Whose Conversion Would Matter Most?

A couple days ago, Shalini jokingly said she converted and started receiving tons of messages from Christians saying that their prayers were answered.

When Anthony Flew came out as a Deist in 2004 (and a book about it came out a couple months ago), a lot of Christians used him as an example of how even the “most notorious atheist” found God. (Though they usually exaggerated and said he believed in the same version of God they do — which is not true.)

To be honest, I’d never even heard of Flew before his Deism came to light in 2004. His change of mind didn’t impact me very much.

But it does raise an interesting question…

Whose “conversion” (from atheism to theism) would have the biggest impact on your life?

If Richard Dawkins said he now believed in the Christian God, can you imagine what the reaction would be from both sides?

I’d ask the same question in reverse also:

Whose “conversion” (from theism to atheism) would have the biggest impact on your life?

Would atheists embrace Pat Robertson if he said on the 700 Club that he’s been wrong all this time and he didn’t believe in God anymore or would they still distance themselves from him?

If Billy Graham said he knew he wouldn’t be meeting his wife in Heaven because he no longer believed there was one, what would the Christian world say?

Did the revelation of Mother Teresa‘s lack of faith actually make a difference to you?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • JimboB

    I knew of Anthony Flew before his “conversion” to Deism. He wrote an article called “The Presumption of Atheism,” in which he adamantly claimed that the burden of proof lies on the proposition [that god exists], not the opposition. He made an analogy to our judicial system where people are innocent until proven guilty, and that the onus of proof is on the prosecutor.

    You can find it online at positiveatheism.com via google.

    As far as “winning converts” goes, I’m happy we have Dan Barker on our team :D

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim

    Well, personally, if Pat Robertson admitted that he didn’t believe in God, I wouldn’t be that affected. No, I don’t despise him because he belives in God, I despise him because he says insane, hateful, ignorant and stupid things as a result of that belief. I despise him because he uses that belief to make money off of people who can’t always afford to give it, but who do so anyway because they believe it’s going towards a good cause. I suppose I’d be happier if he just stopped being a psychotic asswipe.

  • Arlen

    I think Pat Robertson converting to atheism would be just about the worst thing that could possibly happen to atheism. I’d, personally, be very saddened if Billy Graham converted, and I would certainly listen to his arguments for doing so. It would probably be most shocking (and hilarious) to the Christian community at large if Jerry Falwell converted… Falwell or the Pope. There just isn’t any single figure whose conversion would make me convert.
    As far as Mother Teresa is concerned, I think reports of her “faith crisis” were greatly exaggerated. To say she had a “lack of faith” because she didn’t hear God speaking to her is a silly thing for a Christian to say and an even sillier thing for an atheist to say.

  • Eliza

    Whose conversion from atheism to theism would have the biggest impact on my life? A close family member, like my spouse or child (because then I might have to hear harangues about my non-theism, my destination in hell, etc). I can’t imagine that anyone else’s conversion would otherwise have much impact beyond my thinking, “Hmm, that’s interesting, and kinda too bad.”

    Whose conversion from theism to atheism would have the biggest impact on my life? [Blasphemy alert] Well, if God exists, became an atheist, and relayed that information to me in a convincing manner, I might have to change my mind & begin believing.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    You know, I wish I could say that I don’t care. And to some extent, I don’t. It’s not like I trustingly follow my atheist leaders; if a prominent atheist converted, I’d be disappointed in them, but it wouldn’t change my mind.

    But honestly, I shudder to think of the political and PR hash that the Christian Right would make if Richard Dawkins converted. And honestly, since I admire him so much, and since his writing had so much to do with my own coming out, I’d feel pretty disappointed and let down. Plus I cite his writings a lot in my own atheist writings and arguments, and doing so would have a lot less strength if he’d disavowed them. (On that note, Ebon Musings of Daylight Atheism comes a very close second — I cite his work constantly.)

    The worst, though — the very, very worst by far — would not be a famous atheist. It would be my wife Ingrid. That would have a very large impact on my life, one which would be extremely difficult to adjust to.

    On the other side: While it would certainly be entertaining, and while it would certainly get atheism in the news even more than it is, I don’t think having someone like Pat Robertson deconvert would bring thousands of followers with him. When the wildly popular Pentecostal preacher Carlton Pearson merely changed his mind about the doctrine of hell, his followers abandoned him in droves.

    So the one who would have the most impact, I think, would be George W. Bush. If only because the process he’d have to go through to let go of his faith would involve letting go of his arrogant, knee-jerk certainty that everything he does and believes is right… and that would have a HUGE positive impact on all of our lives.

  • http://blog.timlewellyn.com Evolouie

    I think the whole point is being missed as far as the Flew conversion goes.
    Crazy Christians believe that the Flew conversion is an example of how god can make himself known to anyone who will just look at the so called evidence.
    However, what the crazy christians fail to mention is that even if Flew has actually converted and believes in the christian god, he never see heaven.
    For as the God of the christian bible says in:

    LUKE 12:10, “And everyone that says a word against the Son of Man, that will be forgiven; But he that blasphemes against The Holy Spirit will not be forgiven
    .
    MARK 3:29, “Whoever blasphemes against The Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of everlasting sin.”

