious
sections in general bookshops and libraries and enquiring on Internet
discussion groups and Christian forums I have found little in terms of such
stories that it seems you are suggesting are abundant. So if you really do
know of this information I would like details.

<< That I only tell to people in person, and then only to certain people for
deeper reasons than study! Sorry. >>

Fair enough, although I am trying to study in the deepest sense, I am not a
sterile academic about this. Also I have opened up on my website for all to
see. It is of course a personal thing though.

>I also tried to read www.csis.org.uk but the URL did not work for me. Is
>this address correct?

<< Yes; keep trying! >>

Thanks, I'll try again.

One other thing that troubles me, you said:
<< I regret that Skeptical Inquirer now includes a lot of waffle about
humanism, psychology and belief. (I do not deny psychology but it's in the
wrong place there!) >>

Do you mean to say that you think discussion of psychology and belief is
out of place in Skeptical Inquirer (e.g. a bunch of amateurs discussing
something they know little about, (although surely they can discuss
anything!)) or do you think psychology does not influence religious
(particularly various Christian) behaviours and beliefs? If the latter than
I think that would be difficult to justify and quite odd coming from a
science populariser battling against another area where religious beliefs
take primacy over scientific method. Such a view that psychology is out of
place in religion is quite at odds with main stream psychology, as well as
much classic writing on the subject by (Christian) psychologists such as
William James, Ninian Smart and Robert Thouless. James' "The Varieties of
Religious Experience" is very famous. Smart ("The Religious Experience of
Mankind") was a professor of theology and lecturer in history and philosophy
of religion. Thouless gave his book ("The Psychology of Religion") as a
lecture series to ordination candidates at Cambridge. The largest psychology
of religion website that I have found is by an academic psychologist who is
also a Christian http://www.psychwww.com/psyrelig/index.htm

So if you are under the impression that psychology of religion is
incompatible with being a Christian, it obviously is not necessarily so
(unless one is a fundamentalist!)

A few keyword searches on medline (the academic medical Internet resource
that indexes millions of medical and allied journals and abstracts etc.
available via many portals) for "psychology of religion", "religious
conversion" etc. results in hundreds of references to articles in psychology
and psychiatry journals etc. If you do have studious reasons for denying
religious psychology then I hope you could make a good scientific case for
this just as I know you would criticise a creationist for not scientifically
justifying ideas that are in conflict with evolution. It would be deeply
ironic if in one area of science you championed the scientific method and in
another you made faith statements. However, if your views on psychology are
just private then that is another matter, but if you make them publicly,
contradicting the research easily available through peer reviewed academic
journals and standard textbooks, then I would think that would be an
embarrassment.

Speaking personally once again, I was surprised to discover when reading
such material just how much my religion did have a psychology. It is very
humbling to find one is personally so very only human. I was shocked to
discover how people who had never met me (including long dead writers) could
know so much about my inner life and secret thoughts.

That's it. Thank you again for responding. If you do know of any book titles
containing conversion stories of educated ex-members of societies critical
of Christianity or their equivalents who later became Christians I would be
interested in reading them. (I'm not trying to be "challenging" or
sarcastic, I really would like to know of such books and I'll send the book
information on to Till and others who I know have an interest in this
question).

Thanks again,

Regards,

Steve
www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html

----- Original Message -----
Sent: 05 June 2000 17:49
Subject: Re: Thanks and a couple of questions

At 11:58 PM 6/3/00 +0100, you wrote:

>>In the process
>>of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large
>>number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists,
>>missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as
>>members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity.
>
><< Surely not - Christian bookshops are full of such testimonies! >>
>
>I want to ask more about these books



I didn't mean academic philosophers of religion and such converting to
Christianity. I remember Jung noted that was rare. I mean simply that most
conversion testimonies of Westerners, found in Western Christian bookshops,
are to Christianity from atheism, not from Islam for example. There are
many such testimonies.



><<  I think people study such material because they are
>already hostile to Christianity. >>
>
>I acknowledge part of your point in that critical material is typical
>reading for someone hostile to (or at least critical of) Christianity but
>often the situation is quite otherwise. The fact is that I, and many others
>whose testimonies I have, read critical material whilst we were Christians
>because we were curious. It was this research that often was our "undoing."
>Initially often quite painful and surprising for a Christian to discover
>that they can no longer find Christianity tenable (for which we get no
>sympathy from Christians). Research is, from the stories I have read, the
>number one reason for "deconversion"


It probably would be, among people who write up their deconversions. But
that is a biased sample: most people don't bother to write. People who do
write are those who are likely to "do research". I still maintain a prior
hostility to Christianity is involved.



