I Used to be an Atheist Too, But Now I’m a Christian

From time to time here at D.C. we get the apologetic defense of Christianity from a so called former atheist. It’s not that these former atheist were actively engaged in the study of why God and Christianity, as expressed in the Bible, is not true. But rather these individuals were simply (by default) basically irreligious / nonreligious.

Without having done any objective scholarship (apart from the popular ecclesiastical books, broadcast media, and socializing with people of faith which formed their view of God and Christianity), the world of these former self proclaimed atheist is highly subjective. They may even have felt legitimate in who they claimed to be by the fact that the term “atheist” evokes a stark and sharp reaction from the general religious population. Thus, the real question needs to be raised: Are ALL NON-RELIGIOUS or (better yet) ANTI-RELIGIOUS people atheist?

As expressed in a comment here the other day, I read where one of these people proved his atheism by self- indulgent actions such as: I was a drunk, did drugs / sold drugs, had sex with whores, lied, stole, hated God and had absolutely no morals or ethics (Sure sounds like some of the Biblical patriarchs). Such actions, in these new Christian's mind equates wild living without morals or ethics as, not just Godless acts, but such actions some how makes them a bona fide “atheist”. However, (in reality) what we have is simply a irreligious, nonreligious or even an anti-religious person on a self centered ego trip of health and social destruction that has never academically attacked the existence of God or the Bible, but simply had no use for either of them in their life and just resented the whole idea of Christianity and, ironically, it is from such people that atheist are absoultlly claimed to have no morals or ethics.

The problem is that without any objective certification, people may subjectively label themselves most anything they choose too. As such, I may consider myself rich, good looking, very intelligent, a VIP, a Christian or an atheist and so on. The terms atheism and Christian can be highly relative terms; however Christianity has even more limitation in that its meaning has value ONLY if one is orthodox within a set denominational dogmatic tradition. As such, many denominations privately and / or openly feel they have all the truth. That is, they are “really closer to what God wants” by dogmatically teaching their faithful that what they do and believe are what Jesus and the Apostles really taught.

As an example, the terms “I believe in Jesus, the Bible, God, and so on are all relative and, again, are only orthodox within a given sect or denomination based on its creedal confession. Moreover, when asked which is worst: An atheist or a heretic, the creedal based mind of faith will almost always responded: A heretic! Why? Because false doctrines will send a person to Hell as fast as any denial of God or, if the sect happens not believe in Hell, then any Christianity besides their own has been distorted by time from the false traditions of sinful man thus, taking the person of a “false faith” (a great oxymoron) nowhere!

As a consequence, such dogmas may even be more damning since they can infect other people of faith, plus these dogmas could even be taught by Satan himself (See the Pastoral Epistle‘s “seducing spirits, and doctrine of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1)). Need proof: Just sit down and have a discussion with a proselyting Mormon or Jehovah Witness. Then discuss what they told you with a Baptist preacher or Catholic priest. Then discuss what the priest told you with the Baptist and again with the Mormon missionary.

On the other hand (speaking for myself) I find that former ministers and academically train lay people who are now atheist have the background and the means to objectively reject Christianity for more than the nonreligious / anti-religious “atheist” can ever do or even understand.

So what we have in like minded atheist as we find in posts here at DC are people who were not in to the self-indulgent party-hardy world that simply resented God and Christianity because it limited their wild life style, but dedicated people who have moved on with their lives way from the superstitious but comforting myths of God and the Bible.

In conclusion, People who have spent years in Christianity and have rejected it are grounded in their atheism, plus I have yet to see one return to his former world of faith (This post is not about the non-religious scientist who now accepts a theistic created universe, but who, in the same way would not and academically could not defend sectarian Christianity). This post is about the self proclaimed "former atheist” who, as a non-religious / anti-religious person, did not really academically deny God and the Bible, but rather had no use for either of them in his or her life and subjectively thinks that they were an atheist when, in fact, they were simply what their new faith - Christianity - calls a Godless sinner!

