Why All the Fascination with the Atheist-Turned-Catholic Blogger?

So I’m sitting in the airport yesterday, heading back from Oklahoma, and CNN is on the TV.

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting to see Leah Libresco getting interviewed, but that’s what I saw when I sat down at my gate:

I’m really curious why so many articles about her conversion describe her as “one of the most prominent atheist bloggers on the Internet” (as the CNN host said).

I think they’re putting it in there because they don’t have a story if she’s not “prominent.” People change their religious beliefs all the time. That’s not unique. Religious people become atheists all the time. That’s not unique, either. (Hell, I just met hundreds of people over the weekend who fall in that category.) Occasionally, atheists become religious. That’s a little unique, but it’s not really a story.

The media is pushing the whole “she’s prominent!” angle as if other atheists are suddenly going to jump off the cliff with her, swayed by her reasoning.

We’re not.

Trust me when I say she hasn’t convinced anybody the cracker is actually Jesus.

A story about people changing their religious faith is interesting if the person was well-known for his/her beliefs. (I’m going to put it out there that most atheists, even in the blogosphere, hadn’t heard of Leah before last week.)

A story about people changing their religious faith is interesting if the person was a leader in that community. It’s an even bigger story when that’s part of a trend, like all those ex-pastors in The Clergy Project. (Jerry DeWitt and Teresa MacBain were not well-known Christians but they were religious leaders and that’s why they deserved the coverage they got.)

It’s just not a major story when one person changes her mind and no one else follows suit. It’s interesting, no doubt, but it’s not a major story.

And what makes someone “prominent”? Is it the number of hits on their site? What’s the dividing line between not prominent and prominent? (Journalists, please fill us in.)

Is it how long you’ve been blogging? It’s been two years for Leah. There are tons of atheists who have been doing this longer than that.

Is it how many atheist conferences you speak at? I can’t recall Leah speaking at any. (If I’m wrong, please tell me.)

Is it your leadership in atheist groups? I can’t recall any national atheist organizations that had Leah on their staff or board.

Was it the number of books she wrote on atheism? Nope.

The number of media appearances she made talking about her atheism? Nope.

So what makes her a “prominent” blogger? That’s not a knock on Leah, who no doubt was an atheist for a long time. That’s a knock on lazy journalists (and headline writers) who are sensationalizing a story that doesn’t deserve it.

That’s my first issue with the coverage. The second is that they’re covering this at all.

Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia thinks she knows why the media is fascinated with this story (emphases hers):

Why so much coverage on Leah? Perhaps the answer is this: Leah’s conversion goes against all of the prevailing narratives that dominate secularist thinking. Religion — or at least religion that goes beyond affirming oneself and actually costs something of one — is the “opiate of the masses” suited only to “bitter clingers” and intellectually-dim peasants (except it isn’t and never was); Leah is a brainy, sophisticated Yalie who is neither bitter, clingy nor dim. Catholicism “hates women” (except it doesn’t and never did) and Leah is a strongly self-possessed, forward-thinking woman. Catholicism “hates homosexual persons” (except it doesn’t and never has although a new apostolic letter might help make that clear) and Leah identifies as bi-sexual.

There’s so much wrong with that paragraph, that we should pick it all apart.

Atheists are well aware that smart people can believe stupid things for silly reasons. (Scientist Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian, after all.) It’d be ignorant for any atheist to claim that only dumb, “unsophisticated” people are religious. Smart people can be fooled, too.

“Catholicism hates women” and Leah’s a woman? That’s not why the media cares. Her Catholicism is incidental to the coverage. If Leah had announced that she was becoming a Deist, they would have made a big deal about that, too. The story is that an atheist now believes in God. No one cares what label she’s actually using.

Leah’s bi-sexual? That makes for an interesting footnote (because she’ll have to reconcile that with her new faith), but it’s irrelevant to the story. Which, again, is that an atheist now believes in God.

So back to what I was saying. Why is the media covering this story at all? They shouldn’t. It’s a one-off thing that shows no sign of a trend. She’s not an atheist whose conversion is now making the rest of the blogosphere reconsider our views. (On the other hand, if PZ Myers said he believed in God, those ripples would be felt for a long time…)

Leah’s conversion is worthy of a few blog posts’ worth of coverage. Not much more than that. The fact that so many reporters are talking about it with long profiles only tells us how rare something like this actually it. It’s like a comet you see once every several years. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you try to trump up how important it really is.

Meanwhile, if the same reporters covered religious people who became atheists with the same zeal, it’d be like covering the rising sun — it happens so frequently, it’s just not that interesting anymore.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • dantresomi

    Great points. I agree with the the paragraph you noted (except about what Catholicism really is) about how its about tropes. And yes the journalists were being lazy. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/JustinTheSkeptic Justin Martin

    One atheist goes to religion: media swarm.

    25% or so of an entire generation turn toward secularism: barely any media at all except amongst secular blogs such as this one.

    Makes sense to me.

    • EivindKjorstad

       To me too. If I where a journalist, I too would prefer writing about the strange and uncommon and unexpected, instead of the everyday, ordinary, standard, expected.

      I won’t write about snow falling in february, but I might write about snow falling in august.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/HXMGJONKJJ35BYMNFHNGXMXH2U Mary P.

         That snow was just begging for attention.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

       Is it a bit like the joke Kiwis tell about Australia? If a New Zealander emigrates to Australia, the average IQ of both countries goes up?

  • Cafe Grendel

    I’m an equally non-prominent ex-catholic, now atheist blogger. I can haz 15 minutes of fame.

  • Jasmyn

    Who is she? I’ve never heard or her or her blog.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    She’s bi? Jesus hopping Christ, her decision to become Catholic has just been amped into a whole other category of crazy. 

    • Stev84

      Catholicism doesn’t hate her according to that quote? Wrong. She now has to believe that she is “intrinsically disordered”

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

      According to Leah,  she will read up on the Catholic position and rationale, and is willing to not date women in the mean time.  She doesn’t expect others to do the same, nor does she oppose civil marriage.

      Earlier I predicted that when she converted, we would see the window of reasonable disagreement on queer issues sink downwards; she would start debating questions that should be trivial.  I think this confirms my prediction.

  • http://twitter.com/Buffy2q Buffy

    Each time an atheist decides s/he suddenly believes in god(s) it’s worldwide news because it’s such a rare occurrence.  We don’t hear about the reverse because it’s so commonplace. 

  • David McNerney

    Thankfully, before this conversion thing happened I was lucky enough to read Leah’s Turing test business that was posted before.  I got through about 5 of them before realizing that they were boring, pointless and with my usual prejudice for philosophy, most likely wrong wrapped up in high faluting language.

    So, now when I read Unequally Yoked in its new Catholic version (I just don’t get that – sorry, you cannot be gay and Catholic), I at least know that my serious belief that this conversion justification is complete nonsense is not based on some kind of No True Scotsman error.  Phew!

    If someone converts from theist to atheist, I can accept that – the basis of religious belief is faith, and that is a very delicate thing.  The basis of positive non-belief [sic] is science and rational thinking – that’s not delicate.  If you’re going to convince me, it’s gotta be something more than “I just want to line up my morality with something.”  

    I don’t think the significance of the individual is important – but the strength of their argument is. PZ Myers would be significant, not because he is “The One”, but because PZ has made such a compelling case against religion that I would really want know what changed his mind.

    (I still think she’s taking the piss – though out of whom I don’t know)

    • Gus Snarp

      Wait, PZ is “The One”? Oh thank goodness, when does the damn revolution start, we’ve got a lot of minds to open to reality around here. Huh, that Matrix metaphor works really well for us, come to think of it.

      And yes, you can be gay and Catholic. One of my best friends has been her whole life, and while I never got it, she absolutely was and is both things. I think it requires some bizarre mental gymnastics, or an ability to just not think about it too much at all, but it can happen. Of course, she was raised Catholic, I’m more baffled by someone who is gay and then becomes Catholic later in life.

      Can someone please explain this “taking the piss” phrase the British are so fond of? I don’t really know what it means or how it is used. Like in this case “out of whom” can be applied after it, is that the proper usage? My ability to pass as British in text based communication is non-existent until I master this.