    So, I ask all christians, what good is it that he has accepted your god?

  • Apsalar

    I think if Pat Robertson or James Dobson decided they were atheists, it would be a nightmare–unless they then said that every horrible, bigoted thing they ever said was in favor of the ends justifying the means of converting and/or keeping Christians in line, and they are now renouncing all of that for the disgusting things they were. The same goes for encouraging the poor and the elderly to send them money that they can’t afford, they’d have to say they did all of that knowing it was not for the best for their followers, only the best for themselves, and they are ashamed. If they said all of that, I think it would actually be a good thing for atheists.

    If Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers converted, it would not shake my own disbelief, but it would give me a lot of questions as to what could possibly have happened in their lives to make this happen.

    And, if anyone in my own family came out, even as a deist or an agnostic, it would give me a whole lot of hope. As far as I know, I’m the only one and it keeps me quiet because I’m too afraid of my family becoming unpleasant if they knew how far my lack of beliefs go. It might not matter to anyone else, but it would matter a lot to me.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    I must say I’m very much with Greta on this one. Dawkins has affected me so much personally that his conversion would be a serious blow. I would be unlikely to waver in my own atheism – unless he converted because of some fabulous new argument for god’s existance no one had ever considered before – but it would certainly be a huge letdown. And just like Greta, it would be even worse if my significant other found god. I cannot imagine being in a deeply romantic relationship with someone who believes in something I consider irrational and in some cases downright dumb.

    As for various theists coming out as atheists, I would probably give them my kudos, but whether I’d like them more or not would depend on whether they also changed any views they might have had before on women, homosexuals etc. Atheism does not a good person make, unless Pat went all the way into Humanism and then retracted every offensive statement he’s ever made as well as donated substantial amounts of money to humanitarian causes, there would be no brownie points from this corner of the world! ;)

  • Samuel Skinner

    Don’t you know god already counts as an atheist? He doesn’t believe in the supernatural, a higher power or an afterlife and he knows the answers of all the questions of existance. Plus he has no faith; if he existed he would know it! Now if only we could get christians to emulate their god”s example…

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/ Chris Hallquist

    On the theist side: Most of the prominent Christians out there are people whose intellectual standards are so low, you really wouldn’t be thrilled to have them on your side. I mean, William Dembski? There are a couple I’d be happy for inspite of mostly disliking them, because I get the impression they’ve largely spent their lives as mere pawns in the hands of some frightening organizations. And there are a couple personal aquaintances I wouldn’t mind seeing convert.

    On the atheist side: Dawkins would be a major Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot moment with me, but wouldn’t matter much, ultimately. I’d be most worried about people I’m likely to work with with professionally or academically.

  • Milena

    I think losing Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an atheist would probably sadden me the most, because she’s just such a great example of an intelligent person emerging from religious oppression and triumphing.

    It’d be hilarious to see one of those religious politicos, like Mike Huckabee, deconvert. Just anyone in power to oppose the religious right in government. Hell, it’d be great to see the president of the United States openly convert to atheism.

  • Richard Wade

    Whose “conversion” (from atheism to theism) would have the biggest impact on your life?
    Whose “conversion” (from theism to atheism) would have the biggest impact on your life?

    Mine.

    I couldn’t care less what some famous person does with their beliefs, expert in a pertinent field or not. I don’t follow persons or personalities, I follow ideas. If somebody I agree with or who has helped me clarify my views changes their mind later that’s their business and I am only going to change my views if the evidence and the arguments together convince me to do so. The very idea of somebody having more credibility and influence over me simply because of their notoriety is absurd to me.

    Don’t have heroes. If someone has a vision that has helped you, adopt it to your own vision, but don’t worship them or subjugate yourself to being their devotee. As an atheist or a freethinker you would really be missing the point, wouldn’t you?

  • Mriana

    Greta Christina said,

    January 13, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    You know, I wish I could say that I don’t care. And to some extent, I don’t. It’s not like I trustingly follow my atheist leaders; if a prominent atheist converted, I’d be disappointed in them, but it wouldn’t change my mind.

    You know, I think I can honestly say that I don’t care. Dawkins grew up in the Anglican church and if he went back to it, it wouldn’t have an influence on me, probably in part because I came from the Anglican Communion too. I know even what some of the priests and bishops don’t even believe and the church itself teaches it all just stories- esp the liberal ones. Just take a look at Harpur, Spong, Cupitt etc state in their books and you will see the word myth refering to the Bible more than once. Even Price who attends the Episcopal Church and he’s a Humanist, atheist, and doesn’t believe in a historical Jesus. There are so many people within the Communion that don’t believe in one or both. I don’t attend anymore because I see no purpose in it and have no interest since I realized that there is no historical Jesus, that the stories are more myths, and God is just a human concept along with heaven, afterlife, etc. Seems like a waste of time to me, but I have no issues with studying religious texts though, esp in the form of scholarly criticism. I ask Bob Price questions all the time as well as study various religions and myths.

