Why I Can’t Conceive of De-conversion

An atheist once told me I was only a Christian because I couldn’t conceive of not being a Christian. I answered that I could conceive of not being a Christian, and that most days, in fact, I felt far more the atheist than the believer. The issue, I said, was that each and every one of the Catholic claims struck me as true, and so I believed.

He left disappointed, but I imagine if he spoke to me today, he would be far happier, for the answer I gave him no longer makes sense. There is a point of no return, a point that makes the thought of abandoning Christianity not impossible, but absurd.

The problem is this: Christianity is not just a belief. It is not an ideology. Beliefs and ideologies can be changed. Christianity changes the believer. I assent to being created by an Eternal God because it makes sense. It appears true. But by this assent of the reason I am changed. I cannot believe that right now, in the present moment, I am being created by Love, without changing, without becoming a person receptive to his own contingency, to the fact that I do not hold myself in being. To abandon my belief in God, even if it was a reasonable abandon, would lead to an absurdity, for not only would I have to cease believing, I would have to undo my very essence.

I’ll put it simply. Christianity is a transplant of the eyes and of the heart, by which we see the world differently by becoming incredibly different. I can no more take back Christianity than a man can take back his heart transplant. Christianity is an essential, permanent change to the disposition of the human person. It places an indelible mark on the soul and binds his very life to another. To undo Christianity and to commit suicide are synonyms. So what, is de-conversion impossible? In a word, yes.

I cannot go back to living as a happy pagan. To not be a Christian is to be waiting for your bridegroom. But once the marriage has been consummated, and I am made Christian, the rejection Christ is an embrace of absurdity. To reject Christ can never be a leaving — for marriage is eternal — it can only be an adultery, and adultery brings no peace. It only tears in two. Thus, when I truly consider leaving Christianity, I realize that such an action could only be defined as a negative — a neglect of what is truly real and existing within my person.

Through Christianity, I have experienced divine love. Now I cannot rebut its existence, I can only resist it. I have been inspired with a vision of my true-self, my eternal-self, and my saintly-self and have experienced the ethical command to become that self. I cannot go back to the happy time when I didn’t bother with becoming my self. That milestone has been passed. Forever in me is the knowledge of the self-I’m-supposed-to-be. I can only run and hide from it, ignore it, mute it, or reduce myself to a being without the capacity to see it.

I confess that Christianity is like a dog at my heels. I can’t shake it. I used to never pray, and was happy. Now, if I don’t pray, I am miserable. The love of Christ is terrifying, because it has changed me into a self for whom prayer is a necessity. Is this weakness? Perhaps, but it is also love! When we love we are changed by the beloved, changed to a person for whom the beloved is integral part of our being, identity, and existence. Truly loving someone makes the decision not to love them a denial, not a change, a death of self, not a “leaving behind.”

I used to want to be cool. When that atheist told me I was only a Christian because I couldn’t conceive of being otherwise, I wanted to impress him with my detached reasoning, my commitment to following the evidence, my highly logical conviction that “I would certainly be an atheist were I convinced of the truth of its claims!” But now I am in love, and I need to be honest. Asking me to conceive of myself-without-Christ is like asking a husband to conceive of himself without his wife. The only way he could do it is by pretending to be able to return to his past when he was a bachelor. There is no real return, for a husband-without-a-wife is a widower, not a bachelor.

I have been changed. There is no me without Christ any more. The conception of a Christless me only ever amounts to a bad attempt at conceiving Nothingness itself. And by this I am made sure that our relationship can only be one of love.

  • enness

    I suppose I can conceive of it. It is too depressing to contemplate. Not only would I be an insufferable b**ch on many occasions, but I would be lost and aimlessly buffeted about on the ocean of circumstance without any North Star. Depressing.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      This may render the belief useful, for making you a better person; however, “useful” does not always require “true”. Also, that your Christian beliefs may be sufficient to provide you with one compass does not imply that they are necessary.

  • Olivia

    I am interested then what you would say to someone who claims to have been Christian and is now an atheist? Would you argue that they are not being honest or that they were never really Christian to begin with? Or perhaps they are just being lazy?