      • David McNerney

        Top O’the Morning to Ya!  (Shudder….)

        On the gay thing – I personally don’t see the point in expressing a sexual preference, if you are not going to use it.  And if you accept the magisterium of the church, then… well, you can’t use it.

        Sucks to be gay and Catholic.

        • HughInAz

          Sucks to be catholic, period.

      • B-Lar

        Taking the piss = mockery, to make fun of, to disparage with disempathic humour

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

         http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taking_the_piss

        I think David’s suspecting her of either being a troll/poe, or just milking the publicity for all it’s worth.

        • David McNerney

          Yes and no…

          Based on the whole Turing thing and so on, I’m suspect.  If there is such a thing as trolling/poeing for the sake of science – I’m not saying necessarily that she is, but if it turns out that that is the case, I won’t be surprised.

      • HughInAz

        I call it “performing a urinectomy”.

      • Salford3lad

        “Are you taking the piss?” means are you being serious? We Brits love our slang, anything to confuse our American cousins!! Regarding Father Whatisname, how can he criticise anybody for wearing ridiculous clothes?!!

  • http://tokyoboyxxx.tumblr.com TOKYO boy

    I didn’t know about her before I read the article about her conversion on this site, but I don’t know if a post was needed that simply goes through reasons on why she wasn’t a prominent atheist and why she shouldn’t be all that important to the mainstream media.  

    America is a predominately Christian nation filled with religious people who seem to feel besieged by secularism. I think the media that caters to these people is of course going to pick up and examine a case in which a non-believer found “God”. Even if she isn’t exactly the Ted Haggard of atheism, she still cared enough about her beliefs to write about them in a blog and suddenly she had a change of heart.

    Don’t think there’s much more interest for us in this story. She changed her mind, we didn’t. We don’t need to belittle her thoughts in our community and we don’t need to be defensive regarding her transition.  Just my two cents.

  • Michael Laporte

    Believers are desperate to know “their side” isn’t losing them in droves to “our side” without at least some going the other way.  Its the faux equality journalism where they report “both sides.”

  • Kaoru Negisa

    Hold on a second, so all an atheist blogger needs to do to get coverage on CNN is convert?

    I’m an evangelical Christian now. As an evangelical, I have absolutely no need for integrity, so even if this is a ploy for traffic, Jesus will forgive me.

    I’m also, like Leah, a bi-sexual, so I’m going to immediately go on a campaign of self loathing. I’m doing this because I believe Morality is a person. And that person is a sadist.

    • digitalatheist

      Also, don’t forget to promote legislation and “morals” that will see you moved back to no-class citizen ;-)

      P.s. You might want to send a press release to CNN/Fox/All the rest, just so they take not of your deconversion from reality. :D

  • Lance Finney

    “I’m going to put it out there that most atheists, even in the blogosphere, hadn’t heard of Leah before last week.”

    I have to agree. I read a half dozen FtB blogs, a couple of Patheos blogs, and a few others, and I’d never heard of her.

    Matt Dillahunty has joked that he could make a mint if he pretended to convert to Christianity. I think this proves him right. If someone as unknown as Leah gets this much coverage, imagine what would happen if Matt, or PZ, or Greta, or Jerry, or Jen, or Richard, or Rebecca, or Hemant converted.

  • Korou

    Sorry to make an off-topic comment, but I thought this was worth sharing. It’s about atheists and Catholics, so it’s kind of relevant. Father Longenecker, at the Standing on My Head blog, has posted a column showing how ridiculous atheists’ arguments are. It’s worth a read.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2012/06/ridicule-reductionism-ridicule-and-red-herrings.html

    • jdm8

      Ridicule, etc. is wrong, but that to suggest atheists don’t have rational arguments against Catholicism is a straw argument.

      • Kaoru Negisa

        Reductionism and red herrings are wrong, no question, but ridicule is the natural response to things that are ridiculous. People *should* laugh at the idea of talking snakes or that wine magically transforms into particularly tannin-rich blood. Without the weight of years behind it, any similar claim would be laughed off, but because it started when people were, on the whole, not really clever enough to be doing much critical thinking, we’re supposed to take seriously the idea that a wool necklace will protect somebody from fire (scapulars) or that you can buy your way out of a realm of existence that is neither heaven nor hell nor earth (indulgences) or that there are demons and devils that can take over a body, but a priest can command them out.

        These ideas are ludicrous and should be ridiculed.

        • jdm8

          How does that not fall under “appeal to ridicule”?

          • Kaoru Negisa

            That’s a good question.

            It doesn’t fall under the logical fallacy because it is, manifestly, ridiculous. “Appeal to ridicule” as a logical fallacy applies to presenting the argument’s foundations in an absurd way that is inconsistent with their actual nature. If Catholics believed, for example, that the eucharist was a metaphor and somebody presented it as if they believed it to be fact, that would be appeal to ridicule. However, they don’t believe it’s a metaphor, they believe that it’s a real, genuine transformation of wafer to body, wine to blood. Pointing that out is not a logical fallacy, and saying that it isn’t true, even with jokes, is no more logically inconsistent than laughing at somebody’s garage dragon.

          • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

            Because the ridiculousness is not the reason for the disbelief. ‘Appeal to ridicule’ would be something like “I don’t believe duck-billed patipuses exist because they’d be ridiculous”, that would, of course, be wrong – duck-billed platipuses do exist, even though they look ridiculous.

            This is the separate case where the disbelief originates from a lack of evidence in favour, combined with the lack of any conceivable mechanism for the claims in question that would be consistent with our existing understanding of the universe.

            The ridicule is for people that believe such things anyway, is is quite justified.

    • Lance Finney

      I’m sure every religion likes to flatter itself that it’s the _real_ target of atheists.

    • Kaoru Negisa

      Actually, his argument is a strawman. The difference between sports and Catholicism is that sports don’t demand that you play them, sports have no truth claims outside of the rules of their own sport, and sports are manifestly there. Catholicism, on the other hand, demands participation on the threat of eternal suffering, claims that everything espoused in the belief is real and actual, and still provides no evidence to support that assertion.

      Fr. Longenecker may have passed his theology courses, but if this is an example of his grasp of basic logic, I can only conclude that that class isn’t required at seminary.

      • LesterBallard

        Penn State football and Catholicism seem to have a little in common.

    • LesterBallard

      Is that guy for real?

    • HughInAz

      Massive fail. Actually, I agree with what he says about sports.

    • The Captain

      “Sorry to make an off-topic comment”… then don’t make an off topic comment. And if your going to make one, then don’t feign being apologetic.

      Now learn what a “straw man” is and that will tell you why his little blog post proved nothing. In fact, the analogy is rubbish too and in no way proves that an invisible man floats in the sky. 

      • Korou

        Short for “please excuse me for making an off-topic comment, but I feel it’s necessary.”

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      I love how he’s so totally above reading atheist blogs. And then he uses “ultimate Protestant” as an insult, assuming that any other take on Christianity is far beneath him. Yes, how dare those Protestants form other beliefs! They should have just blindly accepted the church’s Latin teachings and paid their way into heaven. Heretics.
      You know, if all atheists and Protestants ever do is mock Catholicism, then we’re practically the same thing, right? I mean, the only beliefs that matter are Catholic and non-Catholic. Talk about a martyr complex…
      That’s an attitude I typically see in devout Catholics. Their priggishness does them no favors.

    • Marco Conti

      Nope, it wasn’t worth even a read. It wasn’t worth the calories I spent clicking on the link, let alone reading the piece.
      The sport metaphor is way off the mark and a very cheap device even if it was applicable. The preface to the piece was disgraceful. Certainly a blog I won’t be reading in the future.

  • Lance Finney

    OTOH, some bloggers who are still atheist should get a hold of Leah’s publicist.

  • http://twitter.com/PerDSmith Per Smith

    “How has this transformation been for you?” … it’s made me really famous.

    While I want to be surprised at the attention this is getting I’m not. When every Catholic blogger and every atheist blogger decides to blog about something simultaneously after it happens the news media is bound to think it’s a story. What I would take issue with in this particular interview is that they didn’t ask her why Catholicism. Of course the most interesting question that I’d like to see her answer is “how” Catholicism, given the currrent morally conservative public presence of the Church. Does she struggle with that fact? Why haven’t we heard more about that?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      She said she would eventually answer that question, but so far she has not…Maybe she’s trying to think of good reasons. Whether she admits it or not, her answer is probably that she was just more used to Catholicism than any other church.

