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Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Atheist-To-Christian Conversions

By January 15, 2014

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There are many Christians who say that they were once atheists and then converted, but I've never known anyone as an atheist and then later as a Christian -- we only seem to hear about such things in retrospect. Might there be something else going on? Is it possible, for example, that they are misdefining "atheist" as someone who is "angry at God" rather than someone who simply disbelieves in gods?

A forum member writes:

I have to wonder how someone that was an atheist through reason can ever become a Christian. Could many of these "atheist" converts have just been agnostic? Speculative, I know. Any thoughts?

It's possible for a person to be both an agnostic and an atheist, of course, but there is a relevant point here if we remember that a person can be an agnostic theist as well. So, how many people go through a time of doubt and assume that this is the same as disbelief? Add your thoughts to the comments here or join the discussion in the forum.

Comments
December 13, 2007 at 11:18 pm
(1) Jenny says:

How about investigating true christianity, there are a lot of atheist turn christian, C.S Lewis & J.R Tolken, just to name a couple. And if you truly investigate with an open mind, as the two I mentioned did, you would see that it actually takes more faith to be an atheist then to be a true christian. God is everywhere around you if you just look. Science even proves the existance of God.

December 14, 2007 at 5:44 am
(2) Austin Cline says:

How about investigating true christianity

I write about Christianity on a regular basis.

there are a lot of atheist turn christian, C.S Lewis & J.R Tolken, just to name a couple.

I’ve written about how awful Lewis’ arguments are and his antiatheist bigotry.

And if you truly investigate with an open mind, as the two I mentioned did, you would see that it actually takes more faith to be an atheist then to be a true christian.

That’s a popular myth among Christians, but it’s false.

God is everywhere around you if you just look. Science even proves the existance of God.

I encourage you to support that claim.

March 12, 2008 at 12:00 pm
(3) Tom T says:

Jenny, you really need to start paying attention to th world around you instead of just making it up. If you did that you would know that Tolkien and Lewis never were atheists.

Sadly your lack of awareness of the world around you seems fairly typical for most christians and theists in general. The best description that could be applied to your comments is that they are ignorant and uninformed.

March 12, 2008 at 12:52 pm
(4) Tom says:

. . . it actually takes more faith to be an atheist then to be a true christian.

Isn’t faith a virtue? I’m befuddled and vaguely amused that “faith” has become a pejorative among (“true?”) Christians, and that having more (stronger?) faith is something to be looked down upon.

March 12, 2008 at 1:04 pm
(5) Alana says:

I have always found it difficult to believe that any Christian claiming to be a former atheist was ever a “true atheist”, but I realize I’m making the same mistake that many theists make, the “No True Scottsman Fallacy.” Being an atheist isn’t always about reason and logic.

March 12, 2008 at 2:11 pm
(6) Kafir says:

Jenny’s post clearly illustrates the irony that Tom describes. If their approach to reality is faith-based, they have absolutely no leg to stand on in attacking or invalidating other faith-based religions such as islam, even in its most violent forms. If they resort to a rational approach in defending their religion over other religions, they might as well toss in the towel as they don’t stand a chance. If there’s anything they find virtuous here, it’s clearly the “virtue” of double standards, and a pervasive one at that.

March 12, 2008 at 2:13 pm
(7) Bachalon says:

I’ve actually wondered about this myself.
Those “ex-atheists” never seem to know a thing about atheism, reason, or any of the virtues many atheists hold.

Curious.

March 12, 2008 at 3:48 pm
(8) Dean says:

I have found that to be the case, too, even running into someone who claimed to be a former atheist who also claimed they couldn’t believe I don’t really believe in God, down deep. I’ve never met one of the so-called former atheists who seemed to have a clue about how a real atheist thinks.

March 12, 2008 at 3:53 pm
(9) Gerald says:

I’ll venture a guess that Jenny thinks that she believes in “true” christianity and all those others are running around believing the false stuff. And of course, those others believe they’re in on the “true” stuff and Jenny’s all wet. It’s a real hoot to read this nonsense.

