Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Irrational Conversions

I have read many conversion stories, both Cristian-to-atheist and atheist-to-Christian.  Graham Oppy describes his conversion and reasons for non-belief here.
I think that there are no good arguments--no arguments that ought to persuade nonbelievers to change their minds--for Christian belief as I have just characterized it. Indeed, I suspect that many Christians actually agree with me on this point, insofar as they claim that much of what is involved in Christian belief (as I understand it) is only known on the basis of something like personal revelation. Moreover--though I admit that this is more contentious--I think that there are no good arguments for much weaker claims entailed by what I take to characterize Christian belief, e.g., the claim that there is an immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good creator (ex nihilo) and sustainer of all things. Since I have argued at length for this claim elsewhere (see, in particular, Oppy [2006]), I shall not try to repeat those arguments here. I do not think that there is any short route to this conclusion; one simply has to work one's way carefully through all of the extant arguments.
Contrast that with CS Lewis' description of his own conversion.  Lewis speaks of trying to fend off belief that was "closing in" on him.  He says he had intellectual reasons, but his own words paint a different picture.  He never had the honesty to admit that he was a believer all along, even if he wasn't completely aware of it for some time.
Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine." All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. Of course I could do nothing — I could not last out one hour — without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit.
The striking difference is that Oppy speaks of logical arguments and reason, while Lewis tells a story of emotion.  I find this to be characteristic.  One is rational, and the other is irrational.  Try reading a number of such conversion stories, both to Christianity and to atheism.  You will notice a distinct difference between them, and the pattern is clear.

This conversion story is quite typical.  It describes a person who was emotionally torn.  There was no rational deliberation.  The author describes a struggle to fend off the belief that had already taken hold.  In fact the author openly admits that she needed to accept the faith first, and then understanding would follow.
But the verse promised understanding after obedience. I wrestled with the question: Did I really want to understand homosexuality from God's point of view, or did I just want to argue with him? I prayed that night that God would give me the willingness to obey before I understood. I prayed long into the unfolding of day. When I looked in the mirror, I looked the same. But when I looked into my heart through the lens of the Bible, I wondered, Am I a lesbian, or has this all been a case of mistaken identity? If Jesus could split the world asunder, divide marrow from soul, could he make my true identity prevail? Who am I? Who will God have me to be?
The understanding that she eventually achieved was gained only by subordinating reason to faith.  That is the nature of faith.

Here is an interesting article in wikiHow that gives step-by-step instructions on how to convert.  I understand that this may not be an official church-sanctioned method for conversion, but it does represent a common approach as presented by actual Christians of various denominations.  Once again, there is no appeal to logic.  It doesn't mention any philosophical arguments in favor of belief.  No appeal to rationality.  Instead, it speaks about accepting, trusting, and believing in the heart.
Be willing to accept the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart. Converting to Christianity is based on your belief that Jesus is God's only begotten Son and does all manner of miracles including Salvation. Christianity starts with getting saved by trusting Christ to save you, and then entails living a good and godly life that is pleasing to God. Both are important.
It goes on to cite Romans 10:9-10: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."  Believe in the heart.  In other words, don't use your head - don't rely on intellect, because that's sure to lead you in the wrong direction.  Place faith above reason.

I don't claim that all atheists came to be atheists because of rational deliberation.  But it does seem that most of those who deliberately converted from religious belief did so for rational rather than emotional reasons.  But as far as I can tell, most of the people who convert from atheism to Christianity do so for emotional rather than rational reasons.

I'd like to hear Christians weigh in on this.  Can they produce any conversion stories that are genuinely based on logic and reason?  I seriously doubt it.

1 comment:

  1. One comes to belief in religion for many reasons. Logic and reason are not two of them. Indeed, rarely does one 'come' to religion at one's own volition, that is, through the faculty or power of using one's will. For most adults, they, almost invariably, come to religion through instability of one's psychological or emotional state, or through some crisis in one's life. It is a psychosomatic salve, a placebo.

    More importantly, it is an indisputable fact that the overwhelming majority of believers come to religion through persistent, relentless and sustained parental indoctrination during early childhood. The existence of the Christian memeplex is utterly reliant on childhood inculcation, introduced to the child at a time when the plasticity of that child's mind is at its most absorbent. This is the shameful legacy of primitive religious belief.