  • http://njbartlett.myopenid.com/ Neil Bartlett

    I think this is wonderful. It’s clearer than ever we are witnessing the death throes. The manic desperation with which the other side have seized upon this story should not trouble us, it should hearten us.

    The fact that this event is considered remarkable means that it is rare.

    As they say: when a murder happens in your town and it makes the news, that means murders in your town are very rare. When they no longer make the news is when you really have to worry… and theists losing their faith stopped making the news a very, very long time ago.

  • Vexorian+ja

    Elizabeth is right, Catholics don’t hate women, they just think that they are inherently inferior than men, are impure to lead a mass, and that the role of the wife is to serve submissively to the superior husband. They also don’t hate homosexuals, they just think they are sinners who are going to hell to suffer the worst torture, that their mere presence is a sign of the world becoming less pure and that they being able to get married would ruin marriage for all of the rest of us.

    • Gus Snarp

      Oh, and “it’s not homosexuality, it’s homosexual activity”. Because, you know, homosexuals either have to be miserable in this life or miserable in the next, those are the only two choices. 

      • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

        Rather ironic. They are called Gay but no religion wants them to be happy.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/GMMU65RD7IOGUIOXFPTQ7C7ENY A Referred Leaf

        Because refraining from sex with people to whom you are attracted guarantees misery…?

    • whybignorant

      Everything you said about Catholic is incorrect; proof that Atheists can be just as ‘dim’ as some claim Deists are.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        It’s not incorrect; Catholics would just say it’s incorrect.
        The conversation usually goes something like this:
        “Catholics believe being gay is a sin.”
        “Of course we don’t! We believe that homosexual *activity* is a sin. A person that struggles with homosexuality can lead a perfectly moral, sex-free life.”
        “You believe that women are inferior to men.”
        “Of course we don’t! We just believe that they have separate, complimentary roles. The father is the head of the household and the wife is his equally important helper. And women can’t be priests, not because they’re inferior, but because that’s not the role God intended them to fulfill. God is our father and came to Earth as the son. All the apostles were male. God gave the role to men because they are more fit for leadership.”

        Putting things in “nicer” language doesn’t make it any better. Saying “separate, but equal” never made anyone less racist.
        They may have justifications for what they believe, but it amounts to the same thing in the end. Homosexuality is a sin and women are inferior to men.

        • revaaron

          That is Catholic doctrine, but not what a lot of Various would actually say. It would be what’s majority (2/3) of priests tell you; I imagine 90%+ of archbishops would say that.

      • Thegoodman

         Specifically, what is wrong with what Vexorian+ja said?

        It sounds rather spot on to me. By “Catholics think” it is clear to me that she is implying “the practices and doctrine of the Catholic church, via the guidance of the Vatican”.

        You as an individual may not believe these things, but they are on the mission statement of the club to which you belong.

        • Stev84

          But the Catholic church says it loves and respects gay people! It just doesn’t think they deserve to love, have sex, have families or any other legal rights

    • ex-catholic

      That’s an awfully broad brush you’re painting with there…  I know some really nice liberal catholics who don’t hate women or gays.  I’ll grant you, they do so by ignoring large parts of their doctrine, but still… 

      • DrMami

        If they have to ignore “large parts of their doctrine” why even call themselves Catholic?

        • Randomfactor

          They like the stained glass.  Actually, I’m happy they are there–they’ll form the basis for the North American Catholic Church which will inevitably split off from Rome.

          • DrMami

            I’m happy to know that there are people who consider themselves religious and yet can think and determine that they disagree with doctrine.
            I kind of enjoy the stained glass too :)

            • revaaron

              That was the journey I took- liberal Catholic family, confirmed even though I rejected a lot of doctrine- something I was quite open with, even to the priest in my confirmation interview. Eventually enough dropped away that I realized I was an atheist who had an appreciation for some of the aesthetic of catholicism. A cultural Catholic aka Julia Sweeney. Since the organization is so dysfunctional, criminal, and morally bankrupt I go to a Episcopalian church on the rare occasion I have a hankering for some liturgical aesthetic and ritual.

        • ex-catholic

          Don’t ask me…  I don’t get it either.  :-)

    • Samael

      Im sensing sarcasm in this one…..

  • kielc

    Nope–never heard of her. Non-story, just as you say.

  • Gus Snarp

    The first I heard of her was your blog post about it. I’m now wondering if I should feel bad for Leah. She makes it clear she can handle a good argument, and I don’t really feel bad about my earlier assessment of the situation or my attack on the particular choice of Catholicism, but I feel bad that we seem to constantly be in the position of arguing against her choice and that we’re now in the position of saying she’s not prominent, who’s ever heard of her? So right off the bat, let me just say, sorry, Leah, it’s nothing personal, I don’t blame you, this is just about accuracy from them media and a discussion of ideas among the atheist community online as far as I’m concerned.

    I also don’t like that it probably sounds to outsiders that we’re trying to downplay this damning story by saying she’s not a real atheist, or she’s not prominent. I think most of us are not trying to do that, it’s simply true that she’s not prominent, certainly not one of the most prominent atheist bloggers.

    I also think it’s reasonable to look at the circumstances and her story. She’s not a strict materialist, she’s always been a dualist, and these philosophical positions really are hard to maintain in conjunction with skepticism and atheist. In this way her conversion is not entirely surprising. Any atheist, with any philosophical position, could possibly be converted. It happens, but as Hemant says, it’s not likely and it’s not common. But for a fairly strict materialist like say, PZ, to be converted would be highly unlikely, and frankly, stunning. For a dualist who’s been strongly led toward Catholicism and really trying to find in it something that fits with her philosophical world view to be converted is not as surprising. Although it’s still a bit surprising and represents a willingness to accept a religion as the source of morality when she doesn’t agree with the morality it teaches, which seems at least as much a contradiction as believing in a soul as an atheist.

    On the other hand, it also looks like a really shrewd move by Leah, whose hit count has increased by orders of magnitude and who is now showing up in major media outlets. If she’s working on a book, she couldn’t have planned a better pre-publication marketing strategy. I don’t mean for a second to imply that there’s anything dishonest about this, there was nothing dishonest about Hemant getting on major media outlets with his soul selling campaign. Just that maybe I don’t need to feel that bad for her if some of this attention can be a very positive thing.

    But I’m sorely disappointed in our media, yet again.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      I think that if an atheist buys into any particular philosophy, they’re already gravitating towards some kind of religion, whether or not they ever end up there. Philosophy deals with different systems of thinking. You can say that one makes more sense than another or that you like one more than another, but in the end, there is no good way to prove that one philosophy is correct. For anyone to actually believe in a philosophy, they are believing something without proof. They are believing it because it makes sense to them, not because it is necessarily true. Once they do that, they have no more need for proof to believe something, and when I read her posts, that seems to be what happened with her. She was very set on a philosophy that made sense to her, and religion seemed like a good answer to any questions her philosophy brought up. She didn’t need any proof of God; it just fit with the other things she believed.And that’s why I’m not a huge fan of philosophy…

      • Gus Snarp

        I’ve never really been opposed to philosophy, but this whole discussion is beginning to turn me against it. It’s beginning to feel like what began as an effort to formally define complex ideas so they could be discussed without confusion has been turned around to the point where no one is really clear on what the terms actually mean and has become a barrier to any two people understanding each other, even two educated philosophers, much less a rank amateur like me.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          Yes, I was beginning to wonder if this was all the result of too much philosophy! I took “Philosophy 101″ in college and, sure, it was interesting, but I just do not understand how an atheist can be converted by philosophical arguments.