March 12, 2008 at 6:31 pm
(10) Jim says:

Every Christian was once an atheist. Just like every theist was once an atheist. Because, by definition, everyone is born an atheist.

March 13, 2008 at 2:45 am
(11) k9_kaos says:

“I have found that to be the case, too, even running into someone who claimed to be a former atheist who also claimed they couldn’t believe I don’t really believe in God, down deep.”

I wonder if that person thought you were “too nice a person” to be an atheist? I’ve heard that before and it makes me sick.

“Every Christian was once an atheist. Just like every theist was once an atheist. Because, by definition, everyone is born an atheist.”

Absolutely. There can’t be any honest Christian who knows what atheism is who can deny that.

March 13, 2008 at 6:05 am
(12) sornord says:

Never met a convert to religion who wasn’t a bit “touched in the head.”

March 13, 2008 at 8:50 am
(13) tracieh says:

I discussed this on a program awhile back. The way I think it’s best described is that it’s particularly rare to find a skeptic turned Xian.

I wouldn’t say it never happens, but when examples are cited, it usually shows someone who gave up skepticism in favor of emotionalism. And it may or may not have been a conscious choice.

The normal paths to conversion and deconversion seem to go like this (based on people’s own testimonies that you can go online and read all over the place, both “atheist to Xian” and “Xian to atheist”:

1. Someone who didn’t give religion much thought and then became religious. This is the majority of posted testimonies on the Internet. Even when the person expresses they were a skeptic, if you read their stories, you find their “arguments” were fairly weak and immature. They don’t appear to have a very deep grasp of philosophy or science, and they just sort of mocked and or doubted, but didn’t have what most skeptic atheists would call solid reasons.

2. Most Xians turned atheist seem to do so for one of two reasons:

a) They report seeing something that disillusioned them. In my mind, this is as much an emotional deconversion as the “skeptics” who go for emotionalism later in their lives (which, again, are pretty few). This does seem to be reported pretty commonly. I personally wonder if these types of atheists might not slide back into faith given another emotionally based reason to re-convert…? But it could also be likely that the more they interact with skeptics later, the more they begin to understand actual reasons for deconversion–so that eventually they become more skeptical…? I haven’t put too much energy into looking into this, so I don’t know. Just some thoughts.

b) They study themselves out of Xianity. This is very common in my experience. This is someone who studied Xianity so much, they began to realize it was not a reasonable belief system. The irony here is that these people generally study hard with the Bible and religious apologetic material in an effort to bolster their knowledge of their sincere, and strong, belief. And they end up deconverting themselves as they begin to learn more and more about the history and arguments behind their religious belief.

What I do note is that it’s more common to find hard core ex-Xians than hard-core (if I define it as “skeptic”) atheists turned Xians.

It seems to be very unstudied atheists are the majority who become Xians later; but very studied Xians who become atheists later.

I haven’t seen anything to dispute that idea. And I’ve actually looked into it, pouring over quite a few online testimonials and discussing this with quite a lot of people. Basically it boils down to accepting what people describe. I can’t know that all these people aren’t lying–but what they are saying about themselves leads me to these ideas.

March 13, 2008 at 9:05 am
(14) blogimi Dei says:

The Mel “buildin my own church in my backyard” Gibson movie, “Signs” is a good example.
In this sad comedy he claims his “atheism” because god killed his wife.
If someone believes unicorns killed their wife, however, refused to continue worshiping domini unicorny, would they be so called unicorn-athiests? NO.

March 13, 2008 at 9:12 am
(15) blogimi Dei says:

And sorry, no, blind acceptance of anthing is NOT a virtue. Claiming that one is an athiest, when clearly they are not, is NOT the True Scotsman Fallacy.

And from a geologist’s point of view; the strata one can see in almost every geological environment in the world would seem to be overwhelming proof of an ancient earth. Therefore, a significant flaw in Thy Good Book. And this is just one of many examples of the man made, social engineering aspects of religion and god belief. the end.