    • badcatholic

      Well, in my personal experience, which of course does not encapsulate the many, many honest atheists in the world, the Christian who “de-converts” was either never a Christian outside of culture and name, or he spends a great deal of time and energy continuing to relate to Christianity, merely in a negative sense, an thus never convinces anyone that he has left it behind, merely that he has his face pressed tight against it, or he — especially for the artist — is forever singing about Christianity, forever drawing from its wealth of imagery and the indelible mark of grace and redemption it has left on his soul, or he (and I don’t claim exemption from this) gets busy killing the part of himself that naturally cares about the questions of existence at all.

    • tedseeber

      I’ve had 25 years online arguing this issue.

      The wide variety has usually come down to one thing:
      a church teaching, taught in childhood, that was contradicted by either personal experience or by self study.

      And it need not really be a TRUE church teaching; a good many well meaning, but less than educated, nuns spread a lot of garbage in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

      Some of these never come back.

      • James

        Many ex-converts were taught some sort of garbage, often about sex or hell or both.

        Listen to George Carlin for a good example of a poorly educated Catholic de-convert from the “good old days”

      • GoodCatholicGirl

        It wasn’t just nuns who spread incorrect information; some of the text books in Catholic school were outdated; they also “spread a lot of garbage”. I was lucky – for the most part, my nuns were kind but they were also a product of their generation which I realized as I got older.

        They weren’t evil; just misguided.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        That seems consistent with what Altemeyer and Hunsberger turned up in their studies.

        • tedseeber

          Exactly the one I read back in 1997 when I first noticed this trend (yes, I had been arguing religion online for 12 years before I found this study and it began to make sense).

          • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

            You might find their ~2004 study of atheists also of interest.

      • Barbara Fryman

        I remember contesting what my teachers thought the Church taught. It used to tick me off that they’d tell the whole class that Catholics think sex is bad or can’t plan their family or believe the Earth was made in 6 days.

  • tedseeber

    The trouble is, studies have shown that for recent generations, one must be at least over the age of 30, and often over the age of 40, to come to this point.

    • Donovan

      I am fourteen and I feel the same way.

      • tedseeber

        Wait until you get old enough to discover certain inconvenient differences between what your parents taught you and what secular society expects. See my response to Olivia above.

        Until you’re over the age of 25, you haven’t even finished growing up yet anyway- MRI studies have proven that.

        • GoodCatholicGirl

          I believe it’s called evolving. Understandably, young people don’t want to be told that they don’t know it all, as I found out as I got older. Life can smack you in the face and the older you get, the more smacks you endure. But that’s not so terrible – a good whack can wake you up!

      • John

        What tedseeber has said is nonsense (no offense tedseeber). I’m 25 right now and if I’ve learned anything is that I had more wisdom when I was a child than as I grew up. Granted I became an atheist around your age; but what I really want to impress upon you is that you shouldn’t so much look forward to anything different than look back for the treasures that were always there. When you become 25 the world looks, sounds and tastes the same, it is the person that changes and though it may need time, it doesn’t have to be unnecessarily long and tedious. Stick to your love for Christ and the wisdom of the Faith and never discount it on account of age. See where you go wrong and know that it is not of God and you will grow in deification friend. God bless.

    • sara

      To come to what point? Where they experience enough life to contradict a teaching of the church? I’m confused.

      • tedseeber

        Where they experience enough of life to both be tempted to contradict a teaching of the church *AND* come to the realization the Church teaches Truth that is always Truth regardless of our temptations to sin.

        That takes a form of maturity that in First World Culture takes several decades to learn, if it is ever learned at all.

        • Ryan

          Excuse me, but just because “studies have shown it” doesn’t mean that it is true for everyone. I hope you know the studies just show a pattern, or a probability, and not an absolute fact.

        • DKeane123

          I would love to see that study.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.yates.7 Rusty Yates

    Wow, this is truly bizarre – I love it! Somebody should edit this down and put it to a music video with flames billowing up around dancing angelic figures circling Lady Gaga enacting and reciting the text.

  • super_happy

    To an atheist, God is just an idea, one among many. If you don’t like the idea, for whatever reason, you entertain another.

    But to a Christian, God is a person, and there is no forgetting meeting this person. How do you explain to someone that “I won’t do that because God wouldn’t like it” doesn’t mean “I’m afraid of God punishing me”? It means, “I love God. God is the best person I will ever know, and I would rather die than shame myself in front of him.”