          Philosophers are just ordinary people. They don’t have any evidence of the supernatural. Philosophers who are theists operate under the assumption that the supernatural is real, and they create arguments to justify what they were indoctrinated to believe as children. Why anyone would think this is evidence of deities is beyond me. It shouldn’t be any surprise that intelligent human beings can come up with elaborate ways to rationalize what they already believe to be true.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

          I never had a problem with philosophy (though I never really got into it much) until my sister became really interested in it. She was always very religious, but now she’s channeled that into a mixture of religion and philosophy.
          I wouldn’t mind too much except that it means I can’t have any good conversations with her. She’ll always take the moral high ground about how important it is to love others (which in her view means being friends with everyone, even creepy people). And she’ll also condemn gay marriage. But I can never argue with her because it’s all in philosophical terms. She’ll say things like, “What does being gay do to a person’s humanity?” and when I ask her what it does, she doesn’t have an answer, but she knows it’s definitely bad. And if I ask for any reasons why it’s bad, she gets mad that I demand proof.

          It’s just way too vague and it’s too much about what every person finds most appealing to their own morals. You can’t reason with anyone because it’s all intangible and their words might have different meanings than your words. When you try to give them proof, they’ll ignore it or work around it using abstract thought processes. I’ve seen Leah do that in a lot of her conversations with people. They’ll never get anywhere because she’s got beliefs in her own head that cannot be disproven and need no proof.

    • revaaron

      I completely agree, and I don’t see why anyone is surprised. Like you say, she was already a dualist and not a materialist or naturalist. She was also a virtue ethicist and seemed to be a Platonic realist. Making the leap from that mix of woo to theism it’s only a matter of identifying that Form of the Good with a person rather than an object. The jump to catholicism from this position is the obvious one- no Protestant sect has such a long tradition of Platonism and Aristotelianism.

      Seems that the atheist moment might pay a little more attention to more than the position of atheism. Too many people conflate atheism with the common stance shared by many atheists- skepticism, humanism, naturalism/materialism, and progressive politics.

  • JenniferT

    I had heard of her, but rarely bothered reading her blog as what I’d seen of it seemed a bit “Templeton Prize”.

  • Spherical Basterd

    I’ve come to think that journalism is a dead art. This is a a headline like “Man bites dog”
    except in this case it’s “Girl bites god”.

    • LutherW

       And real proof of such a conversion is about the same as believing she was visited by aliens and they took her for a ride in their saucer – no evidence at all, we just have to take in on faith that she was atheist and now is a believing Catholic. Hey, maybe I really believe in the Spaghetti Monster, but just saying I am atheist. But if she starts giving a tithe, maybe.

  • LeahLibresco

    Your guess is as good as mine. Someone converting is not a news story, but it might be interesting blog fodder if you’re engaging with the reasons for the conversion and trying to start a productive argument (as some atheist bloggers are (cf JT and Camels with Hammers)).  I have no idea why someone would want to cover just that it happens and then ask “how does it make you feel?’  The CNN producer ended up warning me not to say “confidence interval” on the air.

    Feelings are boring.  Data is awesome.  

    • Spherical Basterd

      Oh Wow! You’re here? I’m very curious as to why you chose Catholicism and belief in a god.

      Would you care to illuminate your choices?

      • LeahLibresco

        Yes, but I’m trying to do that at the blog in a more coherent, organized way (with limited success) instead of piecemeal in individual comment or email threads.  Possibly this is helpful: 
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/06/the-epistemic-floor-is-made-of-lava.html

        I’m working on writing up these: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/06/let-me-set-some-priorities.html

        • Spherical Basterd

          Thank you Leah, I’ll check them out. However your feelings about this decision are just as important, at least to me, as the data you used for this choice.

          And, I hope you continue to feel that you are a part of this community and keep engaging with us. We will not pray for you though.

        • Spherical Basterd

          OK Leah. Went,read, disappointed.. It was mostly Catholic Apologists and mental gymnastics with some whining that the atheists are in their own bubble and don’t understand ‘us’.

          To be fair, I didn’t see much from your personal point of veiw in the first blog you gave us, so I’ll wait for you to finish your write up in the second blog. I’m truly interested in your reasoning.

        • Gus Snarp

          Make sure you include a really good explanation of your view that morality is objective and, especially, human independent. With evidence.

    • Randomfactor

      “how does it make you feel?’

      Welcome to American journalism.  I keep waiting for them to ask a grieving parent that question, and the parent’s reply will be “put down that microphone and I’ll SHOW you how it feels.”

      • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

        I wouldn’t even wait for them to put down the microphone. I’d also be smart enough to pick up a crowbar or tire iron first.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        That reminds me of a really awkward interview with Anderson Cooper and a woman who’s daughter was just killed (murdered? I don’t remember exactly…) She just sobs through the entire interview and then he asks her how she feels and she tries to answer through sobs…Really? You can’t see how she obviously feels right now?

    • Earl G.

      Can’t wait to hear about all the data that supports Catholic doctrine being literally true.  I bet there have been lots of peer-reviewed studies, full of awesome tables of empirical measurements.  Seriously, if these studies exist I definitely want to read them.  Not holding my breath, though.

  • Brian Westley

    What I notice about atheist->theist conversion stories is that the reasons for doing so are barely mentioned, if at all.  And when they are, they are not convincing to other atheists.

    • Thegoodman

       Not only are they not “convincing” they are rarely even coherent. I read some of her ramblings about the faith she was exploring and it sounded like a crazed person off their meds. Not to diminish her intellect, but she hasn’t provided any evidence to support her change other than a childish change of heart.

    • faythandreason

       Why do they need to be? (convincing to other Atheists). 

  • Verimius

    It’s unusual, that’s why it’s getting coverage. A believer converting to atheism is so common as to be unremarkable. This is man bites dog, rather than dog bites man.

  • LesterBallard

    She’s bisexual and she joined the Roman Catholic Church. Is this what it means to be flabbergasted? 

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The interest stems in part because this is a “man bites dog” kind of story, and in part because it gives a bit of temporary comfort to those Christians who feel threatened by shifting attitudes about religion in this country.

    Add me to the list of people who hadn’t heard of Leah before the story here last week.

  • CoboWowbo

    Honestly, I don’t even fully believe she’s converted. That’s a strange direction to go, atheism to Catholicism. Not to seem conspiratorial (I’m not) but I’ve been wondering if this was a publicity stunt to show how atheists don’t send murder threats or something. She made it onto CNN converting(?), after all.

    • Gus Snarp

      It’s strange when you think of the surface headline: “Atheist Converts to Catholicism”, but if you peruse some of her past work, she’s been flirting with Catholicism for quite some time and in view of her past work, while a bisexual atheist become Catholic is always a bit odd, it’s not so odd that this one did so as to justify conspiratorial thinking.

  • Alexandra

    I was actually very interested in reading what Leah had to say about her conversion, and how she justified things like the Church’s stance on homosexuality.  And then she had that gem about well it doesn’t really affect me, I’ll just stop dating women.  She seems to care a whole lot less about morality now that she’s a Catholic.

    • Yukimi

      That sounds completely messed up!
      I had heard about her blog because she did a Q&A with Libby Anne from LoveJoyFeminism and even then she gave me very bad vibes but this goes on a whole other level…

    • Gus Snarp

      Where might I find that gem?

      • Guest

         Ew. The comment section of that article is full of Catholics (and other Christians, probably), essentially telling Leah she’s wrong for supporting gay marriage. Some of the logic and arguments used there are just disgusting, but the fact remains that they’re just reiterating what the Church actually believes. I’m still just not sure how Catholics who support gay marriage can reconcile that.
        11 minutes ago in reply to Alexandra F
        Replying to Gus Snarp

        • David McNerney

          There is this bizarre thing going on with Catholicism that I just don’t understand.  Richard Dawkins mentioned it in Ireland about 3 weeks ago and was vilified by a number Catholic sycophants (even though he was in complete agreement with the Catholic Bishop of Dublin).

          But there are number of core principles that make you a Catholic – and so many people seem very happy to call themselves Catholic while at the same time rejecting these core principles…

          Even Leah fails at the first post; “That means I’m already out of step with the Catholic Church before you even get up to gay marriage…”

          If you are out of step, why are you calling yourself a Catholic.

          It’s like being an atheist who believes in God.

        • Gus Snarp

          Yeah, the comment threads over there are really bizarre right now. I don’t know what they were like before the confusion, but right now they seem to be filled with a lot of self satisfied Catholics telling her how right she is and how overjoyed they are that she’s joined them.

