How Richard Dawkins made me a Christian

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At my baptism a few years back, I gave a short testimony. It explained my path to becoming a Christian and how a reaction against new atheism was a catalyst. I’ve reproduced it below:

My being here today taking part in this ancient Christian ceremony would be a surprise to many people who’ve known me over the years, because for most of my life I have been a strident unbeliever. From a pretty early age I had fixed onto the idea that believing in God was as silly as worshipping Zeus, Ra or Thor, because to my mind science had shown that there was no need for any of them. And this was not a view I was embarrassed to share with anyone who would listen, and indeed with many who wouldn’t.

Such was the ardour of my atheism that it survived undented the fact that for most of my teens my best friends were not only believers but the sons of the Baptist ministers, with the result that I spent more time at church events than many Christians. In his testimony at his own baptism, one of these friends would say he knew was a Christian after an experience I witnessed. Some of us from the Church’s youth group were sat around in a circle, our heads bowed in prayer – or to be more exact they were sat in a circle praying, while I sat upright looking bored – and whoever was saying prayers at that point asked God to give us faith. At which point – a – gentle – but – unmistakable breeze – started – blowing – through – the – room. Pretty weird huh? Well I didn’t think so; I set off in search of a more “rational” cause and came back a few minutes later very pleased with myself for having discovered that the breeze was in fact nothing more than a draft created by somebody opening a door.

Now, confronted with such human conceit, God did what he often does and sent a messenger to confound it. Admittedly these messengers are seldom Richard Dawkins, but the evangelical atheist had the paradoxical impact of turning me away from his creed. The picture he painted of believers as dogmatic, delusional and even dangerous ran counter to my own experience of Christians, who had tolerated and indeed welcomed an at times rude and disrespectful unbeliever into their community.

This discordant note made me listen with fresh ears to debates I had thought closed. I began to wonder if evolution and its miraculous life giving power, far from negating the need for a creator strongly suggested the likelihood of one. And as I looked into scripture for its own value rather than as a source of debating points, I realised the reams of antiquated, barbaric injunctions that fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike had led me to believe would be there, simply weren’t, and instead there was an altogether more appealing system of ethics built around just two positive, powerful commandments: love your God and love your neighbour.

This re-evaluation meant that by the time I had come to Oxford I was looking for a community where I could worship my God and after some searching I found it here at Wesley Memorial. This is warm, welcoming and wonderful church and to be accepted into membership here is a great honour.

So let me conclude with this, I am only here today because of people, who instead of telling me about God’s message of love, showed me it in their own lives. Their kindness was such an articulate argument, for the Christian message that it swayed even a sceptic like me. I am blessed to have known them, I am blessed that through them I know him, and I am SO blessed that he has given me you, the best friends and family I could ask for.

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6 thoughts on “How Richard Dawkins made me a Christian

  1. I am an atheist and I have no qualms with the religious people I know personally. They are extremely kind and gentle people who are forgiving and some of them are the best friends I have really. I don’t have any problems with them and I wouldn’t want to change them; I simply don’t agree with their logic when it comes to religious belief. But that’s not a big deal to me, and I regularly help out at the church.
    I think there are a few issues here. Firstly, not everybody was as fortunate as you or I. In some places and in some communities, the religious people are particularly atrocious, and I think you need to consider that before criticizing any atheists for complaining about the religious people they personally have encountered, because remember: they have different experiences to you and know different people to you. Another thing I would say is that it is irrelevant how nice people are; what matters is what is true, and while I don’t agree with the approach or attitude of many atheists (some of them just strike me as too damn loud and obnoxious), I try not to let my judgement of character get in the way of my ultimate search for truth.
    Just a few thoughts!
    All the best
    John

    • I don’t think that Mark is suggesting that he became a Christian because he knows nice Christians, or that he stopped being an atheist because there are unpleasant atheists – I think what he’s saying is that his experience of personal relationships made him more willing to take an open mind in an intellectual evaluation of the issue.

      From the above:
      “This discordant note made me listen with fresh ears to debates I had thought closed. I began to wonder if evolution and its miraculous life giving power, far from negating the need for a creator strongly suggested the likelihood of one. And as I looked into scripture for its own value rather than as a source of debating points, I realised the reams of antiquated, barbaric injunctions that fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike had led me to believe would be there, simply weren’t, and instead there was an altogether more appealing system of ethics built around just two positive, powerful commandments: love your God and love your neighbour.”

    • John,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Clearly you are right that my personal experiences have no bearing on the existence or otherwise of God. Helen’s right to say that what this emotional connection did was make me re-evaluate my intellectual position.

      I do, however, think it is relevant to the debate on ‘new atheism.’ Part of where they differ from mainstream atheists is in their belief that religion is a socially malign force. My experience is evidence – albeit of an anecdotal nature – that this is not the case.

      I also take your point that other people have had much darker experiences with religion. However, I would suggest that our respective experiences suggest that the solution to the problems they encounter might be better religion rather than no religion.

      Mark

  2. Mark, thank you for sharing your testimony! This was very interesting to read, and encouraging. I applaud you for evaluating Christianity and faith in God with a true heart and open mind. We need more of this critical thinking and honest open-mindedness in our World today. I simply shake my head when I hear Dawkins and some other high profile atheists knocking down strawmen or ranting about caricatures and stereotypes of Christians. That seems way too easy, and quite dishonest for “logical atheists so concerned about truth” Obviously, there are cases to be made for God having a huge hand in designing and creating this Universe, for Him instilling morals in humans, Him being a logical standard of good – hence humans knowing good and bad, Jesus Christ being a real person who walked planet Earth and lead a sinless life and did miracles and was raised from the dead – hence many Jews and persons in the early Middle East changing their lives forever and becoming disciples of Jesus and missionaries for His Word. Anyway, my personal experience with Christians and the church was always so positive that I could in no way deny it or dismiss it. Many years ago, I was an active drug addict and had to go to jail, and recovery programs. Praise God, I am clean now for 14 years, but the people who supported me and encouraged me and welcomed me in (even as I was swearing, angry and stupid at church) were Christians. They never judged me or gave up on me. Oddly enough, my old crackhead, stoner and party friends never even called or said one word of encouragement during my recovery…they were actually the ones condemning me in many cases, while they were still out doing the same behaviors and living the same lives without God. Cheers!

  3. One thing I find revealing and interesting about Richard Dawkins as a historian. He has, on a number of occasions to the best of my knowledge, compared Creationism and Christianity to the belief that the earth is flat, an indirect reference to the common idea that people in the past believed this.

    Yet historians have thoroughly refuted and debunked the idea that Medieval people believed in a flat earth, or that the church taught such a thing. So why does Mr Dawkins keep utilising a debunked and discredited myth to prove his point and present his argument?
    I have also noted that it seems to be people of his ilk who seem to be some of most vocal opponents of the efforts of historians (some of whom are atheists themselves) to consign this , and other myths about science and history to the dustbin of history they deserve to be in. Why should they want to keep pernicious and inaccurate myths alive- especially when they have more to do with history then science.

    The only reason I could think of is that these ideas are so fundamental to thier (mis)representations and prejudices against relgion and its adherents, that thier undermining threatens to discredit those who uphold the so called ‘conflict thesis’.

  4. Pingback: Blogging about faith: What do you want to read? | Matter Of Facts

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