When I was brainstorming on what to write about this week, I had the idea of doing a series responding to one of the short Christian apologetics books on my shelves. I landed on Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, which seemed like a shorter version of the famed The Case for Christ, surely featuring the same arguments that, after having educated myself some on the historicity of Jesus and the development of the gospels, should be easy to refute.
The prologue to More Than a Carpenter was one page long. It was all I could read. That’s not to say that this book is particularly worse than books that I have finished like The Case for a Creator, The Purpose-Driven Life, and Emails to a Young Seeker, but after just the first page, I just stopped and wondered, “Why am I doing this?… Again?” I’ve heard dozens of debates between atheists and Christians on the reliability of the bible and the historicity of the resurrection. I didn’t feel that it was necessary for me to spend my time doing it myself. When I recognized that More Than a Carpenter was a waste of my time, it made me realize that any apologetics book would be as well, even the ones that I’d had every intention of eventually reading and reviewing, like The Case for Christ.
This revelation led to this stack (plus a few more) that I decided simply didn’t need to be on my shelf anymore. There are many books that I’ve bought over the years with the purpose of reading them to critique them in blog posts. It used to be somewhat fun to just rip apart a book that was riddled with errors and bad logic. But for a while now, as you probably know, I haven’t had that flame of anger that comes with being a new atheist, and when that faded, so did my desire to refute apologetics for fun.
Some of you are probably wondering how I can say that while I’m in the middle of making a series refuting articles from Answers in Genesis. My answer is that I’ll still critique apologetics under two conditions: if I can learn something new while responding to it, or if it crosses my path organically. My Answers in Genesis series falls under that first category; I’m responding specifically to their articles about human evolution, which is a topic I’ve enjoyed learning more about on its own. Making responses to their creationist manipulations of it is a great way for me to learn what is true about our origins. For example, I read a book about Neanderthals (and skimmed a few others) just to make my post refuting what AiG said about them, so while reading their creationist articles can be frustrating for me, I think that actually refuting them in a post was productive overall. (And I hope that it was entertaining, educational, or both, for atheists and paleoanthropology nerds alike.)
The other instance where I respond to apologetics or other Christian content will be when I come across it naturally. This hasn’t really happened for a few years, but it was a lot more common for me when I was still attending a Christian college and church. When I was still going to church because I felt that I had no other choice, I would write posts reacting to sermons and bible studies. Nowadays, since I am obviously not attending church anymore, I don’t think it would make sense to seek out sermons or bible studies that I would otherwise not be subjected to, just so that I have something to write about. This has slimmed down my options for blog posts, but it’s also forced me to be more creative and expand my content. (I might make exceptions to these two conditions when I find really interesting books like this one.)
This same pattern is being reflected on my bookshelf. I’ve said before, half joking, that I enjoyed shopping for books less than I actually enjoyed reading. Throughout the time of COVID, one of the things I have missed the very most has been going to used book sales with my husband. I’m talking about those sales where tables of clearance books fill up an entire gymnasium or warehouse. It was so easy to fill up a bag with books I’d never heard of when they were all between 50 cents and two dollars. Well, it was fun until I got home and had too many books to fit on my shelves, most of which I would never read.
Although we have been to bookstores a few times in the last year, I’ve cut way down on my book buying. I decided that this time of staying at home would be a great chance to catch up on the books I have while slowing down on buying more. I could argue that now I like cleaning out my books more than I like buying them. The sad part is that of the books I’ve bought, I’ve probably sold back more books than I’ve actually read. This has forced me to be more conscious when I do go book shopping. Instead of treating it like a treasure hunt, and getting as many books as I can carry, I try to go to a store with a specific book in mind.
This method has caused me to spend more on each book, usually between 20 and 30 dollars, but there are far fewer of them. I’ve been researching each book, reading reviews, and being deliberate about where I buy them. I’ve chosen to avoid adding to Amazon’s monopoly on, well, every market, so I’ve gone to independently owned bookstores when I can, since most of the books I’ve sought out are new. Some books whose upcoming releases I’m excited for are Nedra Glover Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself and Brenda Marie Davies’ On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel.
All this to say that I’m happy to focus my reading and writing on expanding my knowledge on topics that I enjoy rather than refuting misinformation that I know is wrong and that honestly doesn’t deserve my time or money. This is also why I barely follow any atheist accounts on social media anymore (and why I also got rid of any atheist books I hadn’t read). A big part of being an atheist is looking back at what you left behind and discussing what makes it false. That is a valuable part of the process of deconversion and growth, but I think that my time doing that is largely over. I am interested only in looking ahead: no longer unlearning what I once believed, but learning what else there is to know.
7 thoughts on “Intentionality in Reading and Writing”
What I find hard to swallow when reading apologetics such as you mention is the immense ignorance displayed by the authors along with their apparent willingness to make things up to be cute or engaging or whatever. I have not read “More than a Carpenter” but the title is telling. Was Jesus a carpenter? There is no evidence in the Bible to that fact. There are statements that Joseph was a craftsman, a jack of all trades, who could do woodwork, masonry, etc. And it was traditional for sons to learn the trade of their fathers, but can you imagine Jesus, God in sheep’s clothing, having to pretend to learn carpentry as a youth and then having to do carpentry for probably 20 years before he gets to go on his mission? Why would God do this to Himself? He must have been bored out of his mind! (And the people who thing Jesus received the holy spirit during his baptism were declared heretics. This was better? Thirty years of demeaning existence as a human being is preparation for . . . what?)
Apologetic authors pretend to know way more than we do know about a possible Jesus. They have to know that we have no descriptions of any part of his body. No hair color, eye color, whether he wore a beard, what he wore, how tall he was, etc. Nothing. They infer certain things (he looked like a typical Palestinian of the time) but those are clearly speculation. Knowing we have no idea what Jesus might have looked like, the authors are perfectly comfortable with drawings being used to illustrate their books, often showing that Jesus was clearly a white person (there are no white people in the Bible, none). They make claims that the Bible supports American democracy (there is no democracy in the Bible!). And on and on.
I have been sent copies of The Purpose-Driven Life and couldn’t find an entire page I could read without being angry about the deception. I have read Lee Stroble’s work and it is sheer deception, being something quite different from what it is claimed to be. Apologetics is “defending” the faith (that’s what the word means). And, apparently, for Christian publishers it is quite acceptable to lie and deceive, as long as you are on the right side of the divide.
I can’t bring myself to destroy a book, so I give these away, knowing full well that they are dangerous to the unwary.
Yes, taking all this into consideration made me realize it was not worth my time. Getting rid of a lot of books at once, I just sold them. But in the past I have “destroyed” them to repurpose them for art. (My post Art I Have Made has examples)
Have you thought about getting an e reader… some of them will play books from free sources like ” the Gutenberg Project” as well as their own source library .
E books are generally cheaper than real books and take up zero shelf space.
Kobo has all of the books by the ” Four Horsemen” and pretty well any others I’ve looked up .
USED e readers might be even cheaper ….
Research it and ask folks who have had readers for a while.
I had two successive Kobos ‘brick’ – that is, freeze up solid. Kindles seems to be a better choice, and there is Kindle Unlimited, where, for $10/month, you can read all the books you want. 🙂
I found Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth very interesting. Also In the Shadow the Sword for something similarly historical but this time from the Islamic angle
One does not live by polemics alone. It’s easy to get caught up in certain debates, but there is a point at which you need to move on. We don’t get points for rejecting belief in God. Sooner or later you have to decide what does matter, and that certainly means looking at other things.
You’re right. I also just got so tired of saying and hearing the same things all the time.