  • No

    “Meanwhile, if the same reporters covered religious people who became atheists with the same zeal, it’d be like covering the rising sun — it happens so frequently, it’s just not that interesting anymore.”

    Right. I think this explains it more than anything else, it’s rare.

  • Jeff Dale (JD)

    Because many religious people are insecure and desperate for affirmation of their “faith.”

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    nmv – disqus prob.

  • Camorris

    I have never heard of this woman either, but then I haven’t heard of every atheist blogger.
    Is there a comprensive listing of bloggers available?
    Is she still blogging?Does she have a donate button on her site?Could it be that she has changed course because atheists don’t generally get much financial support, whereas even the most crackpot Christian can rake in millions (i.e. Harold Camping)?I hope fame and monetary gain was not her motive.Religion can be a lucrative business for the unscrupulous!

    • JenniferT

      “Is there a comprensive listing of bloggers available?”

      Well, not exactly, but you might be interested in the aggregator at http://planetatheism.com/ – it’s how I knew of Libresco’s blog.

      • Camorris

        Thanks for this link.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Prominent blogger. Talk about your oxymorons.

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    Would she have converted to Catholicism if her boyfriend was Hindu?

    Just curious… I mean you have to have a massive logical dissonance to accept the existence of a specific magical entity but ignore every other one.

    It’s a non-story. She isn’t a monsterously huge blogger (I have had one post that got 2000 hits in a day courtesy of a lot of anti-vax and pro-vax groups bandying it around) but it doesn’t make me or her a major player in atheism/skepticism.

    It just made her someone in a relationship with someone who had a different viewpoint about the world who eventually convinced her that her viewpoint was wrong and his was right. Okay, maybe she will be one of those nice catholics who think that Bill Donahue and the Pope are douchebags par compare and that GLBT aren’t so bad and all that jazz with contraception is just old celibate men making healthcare decisions that we don’t have to agree to…

    But how is that different from any other conversion story? Imagine converting to Hinduism from Christianity. For all your life you are told you have no gods but Jehovah and that Idols are evil and then bugger off to a religion involving gods represented by a giant phallus in a vagina (yeah seriously… that’s a thing) and a million gods who live soap opera lives as depicted by their idols… That’s a pretty big jump in belief too.

    A fairly big (compared to most of us) blogger with a good readerbase made the jump. It’s publicity. Most people have never even met one of us IRL. To them we are fearsome baby eating bastards with hearts of steel and boots made with the souls of unbelievers. They think that we are logic driven hate machines, not just as guilty as they are of some frankly insane practices. Falling for a religion is just one of them.

    • geturfactsstraight

       She is not longer with the Catholic boyfriend.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

        Right, but she’s mentioned that when she was with him, they made a deal that she would go to mass with him and he would go to dance class with her. She was raised non-religious, and this was her first major experience with religion and a church. It seems pretty obvious that she chose Catholicism because she was most familiar with it, and she was most familiar with it because her boyfriend was Catholic and brought her to mass. But if her boyfriend had been a different religion or denomination, would that have been her choice?
        I suspect that as long as her boyfriend had been one of the prominent Christian denominations, she would have converted to that. Part of the problem with converting to Hinduism is that she would have also had a cultural barrier to cross. She would not have known many Hindus so it would seem less true. It’s funny– a belief isn’t any more true based on who believes it or the number of people who believe it, but that sure makes it seem more true. I think Mormonism is bullshit, but if I grew up in Utah and had tons of Mormon friends, I might be more open to it.
        I think it was just that she knew plenty of Christians and she had most experience with Catholicism, so that seemed like the right choice. If she had been in a different country or a different community, I’m sure she would be converting to Islam or Hinduism.

        • geturfactsstraight

           Major assuming going on in this post…but i will start here with my edit in parentheses:  ” (UN) belief isn’t any more true based on who believes it or the number of
          people who believe it, but that sure makes it seem more true.”  You also wrote that if you grew up in Utah that would make you more open to Mormonism.  I LOL at that because if all it takes is having Mormon friends to be open to it, that’s some interesting logic vs doing your own research on it simply ‘because’.  You also conclude that Leah would have converted to Islam or Hinduism if she had been i a different country; that’s a pretty big stretch and has no basis in reality.  Consider she converted to Catholicism because once she concluded that there is a God, the logical path for her was to research monotheism.  Aside from Judaism, Christianity contains the most information about a ‘God’ and when she accepted Christianity, it would have been easy to accept Catholicism as it is the only Christian religion aside from the Orthodox Church that can trace it’s roots historically to Christ Himself.  She used the same logic many atheist converts used to accept Catholicism.

          • Guest

            Nonsense. There’s a reason 99% of Afghanistan is religious, 75% of America is Christian, etc. we are social creatures who tend to want to identify with those around us. It’s hard to be a Christian in a Hindu community because you don’t identify with those people as easily as you do with other Christians. The Utah Mormon example is fitting here.

            • geturfactsstraight

              I don’t deny we are social creatures and want to identify with those around us but you can’t logically conclude that is the reason Leah accepted Catholicism, because it’s not true.  If you follow the logic i used in my example, it is a logical reason that anyone who was Atheist or another faith would accept Catholicism.

              • Neil

                I would like to follow the logic of your comments, but I simply can’t find any.

          • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

             “Many atheist converts?” Is many now a word that refers to the number of people that can fit in a phone booth?

            • geturfactsstraight

               You may not personally know many Atheist converts but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

              • Randomfactor

                I know many atheist converts.  All of them converted TO atheism.

          • Earl G.

            What a glorious string of total nonsense.  

            “she converted to Catholicism because once she concluded that there is a God”
            Based on what evidence, exactly?

            “the logical path for her was to research monotheism”
            And polytheism.  Wouldn’t more gods be totally way cooler than fewer gods?

            “Aside from Judaism”
            So why didn’t she convert to that?  If it’s better than Christianity, that seems like the way to go.

            “Christianity contains the most information”
            I can’t even guess what you think you’re talking about here.  And how does Christianity have more ‘information’ than Islam or Mormonism?  They have more books, right?

            “aside from the Orthodox Church”
            So why didn’t she choose that?

            “can trace it’s [sic] roots historically to Christ Himself [sic].”
            And that’s somehow more convincing than the many, many religions that say they trace their roots to the gods themselves?  And since Protestantism came from Catholicism, their roots go the same place yours do.  So why not Protestantism?    

            There is no logic here whatsoever.  None of these steps make sense, let alone all of them. 

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

            Of course I would be more open to Mormonism if I was more used to it. I don’t mean simply having Mormon friends would make me a Mormon. I just mean that if I grew up in a predominantly Mormon culture, it wouldn’t be as strange to me. Similarly, many non-religious people who convert in the U.S. typically convert to Christianity because it is the religion they are most accustomed to. They may not have grown up believing it, but they grew up knowing about it.

    • Stev84

      She didn’t convert just because of him like some people convert because they marry someone. But he influenced her and got her to start studying Catholicism

      • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

        Which was kind of what I was aiming for. His presence made her think about catholicism. Had she dated a believer of any other faith she may have converted to their faith.

  • Tom_Nightingale

    Five days ago, I wrote this in the comment section for Hemant’s appearance on CNN:

    “The number one thing on young people’s minds who are thinking about atheism is “will I still be a good person if I don’t believe anymore?”  ”

    This is exactly the question our famous atheist-turned-Catholic was asking herself when she decided to convert.  I don’t think many atheists realize that.  She brought up objective vs. relative or “human” morality as one of her main concerns, and that Catholicism gave her a greater sense of moral coherence through it’s objective stance.

    I am an ex-Catholic, and I fought with the same dilemma.  Ultimatley, I was young and needed someone to tell me what was right and wrong because I was too scared to decide on my own.  When I finally got the courage to decide for myself, God had to go.  I feel our loss, this is a bright young girl.  I believe this was a decision made to reduce her own anxiety.  She couldn’t cope with the responsibility for picking the best thing to do all the time.  She’s a Yale grad and probably expects nothing else but perfection from herself, and couldn’t take it that she’s still young, has so much to worry about and can’t do it all yet.