18 comments:

Peter said...

When ever I hear a Christian apologist telling me that he was a former atheist I'll ask him if he then openly or in his heart denied the Holy Spirit. Their answers is usually very telling...

oli said...

The term atheist is to be fair, extremely broad. Most atheists, me included, want it to mean something along the lines of free thinker, believer in evidence, user of logic. But it doesn't. It just means dis-believer in god.

I have atheist friends who i can quite believe could be suckered into religion, especially by love bombing, or conversion by a partner. I also have atheist friends more like me, people who have actively studied religion and have put serious thought into the existence of god, how religions form, what evidence there is for religious myths, etc. I can't see any of these people converting under any but the most intense conditions.
The problem with the word atheist is that as you mention, it is a default and tells us nothing more. Richard Dawkins is as much an atheist as a eight year old that hasn't been indoctrinated. But its easy to see which would be the easier to convert.

I too have seen many comments along the lines of "I used to be an atheist, did drugs, had lots of casual sex, lied, stole, hated god. And then i converted and everything worked out great".
It doesn't fill me with confidence that these people need the comfort of a mythical father figure to make them decent people, especially since the atheists i know and associate with are people of impeccable moral behaviour. The truth is that anyone who hates god really hasn't thought atheism through. Hate the church all you like, but hating god is like hating santa claus or the grinch.

A number of former atheists (like Alister McGrath) converted very young (age 18 in McGraths case) but still hold up their former atheism as if it is significant.

I think the best way of dealing with such people is just to stick with the facts and avoid the personal testimonies, much as we ignore the other personal testimonies of christians as evidence.

Rotten Arsenal said...

Oli:

Nice response. I particularly liked the part where the "former atheists" claim that they "hated God." I've heard that one too. Why would you hate someone you don't believe in?

And yeah, those "teenage atheists" don't count either... how many of us remember being teenagers and thinking we knew it all and if the world would just listen to us, it'd all get fixed? Those formidable years are a time when our world view is new and raw and we lack the experience to take what we know and fully apply it. Whatever you said you were as a teenager (and even some early '20's), you just thought you were... Christian, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, Wiccan... these are just early attempts at establishing identity and most likely will change in some way, either better understanding of the philosophy or rejection of it, as the youth gets older.

Harry McCall said...

Thanks for your great points oli.

What I find so odd is that many people think atheist are people who hate God … a total contradiction of the term “atheist” as you pointed out.

Even if Christianity became the ruling force in the United States or the world, all hell would break out as “God’s true Christianity” would fight for “truth and righteousness” against the “false Christianities” heresy. In the end, with mass genocide and forced conversions; might (the strength of the biggest denomination) would make the “truthful” right!

Harry McCall said...

You got that right Rotten Arsenal.

I believe it was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church who stated: “Give me a child until he or she is 12 years old and I’ll give you a Catholic for life.”

The Mormons know this too. Mormon men (and many women) must do a 2 year mission between the ages of 18 – 22. Most leave on their mission with the ideals they will convert the entire “gentile” world with the truth of Mormonism only to be totally burnt out at the end of their 2 year mission.

Remember, many cults and sects out there feel they are the only ones to have ALL the God given truth and other denominations are “atheistic” in that, as many Mormon missionaries believe (as taught by Joseph Smith himself) that Satan and not God is over these "false churches".

robhu said...

Hi -

I'm a bit confused by your article, you write:

People who have spent years in Christianity and have rejected it are grounded in their atheism, plus I have yet to see one return to his former world of faith
Do you really mean that? I was an atheist (in the default unthinking sense - I just adopted the idea that religious people were stupid and that science had done away with any reasons to be religious) before I went to university. At university I became a Christian. This happened very suddenly, I went along to a church service (I'm not sure I'd been to a church service before) where there was a gospel presentation. During the gospel presentation God revealed to me that he was real and that what I had been told was true. I was overcome with emotion, and that day I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

Cut forward about five years and I had changed my mind, I decided that Christianity probably wasn't true. I went along to a Christianity course (called Christianity Explored) but I wasn't very convinced by the content of the course or the discussions. I read about Christianity and thought about it some more, and decided that I didn't believe that Christianity was true and that there was no good reason to believe that any religion was true, so I decided I was an atheist.