>One must also bare in mind that throughout history and still today,
>particularly in fundamentalist parts of the USA, it is Christians who are
>very hostile to atheists rather than visa-versa. Indeed atheism is often
>spoken of as "the last taboo" and many of the ex-Christians I have spoken to
>are regularly condemned to hell by family members and friends as soon as
>their new beliefs become known. We escape most of this in liberal Europe,
>but in other parts of the world the situation is very claustrophobic for
>non-Christians to put it mildly. To guess that people study such material
>because they are already hostile to Christianity is to too easily demonise
>other humans, so I really feel I have to stand up for my fellow infidels on
>this one. The situation is certainly more complex than your portrayal.



Of course there is more to it than I could sum up in a couple of sentences.
But I disagree with much of this. It is true that, where Christians have
held secular power, eg the mediaeval church of Rome, they have often
disgracefully abused that power. A milder version is the lack of love of
Christians for atheists in bible belt USA. But the proportion of atheists
there in serious danger of their lives because of their beliefs is utterly
negligible. Compare that with Christians in Muslim countries today.

No Christian can condemn anyone to hell; it is God who will do that. But it
is not so simple as many Christians think, for there will be Christians in
hell too: many parables can only be interpreted as warnings of hell *to
believers*.



>Meanwhile, reading reviews of such critical books at Amazon also shows that
>current Christians do occasionally read such material, although admittedly
>not as many as non-Christians. From my research ex-Christians in particular
>often have read such material before they left Christianity, as well as
>continuing to read it afterwards. A perusal of some of the "testimonies" via
>my site would demonstrate this. I also remember reading a book of Christian
>essays which started "If you are not aware of the seriousness of the
>arguments for atheism then you probably do not understand what we mean by
>saying we believe in God"



I don't see why most Christians should take valuable time to educate
themselves on such arguments. Only those few who find themselves called to
act as missionaries to academics and other professional thinkers to do
this. The biblical pattern of conversion does not involve academic argument.

Regarding the arguments against Christianity, I have this to say. Every
argument proceeds by reason from premisses to conclusion. To believe the
conclusion you therefore have to have faith in the premisses and faith in
reason. The latter is non-controversial. But where do the premisses come
from? You might say they can themselves be derived from premisses still
further back. But that simply defers the problem: eventually you are going
to have to admit you are starting from assertions you believe but cannot
prove. In other words those assertions are your faith. Therefore everybody
has a faith of some sort, and "Are you for faith or reason" is the wrong
question.

 


>>From my discussions with Christians it appears true that as you say it is
>generally critics who read critical material and, as I have found, in
>general there is a lack of knowledge of arguments against Christianity.
>However, most ex-Christians, at least, and some present Christians, have
>read critical material when Christians out of curiosity and even in order to
>refute it. I know someone who did a conservative theology course that starts
>with reading Russell's "Why I am not a Christian" in order to refute it. On
>university courses it is often core reading of academic historical Jesus
>research that causes people to loose their faith. I have spoken to such
>people myself e.g. the Vice-Principal of a major UK theological college who
>left for that reason. The Principal himself also discussed with me how many
>of his students (many were mature students and some current clergy doing
>further study) loose their faith in the course of their studies. He himself
>remained a Christian, all be it increasingly liberal. (I used to date his
>daughter, hence the inside knowledge). I was also told that some found it
>liberating whereas others were pretty devastated by the discovery. After
>all, apart from the obvious shock of having one's whole world rewritten,
>many were in their 40's or 50's and had devoted a large part of their
>personal and professional lives to religion and were (apparently) bewildered
>as to how to start again.



I am not convinced about a good deal of "higher criticism" or much
archaeological dating. For arguments that a different archaeological
timescale (for which there is independent evidence) produces a close fit to
the Old Testament, see the book by David Rohl (not a Christian!) called A
Test Of Time. Regarding Higher Criticism, I think it vastly over-confident
on the basis of very little to assert that four strands can clearly be
discerned in the book of Genesis, for example. Also the dating of Daniel to
after the events he prophecies in fine detail can be vigorously argued
against. I suspect the true if unacknowledged source of that dating is
unbelief that such prophecy is possible.