March 13, 2008 at 1:40 pm
(16) Gotweirdness says:

“1. Someone who didn’t give religion much thought and then became religious. This is the majority of posted testimonies on the Internet. Even when the person expresses they were a skeptic, if you read their stories, you find their “arguments” were fairly weak and immature. They don’t appear to have a very deep grasp of philosophy or science, and they just sort of mocked and or doubted, but didn’t have what most skeptic atheists would call solid reasons.”

Tracie H., I seem to get this impression as well from people who became religious later on even though they hadn’t been that religious before. I don’t know that they would be considered atheist or agnostic since they don’t seem to know the definition of either of these terms when they claim to be former atheists or agnostics often claiming that it some form of ideology. I would think a better term for them is irreligious since religion didn’t play much of part in their lives before being converted to a religion probably through a friend or being inundated by the evangelicals who rely on the emotional appeal to accept an invisible sky friend.

March 14, 2008 at 12:09 am
(17) Religiarchy says:

I get this one a lot on the flipside, from Christians. They think I’m “angry at God”, and I just say, “that’s impossible, it would be like being angry at a flying monkeys.” Then they vow to pray for me…because clearly, I’m not as enlightened as they are.

March 15, 2008 at 12:10 am
(18) Pujjuut says:

I think Tracie H forgot to add those who drift away from religion while getting an education, learning about the universe and maybe accepting the big bang theory and the theory of evolution, which to me makes more sense than the creation theory, and was the way I found my way to atheism.

March 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm
(19) Lyle G says:

My ‘ex’, an ex Catholic, was a fierce atheist (we attended the Unitarian-Universalist Church). When we lived in a small Texas town, the only locals he socalized with were ‘Big Baptists’ He eventualy became a Christian and (supposedly) heterosexual. Still is as far as I know.

March 18, 2008 at 12:41 pm
(20) NeilB48239 says:

I’m curious to hear other forum member’s thoughts about the son of the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. As most of you know, Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s son, William J. Murray, was one of the litigant in the 1963 decision Murray v. Curlett, the ruling that declared school sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional. Does anyone believe that William J. Murray sincerely converted from atheism to Christianity? Or was it possibly just a wise financial decision on his part, being that it’s more lucrative to be a famous born-again Christian than it is to be a “notorious” atheist? Was his changeover all about the money and fame, or is he sincere in his conversion? Any thoughts?

March 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm
(21) John Hanks says:

Psychosis can be a very powerful emotional experience which invalidates most ideas because of its intensity. That is the source of a lot of conversions. There are social conversions too.

March 18, 2008 at 4:29 pm
(22) Becky says:

With William Murray, I would question whether he was really an “atheist” or, as Austin says in one of his articles, “a child of an atheist parent.” (Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever coming across information about his father).
If she was half as nasty to be around as the stuff I’ve read an heard about her, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Christians he met seemed like far nicer people. There’s an interesting letter by him about her death and the death of his brother and daughter.. I tried to include the link but am not sure it will work:
http://www.rfcnet.org/news/default.asp?action=detail&article=144

March 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm
(23) Becky says:

Neil,
Without having read everything about the event, I’ve read bits of statements from William Murray and of Madelyn’s, and she just doesn’t sound like a very good person. I think anyone growing up with her as a parent might be right to see Christianity as preferable to the sort of atheism she represented. (And I say this as a long-time, confirmed, atheist).

March 18, 2008 at 9:58 pm
(24) Blinx says:

As a nontheist, I can understand at times the benefit of having a positive motivational community, the kind commonly found in many protestant congregations. At times I’ve thought to myself how nice it would be to be part a positive energetic group where the idea that you are special, and loved is promoted consistently. Such an environment is soothing. If there is such a trustworthy community somewhere in secular fashion, I’d like to know it, because to be honest, positively natured optimism is something I just don’t get from other atheists. It may be like gathering cats, but just the same, cats don’t evoke happiness.

