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Atheists Who Convert To Christianity


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I've seen a few posts lately, some including links to Christian sites, which talk about atheists who convert to Christianity.  In three cases that come to mind, the atheist was influenced by an attractive member of the opposite sex;  in two of these cases, the pair married.  One of my former students became a Muslim.  My first question on hearing this was, "did she meet a guy?"  In fact, that's exactly what happened.  Now they have seven children and I guess are happy.  

 

I'm wondering, in how many cases of conversion of an unbeliever does romance play a role?  In how many cases was there, perhaps, not a romance, but at least a strong pull of friendship with an individual or group?  On the other hand, how often does conversion happen to someone who is an atheist for considered reasons, and who knows the target religion fairly well?  I'm guessing, almost never (unless maybe heavy familial or even state-sponsored pressure is brought to bear). 

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I think it's important to clarify how deeply they thought about their original belief system. In other words, had they actually considered the lack of evidence for god scientifically and logically, or had they merely adopted a label, perhaps because it was their parent's belief or because of an emotional experience. I know of far more cases of the latter than the former (though there are some).

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I've noticed that evangelical Christian girls take great care to look attractive, same as all other girls (perhaps they dress a bit more conservatively, and not even in all cases!).  I suppose the it in scripture about not adorning oneself with jewels and other such things doesn't factor into their sense of fashion.  It stands to reason that atheist men might be attracted to Christianity due to these girls.  As for the men, I see evangelicals at the gym, same as everyone else.  You can usually identify them by their cross necklace or tatoo.

 

The pull of friendship, though, I don't understand.  Becoming a Christian was probably the worst thing for me in terms of friendship.  I distanced myself from my "unbelieving" friends that I'd made my first year of college, and of course it took me several months to meet new friends in church.  I had little in common with these people except Jesus, so the friendships didn't run as deep.  Not sure why you'd ever become a Christian for the friends.

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a devout lady at my former church is now a muslim and she is now with a muslim man. She was single and its much easier to jump from from theist position 1 to theist position 2 but I think its a step out the door.

 

I think it's important to clarify how deeply they thought about their original belief system. In other words, had they actually considered the lack of evidence for god scientifically and logically, or had they merely adopted a label, perhaps because it was their parent's belief or because of an emotional experience. I know of far more cases of the latter than the former (though there are some).

 

I agree. I spoke with a "former atheist". I asked her "were your parents christian?" to which she answered yes supporting my already held belief that the soil was preppeed. I think xians often interchange "apathetic deist" with atheist. They are one "Experience" away from theism/christianity. but I find it hard to accept that a lifelong skeptic who knows and understands anything about history and science to abandon well understood knowledge for a few peoples ideas eons ago.

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Romance played a role for me. I was introduced to Christianity from a boyfriend after being atheist most of my life. He had a lot of problems in his life and was suicidal until he became a Christian. After he became a Christian, he had a lot more hope in his life. I wanted to feel that hope for myself. It took three years of being involved in various churches to find out that hope had no real substance to back it up. Now I am an atheist again.

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The pull of friendship, though, I don't understand.  Becoming a Christian was probably the worst thing for me in terms of friendship.  I distanced myself from my "unbelieving" friends that I'd made my first year of college, and of course it took me several months to meet new friends in church.  I had little in common with these people except Jesus, so the friendships didn't run as deep.  Not sure why you'd ever become a Christian for the friends.

Friendship was a big factor in my conversion, though I wasn't an atheist - I was a sort of westernized vedanta person.  Having a crush on one of the friends did a lot, too, lol

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Romance played a role for me. I was introduced to Christianity from a boyfriend after being atheist most of my life. He had a lot of problems in his life and was suicidal until he became a Christian. After he became a Christian, he had a lot more hope in his life. I wanted to feel that hope for myself. It took three years of being involved in various churches to find out that hope had no real substance to back it up. Now I am an atheist again.

Hi FloridaGirl, if you don't mind my asking... was your atheism before the Christian boyfriend sort of "God makes no sense to me" or was it based on reason/reflection etc.?  

