Why do you think some atheists become Christians?

I have been “deconverting” from Christianity, and reading books/articles/blogs from people on both sides. I have come across several people who were once atheists and are now Christians. Most who were born to atheist parents claim they just thought of Christianity as a myth, and now say they mainly said that because they wanted to continue living their “immoral” lifestyles. They claim they denied the truth until they investigated the Bible and found its claims to be true, and that they look back and say they were just hiding from God because of their lifestyles.

I assume these are real people, but some of them sound like fictitious characters made up by some fundamentalist preacher who wanted to make a point to his congregation.

So what do you think of these atheists who become Christians, and why would they do it?

Posted: July 15th 2009

flagellant www

I am surprised that anyone can say they have '...investigated the Bible and found its claims to be true’. It is certainly not a suitable morality guide; witness its acceptance of slavery. And if the work can be presented as 'The Word of God’, then the 'God’ portrayed is an arbitrary, Janus-faced, nasty, vindictive character who, only sometimes, is the loving father-substitute the religiosi try to sell us.

Neither religion nor its promulgators, have valid claims to being moral arbiters. They both espouse teachings that are clearly morally reprehensible: doing unjust things to please a megalomaniac deity cannot be considered as 'moral’ in any meaningful way. And if it is wrong to endorse slavery, as the Abrahamic religions do, how can we trust anything else they try to foist on us? Miracles? The notion of hell? The need to obey 'The Sky-based Megalomaniac’? Flood, earthquakes, and disease as God’s punishments? Sexual discrimination? Non-medical genital mutilation? It isn’t as though the holy books (shouldn’t that be 'holey’?) tell us anything useful, like the importance of The Periodic Table in determining chemical properties. The Bible doesn’t even tell us that the Earth goes round the Sun…

As for turning to Christianity, I can only speak from my experience: I have never once thought of backsliding, even when faced with life-threatening surgery. The only celebrated example I have read about, concerning a sceptic becoming a believer, is of an aged, perhaps senile, scientist who recanted under great pressure, to considerable jubilation from the religiosi.

Be wary of Christians who claim to be former atheists. Many of these 'converts’ turn out to be no such thing. I have yet to meet someone who has gone from atheism to belief. I suppose that there are such people, but no-one honest and of sound mind seems to do it; I think the traffic is very much the other way.

You should continue to read widely, not just atheist literature, either; some of the apologetics for religion make interesting, and persuasive reading. Religious History is always fun; so, too, is information about the provenance of religious holy books.

Posted: July 17th 2009

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George Ricker www

It’s the easiest thing in the world to speculate about other people’s motives, but usually such speculation has little to recommend it. People change their minds for all sorts of reasons, and I’m sure there have been some atheists who have turned to Christianity, or some other religion, but I won’t speculate about their reasons for so doing.

I will say, however, that anyone who claims to have been an atheist because he or she “hated God or was hiding from God” is having you on. Atheists don’t believe in gods. Who would waste mental energy hiding from something that has no reality for them?

There also are many cases of claimed “conversions” from atheism to Christianity that are, as you suspect, fictional accounts used by apologists to attempt to persuade people of (a) the worthlessness of atheism and/or (b) the truth of their religions. Folks who are peddling a religion often fudge the facts to make a sale. Among Christians, it’s called “Lying for Jesus” and is a time-honored custom.

Finally, I have to say I have known many Christians and many atheists in my life. I know of former Christians, like myself, who have become atheists. I know of no atheists who have become Christians. That does not mean it never happens. But I suspect the atheist to religious conversion is the rarer of the two.

Posted: July 16th 2009

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Reed Braden www

I think many of the “Atheist-turned-Christians” have retrofitted the term “Atheist” onto their past but would never have called themselves an Atheist when they were younger. They may have just been apathetic about religion and didn’t care one way or the other about the question of God’s existence or non-existence.

I’ve only personally known one Atheist who converted to Christianity during the time that we knew each other and I could vouch for his being truly Atheistic. He converted after he wrecked his car, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and his sister committed suicide all in one month. Sometimes we drop our mental defenses when we’re weak and once religion sets in, it’s hard to shake.

Posted: July 16th 2009

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Paula Kirby www

My advice would be to be DEEPLY sceptical of anyone who is trying to get you to believe that there’s an automatic link between being an atheist and having an immoral lifestyle! At various times in my life I have been an agnostic, a devout Christian and a convinced atheist, and the number of murders I have committed, old ladies I have mugged and cats I have tortured has remain totally constant throughout :-) There are good, strong, evolutionary explanations for why the vast majority of people – of different religions and of none – share a common approach to what we call morality. So the 'immoral lifestyle’ claim should always immediately set your baloney detector bells ringing loudly!

