Recently, I read a book entitled, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity”, by John W. Loftus. It’s a book designed to convince the Christian that Christianity is a fairy tale myth that is essentially no different than belief in, what Richard Dawkins calls, “Flying Spaghetti Monsters”. I must admit that Mr. Loftus’ book is a thorough and comprehensive critical look at Christianity. It’s better than the books by the Atheist Four Horseman, because he deals with what Christians actually believe, having been one himself. It’s hard core and will force you to justify your belief system.
Loftus has a chapter in the book that calls upon the Christian to test his own faith as if he were a dispassionate outsider looking at the claims of Christianity. He calls it the “Outsider Test of Faith”, or OTF. He is convinced that if the Christian will remove his God biased spectacles and adopt a position of skepticism the Christian will find his faith to be absurd. The Christian, he says, looks at faith claims from other religions as weird, stupid or even silly, such as: Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, or Mormonism. But, Loftus surmises, what if the Christian will but turn his critical eye to his own faith? He suggests that when he does he will find the same absurd and irrational claims in his own belief system that he finds in others. As a result, once he sees that his Christian Faith is absurd and irrational he must abandon it. This reminds me of what Mythologist Joseph Campbell once said while reflecting on aspects of Hinduism, “every religion has its absurdities”.
To help explain how to take the “Outsider Test of Faith” he uses the analogy of the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 45 people to find the girl with the glass slipper at the ball last night. The prince wants the “real” girl so he takes the search for her as seriously as a CSI investigator. This is how we should examine our own faith system, he suggests. After all, don’t we want what is “real”? He understands that presuppositions are next to impossible to shed when one examines his own faith, so Mr. Loftus suggests taking stringent measures such as: 1) Consciously remove all of your controlling beliefs and adopt skepticism as your controlling assumption. 2) Read books critical of Christianity to help you think critically, such as his own book. 3) Examine how you adopted your faith to determine if your faith was derived from social conditioning or rational choice (His assumption is that you will find that religion is merely an accident of geography and thus social conditioning. You are supposed to see that this is irrational and therefore unworthy of acceptance).
Mr. Loftus is convinced that if you will take this test you will find Christianity to be “silly”. He told me so himself on his internet forum, “Debunking Christianity.” I wrote to him and others on that forum that I took the test and I am still a Christian. I am an OTF graduate and I still believe that Christianity is a coherent, rational, and existentially satisfying religion. So, he wrote back to me and suggested that I probably did not properly understand the test if I am still a Christian! Well, I just reread the OTF chapter from his book, again. I don’t know what else I can do to convince him that I did understand the OTF and I did take the test using his “draconian measures”. In fact, I have been taking that darn test over and over for many years. Why, because I happen to be naturally skeptical and a natural doubting Thomas, like most people. Actually, I think some form of the OTF is taken by most Christians. At least the one’s I know. But you see, after taking the OTF every time, I come to the following conclusions: Christianity is unique among world religions in its historically accounted for resurrection of a savior, Christianity is a distinctively superior world view among other great religions, and Christianity has a compelling and incomparable gospel message among other world religions. Now, what about absurdities? I agree with Joseph Campbell that all religions have their absurdities, even Christianity. However, in Christianity I see the absurdities as “apparent” and not logical. Take for instance the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union of Jesus. These do seem absurd and incomprehensible. But, they are not illogical or irrational, however absurd they might be.
My conclusion: I encourage every Christian to take the “Outsider Test of Faith”. John W. Loftus wants you to take it because he is convinced that you will lose your faith, so that you can become enlightened like him. But, I say you might strengthen your faith if you take it and become more convinced that Christianity is true. Go for it, Christian! By the way, Loftus says on page 71, “If after having investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism it passes intellectual muster, then you can have your religious faith. It’s that simple.” Thanks for your permission, Mr. Loftus. I’ll do just that!