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Why Some Professed Atheists Return to Jesus

true happiness found in jesus

Earlier this week, an acquaintance of mine let it be known on Facebook that he had repudiated agnosticism and returned to Christianity. This man had previously been a Christian, had divorced Jesus, and now they are back together again.

His evidence for reclaiming his lost faith is as follows:

  • The testimonies of other Christians; that these transformative spiritual experiences convinced him that the Christian God is real, and that he will work in someone’s [nonbelievers] lives if they open up their hearts to him.
  • The testimonies of people who encountered dark spiritual forces when dabbling in the occult shows evil spiritual forces exist; that these evil spiritual forces are behind certain bands and movie producers; that these bands and producers are getting their inspiration from something outside of themselves

My Facebook acquaintance goes on to say that while he is embracing Christianity again, he rejects:

  • Eternal Hell
  • Penal Substitution (a theory about Jesus’ atonement, believed by most Evangelicals)
  • The notion that people choose their sexuality

In other words, he has become a cafeteria Christian, picking and choosing what he wants to believe; embracing only doctrines that finds emotionally palatable.

Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with agnostics or atheists returning to Christianity. It’s their lives, their journeys, so it’s not my place to stand in the way of them finding some sort of personal happiness and meaning. That said, I do question how one goes from Christianity to atheism/agnosticism and back to Christianity again. I do question what it was that caused them to lose their faith to start with; and why, now, those evidences are no longer valid or compelling. I do question what it is they found compelling now about Christianity that they didn’t find compelling before.

I started blogging in 2007. Over the course of thirteen years, I know of a handful of atheists/agnostics who have returned to Christianity and worshiping Jesus. Very few people, once they deconvert, return to that which they left behind. It happens, but it is rare. One man, a former Evangelical preacher, became an ardent, vocal atheist. His writing was quite caustic, but, at the time, I thought he was just working through his feelings about his religious past. Many ex-Evangelicals, in particular, go through an angry phase, especially when they realize their pastors, churches, or college professors lied to them about Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. I know, I can say — “been there, done that.”

One day, I went to this ex-preacher’s blog and found an announcement that he had found the TRUE Christian faith — Calvinism. For a time, the man became a raging disciple of John Calvin. Eventually, he landed in a psychiatric hospital. His blog was deleted, and I was unable to reach him.

It seems to me that most of the people who abandon atheism/agnosticism and reconnect with Christianity do so for reasons other than evidence. Either Christianity is true or it is not. Either the Bible is the Word of God or it is not. Either there is a Heaven and Hell or there’s not. Either humans are sinners in need of supernatural salvation or they are not. The evidence, at least to me, is clear: the central claims of Christianity cannot be rationally sustained. “Believing” requires faith; that which is deeply rooted in our feelings, not truth, facts, and evidence.

I suspect that atheists/agnostics who return to Christianity do so for emotional reasons. Perhaps they want and need that which Christian faith provides; namely meaning, purpose, social connection, and the promise of eternal life in Heaven after death. To put it bluntly, some people simply can’t live with the naked, stark realities of atheism; of a world that can be cold and indifferent; of a life that is transitory and finite — a life that ends the moment we draw our last breath. Unable to forge a life of meaning and purpose post-Jesus, Christians-turned-atheists-turned-Christians return to that which is familiar to them. My Facebook acquaintance had thousands of religions and spiritual practices to choose from, yet he returned to his former faith. Why is that? Familiarity and comfortability.

I, too, yearn at times for that deep, abiding, satisfying sense of certainty, comfort, and hope that my former faith gave me. I miss the social connections and the career satisfaction that being part of a Christian church gave me. However, I can’t ignore the evidence that tells me that Christianity — especially Evangelicalism — is built on a lie; that the central claims of Christianity cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that the Bible is not, in any way supernaturally inspired, inerrant, or infallible; that humans are not inherently sinful and in need of salvation; that there is no Heaven or Hell. No matter how I feel, the facts at hand tell me that Christianity is not true. And at the end of the day, truth matters to me.

I wish my Facebook acquaintance well. I trust, to quote the great prophet Bono, that he finds what he is looking for.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    GeoffT

    I often find myself in philosophical debate regarding the difference between atheism and agnosticism, which are very different things but intertwine so easily. Essentially, for me, agnosticism consists of the never ending search for evidence, or lack thereof, in every walk of life, not just god, whilst atheism is the belief you hold in the meantime. However, in terms of this post I don’t think the distinction matters.

    At the risk of stating the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy, I’m yet to be convinced that anybody has ever turned from a serious agnostic position (that which I treat as atheist) back, or into, one of belief. I hear people make the claim, not just profiteering exploiters such as Lee Strobel, but ordinary commenters on Facebook and especially in blogs. Yet every attempt to engage and find some underlying way of understanding is met by clear obfuscation, very occasionally inadvertent but almost always deliberate. They adopt a position that is as near to one of reason as they can manage, then preach, all the while, often condescendingly and in a patronising way uttering how the used to be an atheist/agnostic. They weren’t. At best they never really considered the point, and when they do they’ve rejected reason and opted for comfort.

    I don’t in saying this seek to diminish those who genuinely believe. I do, however, like them to be honest and accept that it’s a matter of faith over reason. Even Francis Collins concedes that his beliefs are based on faith, and that he would not be able to persuade others via reason.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    There are times I miss the community, the certainty, the comfort, the savior of belief. But then I see through social media believers going through dark, hard times, and all they have is the belief they will see their loved ones in the afterlife and maybe, just maybe, their deity might heal and spare their loved one before it’s too late (I haven’t seen that happen though).

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    The belief train runs its circular route and there are those who do tire of the long walk of life and hop on board again because…
    I really cannot imagine flipping back to the on-board bunch because it just makes no rational sense, as you well state in the blog.

  4. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    well, that returning Christian certainly has made up his own version just like all of them.

    Christians return to Christianity and it’s no surprise. They are trying to keep their foot in those pearly white gates. It’s nothing more than fear.

  5. Avatar
    dale m

    I don’t know if anybody else here finds it strange about Christian beliefs. But I do. Why would anybody become an atheist (they ask)? Because we, who R intellectually curious have absolutely nowhere else to turn. If U put down the Bible for a moment and think about this. According to most any religion, God stands alone and does not worship a higher power. Just those 2 statements alone, signify the fact that every Christian recognizes that their God (false or not), is the ultimate cosmic expression of atheism. So why do they try to be the absolute opposite? This is THEIR dilemma. Not ours. This is why atheism seems to be so natural to us. It protects us. Not against a cosmic entity but as a shield against religion. I believe that a recognition that there R advanced powers biologically and technologically a million years more advanced than us, is quite natural to any thinking being. Turning this quest into a religion is where mankind careened violently off the rails of justified exploration into the unknown. Those rails were placed there by science for a reason. Now we’re deeply mired in the tar pits of religion. Extraction is near impossible as we R slowly pulled into the abyss. We were fooled as we stepped into the thin layer of crystal gleaming waters that lay on its surface.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Dale M, greetings from B.C.
      You said: “Turning this quest into a religion is where mankind careened violently off the rails of justified exploration into the unknown.”
      I heartily agree and want to add that monetizing and profiting is not always the best way to understand and move forward. Western
      Religion (at least) followed the money and not the quest beyond the cash.

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