> I don't
>consider the likes of C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell to have been very aware
>BTW.



I find CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" to be a superb example of logical
argument for Christianity if that's what you want to read; though of course
logical argument has its limits.



>also know that Josh McDowell is not recommended by some Christians and C.S.
>Lewis' reason for believing in the divinity of Christ was very weak indeed,
>disappointing for me too when I read him when a Christian. He says in
>"Surprised by Joy" << When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is
>the son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly
>spent the journey in thought. >>



All through your comments you are assuming that belief is a matter of
intellectual reasoning. My faith-reason comments show that cannot be so.
Lewis later learned to communicate using reason, but what happened to him
on that journey was simply not in that category.



>One other thing that troubles me, you said:
><< I regret that Skeptical Inquirer now includes a lot of waffle about
>humanism, psychology and belief. (I do not deny psychology but it's in the
>wrong place there!) >>
>
>Do you mean to say that you think discussion of psychology and belief is
>out of place in Skeptical Inquirer



Essentially yes. I would like Skeptical Inquirer to consist largely of
reactive articles by people like Randi (a hero of mine) who take the
trouble to look into claims, discover fraud, and write them up. Also some
articles on what parts of science are regularly set aside by such claims,
and why they conflict with it.

Of course psychology, done properly, is important. "Psychology of religion"
is not a term I use, but I am willing to say more about "comparative
religion" which I think is pernicious nonsense. It claims to examine
religions from a neutral standpoint, but that is not possible since
religions set themselves up to encompass everything. So that standpoint is
really the belief system (ie religion, which need not be theistic) of the
examiner. There is no spectator's gallery.


Best wishes

Anthony Garrett

----- Original Message -----
Sent: 07 June 2000 01:07
Subject: Re: Thanks and a couple of questions

Dear Dr. Garrett,

I am again flattered that you took the time to write to me. I only really wanted to establish your background before conversion rather than strike up a longer conversation, but I will continue if you wish.

I think we have established that you were not well read on atheistic themes before your conversion to Christianity and are unable to give me examples of those who were. So my general idea is not falsified - i.e. that those who know what the arguments are against Christianity are unlikely to become Christians, whereas those well versed in Christian apologetics and immersed in the Christian life frequently do leave Christianity. I think this suggests that Christianity may well be untenable and people find this out when the information becomes available and makes an impact through their prior indoctrination. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/quotes.html

My initial reason for writing is therefore over, but although I originally wrote that I would not hassle you with debate I am willing to continue discussing your points if you wish. However to reduce the volume, and as much is already available via my site, I will leave most to URLs. This is also because I wish to post our exchange on my website and enable readers to follow resources further.

The main thing I would like to say, is that I and my fellow ex-Christians are well aware of what it is like to convert to Christianity and have the feelings you talk of. Your latest response seems somewhat unfair, especially as I previously alluded to this and it is so obvious from my site.

After my previous email I do not know how you can maintain that << a prior hostility to Christianity is involved >> in reading critical material when I explained that so many of us read this prior to deconversion and continue to because of its continued fascination. I know from first hand experience that I was not hostile to Christianity during my deconversion and the ex-Christians I have spoken to are the same. Many subsequently do become annoyed at, or even hostile to, Christianity of course which is understandable given the aggressive evangelism and condemnation that occurs in many quarters and the resentment some feel at having being duped for so long. Many though are quite calm about their lack of belief. See http://www.eclipse.co.uk/thoughts/links.htm#calm

As I said, we often started reading critical material when were Christians.Why would a Christian be hostile to Christianity? Also, it is a shame that far too few do write their stories, as it brings much catharsis. Much of my knowledge comes from people "off-loading" on discussion lists. Many come to resources such as the "ex-tian" (i.e. "ex-Christian") mailing list for support after the trauma of deconversion and advice on how to handle their perplexed (and condemning) relatives and peers etc.

