Matt Nelson Knows Exactly How to Convert Atheists

Matt Nelson Knows Exactly How to Convert Atheists May 18, 2019

A while ago, I ran across a Christian post that listed eight reasons “Why Atheists Change Their Mind.” Matt Nelson called them “Common Factors” in atheists’ conversion. I skewered those reasons in a comment, then went on with living my best life. A few days ago, I ran across that blog post again. To my total shock, someone had decided to delete all comments from the post and close the commbox to it! So–because I am extremely helpful this way–I thought I’d offer my evaluation of it here, in case any Christians make the dire mistake of thinking this list reflects reality. After all, surely logical Christians, of all people, want to be corrected if they’re wrong, right? …Right?

(Emran Yousof.) The ruins of Holyrood Abbey, where the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Games ended permanently in the 18th century.

LOL! AS IF!

Everyone, Meet Matt Nelson. He’s a REASONABLE Catholic.

Matt Nelson writes a blog called Reasonable Catholic. He suffers from that greatest of Christian sins, pride. He also thinks that he is a logical Christian.

In fact, he thinks he’s locked down how to get “spiritually indifferent” people from feeling “whatever” to “beliefs that really matter.” The wording I used here comes from a 2018 book he wrote on the topic, Just Whatever: How to Help the Spiritually Indifferent Find Beliefs That Really Matter. See, he thinks that people find evangelism boring because “they don’t have strong beliefs about anything.” [Citation needed.] Thus, the evangelist’s job, to him, involves sparking interest in the idea of faith.

As you can imagine, he takes particular umbrage to atheism; his book–and his blog–center on misguided attacks on his tribe’s most dreaded culture-war enemy. We might review it later, but for now, that description hopefully gets the point across of where his head’s at. The handful of Christians who wrote customer reviews for it on Amazon seemed deeply impressed with it, at least.

Apologetics as an industry exists for them, not us, so of course they love it.

Another Totally For-Sure Apologetics List About Atheism.

As culture-war dupes go, Nelson’s stayed on point. Around 2015, he wrote a post for his blog called “Why Atheists Change Their Minds: 8 Common Factors.”

Like most of these lists, this one was the usual howler of logical fallacies and piss-poor reasoning. But it rocketed around the Christ-o-sphere all the same. I saw it reprinted in a number of large-ish Christian sites at one point.

Though Nelson claimed to offer up support for his religion that could persuade even atheists, what he really did was soothe toxic Christians–and his post did so in the guise of an underhanded attack on atheists. Can’t you just hear them pitying those who reject their blather? —

Awwww, lookit those poor widdle atheists! Poor little things have to delude themselves just to get through their meaningless little days… Let’s help them find a faith that’s hot like ours!

Don’t cha wish your ideology was a freak like mine… Don’t cha?

No, thanks! Reality works better.

Me, Being Helpful Again.

A couple of years ago, I discovered Matt Nelson’s popular post over at Word on Fire, a super-duper Catholic blog. (See endnote about Brandon Vogt, their content manager.)

I left a comment there–you know, just me being helpful as usual. In it, I critiqued each of his eight “common factors.” I figured it’d get lost in a sea of similar comments pushing back against Nelson’s assertions. As you might expect, this blog (like Nelson’s own) gets almost no engagement at all–unless it attacks atheism. At that point, also as you might expect, atheists show up in droves to point out the blogger’s numerous errors and willful ignorance. Then, I mostly forgot about the post.

Periodically, I search for new writings from apologists to see if they’ve come up with anything new or interesting. They almost never do, but I like to keep abreast of the new trends in apologetics. This time, this old blog post came up. It sounded familiar. I soon realized that it was the post I’d commented on! I wondered if anybody had replied to that comment, so I cruised into its commbox–only to discover that its comments were gone.

Man alive, nothing says BAMF apologetics blog that is totally certain about its own arguments like a formerly-open, now-closed commbox on a controversial topic. Amirite?

The Eight Totally Common Factors in Atheist Conversions.