    I don’t think it would influence me if Robertson suddenly realized that it’s all bunk and became an atheist either, because there are so many stories of “From Pastor to Atheist” that it’s not an unusual event. Study it all long enough and seriously enough you find that it’s all a bunch of rewritten myth- although MikeC probably disagrees with me and he might never be one of the ministers who decide none of it is true. The thing is there are many ministers who become atheists after they study it long enough and I have come to believe that a thorough study of it all is one way to discover that it is all man-made stories of a continuing myth.

    The revelation of Mother Teresa didn’t even have an effect on me. I don’t know, I guess I am just one of those people who has no use for it except maybe as a form of literature or something like that. Either that or I’m just use to various ministers (some still are ministers, some aren’t) who don’t have the traditional Christian beliefs that nothing surprises me anymore. I haven’t gotten excited yet about anyone’s conversion or deconversion as of yet.

    The truth is, depending on which church you frequent, you will find ministers who don’t believe but find other aspects they appreciate and enjoy, so they stay in the field. You will find former ministers who still attend church because they enjoy various aspects of the service, but they no longer believe. You also have atheists who return to religion for whatever reason and you have those who “lost faith” for whatever reason, walked away, and never returned. Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to people and religion, not even an atheist minister who stays or eventually leaves.

  • http://nomorehornets.blogspot.com The Exterminator

    The only person whose conversion from atheism to theism would affect my life is me. No matter who else converts, I will still be an atheist until presented with rock-solid evidence that some god exists.

    As far as theists converting to atheism: It might be nice if the pope issued a bull saying that Catholicism is and has always been a bunch of bull-shit.

  • Mriana

    As far as theists converting to atheism: It might be nice if the pope issued a bull saying that Catholicism is and has always been a bunch of bull-shit.

    ROFL! :lol: Now THAT would be funny!

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Thousands of people convert from atheism to theism and vice versa all the time. It’s not that uncommon. However, I highly doubt that anyone whose highly public, professional persona is wrapped up in either their atheism or their Christianity is likely to deconvert. It’s very hard for a person in that position to be intellectually honest, swallow their pride and admit they were wrong. The deeper one’s identity, reputation, and livelihood gets wrapped up in it, the less likelihood there is of them deconverting.

    Though I have to say that I’ve always admired Billy Graham’s integrity and I suspect that he might be an exception to the above. At his age he has little left to lose, and I think that if he honestly deconverted he would not be afraid to say so. Already he has been very forthright about many of the conservative Christian doctrines that he has backed off on in recent years.

    And I agree with Arlen about Mother Teresa. It is an exaggeration to imply that her struggles with doubt means that she was a closet atheist or that she had deconverted (not that you implied that Hemant, I’m just saying). In the words of Barack Obama, “Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts.”

    Anyhow, to answer the question, I agree that the Pope’s deconversion would by far have the biggest impact, and be pretty damn funny too – especially if he announced it in his “ex cathedra”, infallible capacity. Could the Pope infallibly declare that God doesn’t exist, or would that cause a rift in the space-time continuum? :)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Mother Teresa, how many of you people actually read the letters? I did and they have been misrepresented. She wasn’t exactly a hero of mine before and she isn’t now, but she shouldn’t be misrepresented. Beside the letters is her life, her actions are a better representation of what she believed than the letters.

    I agree with Wade, who cares what someone else does or doesn’t believe. Though, given what an arrogant swine he was the assertions of Ayer’s saying to his surgeon that he had “met the Supreme Being” on waking up from his reported Near Death Experience does please me a lot more than it apparently did him (see MikeC’s comment). His wife reported that he was a lot easier to live with after he had seen God. Or so I’ve read. Not that I care.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    Having someone switch from atheism to theism does nothing to my atheism. It would matter to me only in that it would sadden me that they would choose delusion, like someone who chooses drugs or alcohol to escape their troubles.

    As for someone from the other side coming over, I guess I’d have to go with the pope as well, or maybe Bush. That would be funny.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I think a high profile atheist converting to theism would have more of an effect on me than a well-known theist converting to atheism.

    I believe if a theist were to convert, then they were not a true theist to begin with. Since faith is a personal thing, no one really knows the state of another’s faith.

    On the other hand, I’ve learned that most atheists are critical thinkers and claim that they require proof beyond doubt in order for them to believe. Therefore, if a true athiest were to convert, I’d have to assume they can provide evidence to share with the world…. no?

  • Maria

    Anyhow, to answer the question, I agree that the Pope’s deconversion would by far have the biggest impact, and be pretty damn funny too – especially if he announced it in his “ex cathedra”, infallible capacity. Could the Pope infallibly declare that God doesn’t exist, or would that cause a rift in the space-time continuum?

    LOL! Good question! For me I’d to have agree that the pope becoming an atheist would totally shock me. Also if I heard that Christopher Hitchens became a theist I would actually pinch myself to see if I was dreaming.

  • Mriana

    I believe if a theist were to convert, then they were not a true theist to begin with. Since faith is a personal thing, no one really knows the state of another’s faith.

    Somehow I don’t agree. Dan Barker would tell you he was a very devote theist before he converted to atheism. I’ve heard many stories like his and I don’t doubt that they truly believed what they preached.

