I’ve interviewed a many notable atheists with great conversion stories. Ex-Baptist minister, Bruce Gerencser, one-time Catholic priest, Thom Burkett, and past Presbyterian pastor, David Hayward, to name a few. I’m aware of atheists who are now proud Christians, mostly because evangelists reshare such stories until my timeline is a flood of textual reruns. They must know that the narrative of someone discarding one life for another can be very compelling, but should it ever be compelling enough to convince you to change? Is there anyone whose conversion would be a catalyst for your own?
Not long ago I had a close college friend pass along his testimony of religious revelation. Unlike a door-to-door religious testimony, my friend’s meant something because I knew that he wasn’t mentally unstable. He wasn’t justifying the means of a lie to the end of saving my soul. Coming from a person who with I’ve spent the best and worst of over four years it meant what he was saying was very likely honest, but probably untrue. My trust in my friends doesn’t supersede my trust in the arrow of time or the laws of physics. I know that makes me the cynic who will eventually be proven wrong in the feel-good movie of the year, but I also know that my life isn’t a fantasy flick.
Still, my friend’s conversion was as an influencer on a personal level, but not on an intellectual level. We never spoke of theology or justified our beliefs. I merely knew he was an atheist. Inquiring further would have required a firmer interest, which I didn’t have at the time. Alcohol and video games seemed more interesting. Fast forward to present day and I wonder what if an atheist converted who based more of their life on their non-belief, like the aforementioned ex-pastors? What if, say, Dawkins accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior? I’d be very interested in that conversion story. The conversion itself would have less affect on me than my friend, but intellectually I’d be fascinated in what facilitated the change. A near-death experience, a personal revelation or some other one-off subjective event would hamper my interest. However, if the change was due to new evidence that Dawkins believes undermines the entirety of evolution in some way? I would probably research it until I was either a Christian or a biologist.
The appeal to authority or celebrity should never be enough to change your mind, but conversion stories can be a marker for information with real value. I’d be willing to bet that the Pope will convert before Dawkins will, but if that happens, I imagine the Church will retroactively revoke his infallible status quicker than you can say "transubstantiation."