Please don't think that just because other human beings (yes, we are just like you) are not currently Christians that we do not have the numinous feelings that Christians do, or understand what it is like to become a Christian. The full range from ex-ministers, missionaries, monks, nuns, theologians, apologists to countless ordinary ex-Christian from the pew have left Christianity from a wide range of denominations and backgrounds. Do you really believe this to be "biased sample" who have not already thought and experienced a universe of religious life? My exposure to them is far from a "biased sample" of hot-heads without finer feelings, wherein somebody writing their testimony somehow precludes them from having had the inner life of a "true Christian." http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/seek.html

How do you know << most people don't bother to write >> ? Have you been interviewing ex-Christians? Even I couldn't tell you whether "most" write up their stories as public testimonies. Many do and many don't. Again, how do you know that those who communicate their stories and feelings etc. are a biased sample? How have you gathered information on the inner lives of people who do not give information about themselves? How do you know anything about the beliefs of people who tell you nothing about their beliefs? Ex-Christians often shock family members and peers when they tell them, often after a long time, about their loss of belief. I can't recollect any cases where they have been found out because a Christian could "judge a tree by its fruit." Silent witnesses are apparently not demonstrating supposed unspiritual fruits of such a cataclysmic fall from grace.

Personally it was the spiritual attraction of atheism that was part of my own deconversion as you can see on my site. Although reason is important (how can we live responsibly without it) your comment << All through your comments you are assuming that belief is a matter of intellectual reasoning >> is completely false. I take it you are not reading my site. It is just this refusal to review the "other side" that leads to so much misapprehension amongst Christians. As I say at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/why.html << I had allowed myself to ask if Christianity made more sense, and was at least equally rich if it was not of God, and overwhelmingly this was what I found. Neither did Christianity seem truly good. I summed it up at the time by saying that religion is "human and natural, not divine and supernatural." >>

If I had still thought that Christianity made for a more divine, good, loving and spiritual life, even though I could not make sense of it, I would have remained a Christian. Mystery was all right with me. As Mother Julian of Norwich said in her Revelations of Divine Love - "why had the origin of sin not been prevented?" (She remarks that she senselessly and stupidly fretted and upset herself over it!) In her "revelation" Jesus says "sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."

I am well aware that ultimately belief is not a matter of intellectual reasoning and most apologetics are rationalisations after the fact.

Again as I say on my site, Thomas Aquinas after a religious experience following his massive "Summa Theologica" said that this huge work of reason was "as straw" compared to religious experience and melts away in the face of it. I am well aware of that, and continue to be plagued by the numinous/divine, call it what you will, hence the interest in psychology, including the books by Marghanita Laski. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/mybooks.html

Even so, I now think that abandonment of reason for faith is dangerous and also makes Christianity a position of enormous special pleading.

You said: << I don't see why most Christians should take valuable time to educate themselves on such arguments. >>

Indeed, most Christians don't, which is why I think many remain Christians. However, the reason some do is often because they can't help themselves due to the perplexing questions they have. Some have even described Christian perplexedness as a "thought tumour" http://www.planetary.org/society/tributes/society-sagan-tribute-34.html

It is impossible to ignore the magnitude of such questions when they really hit. One cannot stay detached and not think about these questions. Even then many steep themselves in apologetics and prayer, but it is just not enough and one often reads and thinks further. Just read some of my collected stories. I do not demand that Christians should read critical material, I merely hypothesise that the reason many people stay Christian is because of ignorance of what the problems are. These problems are intellectual, moral, spiritual, historical, psychological, philosophical, biblical etc. etc. and impinge on every aspect of life and existence. Nothing is left out. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html#profs

If reason is not important element in religious questions, why do you hold up C. S. Lewis as a prime example or reason (which he certainly is not) and as a book I should read? I was not making empty boasts in saying that many other ex-Christians and I are well read on Christian themes. C. S. Lewis is basic (even remedial) Christian reading. I read all of his Christian writings whilst a Christian and "Mere Christianity" is a common book for ex-Christians to have read from my conversations (the very idea of a pure kernel of "mere" Christianity, without unnecessary trappings, being very attractive). As I said, many of us were well read on Christian apologetics, lived rich Christian lives and more. See http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/seek.html

For criticism of "Mere Christianity" see http://www.ffrf.org/lfif/assertions.html and http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gaunilo2/mere.html

The historical criticism of Christianity is somewhat more scholarly and well thought out than your portrayal. These scholars are not stupid people, unable to grasp common religious arguments. I have collected some challenging material at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/jordan.html#links

Regarding your comments beginning << Every argument proceeds by reason from premisses to conclusion. >> What are we to make of this? Is it then impossible to falsify religious claims? Do you not do this yourself when arguing against creationism? Do you not think we can falsify claims for the flood or for the bizarre claims of countless religions and cults? Are they really all just "a matter of faith" with no work for reason to do? Are we really so at sea and all on an equal faith footing?