    By the same token, I had a god concept as a child and in my younger years, but it obviously was not the same concept of the devotely religious in my family or other Christians and I would quite often get accused of being an atheist. I truly saw expressions of love and compassion as being God in my younger years, esp when they gave me feelings of transendence. I never saw it as an anthropomorphic being, but this did not jive with the ultra-religious concept of a deity.

    The thing is when I grew up and left home, as many know, I went to an Episcopal Church where they taught love was god and the stories in the Bible were just that- stories. I learned a lot and insisted on learning from various priests that I knew would not oust me for my views and did my own research on the matter as well as studied the psychology of it all and soon found out what I attributed to God was a human concept. This human concept was purely emotion and nothing more. However, I don’t believe that made me an atheist just because many Christians accused me of it. I do think that the desire to learn about it all made me a thinker though- a freethinker at that.

    Do I still think love and compassion is god? No, I do not. I think it is purely emotions that at times can cause feelings of transendence that cause us as humans to attribute them to a deity depending on our concepts of what a deity should be, but they are not god or any deity. Even so, I do not believe in the god of religion, esp one that is an anthropomorphic deity nor due to what I have learned do I believe in a historical Jesus. By definition, I guess this makes me an atheist and one could argue that I never was a theist, but one could argue that I was at one time before I learned something about myself, psychology, and various religions.

    Irregardless, I would not say anyone who at one time considered themselves a theist and now declares themselves a non-theist never was a theist. I still highly believe in love and compassion, but I no longer consider it to be god though and therefore I no longer have a god concept. So, yes. One could be a theist and then become a non-theist. It is all in the definition. I even believe those like Dan Barker were at one time theists who became non-theists too. So, IMHO, one can’t make a blanket statement that if a theist were to convert then they were never true theists to begin with.

    On the other hand, I’ve learned that most atheists are critical thinkers and claim that they require proof beyond doubt in order for them to believe. Therefore, if a true athiest were to convert, I’d have to assume they can provide evidence to share with the world…. no?

    No, they cannot. It is a matter of their emotional state of being at the time they became theists and what triggered that emotion at the time. This gets very deep into the psychology of religion, but most of the time when such conversions happen the individual is imposed upon, for want of better words, with religion, generally Christianity. Their emotional state of being was taken advantage of and with the love they felt from the religious person or people at the time, felt they encounter God. So, in reality, they really have no evidence they can share with the world, just an experience that dealt with heighten emotions at the time and nothing more.

    I’ve seen this far too many times in Evangelical Fundamentalist churches. The “sinner” would be emotionally down, attend their church, probably at the encouragement of family and/or friends, and the next thing everyone knew was that the “sinner” was up at the alter being “love bombed”, suddenly met Jesus/God, and was converted. *rolling eyes* It was purely an intense emotional experience that was taken advantage of by the religious at that opportunity. They saw an in because the person was having a difficult time in life and took advantage of the situation in order to convert the person. The person then assumed that the extreme emotion s/he felt at the time was that of God, when it was actually an intense emotion brought on by the feelings of love and compassion from the people around him/her. Nothing more.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    The occurrence of a celebrity atheists converting to religion would not have any effect on me. I would be interested in their story, though. A celebrity theist, on the other hand, may have some affect on me simply because it is the theists who have political power (at least in the US) and anything that shakes up the power structure might very well effect me. As others have mentioned, it would be amusing to contemplate the deconversion of people such as “W” or the eventual presidential nominees of the two main US political parties…

  • anti-nonsense

    I have to say like others that Richard Dawkins becoming a theist would be very upsetting and disconcerting for me. He has had a profound effect on my life through his works, both on biology and on atheism and it would shock me very deeply if he became a theist. I don’t think it would automatically cause me to become a theist, I was non-religious before I ever heard of Dawkins, unless he had some really good reason for his conversion that made sense and he shared it with the public I doubt I’d automatically follow his lead. I respect the man a great deal, but I don’t think he’s always right and I don’t feel the need to agree with him about everything.

    As for theists becoming atheists, I can’t think that somebody like Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson or Dinesh D’Souza becoming an atheist would have much effect on my opinion of them, unless they publically apologized for the shitheaded, scumbag, bigoted way they’d behaved in the past in the process and they proceeded to act like they MEANT it from then on.

  • http://tinyurl.com/rotht Danny Boy

    I think Rick Warren deconverting would be a major shock to christians, since he’s very influential and not a polarizing demagogue like Robertson.

  • Jen

    I agree with Greta- the best conversion would be our president.

    I am not sure too many Christian leaders would admit to their conversion. Hmm, no, let me rephrase. I doubt too many people who make money off their faith would be willing to admit to their conversion. I am not talking about the Mike Cs of the world, who make a salary off being a pastor, but the Billy Grahams, the Benny Hinns, the Kirk Camerons. Anyone who has an empire based on their faith would probably prefer not to admit the truth. It would be a rare person who could turn away all that new income- or better yet, give away all their income made off what they now realize is a lie.

    If an atheist ‘leader’ turned to a theist, I would probably assume something terrible had just happened to them, to be honest. If I hear Dawkins converted, I would probably google to find out if his wife had died.

