by Matt Nelson
Conversions from atheism are often gradual and complex, no doubt. For many converts the road is slow and tedious, tiring and trying. But in the end unbelievers who find God can enjoy an inner peace that comes from a clear conscience in knowing they held to truth and followed the arguments faithfully.
Of course not all converts from atheism become Christian or even religious. Some converts only reach a deistic belief in God (an areligious position that God is “impersonal”) but the leap is still monumental; and it opens new, unforeseen horizons.
The factors that lead to faith are often diverse. It is clear that every former atheist has walked a unique path to God. Cardinal Ratzinger was once asked how many ways there are to God. He replied:
“As many ways as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one.”
Of course, the pope-to-be was not endorsing the view that “all religions are equal” but rather that there always seems to be a unique combination of factors—or steps—that move each convert towards belief in God. It also seems that some of these factors are more prominent across the board than others.
Here are eight common factors that lead atheists to change their minds about God:
1. Good Literature and Reasonable Writing.
Reasonable atheists eventually become theists because they are reasonable; and furthermore, because they are honest. They are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads; and in many cases the evidence comes to the atheist most coherently and well-presented through the writings of believers in God.
“I once thought I’d be a lifelong atheist. Then I became desperately unhappy, read up on philosophy and various religions (while assiduously avoiding Christianity), and waited for something to make sense. I was initially appalled when Christianity began to look like the sensible thing, surprised when I wanted to be baptized, and stunned that I ended up a Catholic.”
Dr. Holly Ordway, author of Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, describes the consequences of reading great, intelligent Christian writers:
“I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions…”
Dr. Ordway mentions the eminent 20th century Oxford thinker, C.S. Lewis. Lewis is a prime example of a reasonable but unbelieving thinker who was willing to read from all angles and perspectives. As a result of his open inquiry, he became a believer in Christ and one of modern Christianity’s greatest apologists.
G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald were two of the most influential writers to effect Lewis’ conversion. He writes in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy:
“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for… A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
Author Dale Ahlquist writes matter-of-factly that “C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he read Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, but he wasn’t afterwards…”
Ironically, it was C.S. Lewis’ influential defenses of Christianity that would eventually prompt countless conversions to Christianity—and his influence continues today unhindered. Among the Lewis-led converts from atheism is former feminist and professor of philosophy, Lorraine Murray, who recalls…
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