    Again, I don’t think many atheists realize why people convert for these reasons.  But I think we should spend a little time looking at this, because with a little more understanding I’m sure we could persuade this bright young woman back to secularity.  We could really use more of them!

  • digitalatheist

    For someone prominent, I never heard of her until her “conversion”.

  • Kodie

    Stealing S.E. Cupp’s thunder. 

  • rlrose328

    I think they don’t cover more conversions the other way because not only are there so few but they don’t want to acknowledge that it happens.  If the shout loud enough about conversions like Leah’s (whom I’ve never heard of either before today) and say nothing about religious to atheist conversions, the tally for their side grows faster.  It’s all smoke and mirrors for God.

  • viaten

    I wonder what media coverage she’d get if/when she switches back to atheism.

  • Guest

    She’s a phony.  I’d like to know what kind of game she’s playing.

  • Rennie

    OOOHH. The atheists are feeling the sting of betrayal by one of their own free-thinkers whose intellect and open mind took her to a place they all say is only possible of the small-minded and easily swayed. Let’s correct that – not just a different place like some easy and weak belief in some kind of higher but impersonal intelligence, but to the really BIG one, Catholicism, try as Mr. Mehta might to minimize the significance of THAT choice. So what is left but to make Leah’s conversion unimportant by making her unimportant.

    Hypocrisy and deflection is the rule of the day as usual. You can’t stand that the media wants to make Leah a poster child (and damn doesn’t she wear the part well too) but you all have no trouble trying to portray the occasional priest pedophile as the face of the RCC. Have you been reading about all the teacher and coaching scandals lately? Maybe we should close down the schools. It’s a bitch when your own kind of hypocrisies bite you in the butt isn’t it?

    • CultOfReason

      Rennin,

      I can only speak for myself. There is no sense of betrayal, just confusion. It is typically assumed that an atheist is an atheist because they have failed to find any evidence for a deity, any deity. If a conversion were to happen, one would expect it to be gradual and evolving. If she had declared herself agnostic or a deist, I think there would be more understanding for her position. But instead, she jumped right into a religion with lots of dogma, and things that can demonstrably be shown to be false. Not something a freethinking skeptic typically falls for.

      Regarding her importance, I never heard of her prior to reading about her last week, and I follow many online atheists. Maybe I just missed her, or maybe she really isn’t “one of the most prominent atheists” as the reporter described her. But I do understand why the media is picking up on this. Religious people becoming atheists are a dime a dozen. No news there. Someone claiming to be an atheist suddenly becoming Catholic is a true rarity, and for good reason.

      • Stev84

        Also the fact that she says that her conversion was triggered by looking for a source of morality. Then instead of becoming a theist in a general sort of way (which would be more understandable), she picks one of the most immoral, corrupt and criminal organization on the face of the planet. There was no reason to pick a particular sect, let alone that one.

    • Spherical Basterd

      At best Rennie it is an oddity that an athiest, at least a reasonable and logical one converts to a religion.

      As to the occasional priest molesting children, that is a problem, but our anger and disgust is directed at the church hierachy, to the very top, for covering this up and acting as if the victims were to blame for being molested. If you don’t see this as a huge problem, you have some serious problems with morality. But maybe we should blame the so-called Catholic code of morality.

      Would you like to continue with your rant about hypocracy or just go about your touchdown dance when you’ve already lost the game?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      “So what is left but to make Leah’s conversion unimportant by making her unimportant.”…We’re not making her unimportant. The truth is that she *wasn’t* prominent. A lot of people here say they’d never heard of her before this whole thing. What, do you think they’re just making that up?
      I had heard of her and read a few of her posts, but I found her posts to be too vague or off-topic. There was never really anything persuasive in what she had to say, so I never really got into her blog.
      Isn’t it convenient for you though to have an argument that can’t be proven wrong? If anyone says they hadn’t heard of her, you can just insist that they had and that they’re pretending she’s unimportant. Have fun with that.

      • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

        “Isn’t it convenient for you though to have an argument that can’t be proven wrong? [...] Have fun with that.”

        Doesn’t Rennie and his kind already do that?

    • Marco Conti

      Rennie, you are full of it. What sense of betrayal? You guys keep looking at us and seeing another religion. We are not. 
      There are atheists and free thinkers of all stripes. There are those that don;t believe in god but believe in ET. Those that don’t believe in god but vote republican.

      If I had to feel betrayed every time some atheist did or said something against my own personal beliefs I would be a wreck by now.

      Leah was not a very prominent atheist blogger. That’s a fact. She was not unknown but in the past couple of years I only read a single article in her blog. If someone asked me to list the major atheist bloggers she would not have made my list. That’s a simple fact. 

      If I started writing a blog, very likely 6 months from now I would not be a “prominent atheist”. At best I’d be one of a crowd. 

      The reason this was even mentioned was because the CNN piece made it sound like she was more important than she really was. That was simply untrue but I knew that eventually someone like you would pop up with the accusation that we were trying to discount her importance in the movement. 
      Well, is it possible that in fact she was not as important as CNN claimed? How else were we supposed to react? Accept that she was important even though 3/4 of us never heard of her and the majority of the rest only knew of her blog in passing?

      So please, take your derisive post and stuff it.

    • http://twitter.com/Buffy2q Buffy

       You’re amusing.  This is a post that basically says “why are people (mainly religious people and the media) making such a big deal out of something that isn’t a big deal?”.  Now you come along and act like we’re all weeping in our Wheaties.   Get a clue.  This isn’t a “betrayal”.   With a few exceptions, perhaps, we really don’t care and we’re wondering what the fuss is all about.

    • Patterrssonn

      Betrayal? Don’t be silly, perhaps a little chagrin at the bizarity of the situation, but betrayal? Most of us had never even heard of her never mind read her blog. But thanks for the melodrama, while there’ve been some interesting posts most are along the lines of ‘who?’.

    • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

      “one of their own free-thinkers whose intellect and open mind took her to a place”.

      1. As many have said, we had never even heard of Leah before this event, so there’s no sense of thinking of her as “one of [our] own”.

      2. As a self-proclaimed Platonist dualist, my opinions – and I imagine the opinions of most materialist atheist – were completely divergent from hers in the first place.

      3. Open minds are good. But when you suddenly make the leap to believing the tenets of a very specific faith because an intangible concept loves you (something which belongs more new-age psychobabble than any Catholicism I’ve experienced) while ignoring any historical or scientific evidence otherwise, it really really isn’t that convincing.

      P.

  • Thegoodman

    This is akin to calling a congressman from North Dakota “one of the most prominent politicians in Washington!”. It just isn’t true. I read several atheist blogs and follow countless links in them to other blogs and I had no awareness of Leah before she “lost her reality”.

  • Loren Petrich

    Reminds me of the believers’ big celebration of Antony Flew’s conversion to a sort of
    deism because of a god-of-the-gaps argument. His mind was
    deteriorating, and I’m disappointed that he did not work out his beliefs
    in any detail. It would have been interesting to see what he could come
    up with.

    Half a century before, C.E.M. Joad was another famous convert. He was a
    professional know-it-all for a BBC call-in program: “It all depends on
    what you mean by…”. But in 1948, he was caught riding a train without a
    valid ticket, he was fired by the BBC, and he sunk into depression —
    and converted. Yes, he got religion because he was caught fare-beating.

    His arguments were rather weak, arguments that he could easily have
    refuted in his earlier years. Arguments like Xianity’s early spread
    proving its divine origin. He had a debate with Bertrand Russell, and he
    reportedly lost rather badly.

    On Atheist Blogger Leah Libresco’s Conversion to Catholicism and Her Atheistic Detractors | Camels With Hammers – http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/06/19/on-atheist-blogger-leah-lilbrescos-conversion-to-catholicism/ – Dan Fincke discusses her conversion in gory detail.

    From the looks of it, she doesn’t seem like she had done a lot of
    thought about her positions. So she was a sort of atheist by default
    rather than one who had done a lot of thinking about her positions.

  • dangeroustalk

    Patrick Green was a “prominent” atheist activist too… according to the media anyway.

  • AxeGrrl

    I didn’t know her from a hole in the ground before this story.