    I believe if a theist were to convert, then they were not a true theist to begin with. Since faith is a personal thing, no one really knows the state of another’s faith.

    Linda, I entirely disagree. I was a theist. Now I am not.

    I am not going to say there are no theists-turned-atheists- who- were- never- really- theists at all. Sure there are. In a country where most people claim to be Christian, but there isn’t that much church attendence, I think we can safely bet that there is a high number of Christians who have never really thought about the label that was given to them by their parents and reinforced by the masses.

    Still, theism is a belief, not an action. Sometimes people compare it to vegetarianism, but I am not sure that is a good comparison. If I eat a hamburger tomorrow, I am no longer a vegetarian, but that doesn’t change the fact that for nine years, I didn’t eat meat. It may mean that I wasn’t really commited to ending the suffering of animals, but I still went through the motions- and one can be a vegetarian without worrying about having a fantastic reason.

    Theism is a belief, and beliefs change. My belief about the importance of vegetarianism may change, and that might change my actions (or I may continue to live the lifestyle for whatever reason).

    I think you are falling into the “One True Scotsman” fallacy. Does being a Christian have to include a lifelong belief? Or does believing in Christianity right now mean one is a Christian, even if they switch to Judism twenty years later?

  • Siamang

    If Richard Dawkins became a Christian, would it make me a Christian?

    No more than if he came out as gay then it would make me gay.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    If Richard Dawkins became a Christian, would it make me a Christian?

    No more than if he came out as gay then it would make me gay.

    Not necessarily a good comparison bro’. Being an atheist or Christian is an intellectual and existential choice. Being gay usually isn’t. It’s something you’re born with, part of who you are. Conversion is about an actual change in one’s opinions. Coming out as gay is about acknowledging something that has been true all along.

  • grazatt

    Very well said MC

  • Siamang

    Sure, it’s a flippant answer, but to me the analogy is truer than you seem to give credence to.

    It assumes that there wasn’t a brilliant proof that convinced Dawkins and would similarly convince me. It assumes that Dawkins came to theism through some ineffable epiphany that he would (as other theists have) not be able to share with me.

    In other words, it would be a change of his internal mental state that (unlike knowlege) he would be unable to impart.

    To speak of Francis Collins, for example… Francis Collins describes his conversion to Christianity as being the result of seeing a beautiful frozen waterfall where the streams had frozen into three different strands. Instantly he was moved by the beauty of that, and thought of the Trinity, and he became a Christian.

    It’s wonderful for him, but I have to say, it’s an internal change inside him that he is unable to impart on others. Or at least me. The day Francis Collins saw that waterfall and became a Christian has zero bearing on me and my beliefs or opinions any more than him suddenly being attracted to men would have any bearing on my sexuality.

  • Siamang

    Being an atheist or Christian is an intellectual and existential choice.

    I don’t think so. I don’t remember “choosing” not to believe in God. I do not think I could “choose” to suddenly believe in God anymore than I could choose to be attracted to men.

    I may “become convinced” or “decide” that the evidence requires me to rethink my previous convictions. But choosing seems like the wrong word for me and my process. Perhaps your process was different.

  • Arlen

    Evolouie:

    Even if Flew has actually converted and believes in the Christian God, he’ll never see heaven… I ask all Christians, what good is it that he has accepted your God?

    The apostle Paul is arguably the single person most responsible for the spread of what we know as Christianity. He started out a staunch opponent of the church and probably did and said things that were much worse than Flew before his conversion and missionary work. I can’t think of a single Christian who would say that Paul would be shut out of heaven, so I’ll bet Flew would be just fine (not that we have any way of knowing).

    Generally speaking, it comes across as pretty boorish to tell a Christian what he or she believes. If you have a question or don’t understand something, it may be best to just ask in earnest.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Could the Pope infallibly declare that God doesn’t exist, or would that cause a rift in the space-time continuum?

    To start with, I know many Catholics and not a single one of them belives in papal infallibility. I seem to recall reading that Good Pope John XXIII said that he knew he was not infallible, though that could be apocryphal.

    If the Pope declared ex-cathedra that there was no God, he would have given those who believe in that mid-19th century political invention no choice but to conclude that his infallibility was impossible and so they wouldn’t have to accept what he said. Wouldn’t that be a neat way to get rid of one of Pius XI’s worst insanities?

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    Whose “conversion” (from atheism to theism) would have the biggest impact on your life?

    My partner.

    Whose “conversion” (from theism to atheism) would have the biggest impact on your life?

    George Bush, because it might change a lot of other things once he stops believing that an invisible sky-daddy is telling him what to do. The Prime Minister (of Australia) – though so far that affects me only a little. That Family First senator (in Aus. again), whatever his name is. Maybe Fred Nile.

    None of my close friends are in-your-face-religious enough that I would be impacted either way by them losing their respective faiths.

    I do admit that I’d greatly enjoy the de-stupiding of Ken Ham, William Dembski, and a few of the others in the creationist and ID crowds, but it would have nil impact on me otherwise. I wouldn’t care very much if atheism came with it; that would be more like the cherry on top.