    • Korou

      I think you just did explain that; but the problem is that we do not see this being carried out in real life. There is not an appreciable difference in the moral conduct of those who believe in the Catholic God and those who believe in other versions of God, or not God at all. There are saints on all sides, which is inconsistent with one side having access to divine truth. There are, apparently, lots of people who are quite happy with the idea of shaming themselves in front of the best person they will eve know, and others who are able to hold themselves to a high standard without loving God.

      • super_happy

        It’s not about us. It’s about God. Don’t judge the truth of something by its personal utility. That has nothing to do with truth. The miracle is we’ve been invited, no matter our abilities or situation. Don’t turn down this invitation.

        • Korou

          Please stay on topic. If you’re going to answer me, address what I say.

      • iamlucky13

        That is true.

        No one ever had legitimate grounds to promise that believers are better people. In fact, the Gospels mention quite a few believers who are terrible people, and in some cases, lauds non-believers for being good people.

        The fact is, and many theologians have tried vainly to remind us of this, that we Christians are terrible people, and that we need to be forgiven of typically at least as much as the typical non-Christian.

        The mere fact that we believe what the Church teaches does not, assuming our belief is well-founded, make us invulnerable to sin, and while we easily fool ourselves into forgetting it, this very belief of our own fallen nature is woven into the fabric of Christian belief and ritual, what with our prayers for forgiveness, our confession, our penances, our obsession with the humble posture of kneeling.
        And since no internet discussion would be complete without either a reference to the Nazi’s or else a car or sports analogy: believing that you can’t advance to first base in baseball without first batting the ball past the foul line also doesn’t inherently make you better at hitting the ball, but it does make the game go a lot more smoothly than if no one knows the rules.

  • Britny Fowler

    I understand well… Shortly after I converted to the Catholic Church I fell in with the wrong crowd and returned to paganism (quite literally… I couldn’t decide whether I was more scared of fairies or Jesus being real) it tore me apart, living two lives. I was miserable. I knew one was wrong but I didn’t know which, I acted Catholic around my Catholic friends, was totally for spells and rituals with my pagan friends, made fun of each group to the other… well, a) one of the priests on campus got suspicious (strangely enough the same day I tried cursing him during Mass (oh the awkward moment when the only confession option is face-to-face)) I realized he could see straight through me. then b) my spiritual director (who wasn’t allowed to use a phone at the time) called me out of the blue to ask me what was wrong. Well I broke down. A few months later, and I couldn’t imagine forcing myself through that again, it would kill me to try. I also went from never praying to literally being sick if I don’t. Oh, and I am seriously discerning a religious vocation and 99% positive I’m called to the cloistered Discalced Carmelite nuns! :) talk about turn around. Prayers please?

    • Bruno

      Prayers from Spain, the land of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross.

      • Britny Fowler

        Thank you!!!! and btw St. Bruno is one of my favorite saints, my spiritual director first told me about him. Your name reminded me of that. :)

    • Elizabeth

      Good luck with your discernment Britny! I just watched Poulenc’s incredible opera “Dialogues des Carmelites” about the martyrs of Compiègne and totally fell in love with the discalced Carmelites (I’m already married with kids though! sigh… ;-)

      • Britny Fowler

        thank you!!! and there is always the Third Order, they are awesome themselves. My best friend’s dad is a Third Order Carmelite. And I should check out the opera.

    • Tara

      Wow! That’s amazing! I’ll pray for you, and if you don’t mind, pray for me! I’m still trying to discover what my vocation is: marriage and religious vocation are still 50-50 at this point. But good for you!

      • Britny Fowler

        Of course I will pray for you! and thank you! :) God bless!

  • Mardini

    This article hit me spot on. As a former atheist, returning Catholic – I had a powerful, ineffable spiritual experience that I can only describe as atonement that has permanently changed my outlook and feeling about life. I still have doubt, yes, but that experience was a point of no return. For the lack of better words, I consciously felt God enter and change me at the deepest level. I perceived an infinite glory that was transcendent and ineffable both within and around me.

    It came out of the blue one day and lasted for several hours, and I’ve never felt ıt again. It has shaken me to my core and changed my life forever. Regardless of what philosophy, science, or whatever else can say – I cannot deny what I witnessed happen within me. It definitely was not my doing, but someone else who was working within – as crazy as that sounds. It was a transformational experience.

    This article really seems to speak to the aftermath of that experience – even ıf I wanted to, I cannot deny God’ existence – it as real as seeing or hearing to me now. I can only resist God now, if I chose too.

