Converting from converting from religion. That is the basic premise of this article by Timothy Larson in the Wall Street Journal. I was not aware of this author, perhaps some of you already know his work, but I found this to be a very interesting piece and I am now looking forward to reading his book, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England.
Larsen begins with a series of questions.
Have you ever heard the one about the Christian who started to study calculus and ended up losing his faith? Of course you have. Such “conversion” to atheism is supposed to be the story of all modern, thinking people. But imagine it happening the other way around. Moreover, imagine the convert being a well-informed, public intellectual who had long made it his business to argue that faith is irrational?
Part of what drew me into this article was a IM conversation I had with an atheist friend from college just yesterday. He asked me something along the lines of “Do you have reasons to not be miserable other than Jesus?” The use of negatives was interesting but it turns out the questions stemmed from a 15 year old interaction with Ravi Zacharias. My friend had gone to one of his presentations out of interest and Zacharias asserted towards the end of his talk that atheists are not and cannot be happy people. My friend objected and said not only that he himself was very happy but that he knew lots of happy non-believers. So he wanted to know if I was ever happy aside from Jesus.
My response was that from a theological perspective I do believe that all things come from God, including all those things that make me happy. I find great joy in my life, my wife, our children, nature, my job, and one could argue that these are “apart from Jesus” but as a believer I view these as gifts from God.
This all came to mind because the catalyst for Larsen’s article was the re-conversion of A. N. Wilson.
Just such a conversion has happened to A.N. Wilson, the 58-year-old British biographer, novelist and man of letters. He was once an observant Anglican and, later, a Roman Catholic, but in the 1980s he lost his faith and began skewering the supposed delusions of the faithful. His antifaith stance was expressed in books such as “God’s Funeral” (1999) and “Jesus: A Life” (1992). A few weeks ago, however, Mr. Wilson confessed that Christ had risen indeed. He attributed this to “the confidence I have gained with age.” He now says he believes that atheists are like “people who have no ear for music or who have never been in love.”
I have to say, with my own statement of faith above, that I don’t agree with Zacharias or Wilson. The passion for life, love, and happiness can be found in any person of any convictions. What is lost in such arguments is that the point of Christianity is not “to be happy” it is to be saved.1
So give Larsen’s article a read and consider again the questions of faith versus reason, happiness versus holiness.
- I do believe that with salvation comes true liberation and therefore a kind of love and happiness that goes beyond that which we can otherwise know. I also know that there are very, very many unhappy believers, but that is a different discussion. [↩]