by Guillaume Bignon
A number of people lately have been intrigued to meet a French theologian, and have asked me to tell them the story of how I, a French atheist, became a Christian scholar. Even the theologians and apologists I met recently at the ETS Conference in Baltimore (where by God’s grace I was delivering my first scholarly paper) seemed to care (understandably) more about my conversion from atheism than my immediate theology paper! Therefore, it seemed fitting to type it up properly, to have a clean telling of that story of God breaking into my life, ready to be shared with people who ask. So here it is (and please let me know if you spot spelling mistakes or awkward sentences, I’m still French after all!)
FROM RELIGIOUS ATHEISM TO SECULAR ATHEISM
I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. I was the second of 3 children. We were nominally Roman Catholic, and would regularly attend mass, but this religious expression seemed to be more out of tradition and maybe superstition than a true life conviction. I certainly didn’t believe any of this was true myself, nor did I sense that people around me took it all that seriously either, though it was an important part of their lives. As soon as I was old enough (13 or so) to tell my parents that I didn’t care for any of it, I stopped going to mass on Sundays, and my life as an
atheist was hardly different. My basically atheistic beliefs and values remained, and all that changed was that I was no longer required to fight boredom for an hour or so on Sunday morning while going through the motions of religious rituals and meaningless recitations. Meanwhile I grew up to be a pretty happy young adult. My dad was a mathematician and computer scientist, and my mom “religiously” devoted herself to the well-being and education of her children, from which I benefited greatly on all fronts. It allowed me to do very well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in all sorts of sports. I ended up studying math, physics and engineering in college, graduated from a rather respected private engineering school, which landed me a job as a computer scientist for a large investment bank.
My piano learning led me to play keyboard in an amateur rock band, and on the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches tall and discovered I could jump 3 feet high, I ended up playing volleyball in national league, travelling the country every weekend for the games. An important part of young male French atheist ideals also consisted in female conquests, at which I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life, and in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing (let alone believe) the Gospel were incredibly slim.
Here is how it went down anyway…
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