Matt Nelson, in his blog post, refers often to (and quotes) Christians claiming the very trendy totally-used-to-be-an-atheist testimony that his tribe adores of late. Christians function as a Cult of “Before” Stories – they love hearing about people claiming membership in the tribes of their enemies, then seeing the light and defecting to Christianity. If a Christian can figure out who the biggest enemy tribes are and claim a past therein, they’ll get a lot more attention (and money, and leadership opportunities). Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a claimed past in Satanism or Wicca (or even better, both at once) did the trick. Now, it’s atheism.

Super-trendy Christians these days claim that they used to be atheists. Even Z-list bad actor Kirk Cameron makes that claim. We’ve looked at a couple of these stories as well. (See endnote below for a cautionary note about these testimonies.)

So now, let’s dive into the “common factors” Nelson thinks compels the buy-in of his tribe’s most dreaded, hated enemies.

(Each common factor listed in subheadings comes straight from his blog.)

Common Factor 1: Good Literature and Reasonable Writing.

This section begins:

Reasonable atheists eventually become theists because they are reasonable; and furthermore, because they are honest. They are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads; and in many cases the evidence comes to the atheist most coherently and well-presented through the writings of believers in God.

Really? Cuz in my experience, truth runs in the opposite direction. It’s definitely what happened to me. Once an ardent Christian, I chased the truth through more- and more-extremist denominations till I realized none of them contained the real truth. Then I deconverted. I literally chased the truth right outta Christianity. And from the sound of things, I ain’t unusual at all in that respect.

And it was the Bible itself that ultimately made me realize that, not any apologists’ writings.

By contrast, the totally-used-to-be-atheists quoted here profess to have read cringeworthy apologetics to be persuaded. Matt Nelson’s totally-used-to-be-atheists name-drop G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien as being influential. Not one of them mentions the Bible.

Needless to say, persuasive (or, to be more precise in this case, inept) writing about a claim doesn’t constitute evidence that the claim is true. Credible support for the claim does.

Common Factor 2: “Experimentation” With Prayer and the Word of God.

“Experimentation?”

What are we, college students playing around with party drugs?

Ugh. That’s the level we’re at here, I suppose.

Matt Nelson writes:

When curiosity (or even interest) of non-believers leads to experimentation with prayer or reading the Bible the results can be shocking, as many converts attest.

In this subheading, the post writer quotes various totally-used-to-be-atheists who claim that despite non-belief, they totally tried to pray–AND ZOMG Y’ALL, GUESS WHAT, GUESS WHAT, THEY TOTALLY GOT JESUS-ZAPPED!!!!!!

Nelson doesn’t, however, tell his readers what happens when someone prays and gets absolutely no Jesus zappage in the doing. It was, in fact, realizing how fake prayer feels when it’s ripped out of context that helped start me down the path to deconversion. Many Christians realize the same thing–and end up deconverted just like me, as a result. And many non-Christians try to pray and experience absolutely nothing unusual. (Meanwhile, people of other faiths pray and sometimes get zapped by their gods.)

Christians’ go-to post-hoc rationalization at that point is that we just did it all wrong or that we were hard-hearted or close-minded or whatever. However, we’re not obligated to accept such insulting drivel. We know the truth. If someone doesn’t pray while already leaning toward something neat is gonna happen to me here, then nothing probably will happen. In the rare event that they experience a euphoric rush, as Nelson’s totally-used-to-be-atheists assert, those feelings do not rise to the level of compelling support for Christian claims.

In fact, feelings probably represent the very weakest kind of evidence. All hucksters worth their salt know how easy it is to manufacture euphoria in their marks.

Common Factor 3: Historical Study of the Gospels.

This one made me laugh out loud at my desk. Because:

WHAT “historical study?”

There IS no “historical study” of the Gospels to be made!

Nothing in the Bible that matters to Christians is actually historical. Jesus’ entire life occurs in the Gospels and in no other contemporary sources. The setting of the Gospels isn’t even consistent with what we know of historical facts.

We could use this exact same reasoning to arrive at a firm belief in Harry Potter’s existence. After all, his life occurs only in J.K. Rowling’s books and nowhere else in actual documented English/United Kingdom (UK) history. By Matt Nelson’s stated standards, Harry Potter totally really exists in the flesh.