    • Ely Addison

      Amen. I still remember the day that I realized that everything God’s done in my life, all the ways He’s showed up, have rendered me incapable of denying Him without some serious intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. Not that I’m not capable of some serious intellectual and spiritual dishonesty– but I’m reminded of the hymn, ‘let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee’. Running away can only ever be temporary.

  • DKeane123

    I have a couple of thoughts relative to the comments in this article:

    - The person that deconverts having never possibly been a “true” believer, reeks of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Although to counter my own argument, I was raised Catholic but I don’t think I ever truly believed – felt like all I was doing was talking to myself.

    - Enness: Whether buffeted by the universe or a god, you still are not in full control of your destiny. In addition, I have a north star, it is my own will and what I would like to get out of my life. I can only speak for myself, but it is not depressing – it is liberating.

    - There is no such thing as a “true” church teaching, Otherwise there wouldn’t be all of these offshoots.

    - Mardini: Lots of Hindu’s, Muslim’s, Pagan’s and even non-religious have had similar experiences. You seem to have interpreted the feeling through a cultural lens that is Christian.

    • Emily

      - Believers often ‘deconvert’ because they have misunderstood what they are leaving. (commonly misunderstood are teachings on sin, sinners, hell, purgatory etc)

      - Yes, you have your own version of a ‘North Star’, free will and wishes for your life, but to a Christian, that *is* depressing, because that is *all* you have. Also what you have is very centred on the self – do you really think you’re here just to get what you want out of life? That kind of viewpoint/opinion is mind-boggling to me, and it seems rather narrow.

      - that’s your point of view, and the ‘proof’ doesn’t make much sense. All the offshoots suggest that some people found the teaching just a little bit difficult sometimes, and decided to remove something, or change something, to make it more palatable to their personal opinion. Having a multitude of copies of an artwork doesn’t make the original any less the original.

      - These other religions may have similar experiences, but that doesn’t negate the one that Mardini has had. The similarity is actually more suggestive of an experience of God, just differently (and I would say incorrectly) interpreted by them through their own religion.

      • Jp

        - Believers deconvert for a number of reasons, sometimes rational, sometimes otherwise. But the implication that deconversion happens only because they misunderstand something (that you, of course, understand perfectly well) is just smug.

        - Please explain, concisely, why life absent the Christian religion is somehow more narrow or self centered than a life with it. Maybe I’d venture that your point of view is narrow because you conceive of yourself only in relation to your god, and I think your god is rather small and fails to encompass the true breadth of eternity and cosmic mystery.

        • Christian Stillings

          - I agree that “believers deconvert for a number of reasons”. However, if you re-read her comment, you’ll see that she said “often deconvert” rather than “only deconvert” (emphasis mine in both). You opted for the latter, which shows that you either misunderstood her (which may have been charitable) or intentionally misrepresented her (which I’d consider pretty uncharitable).

          - I don’t think that life absent Christian faith is necessarily “more narrow or self-centered” than life without it. However, I’d say that the call of the Christian life holds one to a standard which requires a greater deal of self-denial than the average person tends to seek out without the motivation of faith. Twin disclaimers: I speak as an average American college student, not an anthropologist; my “average person” is a simple matter of cultural observation. Some non-Christian faiths may motivate people to greater self-denial; I’d identify the tendency away from self-denial as being prevalent in lives where faith is not a significant factor. (Joel Osteen devotees are obviously a different case.)

          • Jp

            - I also noticed that she said “often deconvert”. However, the word ‘often’, at least in this context, appears to be used mostly as a wiggle word that allows them to grant specific examples while still suggesting that most people who deconvert merely misunderstood what they left. This allows the author to dismiss out of hand the implications of the cases where people take their faith very seriously and then decide to leave. Now, granted, I could very well be wrong. But that’s the vibe I picked up from the comment.

            - I’d argue that self denial is not at all equivalent to a lack of self centeredness. For example, I have several devoutly religious friends that most definitely practice various means of self denial (i.e. abstinence from alcohol, sex, drugs other than alcohol, etc.), but I’d hardly describe them as exceptionally selfless. In fact, they tend to be a bit more self centered than most in the sense that they are less empathetic and apparently lack the ability to seriously consider others’ points of view. If anything, the only trait they exhibit to an unusual degree is a tendency towards authoritarianism (not that they’re necessarily bad people, we just don’t jibe on a very basic level).