Now, to cut a long story short - I've spent four years thinking and writing about religion and atheism on my blog. I don't think I fit in to the classification you have of 'academically qualified' atheists, but I definitely do count as someone who spent years as a Christian, rejected it, and became grounded in atheism.

I have spent quite a lot of time posting about, thinking about, and discussing religion and Christianity in particular on my blog and with my friends. I consider myself to be quite well informed by non-academic standards.

A few months ago my Christian friends invited me to Spring Harvest (a big Christian holiday / conference thing in the UK) where I again encountered what I thought might be God. I then spent a lot of time reassessing the conclusions I'd made and reading Christian apologetics and the Bible. On the basis of the internal experience of God that happened as a result and the external evidence from the Bible and the apologetical arguments I decided to become a Christian again.

I've written this all rather hastily, but I wanted to say that those of us who reject Christianity and then decide we've made a mistake do exist. I seriously doubt I am the only one around.

My blog is not terribly well organised, but if anyone wants to look at the post where I announced that I'd become a Christian again (which is probably the most useful one) then it is over here.

John W. Loftus said...

robhu, thanks for sharing. I suppose there are people who first accepted then rejected then accepted and then finally rejected Christian theism too! ;-)

Rich said...

Actually, I was first an agnostic then I became a Christain, based on my environement and where I was born;)
But then again I was never really a true agnostic.

robhu said...

Probably.

When I was an atheist (a *serious* atheist, not when I was an uninformed school kid) I viewed the claims of those who said they used to be an atheist but had been persuaded of the truth of Christianity with extreme suspicion. I'm thinking here of people like Alister McGrath.

Now that I've gone through that experience myself I wonder if I was unreasonably critical of such people's accounts of converting from atheism to some form of theism. I suspect I was very biased towards assuming that they couldn't have been real atheists if they became Christians - after all, who would do that?

In fact I'd say one of the big lessons having been through all of this is how terribly biased I am (and I assume so is everyone else). I don't deny being so biased now, I just think I'm more aware of it than I was previously.

goprairie said...

"hated God" - that seems to tell it all. they still believed in God if they hated him. apparently the bad behavior was acting out against the God they hated and therefore still belived in, rather like teenage rebellion. but they love to perpetuate the myth that godless is without morals, so they claim they were atheists. they do not really know what the word means.

openlyatheist said...

I knew a Christian over on ChristianForums.com who insisted that all us atheists must be living empty lives of debauchery. The reason of course that he claimed this was because HE had spent his early life as an "atheist" living an empty life of debauchery. Lo and behold, he discovered debauchery didn't lead to a healthy, happy life and he assured us we were all going to learn the same harsh lesson. I don't know where he grew up, but being an atheist as a teenager never got me invited to any all-atheist drug orgies. :(

It is a matter of resentment on the part of such Christians to see others walk without the crutches on which they now lean.

Harry McCall said...

Robu, a couple of points about your life and my post:

A. As I’ve stated, self proclaimed labels are totally subjective. I can claim that between last night and now, I rejected atheism, became a Christian and then reverted back to atheism again then posted this comment. All you can do is sit and read it since you have no idea how my mind works, the emotional / mental state I’m in, are just how I define Christianity or atheism.

Joseph Smith (Mormons) claimed Jesus appear to him in his room; that’s a totally subjective statement and very hard to disprove if you are a Christian (the main reason Mormon missionaries have an established foot hold in proselytizing their faith).