(Harry Potter is a far better and more decent person than the Jesus of the Gospels, too. Just sayin’.)

Common Factor 4: Honest Philosophical Reasoning.

What Nelson really means by “honest philosophical reasoning” is apologetics, of course: arguments seeking to support Christian claims. And his love of apologetics means he has never met a logical fallacy that he hasn’t immediately embraced.

Logical Christians like him adore using arguments in lieu of evidence. Catholicism itself is full of arguments that try their hardest to rise to the level of support for Christian claims.

None of them actually do, however. At most, apologists can try to avoid making obvious fallacies to end up at an argument that makes Christianity sound slightly less whackadoodle. Indeed, that’s why apologetics, as an industry, seems like it has only grown larger and larger with every passing year. When I hear good reviews of apologetics works, generally it’s from Christians who say that consuming this material has, indeed, strengthened their faith. Their mistake is thinking that it can kindle the faith of non-believers who are free to accept or reject Christianity on its own terms.

As high an opinion as apologists (like Matt Nelson) have of apologetics, these arguments don’t and can’t substitute for actual real-world support for Christian claims.

The whole reason apologetics exists as an industry within Christianity is because they don’t have anything else to offer.

Common Factor 5: Reasonable Believers.

Matt Nelson reveals, in this section, his deep hatred and contempt for atheists. He refers to their disdain for Christian soulwinners like himself as “obnoxious” and “shallow.” Then he claims they target “believers with a lack of up-to-date knowledge and critical thinking skills,” as if atheists are all skeeeeeered of tangling with TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like himself.

But don’t worry! As he writes:

Intelligent and reasonable believers in God, who can engage atheistic arguments with clarity and logic, become a great challenge to atheists who hold this shallow attitude towards the existence of God.

Aww, ain’t he loving. You can absolutely bet that Nelson considers himself one of those “believers.” What are “atheistic arguments,” though? I’ve sure never heard any. Nor would I expect to hear any, since atheism is not an ideology. What I actually hear atheists doing is rejecting apologists’ blathering. It doesn’t speak highly of Nelson’s “critical thinking skills” that he even thinks that “atheistic arguments” exist.

I’ve run across actual converted atheists before–they do exist. But I’ve never once heard of a real atheist who got argued into belief by a TRUE CHRISTIAN™. Almost always, such atheists convert because they love someone who is Christian and want to show solidarity with them, or because they have deep emotional needs that they hope Christianity can fulfill. I’ve never heard any of their testimonies that made me think anything else.

Common Factor 6: Modern Advances and Limitations In Science.

Yes, seriously. The God of the Gaps argument. Goddidit. That’s the level this post has hit: the Last Ideology Standing.

Matt Nelson shamefully abuses a few sources here, including Antony Flew, whose conversion to a sort-of-deism (after what sounds like Christian victimization by shameful opportunists of a brilliant man in his sunset years) really isn’t a win for Nelson’s religion.

The only response possible.

Obviously, however, Christians’ total inability to think of any other explanation for something does not constitute support for their claims.

Rather, this inability tells us that they’re either willfully ignorant or scared to death of an honest I don’t know.

Common Factor 7: Evidence for the Resurrection.

Matt Nelson simply regurgitates his third point here, because the story of Jesus’ resurrection, like the contradictory stories of his life, occurs only in the Gospels and nowhere else at all in any contemporary documents. The story of that Resurrection is filled with contradictory accounts, along with stuff that ranges from hugely unlikely to flat-out impossible (like the bit about Pilate having some weird custom of releasing a prisoner to the Jews of Jerusalem every year, or the trial of Jesus itself).

Also, I wrote a blog post a while ago about the total non-starter that is “evidence for the Resurrection:” The Four Facts of the Resurrection (Aren’t).

This subheading received some comment love from Christians, as I recall. I understand that love, too. Almost all Christians think that the Resurrection totally for realsies happened. Without a death and a resurrection, they don’t really have a real Jesus-God! But their deep need for a real Jesus-God doesn’t justify inventing history.

