Tag Archives: Conversion

Ex-atheist A. N. Wilson’s reasons for returning to Christianity

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This story is all over the Christian blogosphere, so let’s try to cover all the people who’ve written about it.

Wilson’s initial statement is found in his article in the New Statesman. (H/T Truthbomb Apologetics)

Excerpt where he describes his conversion to atheism:

…I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world.

Yeah, that’s why I would never send my kids to church until they begged and pleaded to go, and knew why they were doing it. The problem of evil and suffering that he mentions is a solid argument against God, one well worth responding too, that I answer fully here.

But another cause of his atheism was peer pressure – the desire to want to be thought of as smarter than others, the desire to not be bound by morality, the desire for autonomy from the hard task of seeking after the Lord in study and service. (More on this below)

If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world – that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that “this is all there is” (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself – go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

He talks about the importance of the moral argument, which is the argument that converted me to Christianity so many years ago. There can be no doubt that when you meet an atheist, you are talking to someone who is disdainful of the demands of the moral law, (the objective moral standard that is imprinted on every human heart).

Everyone who has any conscience at all believes in God as the ground for that morality. It is only the immoral man who reduces morality to personal preferences or evolved social conventions. And there are so many immoral atheists today… inventing more and more speculations like Darwinism and postmodernism in order to justify full flight from the moral law they know is there.

I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

Truthbomb Apologetics also linked to an online interview with Wilson. Peter Williams, a British Christian apologist, highlights one question, “Can you love God and agree with Darwin?”, from the interview.

Here is Wilson’s answer:

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage of the Beagle, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin of Species. The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages, its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence – and is obviously incompatible with Christianity. I think the jury is out about whether the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true, and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book Why Us by James Lefanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian “gradualism”. But these are scientific rather than religious questions.

twoorthree.net has another analysis of the initial article.

A second article emerges

Here’s Wilson’s more recent article from the UK Daily Mail in which he describes his reasons for returning to the Christian faith even further. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The new article has a very striking title, “Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity”. There are some neat parts to this article as well.

For example, why are atheists who are force-fed faith so angry?

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been ‘conned’ by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

This next point is the critical point of this entire story. Atheists dismiss God for three reasons. 1) They want to appear intelligent in comparison others (i.e. – pride, vanity), 2) they do not want to dedicate any time to seeking and serving the person who loves them most, and 3) they believe that God should give them happiness and their needs are not met by God.

When a person becomes an atheist, they are giving an answer to questions like “does God exist?” and “does God have a will for the way I ought to live?”. Atheists do not accept that their purpose in life is to work on knowing God by first accepting Christ’s sacrifice for their current rebellion and then by re-prioritizing their lives based on the character and deeds of Christ.

Instead of accepting the need for a Savior, and the process of following Christ, they want to earn eternal life by dedicating their efforts to projects of their own choosing. Atheists choose a project that they like and work on that hoping to somehow gain eternal life by excelling at that. Similarly, atheists choose a different moral standard (i.e. – yoga, vegetarianism, recycling, socialism, etc.) and work to fulfill this standard of their own choosing in the hope that meeting that standard will justify them morally with God.

The thought that they would have to discover and reflect on God’s revealed character and love for people revealed in the origin and design of the universe, and in the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, is totally repulsive to them. They seize on the most childish opinions about God, (God is unknowable, Christians are stupid hypocrites, I don’t want to be moral, I don’t want to be unpopular, etc.), and refuse to engage in debate to correct those childish objections.

But let’s hear from Wilson about the peer-pressure he received from smart atheists:

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

Wilson goes on to explain what finally did work to change his mind. One of the reasons for his conversion is also the second reason why I converted: discomfort with the moral evil of the godless and their hatred of God. Observing the godless can create a powerful feeling of sympathy and allegiance to God revealed in Christ, such that you naturally rebel against those who reject God.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

One thing you need to understand about being a Christian is that the life consists in being an ambassador for Christ and then taking the lumps from those who will mock you, blacklist you, expel you, suspend you, fire you, jail you, torture you and murder you. This path of suffering is rejected by atheists and church Christians alike, even though imitating Christ’s suffering for obeying God rather than men is central to Christianity.

We humans somehow internalize the idea that God should desire our happiness, and our freedom to seek that happiness in whatever activities we choose to be meaningful for us. The idea that God may have made us for a purpose – to acknowledge and defend him in public in word and deed – is so repulsive to our wills that it is totally suppressed, not just from inquiry or discussion, but in our thoughts as well.

A third argument that convinced me, that Wilson also finds convincing, is the superior character of Christians when compared to atheists. Atheists have no idea how horribly immoral they look to Christians – about as immoral as Christians look to themselves. For once the horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor is dropped, and the vertical dimension of loving God is taken up, the mask is off. The horror of sin is revealed.

And in the face of that horror, men can do extraordinary deeds as they respond to God’s forgiveness. Actions that are irrational on a naturalistic, materialistic universe are rational for Christians. Atheists simply cannot engage in self-sacrificial behaviors against their self-interest the way that Christians can. Doctrines like eternal life, the incarnation, the atonement, and objective morality, make self-sacrifice rational.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: ‘My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.’

Now, I think of that exchange and of his bravery in proclaiming his faith. Our bishops and theologians, frightened as they have been by the pounding of secularist guns, need that kind of bravery more than ever.

The Christian life is a life of self-sacrifice, self-control and bravery, punctuated by periods of loneliness and defeat. It is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for atheists. Responding in love to God’s initiative in reaching out to us is the most difficult task that can ever be assigned to any human agent. Atheists, having rejected the laws of logic, scientific discovery, the demands of the moral law and the obligations of moral duties, are simply not up to the task.

Wilson concludes his case with a final argument:

…an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

Let me just say that I have not had the happiest experiences in life, as I have alluded to elsewhere. Things are going great now, as you know from my bio. But I know, and I hope that others can see, that the kind of acts of love that I unleash on my neighbors cannot – cannot – be explained merely as a result of human effort. Life is hard, but God makes love possible in the midst of suffering.

William Lane Craig weighs in on this Daily Mail article in his audio blog here.

I am planning an entire series of posts on atheism and the Christian life next week, and I have been interviewing atheists in order to collect data for the series of posts. I highly recommend that you tune in to the blog next week for this series!