B. A commitment to remaining in a new world view is directly related to depth of our understanding and totally apart from emotions. Your story sounds to me more like an emotional roller coaster ride than a stoic academic commitment. For example, there must be a very good reason of why I do not change back and forth in my world view while you have. I’m not saying there is a right and wrong here, but if we set a scale from 1 - 5 with one being a surface understanding of atheism / Christianity and five being deep academic study of the Bible, its ancient languages, dialogue with the many different sect, cults and denominations of Christianity and objectively looking theology of why is Karl Barth different from Karl Rahner is different from Charles Stanley and so on, then a commitment is from based on the conflicts of some of the leading theologians of the Christian faith: thus its truth is in conflict. Plus, there is NOT one single Christianity today any more than is was when Paul wrote Galatians or complained about his opponents in Corinthians.

If you were an atheist on levels say 1-3, then reverting back to Christianity and atheism time and again would be easier than on levels 4 -5. In my next post I will show how the term “God” evolved in the Bible from polytheism to monotheism. When I post this, I challenge all “former atheist” and Christians to prove me wrong. Thus, I consider myself functioning on level 5 and, based on the facts which equals the truth. As such, I can not go back to the world of theology and faith.

C. Christianity, as I noted in an earlier post, has more mentally ill people needing it that there are mentally ill people who need atheism. I spent a day visiting at the State Mental Hospital in Columbia, S.C. and had several mental patients come up to me and tell me just wonderful Jesus was to them. The nurses told me that religion is a very stabilizing factor in a mental patient’s life.

Finally, for me the atheistic road is a whole lot less traveled (I believe 90 some odd percent in the U.S. believe in God) and one must be mentally stable and have a lot of self confidence to reject the carrot (Heaven) and stick (Hell) and go it mostly alone.

As I’ve stated before here at DC, at the academic position I’m now at in my life, I’d rather be / must be honest than religious.

Regards,
Harry

BahramtheRed said...

People here seem to miss a point.

It is absolutly possible to hate the christian god (or your choice) for whatever reason (sheer stupidity is my reason) and disbelevie in all gods based on the evidence. Hating on thing dosn't equate hate for all or even disbelief.

Personnely I hate the chrisitin bible and it's ethos. Do I live a bebauched life? Define debauched. I can easily name good christian folks who are far greater sinners than I am (and doubt I will ever be). I guess I'm ab athesit living a good christian life minus god.

Evan said...

I hate Jar-Jar Binks ... but I don't believe in him. Does that make my position untenable?

the mad LOLscientist said...

"[Christianity's] meaning has value ONLY if one is orthodox within a set denominational dogmatic tradition."

That's strictly true only if that "set denominational dogmatic tradition" has a strong authoritarian foundation. That includes the Evangelical/Fundamentalist tradition, which can (and frequently does) take the Calvinist notions that "belief is all that matters" and "obedience is the true sign of the believer" to ridiculous extremes.

Rather than staying rooted in Calvinism, the progressive/liberal Social Gospel tradition I come from has a strongly Existentialist flavor. Not questioning dogmas/doctrines is weird. Being unafraid to ask the hard questions as they relate to life here and now, and to be able to live in the face of painful or ambiguous answers (or sometimes none at all), is the only way to grow.

OTOH, running repeatedly to an "answer book" (be it scripture, creed, or the latest mass-market Fundy waste of trees) or in person to a human authority figure represents a failure of faith. It's a way rooted in fear of the unknown, both unknown questions and unknown answers. It tries to avoid the unknown questions by pre-empting them with pat answers. Getting stuck in that rut is like being a perpetual 2-year-old.

I admit, I played around the edges of Evangelicalism for a few months in college, but it was mainly a matter of looking for a surrogate family where I could "fit in" in the face of being far from home for the first time. It just didn't work for me, for two main reasons.

First, the constant pressure I felt to "be happy-happy with Jesus" clashed horribly with my prevailing serious and often just plain ass-dragging depressed temperament. Most of the people around me seemed to think that being depressed was a sin. Just pray and "lay it on the Lord" and you'll feel better. Yeah. Right.