For example, is not the fact that there is no extra-biblical evidence for Herod's slaughter of the innocents good evidence that it did not happen? His other cruelties were not kept secret by contemporary historians, yet this massive atrocity slipped them by. It is just not credible, the story is far more likely to have been adapted from the old Testament story of the massacre of the innocents in the story of Moses in the bulrushes. This also fits with the way the ancient Jews viewed the nature and meaning of OT scripture. See http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

This is how poor the common standard of historical truth often is in the NT. It does not take a mythical completely detached spectator (Thomas Nagel's "View from nowhere?") to recognise the problems. Or can nothing be falsified, or shown to be deeply problematic?

If falsification, the ability to show that certain claims are at odds with what else we know, is just a "matter of faith" then the whole of science is against you, as you are well aware. We can indeed know that some religious claims are not credible.

You wrote << "Psychology of religion" is not a term I use >>

Once again, does this mean that in your view there is something wrong with there being such a discipline as "psychology of religion"? How can this be justified in the light of the scientific research I pointed to previously?

The "prophesies of Daniel" are currently being dissected on news:alt.bible.errancy by ex-minister Farrell Till. It doesn't look like the Christians are winning the argument. Indeed they do very poorly on such discussion boards with some of them eventually leaving the inerrancy position. Others deconvert on these boards occasionally. I am unaware of anyone being converted to Christianity on these boards though, despite all the evidence, attempts at reasoning and spiritual exhortations that the Christians engage in there . Again, you can find examples via my site. If you really do think you have good evidence then I would encourage you to give it there and see how it stands up to scrutiny.

It saddens me that you believe in hell; I really didn't have you down for this. I discuss hell-belief at a number of places on my site.

To believe that torture is divinely justified is not conducive to a spiritual life. To believe that torture is justified even though we may not understand how, to trust a being that "sends people to hell," (or, as some other Christians bizarrely say, "allows us to chose to go there") is exactly the attitude an abused wife has to her husband, or prisoners in the Stockholm syndrome to their all powerful captors. It is fear of what God might do to you or not give you that prevents Christians seeing this for the abuse it is and not daring to question the morality of the biblical god. What would the bible god have to do to make Christians realise he is not good? Order genocide? Order killing of babies and ripping open pregnant women, rape, hamstringing horses, send people to eternal torture and horror? The bible God does all this and more and is not something worthy of worship and love. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/babble.html

Finally, you wrote:

<< I mean simply that most conversion testimonies of Westerners, found in Western Christian bookshops, are to Christianity from atheism, not from Islam for example. There are many such testimonies. >>

And most conversion testimonies of Easterners, found in Eastern Islamic/Hindu etc. bookshops are likely to be to Islam/Hinduism etc. from atheism (or rather no strong previous belief, which in fact is what most converts to Christianity are). If it is of interest, 5% of the visitors to my site (that's up to 313 out of 6252 unique visitors so far) have actually converted from Christianity to a non-Christian theism (see the poll on my site and my site statistics).

However, most deconversion testimonies, (which are not generally found in bookshops, (still a taboo) but are readily available via Internet booksellers) are from Christianity to atheism or agnosticism (see my poll). What is important is that many are from experienced and professional Christians unlike the experience of the atheists who convert to Christianity (or Islam/Krishna consciousness/cults etc.)

But did you really initially mean to say your quote above? Remember I wrote:
>In the process
>of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large
>number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists,
>missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as
>members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity.

To which you replied:

<< Surely not - Christian bookshops are full of such testimonies! >>

I went to great pains to make it explicit that I was after conversions of those well-educated in arguments against Christianity, not those that are ill-educated, in both my previous emails. Maybe you did mean general atheists, but in view of what I wrote it was pretty careless of you to give the reply you did!

Best wishes,

Steve

www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html

This conversation is continued here


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