Christian media outlets are fond of touting the latest story about a “former atheist” becoming a Christian. These stories sell well, and I remember making much of them myself back in the day. Now that I’m on the other side of this issue, I hear this declaration with different ears. Now when I hear these stories I’m not so sure they’re entirely accurate. Listening to these converts talk about their former lives, I can’t help thinking something isn’t quite right. Something leads me to think that if they’re telling the truth, they’re at least “telling it slant.”
By Neil Carter|Ex-Communications
No True Atheist?
On the surface it will sound like I’m using a “No True Atheist” argument. It sounds like I’m saying that no real atheist would ever quit being one to become a Christian (I’m not). Surely by now you’ve heard writers on this site disparage the No True Christian argument, and we have good reason for doing that. When we talk about our former lives as believers, we are routinely dismissed by people asserting we were never really one of them because according to them no true Christian would ever stop being one. Their theology won’t allow it. We must have just done it wrong, or else we were never sincere about it. This irritates the stew out of us because for some of us it invalidates decades of investment in our former tradition. It also denies us our rightful place at the discussion table on matters about which we have earned the right to speak.
I don’t think I’m doing that right now because I’m genuinely listening to the things these “former atheists” are saying and I honestly haven’t ever heard an atheist say the things they’re saying. It reminds me of that scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin when the guys are sitting around discussing the feel and texture of women’s breasts and Andy reports that they feel like bags of sand. The other guys freeze and turn to stare at him like he has an extra appendage growing out of his forehead. Clearly the man had no idea what he was talking about, and anybody with any real life experience would know better.
That’s kind of what it feels like when I’m listening to these stories. The perspectives they’re portraying sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard an atheist say. On the other hand, the stuff they say sounds a lot like what preachers and evangelists say about atheists: that we’ve really always believed the Christian message but we’re just angry at God because of (fill in the blank), that we hate God, that we want to take away Christians’ freedom of speech, and that we really only disbelieved in the first place because we didn’t want anybody to be our boss but ourselves. Basically it follows the well-worn outlines of every sermon you’ve ever heard about why people don’t commit themselves to the Christian faith.