    Would atheists embrace Pat Robertson if he said on the 700 Club that he’s been wrong all this time and he didn’t believe in God anymore or would they still distance themselves from him?

    Not for that alone, no. What would matter to me is whether he’d
    (i) stop being a total dick
    (ii) encourage the rest of them to stop harming others
    – that would make me very happy indeed. After that, I wouldn’t care less whether he was an atheist or not, and would embrace him either way. Until he stops being a dick, it’s a metaphorical kick in the nuts from me, atheist or not.

    Did the revelation of Mother Teresa’s lack of faith actually make a difference to you?

    No, apart from making me realize quite how deeply filled with hypocrisy the whole thing is.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I don’t think so. I don’t remember “choosing” not to believe in God. I do not think I could “choose” to suddenly believe in God anymore than I could choose to be attracted to men.

    I may “become convinced” or “decide” that the evidence requires me to rethink my previous convictions. But choosing seems like the wrong word for me and my process. Perhaps your process was different.

    That’s what I meant. Of course it’s an involved process. Saying it was a “choice” was just shorthand. I didn’t think I needed to outline all the steps along the way. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Siamang

    I didn’t think I needed to outline all the steps along the way. Sorry for the confusion.

    In all honesty, I still don’t think we’re talking about the same process. What I’m saying is akin to the old quote “a man can’t be reasoned out of something he wasn’t reasoned into in the first place.”

    I think apologists or evangelists of all camps of belief and nonbelief essentially flatter themselves that they came to their belief through reason and argument, and therefore they can bring others to their belief through reason and argument.

    I think the process is quite a bit different from that, and it may be closer to the process by which we fall in love, or we develop sexual attraction for some people and not for others. I mean, can you really talk someone into finding a person attractive?

    I think it’s inherently a non-intellectual process, or perhaps an extra-intellectual process that we post-change make rational arguments in order to talk about what just happened to us.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’m going to go with a both/and on this one Siamang. That’s why I said it was both “intellectual” and “existential”. At least, that’s how it was for me.

    But it’s still not the same as being born gay. Were you born an atheist? Was I born a Christian? I was born into a Christian family, but there was still a point at which I had to think about it and decide whether I was going to embrace it for myself or not. There was an intellectual journey and a choice involved. I’d hope that the same would be true of anyone who was born into an atheist family. If someone is an atheist just because their parents were, then that’s a pretty lame reason IMHO.

  • Siamang

    Were you born an atheist?

    Maybe I was born with the genetic predisposition to question the beliefs of my parents. Maybe I was born with a curiosity about spiritual matters, but a deep desire for all of them to line up neatly, and when they didn’t, I discarded them.

    I know people who couldn’t give a flying fig what the fossil record says or genetics, or geology or archeology, they just know that Jesus made the whole world about 4000 years after what you and I would call the agricultural revolution.

    I’m sorry, but my curiosity goes further than that, and as such, it takes MONUMENTALLY more effort for me to believe than it would take, well, let’s say Jared who apparantly was moved to faith by the scientific illiteracy of his opthamologist.

    Great going, God. Now that I’ve gone and read all those books, now I’m damned to hell! SHIT!

    Which is why I’m freaked out that the cursed tree in Genesis is the Tree of Knowlege. Not sin. Not evil. Knowlege. Says a lot about it, and not in a good way. No god I’d recognize would damn you for knowlege. But that’s my own bias.

    Screwed me the hell up. Burning in hell for taking college physical anthropology.

    Little did I know that if I cut biology classes I’d get a greased-lightning freeride to the pearly gates. Maybe if I cut a few more I could be president of the you-knighted states.

    Oh, and I don’t think you’re born gay. I think human sexuality is more nuanced than a binary switch. I think there’s strong genetic influence, but there’s also developmental biology working there too, as well as social and environmental influence.

    People are very rich and subtle things, and I don’t think they always fit neat categories like “straight” and “gay”. I describe myself as straight, because that’s how I interact sexually. But I realize that people go through periods in their lives of different things. Some people have exotic sexual makeups. I got a mundane one. Geez, how boring, a straight guy!

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Siamang, I think you need to watch The View more often. See Hemant’s post using that fine source of information. It’s got some news you can use.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Jen said:

    Still, theism is a belief, not an action. Sometimes people compare it to vegetarianism, but I am not sure that is a good comparison.

    I agree with you that theism is not an action. I wasn’t talking about action. I was talking about identity. My definition of Christianity or truly believing (in a deity, being enlightened, whatever) requires a transformation. Sort of like a rebirth into a whole new mindset. I don’t know if it can be described in words. One is not the same after the moment of conversion.

    My belief about the importance of vegetarianism may change, and that might change my actions (or I may continue to live the lifestyle for whatever reason).

    With theism, it’s different. We are still in this life in human form, so of course we continue to behave in a human way. And like anything else, there are highs and lows. With anything spiritual, which is beyond what we can experience with our five senses, there are always periods of questioning and doubt. But once there is an awakening, I don’t know if one can just abandon it and go back to the way they were before. I’ve tried, but it hasn’t worked (as of yet). I’m still constantly pushing the envelope. Who knows? Maybe you all will witness a Christian becoming an atheist. I doubt it, though. ;-)

    Does being a Christian have to include a lifelong belief?