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Romance played a role for me. I was introduced to Christianity from a boyfriend after being atheist most of my life. He had a lot of problems in his life and was suicidal until he became a Christian. After he became a Christian, he had a lot more hope in his life. I wanted to feel that hope for myself. It took three years of being involved in various churches to find out that hope had no real substance to back it up. Now I am an atheist again.

 

Hi FloridaGirl, if you don't mind my asking... was your atheism before the Christian boyfriend sort of "God makes no sense to me" or was it based on reason/reflection etc.?

The former. I was 11 years old at the time, only went to church a couple of times with my grandparents, and my mom was agnostic. My dad was a non practicing Mormon. I came across a website on world religions and thought " there is no way only one of them could be true. A person's religion is determined by where someone grew up".

Religion just made no sense to me and that was the greatest thought I really gave it until I started dating the Christian guy at age 18.

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The pull of friendship, though, I don't understand.  Becoming a Christian was probably the worst thing for me in terms of friendship.  I distanced myself from my "unbelieving" friends that I'd made my first year of college, and of course it took me several months to meet new friends in church.  I had little in common with these people except Jesus, so the friendships didn't run as deep.  Not sure why you'd ever become a Christian for the friends.

Friendship was a big factor in my conversion, though I wasn't an atheist - I was a sort of westernized vedanta person.  Having a crush on one of the friends did a lot, too, lol

 

 

Westernized vedanta person here as well, prior to Xianity. I married an Xian-since-birth and then thought I'd give Xianity a shot also not really knowing the evils of it. She never actively recruited me. And I never really did abandon vedanta during my Christianity. And what the heck, if another belief system doesnt have a God per se... then you aren't necessarily violating the "You shall have no other gods before me..." clause. haha. Upon divorce, the Xianity faded away as I didnt go to church anymore. The ex and I share a child so I still have contact with her. She asks me to pray for this or that once in a while. Sure, I'll pray to my Self about it. :-)

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I've noticed that if you dig into some of these stories, the atheist in question was often an agnostic "seeker" who was already open to conversion. I don't like to put too many labels on atheism (not saying that irrational or unthoughtful people who don't believe in god aren't "real" atheists), but the reasons that a person converts or deconverts are important.

 

My father was a "nothing" before he met my devout Evangelical mother. But he already thought that some religious tradition might give him meaning in life, and he had been trying out the Unitarian church. Fortunately, he doesn't hold himself out there as an atheist turned Christian. He has a happy marriage, which is good, but I can see when I talk to him that it makes him have to put blinders on because to consider that Christianity might not be true would mean his life falling apart in a lot of ways and he's old. I think because he isn't "spiritual" or really very social, it's made him double down on other aspects of Evangelicalism like support for conservative politics.

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Yeah a lot of it has to do with how they came to "atheism" as a conclusion for their world view. Some just were never really taught religion and had no other position to go from or to. Its not like they had a good understanding of why there is no gods it just wasn't relevant to them so when they are "converted" its not that much of a stretch

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To me, an atheist is someone who has done a fair amount of active research into religious claims and has come to a firm conclusion that there's no evidence for god.

 

When christians talk about atheist converts to their faith, more often than not I find those people were simply agnostic (like others have said). They may not believe in god, but they have never actually fleshed out the subject or thought about it too much. Kind of like Jesus' parable of the empty house. The guy gets rid of demon spirits and his house (body) is empty and swept clean....but he doesn't actually fill his house with a replacement (ie the Holy Spirit). So the demons return and he's worse off than before.

 

Still, there's always a chance that an atheist has a psychological/emotional experience that causes them to convert. That's how most fundamentalists get their recruits (aside from childhood indoctrination).

 
As others have mentioned, sometimes their upbringing plays a part. They may not have believed in God, but they went to sunday school with grandma, or uncle so-and-so was a christian, etc.  Reminds me of those miracle stories you hear now again. Someone has a vision of Jesus or visions of heaven, but then you dig a little deeper and find out the person was influenced by christianity at least at some point in their life. You never hear about isolated tribes who have never heard of Jesus suddenly having visions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
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All Christians are former atheists.  We are all atheists until we get indoctrinated.

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Guest MadameX

All Christians are former atheists.  We are all atheists until we get indoctrinated.

