During my college years, I had a long struggle with my faith. At many times and for extended periods, I felt that I’d had none. Other times, I attempted to regain it despite my repeated inability to do so. Through it all, I wrestled, knowing that the living faith of my youth was powerful and meaningful yet without an ability to translate it into a new world on my own and outside my home.

Oddly, perhaps, it was through reading Albert Camus, C.S. Lewis, and then more Albert Camus (a French existentialist writer and an atheist) that brought me back to faith.Christianity Today has just published my account of Camus’s influence on me, bringing me back to the faith. It begins:

I became a Christian again during my last year of college. After years of wrestling with God and doubting his existence, I had an intense, spiritual epiphany that seemed to change my life instantly. The following day, though it sounds hokey to say so, the grass looked greener, the sky bluer. Ordering coffee that day from a complete stranger, I nearly burst into tears. This is another child of God! I thought to myself. What a shame I’m handing her cash instead of praising God with her.

That moment was unlike any I’ve ever since experienced. Suddenly, and without words, I knew that God had said to me, I AM. Nothing more, just I AM. With those words, God told me that he cared enough about me to reveal just this little bit about himself. I AM. It answered none of my questions and gave no explanation for God’s five-year absence in my life. But those words were enough. I could say with Peter, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

There were a number of people through whom God worked before that revelation. Yet the biggest influence on my spiritual journey was the novels and philosophy of Albert Camus, a French existentialist of the 1940s and ’50s—and an atheist. C. S. Lewis warned, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” Camus should have been safe territory for me, but as I like to say now, I was saved by an atheist. Read the whole thing at Christianity Today’s website.


5 thoughts on “Saved by an Atheist

  1. Am I completely missing the point if I find the line about “if someone’s not there when you need them, you don’t need them” to be an insightful commentary on human relationships?

  2. Hi Rob, I read your recent piece in Chrisitanity Today because someone posted it on my wall in Facebook. I noticed that you mentioned friends “wandering from the faith.” When I was a Christian several of my own friends left the fold, one after studying Christian mysticism and then eastern mysticism, another left the fold after studying the Bible and obtaining a master’s in theology. After years of trying to get them both to return to conservative Evangelical beliefs, I myself left those beliefs behind. See, If It Wasn’t for Agnosticism, I Wouldn’t Know What to Believe!

    I also noted that you mentioned “the grass appeared greener.” There is a testimony in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists in which Will Bagley reports having that same experience soon after “converting.” Today he’s a mystic, no longer “Christian.”

    I also see that we have a friend in common, Timothy Larsen at Wheaton. We’ve discussed matters related to “conversion” over the years (his book being a sort of counterpoint to the work I edited, Leaving the Fold, mentioned above), including some of his intuitions concerning “final things.”

    Lastly, I wanted to share with you a book list that I think all Christians seeking to understand the Bible ought to consider reading, at least in order to understand the state of biblical scholarship (both inside and outside Evangelicalism) and all of the questions that have arisen concerning the Bible.

  3. Hi Edward, I’m looking forward to reading your piece. I can’t say I’ll get to all the books on your list, but I’ll certainly have a look.
    While I was ready to leave the faith–I stopped practicing for all practical purposes but never made the mental choice to disbelieve–I found Camus a refreshing read. He honestly sought truth. He couldn’t have faith, but he never opposed it–though he certainly opposed specific beliefs. And he turned an equally ferocious gaze at plenty of non-Christians who failed to be as earnest and open-minded to seeking truth and goodness as he was.
    I think he was one of the few people who could see clearly with his mind aside from the feeling of his heart. I think most of us fall short and chose with our hearts and justify the choice with our heads. That’s why, in most cases I’m familiar with, leaving the faith seems to begin with some sort of pain, disappointment, hurt, failure, and the church, the faith, or God doesn’t act to heal the wound. I am hopeful that this cultural discussion about atheism doesn’t just excite the apologists but it spurs some self-examination on the part of churches and christian leaders.
    All the best,

  4. Well put. With one exception. When you spoke above about the “mental choice to disbelieve,” such a phrase doesn’t ring true for me. For me it was a natural process not involving a conscious or deliberate rejection. In fact one of the earliest and most momentous moments in my journey was the night I acknowledged that love, wisdom and humor of the most genuine and even divine sort existed in many non-Evangelical and non-Christian people I knew.

  5. Very interesting and well written article. But I have to say, I think the author commits the cardinal sin that many atheists themselves are often accused of: simplifying the beliefs of the opposing side. By chalking up de-conversions to a pain and suffering that cannot be quenched by the church, the author portrays poor atheists as being lost in the world with no one to answer their questions. In my experience, at least, this is not the case. Most atheists/agnostics I have encountered are not agonizing over the fate of their soul or quibbling over theological talking points as to the existence of a god. Most have simply adopted a more scientific view of the universe and gone on with their lives. The use of pop psychology to characterize non-believers as suffering souls can be easily turned on believers by implying that something in their emotional makeup causes them to cling to fantastic ideas about heaven and the big eye in the sky. I know, I’ve used those arguments in the past and now regret it, because they are invariably patronizing arguments.

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