Conversion of an Atheist

At Religion Dispatches, Lisa Webster has a fascinating interview with philosopher Jacob Needleman, an avowed atheist who converted to theism.  Money quotes:

It meant I had to read theologians, Christian writers like St. Augustine—whom I had hated. You see in my book where I talk about burning the pages of the book, that’s exactly what happened. I'm not exaggerating. I was so happy to see it go up in flames; I had suffered so much from that book. And later I read it and I loved it—a great, great man.

So it forced me to read and prepare myself, and I couldn’t believe how superficial my understanding of religion had been, even with a liberal education from the best universities. I discovered things about religion; I couldn’t believe how good, how interesting, how profound—and how distorted it had become, how shallow it had become. So more and more I got deeply interested in religion because I had to teach it. And then I got personally interested in my own personal, spiritual search which I started to undertake…

There’s more:

My mind believed it. But somewhere down deep I didn’t really. It was only when I actually touched a certain level of inner experience, and I said, Ah, that’s it. Now I am absolutely certain that there is such a thing. I always believed, as I was studying these things, that there was something higher in the universe. I never thought it was a dead, mechanical universe, like scientism. It was only when I experienced it as part of me that I saw that it was true.

And more!

Scripture is not just recording what Jesus said; scripture is men and women coming together, working inwardly to be true to something and together trying to produce something that has at least a bit of truth of the heart. Real scripture, though it might on the surface seem contradictory or violent, these things are often symbolic and can only be understood with the heart and the head together. Not just with the head.

via How Does an Atheist Come to Believe in God?: An Interview with Jacob Needleman | Religion & Theology | ReligionDispatches.

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  • This is really good stuff. Keep the posts coming!
    – Luke

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    A great post and I to believe that it has to be a head and heart but also a hand must come into play at some point. When we have our experience or understanding that God is real and that Jesus was an historical person, we do want to continue to grow in knowledge and experience of what we have discovered to be true. Then the progession must lead to the hand. We are the only hands that God has to work with. Head, Heart and Hands together we can do it. Together with God’s Holy Spirit things will change. Things will heal.

  • i like his encounter/conversion towards scripture. wish we all could learn that.

  • tom c.

    I had the opportunity to take a couple of classes with Needleman several years back. I recall that he would always bring a thermos of coffee with him to class, which he would pour from to replenish his cup as he lead the discussion of the week’s readings. Maybe it was/is the caffeine addict in me, but I felt as though the desire one had for that coffee (milky but also dark and rich) mirrored the desire Needleman had for wisdom in those sacred and/or philosophical texts. His classroom presence worked to elevate discussion and contemplation of ideas. I admired that.

    • Tom, He sounds like a fascinating guy. It must have been a pleasure to study with him. And any guy that addicted to coffee is doing something right!

  • tom c.

    Indeed, it was a great experience. Needleman did a lot to convince me that there are many approaches to philosophy that have merit (I imagine one could say the same thing about theology). He did this partly through argument but also through his manner of working through the ideas in the texts (his charisma).

  • There is something so entirely refreshing about this article/interview. Encountering God is never something predictable, easily categorized, nor controllable. We often experience God at the very edge of our being – in the recesses of our consciousness; and often, when its real, against our best intentions to the contrary.

    I’m thankful for this reminder.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Darren, you are so right. Some of my encounters of God have really been very funny, the timing was awesome. God slips up on me when I least expect it but also when I simply make myself be still and open to God’s presence. At one point in my life as a very young mother of three, God kept after me to spend more time, as I always had before children, in God’s presence. Well this made me very angry as I had all that I could do to keep up my home and family. I shouted at God and said, “if you want me to do this you are going to have to show me how because I just do not know how I can manage like I used to.” Believe me, I was very angry. Well some time later I was in the grocery store in the check out line when I spotted a very small pocket size book. The title of which was ” Practice the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, a Benedictine Monk. I felt a big nudge that said buy this little book. I did and it changed my life. Brother Lawerence taught that you could be just as much in prayer while washing pots and pans and cooking, etc. or other things as you could in a chapel, he liked working in a kitchen. Well I had one of those aha moments, this is i!!!!, this is the answer to my angry request from God. That little book is in a drawer beside my couch to this day. It’s been there a very long time as my children are now in there 50’s. There were two things I did not like to do around the house and that was washing dishes and ironing. Well I decided that if Brother Lawrence was right I would try praying during the time I performed these chores. They became the most wonderful times instead of the worst of times for me. So many other stories I could share when God spoke to me. For me, God speaks in every moment of everyday. I think we just do not see or hear very well. We can experience God under any condition. Even when our heart is so broken we do not recognize God in the moment, God is there.

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