 

There is good evidence that we are predisposed to believe in unseen external agents, therefore all the gods humankind has created over the millenia. It's as if there is a template in our minds for magical explanations of the world and the people around us. 

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All Christians are former atheists.  We are all atheists until we get indoctrinated.

 

There is good evidence that we are predisposed to believe in unseen external agents, therefore all the gods humankind has created over the millenia. It's as if there is a template in our minds for magical explanations of the world and the people around us. 

 

It is easier to pull things our of the rear end then to think things through. The latter actually requires effort.

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I spoke with a "former atheist". I asked her "were your parents christian?" to which she answered yes supporting my already held belief that the soil was preppeed. I think xians often interchange "apathetic deist" with atheist. They are one "Experience" away from theism/christianity.

 

This reminds me of claims of "former atheists" I encountered on William Lane Craig's forums and elsewhere. Invariably the person says he/she was "angry at God," or "rebelling against God." Equally invariably the person is a teenager when this happens, or something tragic occurred.

 

Angry/Rebelling at God

 

People who claim to be "angry/rebelling at God" are in no way atheists. Atheists don't believe in a god to be angry at. These people were just going through a natural period of rebellion or anger. Most of us go through this as teenagers and also later in life depending what happens. Some people direct their anger/rebellion at the beliefs that they had formerly used to support their view of life.

 

Some people do become atheists when bad things happen to them. But not out of anger/rebellion at God. They become true non-believers because they realize a real God could have prevented the bad thing from happening, etc. The deconversion, however, is probably not spontaneous and it is probably not happening immediately after the tragedy. While there may be a definite break with organized religion, or an immediate break of trust on the emotional level, what I have seen suggests the person eventually tests religion again while perhaps at the same time reconsidering it and exploring other options. This is especially the case if the person was raised religious from birth or early childhood.

 

In the end, such a person is not "angry/rebellious at God." Though he/she may feel angry or rebellious at something/someone--possibly at the religion or the preachers, parents, and teachers who made false promises and lied about the powers and consolation of non-existent beings. But they're not angry at the non-existent beings. Anyone trying to convert such a person may well elicit strong emotions, including anger, but not anger at God--more likely anger at the person doing the missionizing. I can see that the missionary's/evangelist's counselor and support network may say the atheist was "not angry at you but at God." It makes the Christian feel better, not responsible. And the cycle continues.

 

Passive Atheist

 

I think there's also people who might be called "passive atheists." They were not raised in any specific religion--never taken to church or involved in any overt religious practices or rituals, never really taught to believe or not believe in the supernatural. Probably they never gave much thought to life beyond the present moment and either enjoying it or surviving it, depending on their life circumstances. I think such people are more likely to be convinced by evangelists, and once converted they will say, "I used to be an atheist."

 

I don't know but I'm guessing if these "passive atheists" never get converted to any religion--probably never missionized--when they are confronted with a box to check, they might check Christian, or Muslim, or whatever is the dominant religion of the community with which they identify. It could also be secular or atheist. However, when and if they get "on fire for the Lord" they will most likely say, "I used to be an atheist."

 

Those are some of my thoughts. I don't know of any study to prove my points.

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You never hear about isolated tribes who have never heard of Jesus suddenly having visions of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

 

 

In the research I did on Native Peoples of Canada, I found that their visions consist of the symbols they were taught to believe in as children. This was a study done at the time of early European contact. This one person (Ojibwa) converted to Christianity as an adult but then got deathly ill. While ill he had a vision of the white man's heaven. He knew it was the white man's heaven because he saw only boot prints--no Indian moccasins. He immediately returned to his childhood religion because he did not want to go to a place where there were only white men.

 

That's only one example. That kind of thing made a deep impression on me. I think the account was in Irving Hallowell's Culture and Experience. If I remember correctly, he was working in the 1920s-40s. His focus was tribes who had no, or very little, European contact. I also studied other authors and other tribes around the world, including videos shown as part of the various courses. People had dreams and visions but not about Jesus.

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All Christians are former atheists.  We are all atheists until we get indoctrinated.

 

There is good evidence that we are predisposed to believe in unseen external agents, therefore all the gods humankind has created over the millenia. It's as if there is a template in our minds for magical explanations of the world and the people around us. 