  • gcomeau

    Let me take a crack at why it’s being presented as it is…

    First: because Christianity is all about the conversion in the first place. It sends people walking around neighborhoods knocking on doors and it sends people halfway around the planet to places where people haven’t been converted enough just to get people to believe the same thing they do about the invisible superbeing who created us all. Do atheists like seeing people wake up and let go of this superstitious twaddle? Sure, it’s gratifying to see people exercising their brains and reaching rational conclusions, but it’s not some central purpose of our entire life or anything. So unless the Pope announces he’s given up believing in this ridiculous God stuff tomorrow we’re not too likely to make a big deal out of “converts” to our side.

    Second: Well, what else do they have? Seriously? They don’t have evidence, they don’t have rational arguments… they have anecdotes. They have appeals to emotion that attempt to get around the rational part of the brain. This fits the bill, of course they’re going to desperately jump all over it like it’s the only remaining lifeboat on the Titanic.

    It’s a shame some atheist blogger ended up being taken in by the religion of (coincidentally I’m sure) her boyfriend and decided that the thing to do was convert because of the “moral foundation” it provided (really… the CATHOLIC church for morality, has she seen the news lately?)… but the only reason it’s a story is because the Christians desperately need it to be a story. It’s just that simple.

  • antdrew

    She isn’t that bright.

  • Neil

    As an atheist for two decades who has been reading atheist blogs voraciously for seven years, I had heard her name once or twice, most likey from this blog or from perusing other Patheos blogs.  I seek out new and interesting stuff relating to atheism and religion all the time, and have given all kinds of atheists and believers a chance to interest me.  I thought the name of the blog was mildly clever, read a few paragraphs, wasn’t too interested. 

    That was a year or two ago, and I thought of her only once or twice more, at most, until she converted.  So I read her post about her conversion and a few related comments. 

    And I have to say, her conversion post was weaker sauce than a single bullion cube mixed into Lake Superior.   Before I read the post, I had seen believers and atheists alike talking about how she was such a thoughtful, intelligent person who must have done a lot of thinking on the matter…and then I read her post and see gems like:

    “I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I guess Morality just loves me or something”

    (along with a previous blanket dismissal, without any given reason except apparent emotional resistance or lack of imagination, of any naturalistic explanation of morality.)

    and then this winner:

    “I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.

    (WTF???  Seriously, wtf does that even MEAN?)

    And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. I asked my friend what he suggest we do now, and we prayed the night office of the Liturgy of the Hours together (I’ve kept up with that since). Then I suggested hugs and playing Mumford and Sons really, really loudly.”

    Yeah….thoughtful, rational, totally non-biased and willing to value evidence over tradition, emotions, and near-meaningless abstracts…whatever.  Keep on farkin’ that chicken if it makes you feel better, I guess.

    Frankly, if this is the best a “yalie” can do, then people should really stop bragging about their ivy-league status.  I learned better reasoning skills from a public high school.  That post, in a bold, clear voice, raises the question:  Is our atheists learning?

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I’ve never read a conversion account that made any kind of logical sense. It’s either a strict appeal to emotion or some kind of weird psycho-philosophical babble. I can’t make heads or tails of Leah’s, except that it seems to involve capitalizing a bunch of random words. I’d love to read one that I could actually relate to, but I haven’t found anything yet that sheds light on how someone can come to believe that the supernatural is real.

      • Neil

        That’s just it:  I can understand the thought processes and emotions of a deist, or a theistic evolutionist, or a liberal, non-denominational “universal salvation” christian, mainly because at some point in my young life, I WAS all of those things.  The process of letting go of superstition took years of thought, work, and honesty.

        But for the life of me, I can’t undertand how it could intellectually work the opposite direction.  I can see how it could EMOTIONALLY work backward, I see that around me all the time.  But as a “learning” process that is supported by a non-believer’s curiosity?  Really?  How confused and stereotypically post-modern does a person have to be to reason themselves INTO a religion, especially one that has so much obvious wrong to explain?

    • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

      I wondered about the Yale thing myself; I’m from Ireland so not sure of the ins and out of the US Ivy League system, but I did sense some elitist snobbery in the constant repetition of the fact she’s in/graduated from Yale. I simply can’t imagine a minor blogger in Ireland being on television simply because they’d been to a certain college.

      P.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    What should be more newsworthy is that I agree with Hemant!

  • Dr.Mami

    Who even knew who she is?  
    If EVER Dawkins became a theist, I’d be interested to know why–it still would not mean that theists are right, though.

  • DrMami

    Who cares about why someone so inconsequential becomes Catholic!
    If EVER Dawkins became a theist, I’d be interested to know why.  Not that I would assume he was right, but I’d be interested in his reasoning.
    This woman’s reason–morality is not created by us@google-134e53d6f0aa3b188ea5cf302f772a58:disqus –is such a weak reason that it means absolutely nothing.

  • Kodie

     Given it a little more thought – this was a big enough deal to spread across major atheist blogs, despite Leah Libresco being fairly unknown. To me, if I were looking at this from the outside, I would think it was a fair shake-up in the community to merit… possibly… a news feature. It did look as though something major had occurred that threads and threads of hundreds of hits were buzzing about it. What else I have learned from watching the news is that they are reporting more and more news from the internet itself – popular memes, viral videos, mommy bloggers of some renown, as if the internet is a culture worth investigating. It may not seem like a big deal to “lose” Leah Libresco, and she is not considered well known or a major player, but “what’s going on on the internet” seems like something the news is featuring more and more. Possibly exaggerating it – they can’t possibly think this is interesting to anyone unless they amplify its importance, so they have to justify putting her on the air at all. From the look of things, this was a big deal, and perhaps something of a notice that atheism blogs make up a substantial portion of the culture, and when something rips, they have to play it.

    If she was some nobody and nothing really happened, why was it featured here? Why did it cause a stir and a lot of comments? So the news, or CNN, keeps up on things happening in the atheist realm of the internet, because what stirs a lot of comments must be something to talk about. Put Leah in the fishbowl and let the nation who isn’t nerding around on the internet have a look at the strange creature and buzz about it themselves as we already have last week. Sometimes the news is manufactured to include variety, novelty, and freak shows like an atheist converting to Catholicism or else they talk about the tan mom or the lady who was hit in the face with a baseball.

    • gcomeau

      As the post makes rather absurdly clear in the first two sentences, this story “showed up here” because it got splashed all over cable news and that was bizarre since this is a complete non-event. Saying that CNN and MSNBC were right that it was a big story because they made it a big story and now people are talking about how they made it a big story is amazingly circular.

      • Kodie

        THIS article is in response to Leah’s appearance on CNN. When she first reported converting to Catholicism, a lot of bloggers responded to THAT, a little over a week ago? CNN is responding to what seems to be a huge deal all over the major atheist blogs and portray Leah Libresco as (apparently) a lot bigger deal than she is. I don’t understand what you are saying that nobody ever heard of Leah Libresco and that CNN snatched her story out of the clear blue and reported it TO us (via Friendly Atheist) rather than FROM us (an numerous other blogs making noise about it), making a lot of traffic over a lot of atheist blogs and telling the tale of Leah the ex-atheist, whom most people never heard of but plenty had something to say about.

        You know what was major news yesterday where I live? A bear climbed up a tree. It was so fascinating, that they had to stop and give an update every two minutes to see how they were going to get it down from the tree.

        • gcomeau

          “THIS article is in response to Leah’s appearance on CNN.”

          Which answers your question of *Why It Was Featured Here*.

          As for your claim that it was all over the atheist blogs before that… whatever you say. I never heard a whisper of this before that so it wasn’t on any of the ones I frequent.

  • Solid Article

    I’ve always liked Hemant’s work, and I think this is a solid response. I have two issues with it however, and would like to know what anyone else thinks.

    1. I’m perterbed when atheists clarify any sort of religious belief as “silly.” It comes off as closed minded, something atheists pride (and they should) themselves as not being.

