Saturday, June 4, 2011

The "I Used to be an Atheist" Game

This is a line popular among apologists and evangelists. The most well known examples of this would be Kirk Cameron, Lee Strobel and Alister McGrath. What really rubs me raw about these characters, is that they don’t seem to understand what atheism is. If they used to be atheists, they must have been extremely out of touch. Let’s start with Kirk Cameron.

Kirk Cameron claims to be a former atheist, but the thing is, he converted to fundamentalist Christianity as a young teenager. Unless he was some kind of child genius (he wasn't) no matter what his views were, the chances are that he held them for the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all. My guess would be that he just grew up with no religious belief from his parents, and then was convinced by an evangelist that Christianity was true. Regardless, the arguments that he uses to support his belief are beyond ridiculous, and doesn't understand the first thing about any position he attacks. Crocoducks and Fronkeys... Enough said.

Lee Strobel claims to have been an atheist, and he also claims to be an investigative journalist. Two things which he seems extremely uneducated about. What I find perplexing about his situation, is that he apparently went from being an atheist to being a creationist. I simply cannot see how that could happen. Anyone who holds the atheist position for intelligent reasons, would not move from there to one of the most intellectually bankrupt views on the planet; creationism. Whatever his reasons for being an atheist in the first place, I don't care, as they were probably emotional.

Alister McGrath tells people that he was an atheist, but he doesn’t seem to get what atheism is about, and is guilty of throwing the ‘angry atheist’ insults around. He has said on many occasions that when he was at university, it was popular to be an atheist and to be a Marxist, and that he held those views. Something that he says that I cannot comprehend, is that he says that he became a Christian because it made more 'sense' of things, and that it illuminates his world-view. Sure, I get that part, he likes having magical significance to his life, what I don't get is how someone could move from a position that understands our insignificance, and that we don't need intrinsic meaning to have a meaningful life, to another position BECAUSE it has that. I find his argument for this to be incredibly weak and unconvincing. One could easily invent a world-view that provides intrinsic meaning to life, and illuminates the world-view, while simultaneously being completely false.

I never intend to make any arguments for atheism based on the fact that I used to be a Christian, the arguments should stand on their own merits, without any weak kind of personal testimony against one's former position. To all those who pull the 'I used to be an atheist' card: I don't care, show me your arguments!


  1. I think it's possible to be a casual type of atheist - not holding any particular opinion on the supernatural but not really concerned about what atheist thinkers say either. For many years I didn't read what atheists wrote or even to bother to find out if anyone did write about it.

    Those emotional and social functions that religion serves are indeed difficult to handle as an atheist. That's why cults use specific techniques to create those emotional needs in their victims.

    Born-agains have such narrow definitions of "Christian" that it's probably also possible that they consider anyone other than their fellow glassy-eyed cult members an "atheist."

  2. Ah yes, very good points.
    Regarding your first paragraph, it just annoys me that this was probably the case for at least Kirk and Lee, and yet they use the "I used to be an atheist" as some kind of street-cred to convert other atheists.

  3. Christians who make this claim don't know what they're talking about. C.S. Lewis was an atheist, and when asked why he converted, he said "because I was unable to disprove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ". And the went on to produce loads of banal arguments for his faith. Hey, he may have been a intellectual giant, but he didn't know shit about historical research--he allowed his emotions to confuse and befuddle him. And he never went beyond stereotyping atheists, just like all of these other so-called "ex-atheists" because they were either not atheists to begin with or very ignorant, complacent ones.

  4. I like your style B.R. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I like B.R.'s style as well. His back pack. It's got jets.

  6. Also, you might want to check your previous post where you say that all that is required to be an atheist is a lack of belief in gods. You can lack a belief in gods without any sense of your own insignificance: I for instance hold to the belief that you and everyone else around me are just part of a dream I'm currently having. Don't believe in gods but clearly I'm more important that a figment of imagination like you KJ :P

  7. Of course! My point was that McGrath chides atheism for not being illuminating or giving meaning, so he seems to understand that. Did he just one day decide that he couldn't handle living in a world without cosmic significance? Or does having a celestial dictator just make him feel better? I can't see this as an intellectual transition in any light, which is why I criticise him for it. To me it seems like he converted for emotional reasons, rather than intellectual ones.

  8. That's okay then. Just wouldn't want anyone accusing you of being a hypocrite. Well, other than me that is :P

  9. To me it seems like he converted for emotional reasons, rather than intellectual ones

    How many have converted from logic? For that matter, staying in the faith doesn't have much to do with logic, either.

    1. Of course, not. The logic may not agree with how you think about these things but there is sense. There may not be logic on what changed the heart and mind of a person because it was God-performed. You always can't explain everything. Even the knowledge of the the universe came to be is still a theory

  10. Barring some evidence, I see no reason to take these individuals' word that they were previously atheists. Such claims could well be a ploy to give themselves cred -- "I've already seen the other side and rejected it" -- and perhaps a touch of exoticism in the eyes of rank-and-file fundies.

    Back in the early 1990s (and maybe earlier, I wasn't paying attention) in the US, when we were awash in tales of Satanist cults commiting mass-scale atrocities, it was common for fundie agitators to claim to be former Satanists. Most of them claimed to be former high priests or something similar. The activities they claimed to have been involved in were highly implausible, to say the least (at least one claimed to have met Satan personally).

    When people's "substantive" arguments are fraught with dishonesty, why should we expect them to be truthful about their personal histories?

    No doubt a few atheists do become religious, but the fast and steady growth of the numbers of non-religious people shows that that's much rarer than the other way round.

  11. That reminds me of one of the truck-stop church encounter in Bill Maher's Religulous, where the guy claims to be a former Satanist priest. My first thing I thought when he said that was "So you were a moron?"

    I would really love to see some evidence that an intelligent atheist became a creationist like Lee Strobel.

  12. Why do you always exclude emotions from intellect. You will never understand why former atheists converted to Christianity. It's the power of God that converts the hearts of peoople and not intelligent arguments. The issue is not intellectual knowledge of things but the real issue is the heart of man from where evil and pride comes from. It is from the heart where greed, pride, unbelief comes from and not the intellect.

    You cant intellectually love anyone without emotions. When someone decides to love God and despise everything he believes, it is not fair to call him dum or stupid or just converted due to emotional reasons

  13. I used to be an atheist who was very committed to my own belief in nothing, hostile toward god and religion and would debate (and win) with Christians about faith. Then I met God. Until you do that in a personal way, you can think you are right, that god is an emotional response by others, or something made up by weak minded people in need of a crutch. Once you actually meet him in a way that is personal and undeniable, you won't be able to understand how other people have done that, but your inability to understand and lack of experiencing it yourself aren't proof that a complete, honest change of belief isn't possible. I am proof to my former disbelieving self that it can happen.

  14. Wait a second. Webster's defines atheist as a belief that no God exists. That includes a 7th grade dropout who does not believe that God is a reality.