 

It is easier to pull things our of the rear end then to think things through. The latter actually requires effort.

 

 

It also takes a lot of effort to see the world from another person's point of view. We're social animals, and have parts of our brain dedicated to "theory of mind" - attributing emotions and will to things that are not-me. People on the autism spectrum have trouble relating to other people because they're missing some of the biological mechanisms behind empathy, so even when they want to be nice to people they have a hard time figuring out how because they can't figure out how the other person feels. I assume the human tendency to believe in gods is just the opposite of autism - attributing emotions and will to everything.

 

I know I anthropomorphise tools all the time; I yell at my computer, my car, the inconveniently placed puddle that's in my way. It's just easy to think of them as annoying me on purpose or being susceptible to talking with even though I know that's not true. But if I wasn't raised with a scientific worldview that made it clear from the beginning that humans have lots of mind, animals have some mind, and object have no mind - I bet I'd assume that running water is active enough to be kinda alive and assume there's a river spirit making it flow. I can name and talk to plants, and develop an emotional connection with them, even though I know they can't return any of it and I'm just projecting my experience as a human onto them. My natural state is probably more of pantheist/animist.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind#Brain_mechanisms

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Maybe two weeks ago I saw a post somewhere - can't remember where - about a supposed atheist girl at Harvard who was converted to evangelical Christianity after many hours of intellectual discussion with a Christian guy on campus.  My immediate question was, did she have a crush on him - as time went on, at least, if not in the beginning?  I think the article talked about how the boy was schooled in apologetics.  Apparently it was all new to the girl.  It is hard for me to believe that her atheism, if it was that, was based on even a good knowledge of the Bible, let alone reason and research.  I wonder how she'll be in future years (wonder if they're dating by now...)

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All Christians are former atheists.  We are all atheists until we get indoctrinated.

 

There is good evidence that we are predisposed to believe in unseen external agents, therefore all the gods humankind has created over the millenia. It's as if there is a template in our minds for magical explanations of the world and the people around us. 

 

 

Oh I agree with you that children have magical thinking.  However without an adult to give them a theology they won't have the details worked out.  

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I find it quite odd in a place where many of us are people who have been 'real christians' and are now atheists (myself being an agnostic so perhaps this is why I'm confused about this - as I can't relate to the atheist mindset so well) explain the opposite process with 'oh they can't have been proper atheists'.

Not that I'm saying that explanation is incorrect! just wondering if what the reasoning behind it is.

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Hello, ExXex, and welcome to this site.  Your point is really one of the points of my question.  Are we committing the No True Scotsman fallacy when we say, "oh, he/she must not have reasoned very deeply, etc. etc."  

 

I don't think we commit that fallacy unless we have a fluid premise that claims that a true atheist has XYZ traits but then, when someone having those traits converts, we change the list of traits to say they weren't a true atheist after all.  In other words, we would be moving the goalposts.

 

But if we just say, an atheist is a person who lacks belief in God, then yes, we see cases where such people convert to Christianity (or some other religion).  

 

So far, I think the atheists who convert turn out to be relatively unsophisticated ones.  I think that's different from saying they weren't proper atheists.

 

A lot of hay was made by Christians some years ago when the atheist philosopher, Anthony Flew, acknowledged that he thought there could be a creator.  But Flew only approached deism.  He didn't adopt Christianity or even theism, as I understand it.

 

 

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I think romance can make people do almost anything. The only thing worse than being a fake christian is being a lonely Atheist. We are social creatures and will do almost anything to avoid being lonely.

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It is a known fact that most people who convert are in their teens and early twenties.  Either to or from. This is an emotional time for many people. 

It is also known that many people will do almost anything for someone when they are in the infatuation stage of romance.   

Conversion to Christianity is almost always an emotional experience.  Deconversion can be as it was in my case.  However, it is usually more intellectual.   

 

Therefore, It seems conversion or deconversion is probably highly correlated to intense emotional experiences regardless of the source.  We are at the core beings with emotions and intellect.  Many people atheist and christian alike are driven by their emotions.  It is a choice.  It is neither right nor wrong. 

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