March 18, 2008 at 10:49 pm
(25) Zack says:

Whenever a theist tells me they used to be an atheist, they are always quite vague about the reasons for their alleged former atheism and almost always completely unfamiliar with very basic arguments against theism.

March 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm
(26) PercyF says:

I keep hearing that Lewis and Tolkien had been atheists before conversion. This surely is wrong. I am aware of a member of my own circle of friends who made the same claim after conversion to a christian cult. In fact he had never professed atheism at all. Instead he expressed dissatisfaction with the Catholic church to which he belonged at the time. When asked about it now, he is adamant the he was a “true, God-hating atheist”.

March 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm
(27) PercyF says:

… the point being that atheists don’t “hate god”, they just don’t believe in him/her/it.

March 20, 2008 at 3:19 pm
(28) André Forget says:

Je suis convaincu qu’un athée, un vrai, ne peut pas redevenir un croyant. Prenez le Père Noël comme exemple. Connaissez-vous quelqu’un qui, une foi convaincu que le Père Noël n’existe pas, serait redevenu croyant en l’existence de ce personnage?

March 26, 2008 at 12:02 pm
(29) Kirby says:

I think/believe/feel(?) that the best explanation for William Murray’s “conversion” is a combination of both reasons offered above…1) Madalyn was a horrible person and mother and 2) William was, as stated, just the child of an atheist parent. I suspect Madalyn never believed it necessary to “school” William in the rational and philosophical basis of atheism and thought he would just believe it because “she said so”.

I’m surprised no theist has brought up Anthony Flew’s “conversion” which has gotten way more press (at least lately) than I’ve ever seen about Tolkien or Lewis. From my research it seems that Flew is old, confused, misquoted, and used. The book he “wrote” about his conversion seems to have been almost fully ghost written, although he is said to have “approved” it. I guess the lack of mention of him here shows that few theists are actually participating here….. Pity, they might learn something!

March 28, 2008 at 2:48 pm
(30) Brooke says:

“From my research it seems that Flew is old, confused, misquoted, and used.”

i have a feeling that despite his age he wouldn’t be quite so “confused” if he were still professing to be an atheist.

March 28, 2008 at 11:39 pm
(31) Zack says:

Je suis convaincu qu’un athée, un vrai, ne peut pas redevenir un croyant. Prenez le Père Noël comme exemple. Connaissez-vous quelqu’un qui, une foi convaincu que le Père Noël n’existe pas, serait redevenu croyant en l’existence de ce personnage? — Comment by André Forget — March 20, 2008 @ 3:19 pm

Votre message a un sens pour moi. Comme vous le suggérez, je ne peux pas imaginer une personne de changer leur esprit de telle façon.

March 28, 2008 at 11:54 pm
(32) Zack says:

i have a feeling that despite his age he wouldn’t be quite so “confused” if he were still professing to be an atheist. — Comment by Brooke — March 28, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

And I have a feeling that theists would have much less interest in his statements.

There is support for the idea that Flew is an ill man being cynically manipulated for partisan gain. If true, it is a disgrace that ought to trouble all men and women of good will.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazine/04Flew-t.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

March 29, 2008 at 11:35 am
(33) Brooke says:

“And I have a feeling that theists would have much less interest in his statements.”

I made no claims about the credibility or soundness of his statements.

March 29, 2008 at 4:12 pm
(34) Zack says:

I made no claims about the credibility or soundness of his statements. Comment by Brooke — March 29, 2008 @ 11:35 am

Brooke, did anyone say you did?

April 17, 2008 at 9:55 pm
(35) Ken Bonnell says:

There is usually some one of the opposite sex involved.

March 10, 2009 at 2:18 pm
(36) Tom says:

I have a definition to an atheist,In this modern world an atheist is a creature who blindly believes in the pleasures of the world and spreading atheism as a fashion to other humans.Nothing true in this atheism its just a humaninvention to demoralise the whole world once each of them knows that a power,a mysterious force that will teach them who is god through the mental destructions and diseases which the atheist accept fom the atheism.