            Granted, I’m assuming along with you that narrowness is somehow related to selfishness. However, I think the author’s intention may have related to something more…uhhh…cosmic? Basically, the author seems to view the atheistic vision as lacking a certain depth because, as they might put it, the atheist world begins and ends with us (humanity) as individuals, without any divine providence. Why is the eternal more meaningful than the fleeting; why are the powerful, even the all-powerful, more meaningful than the small, insignificant, and weak? To assume the existence of a god adds to the value of our existence or ‘broadness’ of our worldview is, in my opinion, an poorly reasoned stance.

          • Christian Stillings

            - I agree that it’s important to use terms carefully in this kind of conversation. However, your use of the word “only” implied that you had misread or misunderstood her use of the word “often”. I agree that the context may offer clues as to what the writer meant, and I won’t nitpick on the details of what “vibe” I personally picked up from her comment. Just tryin’ to keep ya honest. :-P

            - You raise a good point in noting that lack of self-denial doesn’t necessarily equate to selflessness. In either event, I think we’ll agree that selfishness is no help at all to selflessness; whether or not self-denial helps in a particular case is another question.

            Out of curiosity, in the case of your devoutly religious friends, do you think that your perceived “lack of selflessness” is a matter of intention or of capacity? Do you think that they don’t strive toward selflessness to the extent that their religious convictions should compel them, or do you think that they try but that their specific efforts could use some refinement? Also out of curiosity, what do you mean by “authoritarianism” in this case?

            As to your last paragraph: interesting questions, and I have some thoughts, but I want to think on it more. I may try to get back to you soon on those.

      • DKeane123

        I agree with your first point – the issue is what percentage? I certainly did not fall into that category.

        Second point: “do you really think you’re here just to get what you want out of life?” – you have made an assumption here that life must have some purpose. I could “just be here”.

        Third point: Not buying it. Before Christianity there was Judaism and before the Jews there were the pagans and so on… Most, if not all, are offshoots from some original idea for which there is little evidence. I see the trend in your answers is that people leave or modify their faith specifically because they find certain aspects easier to deal with. Many leave due to an intellectual argument , If I found certain doctrines difficult to live with, I could become an Unitarian.

        Fourth Point: I’m not saying the experience is invalid. Which is more likely: A) A fluctuation in brain chemistry causes these occasional feelings or experiences and that a subset of the 7 billion people on this planet filter the experience through a particular cultural lens? or B) An all powerful being has decided to communicate with his creation through an oblique and obscure method – therefore allowing them to interpret it anyway they like. AND if they interpret it incorrectly, they have the potential to burn in hellfire for eternity. Such a practical joker.

  • Myra D’Souza

    What did we ever do to be so loved by God the Father that He sent us His only well-beloved Son to be our Savior, our Lover, Our Friend, our Spouse our Food and Drink? Nothing. We get to love Him in return here on earth and we have the hope of seeing Him face to face and loving Him eternally in eternity. Who could ever want or need more. http://bridegroomofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/02/my-god-is-here.html

  • Lee Johnson

    It is possible to deconvert. I would have thought it not possible, but you can lose your faith in a fundamental sense. Ignore spiritual practice long enough, nurture grievances, remain ensnared in certain kinds of sins, especially judgmentalism of others and fear of too much of God’s mercy for others, spend too much time on the intellectual side … it is indeed very possible to one day say, you know, wake up and say that was a load of baloney. And not care.

    I am nearly 50. I have found in the past year, since my father died, that I am very close to losing my faith. I am battling to keep it.

    • Ely Addison

      I love that you address the foolishness of a sense of ‘invulnerability’, or of taking for granted that being tight with God at one point is going to carry you until your deathbed. Nothing in theology or sociology teaches that. We’re spiritually affected by the pain of the human experience, and it affects our perceptions. I kind of tilt my head funny when a Christian says they don’t experience this. During my last ‘crisis of faith’, I struggled to decide whether ‘keeping up’ the practices that I used to rejoice in, even while in the midst of feeling it profoundly meaningless, was the supreme fidelity or the supreme adultery. C.S. Lewis talks about duty as a crutch– and there’s nothing wrong with using a crutch while you’re injured. When you’re well, however, it’s best to drop the thing and run. Starting to totter on my own now. Speaking of, have you seen the ‘ritual or die’ post?

      • Lee Johnson

        No, I haven’t seen the ritual or die post. Send me a link.

        Best to you during this rough period. Glad it’s getting better.