    No, not according to how everyone here seems to define Christianity. However, that’s not how I see it. For me, Christ and Christianity is not someone or something that I merely believe in. It is something that I am — something that defines me. It is something that I have become, or maybe it’s something that I finally realized I always was. Everything in the scripture points to liberation and freedom for me. Religious people try to make those written words into a religion that chokes the life out of people.

    Or does believing in Christianity right now mean one is a Christian, even if they switch to Judism twenty years later?

    I believe the labels we call ourselves are just words. I can suddenly claim that I’m a horse and start neighing, but that would not change the fact that I’m a human. Even if I decide to call myself a Jew, a Hindu, or an agnostic tomorrow, that would not change who I am or the transformation that took place.

    And Mriana, you said the other day that “jumping ship” would not change who I am. After having thought about it at length, you are absolutely right. Ship is only a vehicle, nothing more. I am who I am regardless.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Siamang,

    You said,

    Which is why I’m freaked out that the cursed tree in Genesis is the Tree of Knowlege. Not sin. Not evil. Knowlege. Says a lot about it, and not in a good way. No god I’d recognize would damn you for knowlege. But that’s my own bias.

    Ummm.. It’s the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” not just a tree of knowledge. A huge difference. For me, the tree represents the human tendency to decide for ourselves what’s good and evil and trying to force our ideas on others. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that this is where religion must have been born.

    On the other hand, the “tree of life” represents freedom to be ourselves. Freedom to be real and genuine. Trusting our instincts (our hearts) and not being afraid to reject the ideas the majority try to push on us which make no sense. Knowledge is the only thing that can give us true freedom. Knowledge is what allows us to truly experience life with the freedom to think for ourselves.

    I think human sexuality is more nuanced than a binary switch. I think there’s strong genetic influence, but there’s also developmental biology working there too, as well as social and environmental influence.

    People are very rich and subtle things, and I don’t think they always fit neat categories like “straight” and “gay”. I describe myself as straight, because that’s how I interact sexually.

    Thank you, siamang. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I agree with you fully. I just didn’t know how to say it. I would change “things” to “beings,” though.

    I think you could also apply this idea to theism and atheism. We cannot define a line that divides us. There are many of us in the grey areas. No right or wrong. No “damned” or “saved.” I could suggest “awake” or “asleep,” but which is which? Regardless of the various claims, the only picture we can see is through our own eyes. True or false depends on what your vantage point is.

  • Siamang

    It sets up the symbolism that first hand understanding of the world around us is anti-authoritarian and anti-God.

    It’s a horrible message. Ignorance should be a sin, not knowlege.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    An authoritarian God? That’s not the God I know.

    Ignorance should be a sin, not knowlege.

    I really don’t think Gensis is referrring to knowledge as a whole. I understand it to only mean knowing what’s good and evil, which indicates morality. Humans therefore took on the task of coming up with our own moral code. Does religion not come from morality according to man? Wasn’t religion invented to control the masses?

    In the book, Adam and Eve did not know right from wrong before the incident in the garden. They just were. They were content. They did not know sin. Besides, Adam had already been given tremendous knowledge, enough knowledge to name every living creature on earth accordingly (Gen. 2:20). They did not eat of the tree for more knowledge. It was to become like God and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. This sounds like religious legalism to me.

  • Mriana

    I really don’t think Gensis is referrring to knowledge as a whole. I understand it to only mean knowing what’s good and evil, which indicates morality.

    Linda, I’m not sure how you are referring to “knowledge” in the case of Genesis. It definitely has nothing to do with Gnosis. As far as morality goes… well it is a bit archiac in that matter.

    As far as Adam and Eve, that’s just a story. One story out of many similar stories. In fact, there is another Hebrew/Jewish story that deals with Lilith. She knew God’s name, used it, thus had power. Not only that, she refused to be on the bottom. She eventually left Adam and not even three angels could make her return to Adam. So God gave him a new wife- Eve.

    http://gnosis.org/lilith.htm

    http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/Lilith/

    I don’t know if either link has the actual story though. I can’t find it off hand, but she was first feminist. Thing is, that story is not included in the Bible, but the myth known among some Jewish people and there is a lot of superstition around it- like baby boys have to wear this item until the are circumcized to protect them from Lilith.

    Whatever the case, it is not religious legalism, but rather an on going story or rather myth building. There is no historical fact in the story of Adam and Eve, but rather a borrowed story from other cultures and rewritten to fit the Hebrew culture. THEN the Hebrews built onto that also with more stories borrowed from other cultures. There really isn’t anything original with the stories. In fact, you can trace their stories back to the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians.

    And Mriana, you said the other day that “jumping ship” would not change who I am. After having thought about it at length, you are absolutely right. Ship is only a vehicle, nothing more. I am who I am regardless.

    :) I’m glad you thought about it and yes, you would still be you as you are. Hopefully I can give you more things to ponder. :)

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mriana,

    The OT is written in Hebrew, not Greek. The Hebrew word is da’ath, meaning knowledge, knowing, understanding, discerning, perceiving…

    Referring to the garden, I was not arguing the validity or the truth of the passage. I was merely inferring the symbolic meaning from my perspective.

