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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Religious Condition by Jason Long

Dr. Jason Long, Pharm.D., a former Christian, has written perhaps the best analysis and refutation of evangelical Christianity for laymen that is available today. The book, The Religious Condition, is Long's second volume. His first work, Biblical Nonsense, dealt more specifically with the Biblical text demonstrating the problems associated with thinking its the Word of God.

As a former Christian myself, I find that Long understands precisely how Christians think and how they argue. He knows this because he was one himself. For this reason, I think Long's book is more effective than some of the "new atheist" authors (i.e., Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc.). Since the "new atheists" are writing as outsiders to the faith, they don't have the same insights into Christianity that a former devout believer such as Long. Some will wave off Long's work because he is not a "biblical scholar" and does not quote all the current scholarship in the field. But Long is writing as an educated laymen who has experienced the indoctrination of Christianity and was able to free himself from it through logical and rational analysis.

Long begins by showing how people typically come to believe in their religion. They are indoctrinated into it by their parents and/or the culture in which they are reared. He cites the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 which shows that 84% of Americans belong to the same religion as their parents (p. 8). This is not surprising as parents are the most important formative element in a child's view of the world.

For those who claim that they chose Christianity on their own, Long says:

Individuals who claim to have made a rational, uninfluenced decision to join Christianity seem oblivious to how likely it was that they would walk right into the church. If that society had been propagating an Islamic viewpoint, the odds are that it would be right into the mosque (p. 9).


Many people do not seem to realize how the beliefs of the society around them shape their own beliefs. Man is a social creature and needs to "fit in" to the society and culture in which he lives. This influences most people to adopt the religious ideas that are dominant in their society.

After showing why many people have the religious beliefs they do (i.e., societal conditioning and indoctrination), Long explains why people do not give up these beliefs in spite of the evidence against them. He cites the psychological phenomena of "confirmation bias" and "cognitive dissonance." Long gives many examples of these two phenomena (pp. 21-52).

Confirmation bias involves assuming the truth of one's beliefs and then working backwards to confirm it. This is clearly seen in virtually every Christian apologist's writings. Long argues:

In short, either religious followers ignore evidence that is contradictory to their beliefs, or they superficially rationalize it. They interpret according to their preconceived notions and biases. When a skeptic points out a likely error, the Christian begins with the premise that it is not an error and then proceeds to defend by any means necessary what he is already convinced is the truth (p. 28).


When confirmation bias does not resolve the problem, cognitive dissonance kicks in. Cognitive dissonance tends to either minimize the problem or try to divert attention away from the problem by emphasizing the many good points of the belief. (See my previous post, for examples of this kind of thinking).

In the next part of his treatise (pp, 53-160), Long gives examples of this bias and dissonance in the arguments of Christians as it relates to science and the Bible, philosophical "proofs" for God, and other issues. Christian apologists have "answers" to all the problems but the question is, are these answers really plausible or are they merely theoretically possible?

In the last section of his book (pp. 161-245), Long addresses many of the objections he received from Christians concerning his first book, Biblical Nonsense. Long deals with these honestly and fairly and conclusively shows how bankrupt the Christian's arguments really are. This part of the book will be extremely helpful to skeptics who encounter these "Christian answers" on a regular basis.

I highly recommend this book to believers and non-believers alike. For believers, it will help them understand how they came to believe what they do and why it is so difficult to honestly question those beliefs. For non-believers, it will give insight into how conservative Christians think and the best ways to argue against their beliefs.

As I mentioned earlier, no one can refute a position better than someone who used to hold that position.

3 comments:

  1. Great post Ken,
    I agree that the best way to debunk Christianity is with Christianity-sometimes you fight fire with fire. As a lay-atheist I look up to the likes of people like you (Loftus and Long) that have the 'insider' knowledge and that can also relay it to the 'mere' atheist like myself. Thanks again Ken,

    Kriss

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  2. I have seen these books listed at amazon and have them on the bottom of my wish list, but with your positive review of them and especially the fact that the author is an insider I have pushed them to the top of my wishlist.

    Thanks,
    David McBride

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  3. I really liked his first book. It's a wonderful reference for Bible problems. Can't wait to read the second one!

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