  • michigancatholic

    Once you undergo a definitive conversion experience with a personal before and after, you can’t de-convert. But you can “back-slide” as they call it down south and you’ll know you’re doing it. If you’re really bad, you might not care but you’ll always know.

    On the other hand, if you’ve been raised in a religion and you haven’t had a conversion experience, you can certainly leave it. It’s just a matter of dropping your membership and walking away. You might be left with memories or ideas that recur or you might wonder what could have happened, but you can leave. You can even call it “de-conversion” if you want, but that’s not what it is. It’s just leaving, wandering off.

    • Korou

      Why can’t you deconvert? Are you saying that it’s impossible to decide that an earlier decision was based on false assumptions and that you were mistaken to decide as you did?
      “I used to think that there were good reasons to believe in God but now that I am older and have more experience I can see that I was mistaken.”
      Why is that impossible?
      I suppose you could say that since God really does exist it’s impossible for anyone who has genuinely experienced Him to stop believing; but since this argument can be made by any religion it doesn’t have much force.

  • Korou

    I’m afraid that after reading the article all I can see in it is that Marc is so incredibly happy and fulfilled by being a Christian that he would never, ever stop.

    Fair enough, and I’m glad he’s so happy. But there isn’t anything in his article that offers any evidence that what he believes to be true actually is true. All there is is emphatic declarations of its truth, which we might find coming from sincere believers of just about any religion.

    The obvious answer, then, is that people can deconvert from being really sincere Christians because thought and reflection leads them to the conclusion that what they really, passionately believed to be true, wasn’t. There are plenty of conversion accounts by such people. Dan Barker is a good example. They loved Jesus, worshipped him, were real believers – until eventually they found they could believe no longer.

    One the other side of the ledger, Bob Seidensticker has some interesting writings about atheists who convert to Christianity: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2012/10/how-could-an-atheist-convert-to-christianity/

    Apparently they convert for a number of reasons – but never for rational ones that can be explained to another person and persuade him or her.

    • Andrew O’Brien

      Korou – I appreciate your perspective as well as the perspective of other atheists. I really do. After all, when I look at my own faith there are many personal things that wouldn’t convince me if somebody else presented them to me.

      Its for this reason that I don’t find debates between theists and atheists to be very interesting. There is just way too much talking past each other. As I think you’d agree, atheists are often looking for different kinds of evidence than Christians. But as a theist who peeks in at these debates from time to time, part of what frustrates me about the atheist perspective is that it seems as though they don’t know what kind of evidence they are looking for to begin with. Thus, no argument put forth by a theist will ever be recognized as valid. They are just dismissed with the wave of a hand.

      So while you’re here, I’ll just ask: What kind of evidence would convince you that God exists? Is there even anything that could convince you? Or have you just assumed a priori that God doesn’t exist?

      • Korou

        Hello Andrew. Well, first, thanks for your reply. I agree with you that atheists and theists often talk past each other; maybe we can do better here. I’ll try. Apologies in advance for a rather long-winded answer.

        Regarding the question of God: yes, my mind is made up that He doesn’t exist – but only in the same way that my mind is made up that Zeus or Odin don’t exist. I don’t spend any time at all wondering if God exists, as after some years of thinking it over I’ve decided that there is no reason to. I’ve seen many reasons for why God does exist proposed, and none of them seem satisfactory; and I’ve seen some reasons which make it unlikely that God exists. If some evidence for the existence of Odin were to appear I would certainly re-evaluate my position; and if evidence were presented for God’s existence I’d certainly re-evaluate my position on Him as well.

        It’s been a while since I have seen an argument for God’s existence that is worth considering. There do seem to be a finite number of them, in one form or another, and none of them seem compelling. Some of them, which I dare say you’re familiar with, include: “How do you explain this or that miracle; isn’t it impressive the amount of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled; since everything that begins must have a cause, the universe must have a cause that exists outside the universe; if there is no God, how can morality exist?” And none of these are compelling.

        So, from my point of view, it looks like this:

        1. I see no reason to believe that the existence of God is anything other than an unproven hypothesis until some evidence for His existence is provided.

        2. I have seen many examples of evidence provided. None of them have been compelling.

        4. I do not now expect that any good evidence can be provided for God’s existence; but if it is I am willing to reconsider.

        What do you think of that?