March 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm
(37) Austin Cline says:

I have a definition to an atheist

This “definition” is nothing more than a twisted reflection of your own prejudices. It has no connection to actual atheists. It’s as much a figment of your imagination as are gods.

March 14, 2009 at 2:18 am
(38) Tom Edgar says:

Austin. re tom

Please… Were you able to make heads nor tails of what he was actually saying?

I would have liked to respond but my mind cannot get around to understanding him.

A mysterious Power? How do you know . What is it like. Where from does it come?

Atheism to demoralise the world? Oh come on
Religion has already done that.

I can just see this character on a busy street corner handing out nonsense religious tracts,couched in archaic language, to confuse the gullible, and to take their money in collections whilst enslaving their semi literate partially educated minds into believing the unbelievable.

March 15, 2009 at 5:05 pm
(39) Marc says:

All religion depends on a confused faithful to exist! The more confused, the easier to control. The less they understand, the easier for leading to the slaughter.

March 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm
(40) Tom Edgar says:

I have a definition of a theist. In this world a theist is a person blindly believing in the pleasures of the next world and spreading his unfounded, unprovable, myths to the less intelligent of the species spreading the fables of an unbelievable power from outer space controlling all our destinies. This mysterious entity he calls “God” to whom only good can be attributed but the woes, travails, tragedies, disease and sickness happen in spite of this mysterious beings supreme power to prevent them.

Please change your pseudonym. Tom is supposed to be from “Doubting Thomas.” Yeah even one of the Jesus mob didn’t believe all the garbage. The very doubting Tom Edgar.

June 16, 2009 at 5:51 am
(41) Teddy Bearism says:

Yooo,

Sorry I didn’t read all of your comments here. From the definition absence of God, there shouldn’t be conversion since Atheist is not a belief.

Sorry, I don’t buy this kind idea of absence of God. If you all think carefully. The definition will have no unique feature that differentiate it to “a-barbie-ism”, “a-Teddy Bearism”, “a-pokemon-ism”, “a-naturali-ism”, “a-material-ism”, etc.

For you guys who acknowledge this definition will be put to an unlimited rubbish labels.
If you’re atheism, why don’t it make you an “a-Teddy Bearism”?

Both don’t have belief. One in God and one in Teddy Bear. So every single of you do have a belief that Teddy Bear exists? Or every single of you have absence of belief that Teddy Bear exists?

If I claim I’m Teddy Bearism. Thus, that makes millions of people in this world become “a-Teddy Bearism”? Whoah so good am I? am I Omnipotent?

Austin, it is better you tell us what event in your life that made you think this way?
By the way, I don’t believe in summary of your life that makes you think this way. I want details of the event.

If there is a link tell me from this forum. If you don’t want then It’s not a problem.

I apologize to write this thing. It’s a bit harsh. I feel a bit coward, too.

June 16, 2009 at 6:40 am
(42) Austin Cline says:

Sorry, I don’t buy this kind idea of absence of God. If you all think carefully. The definition will have no unique feature that differentiate it to “a-barbie-ism”, “a-Teddy Bearism”, “a-pokemon-ism”, “a-naturali-ism”, “a-material-ism”, etc.

Sure it does. An a-theist doesn’t believe in gods, but may believe in Pokemon. An a-pokemon-ist doesn’t believe in Pokemon but could believe in gods.

If I claim I’m Teddy Bearism. Thus, that makes millions of people in this world become “a-Teddy Bearism”?

Technically, yes. It will only matter, though, if your position becomes important enough for people to have to deal with.

Austin, it is better you tell us what event in your life that made you think this way?

I grew up.

I apologize to write this thing. It’s a bit harsh. I feel a bit coward, too.

Then you shouldn’t have written it. Since you hit “post” even after recognizing that it was bad and cowardly, it can only be concluded that those aspects of your comment are deliberate, desired, and intended.