Second, I couldn't set aside the Higher Criticism, Kierkegaard's Great Leap, Tillich's Courage to Be, Bonhoeffer's movement toward a "religionless Christianity," and Fletcher's Situation Ethics. I'd read them all by the end of my freshman year in high school. My Dad the Rev had no qualms at all about letting me read anything and everything in his library (and my reading gave rise to a fair number of late-night bull sessions). In contrast, the belief system I was "supposed" to have as "a born-again" (I love it when that adjective gets turned into a noun, don't you? :-P) struck me as simplistic, childish, and frankly, silly.

To make a long story short, just after the beginning of the spring semester things (and I) fell apart completely. It was the only time in my life I ever seriously contemplated killing myself. Finally I walked away from the Jesus-freak crowd for good (and believe me, it was good!).

To be honest, I think I've probably been an agnostic at heart ever since I first heard the word (and maybe before). At the same time, I still feel a strong bond with the Christianity I grew up with. It's a way of life rooted in doing rather than simply believing, which makes me a heretic in the eyes of the vast masses of what I sometimes refer to as "Stepford Christians." That's just fine by me. If someone asks me what religion I am, I answer that I'm a Zen Baptist Existentialist Agnostic Heretic - an answer that tends to shut most Fundies right up. (OTOH, it has led to some great bull sessions with non-Fundies.) And somehow in spite of everything, I still consider myself a person of faith even though I don't call myself a believer. At the same time, I have a skeptical streak a mile wide and can be pretty damned cynical at times.

Inconsistent? I'll be the first to call myself that. I'm a human being, and human beings are never totally consistent. We're messy, just like life, the universe, and everything. The only consistent thing about us is that we're consistently inconsistent. So sue me. :-)

That's way more brass farthings' worth than I intended to write, but that's my story, and I'm sticking with it. YMMV; AWYSB.

Insanezenmistress said...

Seems to me when people have an agery responce to *god talk* it is like they are insulted that another person can have a positive mythology. For them the mythology didnt work and they found another that does. And recent anyone who talks about how they preceive god.

By mythology i mean world veiw, and how one relates to it. I liked the statment " i hate Jar Jar binks. I dont belive in jar jar binks.

It is the same thing as saying i hate god.i hate the idea of god.
They hate the images and the empty promises and the forced behaveur they associate with god/religion/delusion.Three separate issues. To me the speak of God and Chrisitanity as the same thing.

therefore they will not belive god is possible.
Why not, in light of the glareing fact that those things that failed them was not god, look for other definitions that match up with our first undrestanding of god. Such as god is love, so lets following compassion and reject the things we concider violence.

Well it is one's perogative. Best they find one that teaches them to let go of hateing the false. And start loveing/being with the true.

I blieve that god is in each of your're questions, but i could only subjectivly say that baised on how i belive he was with me.

now every body lay face down i have a live grenade!....REPENT

(psyche)


i wanted to say i think mad LOL scientist's post was groovy and insightfull. i mystically see god's imaginary influence in your mind which shall be atheistically obliterated at the termination of your life chemical funciton.

be blessed.

Gabe S said...

Robhu said: "At university I became a Christian. This happened very suddenly, I went along to a church service (I'm not sure I'd been to a church service before) where there was a gospel presentation. During the gospel presentation God revealed to me that he was real and that what I had been told was true. I was overcome with emotion, and that day I gave my life to Jesus Christ."
How likeley is it that if a God revealed to you that he was real, you would later re-convert to atheism? Robhu, I think you should have said that you imagined that God revealed himself to you. I know that if a God revealed himself to me, I would never be an atheist again. Your statement means either 1) You only imagined that God was revealing himself to you or 2) Your later conversion to atheism was not authentic, as you would have known in your heart that God was real from his prior revelation to you. Which was it?

the mad LOLscientist said...

@ insanezenmistress: LOL!!!!!!