But as someone who once made the transition, not from a considered atheist position but from an agnostic, simply-hadn’t-thought-about-it-much position to devout Christianity, I can perhaps shed some light on the rest of your question.

At the time I was feeling rock-bottom, having made a series of really bad decisions that had turned out very badly indeed, and I was feeling I’d made a real mess of my life. And, to be honest, I had! But I’d been exposed to just enough religion during my childhood (in the form of Sunday School, school assemblies etc) to have had the seeds sown, and I found myself susceptible at that time to the idea that we needed God in order to be able to lead the lives we should be leading. I’m not talking about morality, just about 'not making a complete mess of things’. The church I ventured along to was very friendly, I liked the people, I liked the music, I liked the solemnity; and, since I was all over the place emotionally at the time, I valued the rhythm and structure it gave to my life.

I didn’t really stop to ask myself WHY I should believe its teachings: I just wanted to be part of this nice group of people and this feeling of being cocooned that they gave me, and accepting their beliefs just seemed like part of the deal. I was willing to just accept things that struck me as implausible, because at that time I wasn’t ready to risk having to face life without my new-found support network.

And over time, the suppression of questions and doubts became easier, automatic even, and for several years I really did believe and my Christianity became a central, driving force in my life. Until, as I have described here before, I eventually DID scrutinise my beliefs and asked myself WHY I believed them, what good REASON there was to believe them (as opposed to just finding them appealing), and I recognised that there was no good reason at all.

So looking back now, it’s clear to me that I simply had a deep emotional need at a very difficult time, and that, having had a certain degree of indoctrination in childhood, I turned to the church to help me deal with it. Many churches actively exploit this tendency, often actively seeking out people in vulnerable states with a view to drawing them in. I certainly did feel very low at the time I turned to the church, and in many ways the church did help me through: but that doesn’t for ONE MOMENT mean its teachings were true or credible, and I’m perfectly sure there would have been other, better, more constructive ways of finding support at a difficult time, ways that would NOT have required me to switch off my critical faculties in order to benefit from them!

I look back on that period of my life now with some embarrassment, and can’t tell you how good it feels to be free to use my brain fully again, to explore and learn about REAL answers about life and the universe, to just be me without all the constant petty concerns about sin and repentance and 'would God approve?’ and, almost more importantly, to be able to accept others just as they are without all that baggage too. Just to emphasise again, the relinquishing of the constant, deeply unhealthy emphasis on sin and unworthiness and all that stuff IN NO WAY means that atheists lead an immoral life. Churches CLAIM we need them for morality, but Psychology and plain observation tell us otherwise.

Good luck with your deconversion process. An altogether more fulfilling, adventurous and free (in the best sense) life awaits you at the other end of it.

Posted: July 16th 2009

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SmartLX www

Some real atheists do become Christians, it’s true. They have what they believe is a personal experience of God, or they are swayed by some argument that God is necessary (exactly the kind of thing we often argue against on this site), or as time goes on they simply become more susceptible to unsupported claims. People’s reasons for believing don’t have to be good ones, unfortunately.

However, I think I’m more suspicious of the “converts” you mention than you are. They match exactly a common evangelist view of atheists, which is that they aren’t atheists at all but rather closet Christians living immorally and in deep denial. They’d love that to be true of all atheists, because it would put Christians squarely in the right and make us look pathetic.

These people don’t have to have been invented wholesale, or be preachers in disguise. Born-agains tend to take a very dim view of their time before “seeing the light”, and in the pursuit of humility they may take a very dim view of themselves. They may honestly think that they always believed but denied it in order to be wicked.

Pastor Chris Fox was busted doing the opposite: posing as someone who had lost his faith and no longer felt any moral obligation. Pause to digest that; to attempt to show that atheists are immoral, a pastor resorted to deceit. (We had a similar-sounding visitor here once, and not one of us believed the guy was sincere.)

Beyond the general suspicion and precedents, a few other things are dodgy about the claims.

  • In Western countries the percentage of atheists is small enough, but the percentage of people born to two atheist parents is even smaller. In some countries it might be 1% or less. Most of us are self-made atheists rather than hereditary.
  • If these people were in fact raised atheist but realised they were believers in denial, they must have actually acquired their faith at some earlier point or period. Has any one of them actually looked back and examined this stage?
  • I’m confident that there’s no explanation in the accounts you’ve read of why investigating the Bible convinced these people that all its claims are true. Unless one uses exclusively Christian external references in that kind of investigation, one tends to find at least something out of place. Besides, if they were already secretly believers, Biblical truth was the desired conclusion anyway.

Posted: July 15th 2009

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