June 24, 2009 at 1:23 pm
(43) AtheistGeophysicistBob says:

blogimi Dei (15). I am both a geologist and geophysicist; I agree with your 2nd paragraph completely.

June 24, 2009 at 2:34 pm
(44) Drew says:

Lying (along with ignorance and delusion) is an important element in religious belief, and lying for the cause is considered acceptable to a larger percentage of theists, to judge by their actions. Among the devoutly religious the belief that the ends justifies the means seems more prevalent than among the moderately religious or the non-religious, based upon both anecdotal evidence and the polling data I’ve seen. I think it’s part of the black/white versus shades of grey personality types that people tend towards. Therefore it’s no surprise that, particularly in the anonymity of the internet, those theists motivated to be activist for their religions are willing to lie, and claim they used to be atheists.

What does this accomplish? Many things. It is an attempt to counter the massive number of legitimate claims made by atheists who are ex-religionists, and therefore “rally the troops” that they are somehow “winning” back as many as they are losing. This isn’t true, but truth is not the aim; maintaining morale among the faithful, and attempting to slow the erosion, particularly among youth, is the aim. Secondly, an attempt is made by the writer to establish a commonality with the reader. This is intended to facilitate conversion (“hey, I used to be like you. Join my church!”). Yes this is deceptive, but to the user the ends justify the means.

It is quite easy for an atheist to expose such frauds. If they actually were atheists, then they will actually know what atheism entails. I’ve yet to met an “ex-atheist” claimant who can successfully pass this simple test; therefore, all such claimants I’ve exchanged correspondence with are lying. Not one of them was an atheist. Angry theist? Maybe. Angry at their parents or church? Maybe. Went through a period where they don’t care about religious ritual, or wanted a break from it? Probably. But atheist? No.

There are lots of current theists who have gone through phases of agnostic theism and had doubts, or through phases where they didn’t participate in religious ritual regularly. Calling this “atheism” is not something that Liars for Jesus would do among fellow believers, but is something they are perfectly happy to claim (a “little white lie”) when they are proselytysing on the internet. Just more Lying for Jesus.

August 4, 2011 at 12:43 am
(45) Chuck says:

The biggest relief atheism can bring is finally being able to live free and open minded. Christians do not give their children a choice when it comes to god. It is child abuse in the worst sense. I was one of them. Ever since I was a child I feel like my mind was put into a box and was just never allowed outside that box. If your smart enough, you can break that box. The true world awaits after you can accomplish this.

October 4, 2011 at 7:39 pm
(46) Chris says:

All of you say science proves there to be no god. If anyone who knows about science would se the lies in religion. Sir francis bacon, Galileo Calilei, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, William Thomas Kelvin, Albert Einstien just to name a few all are the greatest minds of your history in science. They made science what it is today. Don’t you think they would have the common since to know that science proves no god could have done this and destroy everyone s thoughts on religion? Instead they say there is a god the proof is in everything. Anyways chuck I’m sorry that you had to go through the so called box that you were put in, but anyone who is in religion knows that god wouldn’t fit in a nice box he created it.

October 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm
(47) Austin Cline says:

Don’t you think they would have the common since to know that science proves no god could have done this and destroy everyone s thoughts on religion?

No. Most of them lived long before modern science developed. Only Einstein lived in the age of truly modern science and he rejected the existence of personal gods.

Instead they say there is a god the proof is in everything.

Not Einstein.

January 15, 2014 at 11:51 am
(48) Dean J. Smith says:

I think that since many fundamentalists seem to think that what makes a person an atheist is not going to church much, especially if they’re also drinking alcohol and/or having sex outside of marriage; many of the Christians claiming to have previously been atheists really believe they were. And of course, they were all atheists until they were taught to believe in a God or gods.

In a 2008 PEW survey, 21% of the respondents who identified themselves as atheists also indicated that they beleived in God. I hazard that this group is made of many people who will later identify as former atheists.

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