        Now to answer your question: what would be good evidence for the existence of God – well, there’s three types of answer to that. First, and no offence meant, it isn’t my job to name the evidence I am looking for. It should be enough for you to be able to provide the evidence that persuaded you. If you, a reasonable person, found it persuasive, surely I should too? If you ask me what evidence I would like to hear, I suppose my answer should be “Your best.” We don’t go into courtrooms and hear the prosecution saying to the defence, “What evidence would you like us to present?” They say, “We believe the defendant is guilty because of these lines of evidence.”

        My second answer to your question would be that if I were to imagine a universe in which the type of entity God is described as being exists, it would be a very different one to this! I’d expect to see miracles happening and being recorded on camera; I’d expect to see noticeable differences between Christianity and other religions that could not be explained except by Christianity being true; I’d expect to see proof of prayers being answered. I’m familiar with the argument that God does not always answer our prayers as we wish, and that is not God’s task to perform on demand; but if prayer has any effect at all it should be at least statistically detectable.

        My third answer would be that there are some things I would find more persuasive than others. Verified miracles would be a good example – and if I set a high bar for what a verified miracle is there is a good reason for this, as there are such a huge number of supernatural claims being made.

        These second and third answers are rather well explained in a short article which you can read at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-theists-guide-to-converting-atheists/
        I hope I haven’t gone on too much; and I hope I’ve answered your questions.

        • Korou

          Ah. Sorry about the missing third point. It seems to have been joined on to the second.

        • Andrew O’Brien

          Korou – I agree with you that, in a debate, it isn’t your job to provide the criteria for persuasion. But I don’t get why every interaction between an atheist and a theist has to be a debate. I don’t like debates very much because I don’t think they ever really arrive at truth. It mostly just results in name calling and childish behavior – especially on the internet. I feel as though I’ve discovered truth not by debating, but by respectfully conversing with friends over tough issues and trying to sort things out together. Part of this, in my experience, is to examine what it is we are looking for. So, thank you for answering my question. I think it takes us beyond debate and more towards authentic truth seeking.

          Your second answer is a bit strange for me. It just seems like an odd claim for somebody to make. If I were to simplify it it sounds like you’re saying this: If there was a God he would run the world like I would if I were God. The world is not run like I would run it if I were God. Therefore, God does not exist. That argumentation just doesn’t seem right to me. (Personally, if there was a God I would expect him to do things way differently than I would because I tend to make some pretty dumb decisions from time to time)

          As for the other points, I’m sort of in agreement. I do believe in miracles (The Resurrection) but I tend to be a bit skeptical of most of the miraculous claims out there (the Jesus in a Cheese Sandwich miracle). If God created the laws that govern the world and he declared these laws to be good, I just don’t see why God would go out of his way very often to break them. So, I tend to find evidence of God’s existence from day to day miracles to be a little shallow. The only miracle worth discussing, for me, is the resurrection – which I find difficult to prove if the proof that is required by my sparring partner is video evidence.

          Sorry I didn’t add much to the discussion here. Tomorrow is Fathers day and tomorrow night I’m heading off for a few days vacation and have no intention of touching my computer. Thanks though, for answering my initial questions. Maybe I’ll see you back here again and I’ll be able to lay out why I believe in the God of Christianity.

          • Korou

            Hello again. I hope you had a good vacation.

            Perhaps I’d better go over my second point more clearly. I didn’t mean that I disagree with God because He doesn’t do things the way I would, not at all. God is God, and can do whatever He likes. What I meant was that I do have quite a clear picture of the kind of universe this would be if God did exist – because I’ve been told what God is like, although there are quite a lot of differing descriptions.

            If I believed one type of Christian (not your type, I suspect) I would expect there to be the ruins of a garden somewhere in the world with an angle guarding its gate with a flaming sword. I’d expect the skeleton of some titanic wooden boat to be somewhere on Mount Ararat. I would expect geological layers to be six thousand years deep, and showing evidence of a global flood.

            Now I think you would probably tell me about a different type of God; and quite often atheists do get accused of disbelieving in a God that they made up. This isn’t true at all, there are plenty of people who really do believe these things. But others believe in things which should also be leaving signs that we don’t see.

            I expect that you believe that God answers prayers? We should be seeing some statistical evidence of that. When I say things like this I get told that God is not a slot machine, and can’t be pinned down in a scientific experiment. But to me that doesn’t ring true. If God’s answers to prayer are indistinguishable from natural chance, why do people pray to Him? People certainly do ask God for things, in all religions, and we should be seeing differences in responses to “true” and “false” prayers. We don’t.