    The only point I wanted to make was that the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not represent more knowledge as a whole. Just the knowledge of what’s good and evil. Maybe I went too far in saying that humans decided what’s good and evil. Maybe what’s good and evil are not what they seem at all. They just are. Bad exists with the good. Dark with the light, etc.

    Man becomes obsessed with good and evil. It becomes a religion. Religion introduces the idea that humans are perfectable. It teaches that there’s something inherently wrong with us, and we need to constantly strive to correct it. We come up short. Fear, shame, and guilt follow.

    Again, this is my view. How I see it. How I understand my faith. It’s not right or wrong. I’m just describing how it looks from my angle.

  • Siamang

    An authoritarian God? That’s not the God I know.

    So heaven is a democracy? I don’t think that’s depicted at all in the Bible.

    You will admit that with all the smiting and turning people into salt, and striking children dead for being the first born of Egypt that it would be easy for me to make that mistake. And then there was that whole “destroying the whole world to rid the world of human sin” episode. Long story short: didn’t work!

    I’m pleased that you worship a different God than that. But if we’re talking about Christianity and the Bible, you’ll have to cut me some slack here. I’m sure I can find Christians who think all that and then some about this god who you seem to know better than they.

    I don’t mean to tell you what YOU believe, Linda. I’m talking about the masses, who believe that God damned humanity for the evil of wanting to know something that God wouldn’t allow. To gain knowlege one must disobey God. What a horrible message to build a religion on. But awfully convenient, I must say, as a tool for the Priest caste to keep the peasants from questioning their authority.

    Besides, Adam had already been given tremendous knowledge, enough knowledge to name every living creature on earth accordingly (Gen. 2:20).

    Does it take tremendous knowlege to name some animals? Can’t you just string some vowels and consonants together? It’s not like he had to get them right… he got to name them in the first place! Whatever he said was right. If he said “Mfumblarp” then we’d be riding mfumblarps every Kentucky Derby.

    They did not eat of the tree for more knowledge. It was to become like God and decide for themselves what is right and wrong.

    Wait, it wasn’t the tree of “Deciding Good and Evil”. It was the tree of “Knowlege of Good and Evil”. If the Tree of Knowlege wasn’t a tree of Knowlege then God has a funny way of naming things, no?

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Siamang,

    Wait, it wasn’t the tree of “Deciding Good and Evil”. It was the tree of “Knowlege of Good and Evil”. If the Tree of Knowlege wasn’t a tree of Knowlege then God has a funny way of naming things, no?

    ^_^ I had already corrected myself on my post right above yours. “Deciding” was probably the wrong choice of word. It’s hard for me to argue semantics when all I’m trying to do is look at the concept and the big picture.

    To gain knowlege one must disobey God. What a horrible message to build a religion on. But awfully convenient, I must say, as a tool for the Priest caste to keep the peasants from questioning their authority.

    I know that is what we’re taught. I was trying to point out, though, that God is not the culprit for those teachings. Religion is. Religion is not God. I know it’s very hard for people to separate the two; but as I said a few posts back, even if I abandoned my religion, my relationship with God would not cease. It will continue to change and evolve, maybe even grow, but I’m confident that I will not lose it.

    That’s why when a believer says they have converted to atheism, it’s hard for me to believe that they really believed what they believed was really real in the first place. But if that’s their claim, I guess I have no choice but to accept it, because I am not them and cannot see their perspective.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Um, I think that if ignorance is bad, then ignorance of good and evil is bad too.

  • Karen

    That’s why when a believer says they have converted to atheism, it’s hard for me to believe that they really believed what they believed was really real in the first place. But if that’s their claim, I guess I have no choice but to accept it, because I am not them and cannot see their perspective.

    Thank you. You threw me when you declared above that former theists were never really theists at all. Accepting what someone like me – who was a devoted, serious, bible-believing Christian for 30 years – says about herself seems to me to be the only respectful way of interacting with others whom you don’t know (well).

  • Mriana

    Linda said,

    January 15, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Mriana,

    The OT is written in Hebrew, not Greek. The Hebrew word is da’ath, meaning knowledge, knowing, understanding, discerning, perceiving…

    Linda, I fully understand this. What I’m saying is that I’m not seeing what you are seeing in Genesis.

    Maybe I went too far in saying that humans decided what’s good and evil.

    Not far enough, IMO. Even the idea of God is a human concept.

  • Mriana

    Karen said,

    January 15, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    That’s why when a believer says they have converted to atheism, it’s hard for me to believe that they really believed what they believed was really real in the first place. But if that’s their claim, I guess I have no choice but to accept it, because I am not them and cannot see their perspective.

    Thank you. You threw me when you declared above that former theists were never really theists at all. Accepting what someone like me – who was a devoted, serious, bible-believing Christian for 30 years – says about herself seems to me to be the only respectful way of interacting with others whom you don’t know (well).

    Me too, thus why I said what I said when Linda originally made the comment.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Ladies,

    I stand corrected. *_* ::blush::


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