Conversion between theism and atheism

When a religious person encounters an atheist who used to be a devout follower of the same religion, a response that is all too commonly heard is that the current atheist never used to be a believer. Complete rubbish in almost every case, it's hardly impossible for a theist to become an atheist or vice versa.

Not that I always believe it when a theist claims to have been an atheist in the past. I would take it at their word if it was just that, but often enough the claim is accompanied by "I was angry at God", which completely demolishes the credibility: it is a little hard to be so angry at something one does not even think exists. I put slightly more credence to claims for someone to have converted to a religion out of intellectual reasons, except the claims almost invariably undermine themselves as the intellectual arguments put forward tend to be really bad, not even passing the "the same sort of reasoning would not apply to another contradictory religion" filter. There have been exceptions, although the religious concepts have been so watered down that they may as well not have been religions.

Without extraneous and dubious claims as the above, I would usually take a theist's claim that they used to be an atheist at their word. Oddly enough, it's much rarer to see a current atheist with a dubious claim to having previously been a theist. It might be because I'm biased ...

7 Replies to “Conversion between theism and atheism”

  1. Nah. If you live in the US, atheists are the boggie men and so most of their numbers come from deconversion due to the low percentage of the population (between 2-10%).

    1. I have no doubt that the theist -> atheist conversion rate overwhelms the atheist -> theist conversion rate, but I just wanted to mention how I don't believe that atheists could never turn religious.

  2. Nope. I just felt like talking about it after seeing a blog post complaining about how some religious people always say that an atheist could never have been religious people in the first place. I wanted air my thoughts on why doubts of specific converse claims are usually justified.

    "I used to be an atheist angry against God" sounds like an outright lie. For "I became religious because of intellectual reasons", I usually don't have any reason to doubt that the person became religious after being an atheist, but the claimed motivation is almost always dubious after hearing what the "intellectual reasons" are.

  3. People are not rational entities. For all sorts of issues, religious, cultural, political, etc. people often change their views for emotional reasons even as they convince themselves that they have intellectual reasons. This isn't that different with theists who were former atheists. There may be two other differences in the other direction: 1) As an atheist you are less likely to see partially emotional reasoning to become an atheist as as fallacious as to go in the other direction 2) Given the strong pressures (at least in the US) to be religious in some form, the emotional weight against becoming an atheist is strong. So people are unlikely to become atheists on primarily emotional grounds because on the battlefield of emotions(for lack of a better term) religion generally wins.

  4. "1) As an atheist you are less likely to see partially emotional reasoning to become an atheist as as fallacious as to go in the other direction "

    Not so fast. I know numerous people who "chose" atheism because at the core of it (after some discussion) they had experienced emotional and/or physical pain or loss of various sorts that could only be explained to them rationally (or so they assumed) by the assumption that there is no God, no ultimate intelligence, other than theirs and their own experience of hurt and loss.

    2) Given the strong pressures (at least in the US) to be religious in some form, the emotional weight against becoming an atheist is strong. So people are unlikely to become atheists on primarily emotional grounds because on the battlefield of emotions(for lack of a better term) religion generally wins.

    WRONG AGAIN - See above. I know I wasn't born in a vacuum, I was born into a decidedly non-religious, but not atheist family. My father was a minister's son! He chose non-religious life because of issues with my grandfather.
    The myth that somehow atheists, alone are rational, non-emotional and logical people is moronic. Why are they so special? Isn't this just another form of "specialness"...."we-get-it-and-you-don't elitism!? PHONY !!

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