            Other things we should be seeing include miracles. All religions believe in them, but we should only see them happening for Catholics; and they should be verifiable and obviously apparent miracles, which they aren’t. Christians should be able to point to examples of prophecies coming true, miracles happening and prayers being answered – and they can’t, at least no more than any other religion can.

            I hope that’s clarified what I mean. Now, as to your reasons for believing in Christianity – basically, I’d be interested in hearing your best and most compelling reasons, whatever they are.

          • Tara

            Hello there! I’m not much good at discussions like this, but I would like to add a few thoughts of my own, if that’s okay.

            I’ll start with your first paragraph. I too, have a clear picture of what the world could be like. Admittedly, it has rainbows and happy people everywhere, but you and I both know this is not how the world is. But I think it is a mistake to blame God’s presence (or lack thereof) for the world’s state. Take my little sister. She’s 6 years old and she loves making a mess of her room. This should not be surprising for anyone, children, by nature, make messes. While not ultimately bad, a mess can quickly grow into a foul place, unsuitable for a growing child. Certainly I can stop her from making a mess! But to do so would mean tying her up, and taking away her rightful freedom. As a Christian, I believe that God gave us freedom of choice. He could certainly stop us from making a mess of the world, but in doing so, He would be stripping us of our freedom and we would be nothing more than slaves. God can make the world a better place, if only we would allow it.

            For your second paragraph, I don’t we should limit ourselves to just physical facts. You say that you would expect to see physical evidence of the Garden of Eden. Should there have to be? There are many historical figures and places that are considered fact and real, but the only evidence is written. What about something like depression? A person who suffers from it could hide it so well from the rest of the world that a life could come and go, and not another soul would know about it. Does this mean that the person’s depression was any less real? Of course not. But, sad to say, some would dismiss it on the basis of no physical evidence.

            I am somewhat confused by your definition of a “natural chance”. A miracle, by definition, should be something of which isn’t natural by any means. So in your opinion, what is the difference between a miracle and natural chance?

            “All religions believe in them, but we should only see them happening for Catholics”
            I do not mean to be rude or condescending in any way, but I find this statement really hard to wrap my head around! Say a person lives in the middle of…. Antarctica. I know, I know, it’s a stretch, but bear with me. This person could go their entire life not knowing about the Catholic faith, yet serving God completely in every way. If we have any sense of justice, we know that God wouldn’t hold back miracles or blessings from this person. Even as a Catholic myself, I know that there are many people who (though non-Catholic) are more in need of a miracle that I could ever imagine.

            Something for you to look into is the process of a person being titled Saint by the Catholic Church. You’ll find this process a long (and possibly interesting) one, as a person “up for sainthood” as we say, is put through a series of tests and challenges. A saint must be associated with at least two miracles, both which are carefully examined and if at all scientifically explainable are promptly dismissed.

            My final thought is this: We both have to be honest with ourselves. I have no compelling evidence that God exists. I cannot prove to you that He does. But no one has compelling evidence that He doesn’t either. So either you have faith that He DOES exist, or faith that He DOESN’T.
            Well, there it is. I’m sorry if you’ve heard all these arguments before, I had no intention of wasting your time.

  • Pat B.
  • Sarah Z.

    What about Adam? The initial fall was from a state of perfection. If he could fall from a state of perfection, how is it that we cannot fall from a state of really, really good?

    Also, how would you deal with the Hebrews 6:4-6? The only way this passage makes sense is if the believer can fall away….

    I think you do address this when you say that one can reduce himself to the point where he no longer has the capacity to see. But why are you unwilling to call this de-conversion? If this is not de-conversion, what does the term mean? Finally, if we all, as human beings, are without excuse, God’s divine attributes being manifest, then do not all men have this kind of “knowing” that the “de-converted” man has – though arguably to a lesser degree. But suppressing the truth, the “de-converted” can reduce himself to that common state of man.

    I get what you’re saying, and I relate to the sentiment. However, the will being turned against the natural is the very condition of sin. And it seems like all you’re saying is that the will cannot be turned against this natural thing because you have such an affinity for it, or because it is now so natural as to be inviolable by the will (heart transplant example). De-conversion is not the only absurdity. All of sin is an absurdity of our own wills violating our own natures.


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