    2. Hemant seems to indicate that prominent religious leaders become atheists rather frequently, which doesn’t seem to be true. Yes the clergy project has had some success, but religious leaders have never had such an outlet. The fact that so few religious leaders (only about 3 per state over the past year and a half) have confessed their non-belief on the site indiciates there really isn’t as much disbelief in the pulpit as one might think. Furthermore, the amount of major religious thinkers and leaders that have become atheists over the past decade is pretty small. The most major maybe being the guy who wrote “Mary had a little lamb” and he deconverter way back in the 80s.

    Regardless, I think the media is blowing this way out of proportion….like they do with all things.

    Feedback appreciated!

    • Occam

       Definitely, the media is making a mountain out of a molehill here; but as has been pointed out in several comments, that’s what they do!  We shouldn’t really expect restraint on the media’s part….

      Let me take a stab at addressing your questions:

      1. From the perspective of somebody with a rational mind, who tries to understand the world through empiricism and logic, any belief in the supernatural — and the various attendant mythologies — can only be regarded as “silly.”  This is no different than how one might feel about a person who believes in unicorns or astrology.  While some atheists might be more blatantly dismissive about religion, I don’t think that all atheists are necessarily pejorative in their comments, though the more sensitive religious apologists will usually interpret it that way.

      2. In my reading of this thread, I didn’t get the sense that people were claiming “prominent religious leaders become atheists rather frequently”; instead, while the numbers may not be huge, the evidence suggests that it is more common for religious people (and not necessarily “prominent” ones) to become atheists than for atheists to find god.  I also think it is less shocking for a thoughtful, inquisitive religious person to cast off his/her superstitious beliefs after much introspection than for a skeptic/rationalist to suddenly shift gears and adopt an illogical belief system based in mythology.

      • Neil

        I think the media splash is so out of proportion to the event beause they finally found a case since C.S. Lewis that fits the narrative that has been spewed at us constantly in movies, television, books, and preacher’s tall tales for decades.

        We’ve all heard it a million times…an atheist  who either left their childhood religion (usually for emotional reasons) or who was raised to think religion was unnecessary, finally has their eyes opened to the “truth” that our lives are meaningless on our own, or realizes that we puny humans just can’t expalin the “great mysteries”of life….therefore, God!

        I can’t count how many times I’ve seen variants of that annoying, condescending horseshit in every form of media…

        Atheist in a foxhole…”oh it’s so scary and evil, I need some comfort and reassurance, therefore, God!”

        Why did mommy die?  It’s a mystery, therefore, God!

        Mommy was going to die, but she got better!  It’s a miracle- therefore, God!

        As a scientifically-minded doctor, I see so much suffering that I can never fix, but I still feel the need to help- therefore, God!

         An arrogant scientist has a life changing experience and finds out that there are some things his “science” just can’t explain- Therefore, God!

        And now, a young college student studies for years, passionately looking for knowledge and truth about life- but in all her studies, she just can’t find anything that explains how morality could be just a “human” invention-Therefore, God!

          So even though the number of atheists grows every year, and some churches are dying out from lack of interest, even though there are whole websites full of de-conversion stories, and even though I would wager that we ALL have met more people who left their religions and became non-believers than we have atheists that ended  up  “seeing the light”, the media will generally ignore all that (except in the context of conservative scare-talk about those godless commies converting our children)  and instead latch onto any story that fits the happy-crappy, emotion-based  narrative that has been pushed
        by preachers, media hacks and bad writers for decades. 

        I mean hey, we all know that we need to believe in SOMETHING, right?  Why would this smart, enthusiastic young person want to be one of those sneering, arrogant athiests who think they know everything?

         

  • James Dominguez

    Can we please please please stop hyphenating “bisexual”?  Nobody types “homo-sexual” or “hetero-sexual”, so please do us bisexuals a favour and stop mangling our label. [Edit: fixed a typo!]

  • RaoulDukeIII

    Great points.   But it’s not just “lazy journalism.” It’s the 24/7 news cycle and the fact that atheism has become an issue that is more in the news-o-sphere. 

  • Jegonzagajr

    Francis Collins believing “stupid things for silly reasons” ??? Coming from a “friendly atheist”? I didn’t realize an atheist can be so dismissive.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      You obviously haven’t read about his conversion story. Spoiler: It involves a frozen waterfall that represents the Trinity.

  • Corita

    She is a *cute*, *bisexual*  atheist, converting to *Catholicism*.  I think that it is partly the Catholic thing; I don’t think you can dismiss that so easily. 

  • Keulan

    Odd that she’s a “prominent” blogger and yet I hadn’t heard of her until last week.

  • Markdohle

    Who cares.  I am catholic, I don’t care if anyone is an atheist, or muslim, or hindu, or whatever…..your reactions only adds to the attention LOL.  Athiestism is common today, not rare, besides most believer are ‘practical  atheist anyway”, it is not a story, not an issue unless blogs like this make it one.

    Athiest are no different, no smarter, or wiser or ratinal than anyone else, some of the comments on the subject would point to that reality.  Good luck to the atheist blogger turned catholic, I welcome her, but it is not a big story like you said.  I have friends who were catholic’s and are now atheist and catholic’s who were once atheist, the stream goes both ways.

  • Hibernia86

    Hemant is right that CNN only mentioned that she was prominent because that was the only way they would have a story. An Atheist blogger converting to Catholicism is rare which is why the media is why it created a ripple on the internet and thus caught CNN’s attention.

  • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

    CNN & MSNBC presumably think this story is important because her article – I’m told – got many hits on Facebook. My own assumption for this is that the religious shared it because on insecurity. In this – to them – increasingly secular irreligious age, it’s a Good News story they can share that _someone_ has come over to them.

    The story actually has the opposite effect to that intended; rather than show that somehow Catholicism is strong, it in fact it shows its weakness when the conversion of a very minor personality to it - and for rather bizarre reasoning – is a worthy news event.

    P.

  • Fortuna Veritas

    For me it was because I so often run into the opposite scenario, it’s someone with no level of notability who was raised catholic and turned to atheism at first as a sort of escape and then stayed because it was so much nicer.

  • Alice

    Well I thought it was really interesting.

  • David Hess

    Hemant – looking forward to your upcoming interview w/ her on the “Unbelievable” program out of the U.K.  I would be cautious in your implied “surprise” of Leah’s newfound “fame”.  that wasn’t what you were looking for when you sold your soul on e-bay and yet that was what made you a “prominent” atheist.  I trust when you are in the dialogue being moderated by Justin, that you really listen to her and make your evaluation of her based, her conversion and most importantly her motivations, AFTER having heard her.  that seems to be the way you operate.  I would expect whatever blogging you do in the wake of that interview would then be far more fair-minded and represent a rational assessment.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I always listen. But I’ve also read her posts and I’m unmoved and unimpressed by her reasoning so far. I doubt she’ll have anything new to add in the interview. Still, I’m all ears.

  • tedseeber

    Why is your blog called the “friendly atheist” when you’re so full of cynical hate?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Citation please.

  • The R.oB.

    It’s a story because it’s news and runs counter to the dominant narrative which is that in some fashion you would have to be dumb to be a believer. “Smart people can be fooled, too”  Is PRECISELY this narrative. Being fooled isn’t intelligent. It’s the atheist form of hating the sin but not the sinner.

    And that is why there is so much coverage. It challenges our assumptions in a secular world.

  • Rjpiers1

    Not at all. That is an insanely closed minded comment and a relatively decent example of bigotry. There have been about half a dozen or so religious figures who recently turned atheist and they have received almost the exact same type of coverage. Would you say they are fools as well? No, because neither side is foolish for changing their beliefs. They are all group “leaders” who turned to the other side, and that is why it is news. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.r.holmes Benjamin Holmes

    Why all the fuss? Because Heaven rejoices when even just one soul returns to the Lord.

  • mike roy

    The Catholic Church teaches that being born gay is NOT a sin. Premarital and extra marital sex IS a sin . I never met an atheist that knew anything about the Catholic Church or it’s teachings. Not even one. Not believing in God does not make you an atheist. It’s just an uninformed opinion not based in fact. In order to be a legitimate atheist, you must spend a few years studying the subject before you can reject the concept. No atheist ever won a debate with a real Christian apologist. No brag, just fact.

  • Francisco Guerra

    GOD Bless you Sir. :D

  • Stuart Darbyshire

    If she’s found happiness in her new faith then so what.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X