8 of 28 people found the following review helpful
, 30 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The End of Christianity (Paperback)
"The End of Christianity" is a compilation of hard-line, atheist-materialist polemics against - guess what - Christianity, brought to us by the indefatigable John W. Loftus, a recovering fundamentalist minister. Apparently, its part of Loftus' very own space trilogy, the other titles being "The Christian Delusion" and "Why I became an atheist". (I haven't read those, yet.)
Being neither a Christian nor a materialist, I'm of course eminently suited to give this book a fair hearing and perfectly objective review... And then, maybe not. :D
Frankly, "The End of Christianity" is a very mixed bag, but it veers strongly towards the "bad" end of the bag spectrum. For instance, John Loftus' Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is obviously rigged so only atheist-materialists can pass it. Richard Carrier's moral philosophy is zany, to say the least, and other articles work only if you accept the exact theological notions being debunked. Thus, those who don't accept the particular version of the atonement attacked by Ken Pulliam will consider his article a shot in the dark. Likewise, only cessationists will be stung by Matt McCormick's article about the Salem witch trials. The undertone of the entire book is that science (or perhaps Science) can solve all problems, including those pertaining to morality, the meaning of life, etc. Some of the authors have an obsession with a certain kind of formal logic, as if that could prove anything (on this point, they share the pew with some Christian apologists). As somebody pointed out long ago: you can't use formal logic to prove the existence of whales.
Another weak argument goes like this: The empty grave doesn't prove that Jesus was resurrected, since a phoney story about a resurrection will - by definition - include a story of an empty grave. You can't use one part of a legend to "prove" the other part (there's even a funny comic to drive home this point). True, I suppose. But then, a *true* story about a resurrection would also include a story about an empty tomb, wouldn't it? In fact, I think I can prove that using formal logic! Thus, the argument of "Jesus and Mo" only works if materialism is presupposed from the outset.
And that, I think, is the main reason why I find this book so frustrating (a bit like Lee Strobel in reverse). The narrow materialism-positivism-scientism of the contributors is never really argued for, it's there from the outset. (The OTF is just the most glaring example.) Nothing "wrong" with that, I suppose, expect that it gives the book the quality of a monologue. A more native, American problem (already mentioned) is that the target of the polemic is assumed to be an equally narrow evangelical, perhaps a fundamentalist pure and simple. Those of us who aren't high on Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham feel somewhat left out, guys!
The best articles are "Hell: Christianity's most damnable doctrine" by Keith Parsons and "Christianity's success is highly improbable" by Richard Carrier. The latter author attempts to prove that the ideas of Christianity weren't unique or unusual in the Jewish-Hellenistic context where they first emerged. In fact, there are many parallels between the Christian stories and various legends or expectations found in other religions. The mystery religions are mentioned, and Carrier also mentions that the resurrection of the body is originally a "pagan" idea, taken over by the Jews from Zoroastrianism. (I'm impressed, Richard! Few people notice that many "Biblical" ideas actually come from this Persian religious system.) Carrier's point is that the idea of a dying and resurrecting god-man could have evolved by purely natural means. No need to postulate any supernatural explanation. Of course, this argument also presupposes materialism. Here's an alternative explanation: What if all Hellenistic religions reflect objective spiritual truths, some better than others? Or what if Zoroaster was right? ;-)
The best atheist-materialist books are those which attempt to prove Neo-Darwinism and give it a strictly materialist spin, such as "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins. If Dawkins is right, then all (or almost all) religions and pre-1859 philosophies are dead wrong. No need to argue the finer theological points about the atonement or the Trinity. In other words, the best books are those which somehow try to prove materialism, rather than simply postulate it.
But sure, I'm somewhat subjective on this point. We all have our "issues", I suppose. Maybe there are people who could be de-converted even by "The End of Christianity"...
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