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Growing Out of Atheism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Author’s Note: Dr. Adams will be speaking at Duquesne University on November 6th at 6:30 pm in 104 College Hall. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the present column. Please continue reading.

Hey, man! It was great to spend time with you in Houston last weekend. It was a real honor to be the keynote speaker at the annual fund-raiser for Texas Right to Life. They are a real class act and I thought they put together one spectacular event. It was really something else to be able to speak in front of my parents, my First Grade teacher, and my oldest friend in the universe (I mean oldest friendship as I don’t mean to imply you’re old which would mean I’m old, too).

I must tell you, though, that our conversation after the banquet was the highlight of the whole trip. During the conversation I was most struck by three of your statements; namely, that you were learning to let go of your anger, that you were reading the Book of Luke, and that you’re now taking a Bible study class at the church your dad attended before his unexpected death. In other words, you’re doing what I did just a few years ago: You’re growing up and out of atheism and embarking on an important intellectual journey.

You gave some indication Friday night that you have some remorse about how your past anger has hurt other people and interfered with your relationships. You seemed most concerned about how your unresolved religious issues may have caused you to lash out at others – mostly with the women you’ve dated and even in your relationship with your current girlfriend. I have a few insights that I hope will help you feel a little better about this and will help you focus on doing the NRT. By that, I mean forgetting about the past and simply doing the Next Right Thing.

Any outbursts of anger you may have displayed during your prolonged battle with God probably pale in comparison with the ones I displayed during my days as a hardened and outspoken atheist. It didn’t help that during that time I badly abused alcohol and used drugs that were intended to fill a gap in my life caused by my rejection of God.

Regardless, I am still having to apologize to people I hurt during that period of my life. But I don’t dwell on it because I understand the origins of that anger. It’s all about separation from God. And once we have the courage to step away from atheism - or the intellectually weaker position of agnosticism - the anger just disappears. (Note that the agnostic is literally confessing, as I did for nine years, to be an “ignoramus” regarding the existence of God).

I think anger is one of the reasons people get trapped in atheism or agnosticism. The anger becomes so intense that they lose the ability to discuss religion with more intellectually centered believers. They often become so embittered that they won’t even read anything that challenges their views on theological matters.

I am now encountering that problem with an atheist professor at UNC-Wilmington. He has a pile of books on his desk by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and other atheists who think like he thinks. He won’t attend lectures or read books I recommend that provide a different perspective. I have to approach the topic carefully in order to avoid stirring his fiery temper. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most outspoken atheist I know has less control over his emotions than anyone I know.

But I think most former atheists and former agnostics also find that there is another emotion, which sort of disappears once a solid, intellectually based belief in God takes hold in their lives. That emotion is fear.

The man who used to be my most outspoken atheist colleague (he is now retired) provides a good example of what I’m talking about. His decision to adopt atheism had nothing to do with honest intellectual reflection. He simply had a horrible relationship with his father and he took it out on God. The consequence of this was a level of emotional insecurity that made him simply impossibly to deal with. He was constantly plagued by indecisiveness and anxiety.

Whenever I would get frustrated with him I would remember my days as an atheist and a bit of sympathy would set in. My life without God was an anxiety driven life. My life with God is a purpose driven life. It isn’t just a cliché.

You noted previously that you had been plagued by fear and anxiety throughout your life – as long as you could remember you once told me. But, now that you have made a decision to step towards God, some great things are happening to you. You are talking about buying your first house. You are talking about marrying your girlfriend. For the first time, you are speaking with a real degree of confidence about your plans for the future.

Yesterday, I sent you a short video of an interview with Dr. Gary Habermas called “The Death and Resurrection of Debbie.” The video really reminds me a lot of your dear mother’s passing in 2005. I know that was the beginning of a very dark few years for you. If you weren’t angry after watching her slow painful death from lung cancer then I don’t think you would qualify as human. Anyone would feel both profound anger and sadness.

But isn’t it amazing to look at the chain of events set off by her death? It was amazing that your father and his second wife were there with her so close to the end of her life – although your mom and dad had been divorced for sixteen years. And who would have known that seeing her pain would send your dad on a spiritual journey that would result in his conversion to Christianity in just six months.

Your dad’s unexpected death six months later was simply devastating to you. But many of us knew that God had a great purpose in mind. Like the Apostle Paul and Jesus, your father’s greatest accomplishments would come in those last few months of his life as an evangelist for God. When I wrote about his conversion experience just a few months after his death, people from Tennessee all the way to Australia would eventually write back to me saying that his story led to their own conversions.

Probably the best part of it all is that Frank Turek - the co-author of the book that your dad said influenced him most in his conversion – and I have now become friends. And, of course, it was your father’s death that brought us together.

Now, we’ve been working together to bring more of his “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” seminars to college campuses. I’m convinced that people convert to Christianity after every one of those seminars. I sure it’ll be no different after the next one at UNC-Wilmington on November 10th.

When you mother died such a painful death in 2005 you were probably most angered by the fact that she died in so much pain and so much agony. You wondered why it was really necessary for things to end that way. You wondered how such a thing could ever have a purpose.

Now that your anger is beginning to fade you are about to see that Christianity – and only Christianity - can explain how the suffering of one can bring about the salvation of many. Soon you will become an evangelist, not lukewarm but on fire like your father’s heroes in the Book of Acts. And every day of your life will be spent bringing honor and purpose to your parents who will forever live through your bold and courageous witness.

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