Of course, even if Jesus existed, died the way the Gospels claim, and was resurrected, none of that makes Christianity’s claims true as a whole. It would only verify as true one claim within Christianity. Past that, Christians still need to provide a lot more supportive facts (and overcome a lot of contradictory facts) in order to have a religion we could consider reality-based.

Common Factor 8: Beauty.

Matt Nelson, the self-proclaimed “reasonable Catholic” and logical Christian, ends his post with a logical fallacy: the Argument from Beauty:

  1. Gosh, some stuff in this world suuuuuuure is pretty.
  2. Hmm. Only a god could possibly have made that kind of beauty!
  3. Nothing else could have.
  4. Nope, no way. No how.
  5. In fact, only the god described by Christianity could have created this kind of beauty.
  6. Therefore, the Christian god exists.
  7. Stop linking me to Sonoworld’s congenital-conditions database and lists of mortality numbers from natural disasters.
  8. I mean it.
  9. Checkmate, atheists!

Considering the non-beautiful things that exist in our world and in the human condition, Nelson’s god not existing at all is a best-case scenario. If his god exists and allows babies to be born who are doomed to quickly die in hideous agony, then he is a monster–no matter how pretty we might consider redwood forests and David Gandy sunsets to be.

Matt Nelson ends this section–and his post entirely–with a quote:

“You either see this one or you don’t.”

I reckon he’s right about that.

It takes a Christian to forget about all the hideous suffering that goes on in our world, it seems. His god certainly appears to do the same.

Our Conclusion.

Matt Nelson is vanishingly-unlikely to convert any atheists with his post.

But I don’t think he wrote it for atheists. In fact, I don’t think he actually expects to convert atheists with it.

I think he wrote it for his own crowd. They want to feel smugly superior to their tribal enemies. To do that, they consume dreck like Matt Nelson’s writing. After reading posts like this one he wrote, they gain their prize: looking down on their enemies, who–in this reworking of reality itself–become meaniepies who just don’t wanna (or can’t possibly) see that truth.

They don’t want to hear that nothing about their definition of atheism sounds like actual atheism. Nor do they want to hear that literally nothing on this list sounds persuasive in the least to anybody who cares about their beliefs being objectively true.

And they definitely don’t want to be set straight about the their errors.

Preaching to the Choir.

Matt Nelson’s “8 Common Factors” post reveals exactly how desperate Christians are to convince themselves that their religion isn’t blithering nonsense. He also reveals how low apologists like him will go to pander to those desperate Christians.

In pandering to them, though, he accidentally gives us yet another reason to reject Christianity, because I can tell you this above all:

If Christianity were true, Christians like Matt Nelson would not need to manufacture and parrot lies to sell it to others. Instead, they’d just show us the goods. They ain’t got ’em, though, so they can’t show ’em.

They lie about atheists and atheism because they know big a threat non-belief represents to their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. Little wonder that as their desperation grows, so does the audacity of their lies–which in turn alerts more and more Christians to the lack of support their religion has from reality. Oops!

NEXT UP: LSP on Monday! Then, we examine the Problem of Wingnuts–why one untrue belief inevitably becomes many. See you soon! <3


Endnotes.

Regarding trendy ex-atheist testimonies: Of course, we want to avoid No True Scotsman-ing people. Christians do it all the time to us! We can avoid that charge by learning what the trendy testimony-bearer thinks atheism actually is. Usually, we discover that their definition of atheism looks absolutely nothing like that used by actual atheists we know–but instead looks everything like the warped redefinition that toxic Christians have developed. Generally, if we keep the conversation focused on their reasons for deconversion, that matters more anyway. Pointing out their redefinition of atheism only highlights their self-serving dishonesty. (Back to the post!)

Regarding Brandon Vogt: The content manager for Word on Fire, Brandon Vogt, turns up on Just Whatever’s Amazon page as one of its upper-level reviews. Weirdly, though, the Amazon mention doesn’t mention Vogt’s tight connection to the book’s author. Indeed, Nelson contributed posts to Word on Fire as recently as two weeks ago. (Back to the post!)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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