My favorite musical artist Ben Folds has a song about a real life occurrence called “Not the Same.”
The story, as Ben has told it outside of the track, is that a friend of his climbed a tree on acid at a party one night, stayed up there a very long time, and when he came down, he was an Evangelical Christian. And he remained so ever onward.
“You took a trip and climbed a tree
At Robert Sledge’s party
And there you stayed ’till morning came
And you were not the same after that
You gave your life to Jesus Christ
And after all your friends went home
You came down, you looked around
And you were not the same after that”
But surely that’s not the only reason a non-believer might find themselves converting.
Let’s get a slightly wider range of perspectives on the experience from some former atheists of Reddit.
1. “A staunch, Dawkins-loving atheist.”
I was a staunch, Dawkins-loving atheist for my life up until the time I was 21. October 2012 and my mental health was descending into chaos, and it culminated in my girlfriend, who I was ready to propose to at the time, cheating on me and leaving me for someone else. It broke me completely, and I had a month where I was just in the worst possible headspace.
I had just started my second year of University, and although I had a good family, they were 3 hours away and I became pretty isolated. I was usually sitting in my room alone for days on end.
One evening my housemates managed to convince me to have a night out with them. I got extremely drunk and staggered back into my room in the early hours of the morning. I lay down on my bed and found myself contemplating suicide. Before my battle with mental health started, I thought I was extremely mentally tough and was extremely anti-suicide. I thought that no matter how bad things could get, I could never contemplate feeling suicidal. So for me to have those thoughts crawl through my head, it was like I had hit rock bottom. I closed my eyes expecting to drift off, and instead of black I saw what I now know to be an Orthodox Cross (☦) affixed in my mind, almost like it was burned on to the backs of my eyelids. I heard a voice in my head say “but they that wait on God shall renew their strength”, which is a Bible verse. And specifically a Bible verse from the Eastern Orthodox Bible.
Like I said before, I was a staunch atheist before this. I’d never read a Bible or any verses before. I had no concept of an Orthodox Cross, I’d never seen it before, I’d only see a traditional cross. I can say with absolute confidence that I had never read or seen either of those two things before. Yet that happened to me that night/morning. I struggled for a couple of years with what it meant, and if anything, became even more outwardly atheist, sort of like I was in denial of what I had experienced.
When I was around 24-25 I accepted that I had had a religious experience, and I’ve considered myself a Christian ever since. But my faith is mine alone, so I don’t often share it with people. Only very few people that I know in person know this story. I do enjoy sharing though.
Not particularly religious, but one thing that gave me a new respect for religion was an essay written by a close friend of mine. (Excuse me for butchering this, but) He basically showed how communities that integrate religion tend to be more “family-like”. I believe this has shown to help with closing the gap between sociological inequality. In other words, church provides opportunities for different classes of people to collaborate.
I also remember him being quite critical of mega-churches because it encourages a sprawling anti-social nature. When your church gets too big and too fancy it disconnects you from the human aspect of church and reinforces the growing ego-centric approach to religion that we often see.
3. “Way more meaningful.”
I was raised atheist and became a Christian at 19.
I met a group of people through friends who seemed genuinely to care about others. They volunteered with elderly and fed the homeless, but also the kind of people who would sit quietly with you while you’re going through a tough time. Or drop off food to someone grieving. Or buy a used van for a struggling single dad. I could write an essay on all the ways they helped me and other people for nothing in return except friendship – they didn’t even collect tithes at their church, encouraging people to donate their tithe to bigger initiatives that could help more people.
I was so impacted by the way they lived in service to others that I began exploring Christianity. The thought of being part of a group that tries to make others’ lives better seemed WAY more meaningful than how I had been living.
I learned about Christianity/God in an environment that encouraged hard questions, debate, studying for yourself and showing care for everyone. It disturbs me deeply that many people use Christianity as an excuse for doing terrible things.
4. “I will always have his back.”
I was on a years long depression and hopelessness spiral in my late 20’s that I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of. Decided I had nothing to lose by sincerely praying to God (and Jesus by extension), so I did.
Within days I had a renewed internal strength and motivation that coupled with some random things falling into place, helped me dig out of it and start moving to a much better place.
Now, I don’t give a sh*t that I’m generally very logical and a big believer in the scientific method, God had my back when I needed him even though I probably didn’t deserve it, so I will always have his.
I just take the stance that our understanding of him is still pretty primitive and science is a tool for understanding his works, not something at odds with it.
5. “He had also been praying.”
We struggled with infertility for a couple years. I was at my breaking point. I had tried every supplement, wives tale, even fertility crystals. We were of course consulting with doctors and taking meds. Trying to find it in our budget to pay for the expensive fertility treatments.
I decided I had nothing left to lose and I prayed. I told my husband the next day how dumb I felt for it… and he told me he had also been praying for pregnancy over the past few days. We went in for a fertility treatment and missed my ovulation by one day.. we were crushed. Until a few weeks later when I got a positive pregnancy test. Turns out we had conceived naturally that month, and saved the money on the expensive treatment.
To really seal my non-believer coffin, we learned we were pregnant with twins but in the process of miscarrying one. I prayed every single day for that baby to survive and I am currently in the hospital getting ready to deliver two healthy baby girls.
6. “A Milky Way.”
When I am stressed, I go to the vending machine and get a Milky Way candy bar.
Around the time this happened, I had been on a reading binge with philosophy and religion books for a while so the subject was fresh on my mind.
On a particularly stressful day, I went to go get my Milky Way. The machine was out of them and I was crestfallen. I got a Snickers instead, which is not quite as good.
I walked back to my desk thinking, the universe has no inherent order or meaning, there is nothing watching out for us or a great plan. Camus was right.
I sat down and opened it and took a bite, and it was a Milky Way, in a Snickers wrapper.
7. “Something we don’t understand.”
I had my fair share of Christian/catholic masses. I never paid attention nor did I really care.
Around 17/18, I decided to become atheist as I didnt think an actual God existed, no proven evidence or anything could be found.
The past couple years (22-24 years old), I have been thinking a lot more about the universe and such, kinda f*cks with my head a good bit as I try to pick it apart and I want an answer. But I decided I am agnostic. There is definitely something out there that we do not understand yet.
It’s not so much looking for religion as it is just accepting that something we don’t understand is going on, there definitely could be some higher being out there that created everything, I have no idea though.
Or we could all be in a simulation. we will probably never figure it out.
8. “Way too vivid and realistic.”
I wouldn’t say religion but I turned to spirituality after this experience. My mother died pretty unexpectedly and I was devastated. The same night I could only cry on the bed, no sleep possible. But then suddenly she was there beside me, and sat on the bed. I even felt her weight on the bed and side of my body as she leaned on my legs, rubbing them and comforting me. She told me she was okay and I told her I loved her over and over, trying to be sure she knew (I didn’t get to say goodbye) She told me she had to go and floated up and disappeared, and I just kept repeating i love you. The weight on the bed left at the same time and I kind of gasped and sat up.
Some people might think it was a dream but it was way too vivid and realistic. From then on I knew there was something more in life than what we can see or explain.
It changed everything.
9. “Go figure.”
A friend deliberately overdosed on heroin to attempt suicide in my bathroom. I didn’t have narcan, and she took a lot. I couldn’t get her to wake up. I tried to wake her and tried, and when I begged God out of desperation she opened her eyes.
That, and a number of weird coincidences that just started to get ridiculous and I decided to look at it more seriously.
After some time, here I am. Go figure.
10. “A pinpoint of light.”
I had a moment during the worst period of my life. It was a breakdown. And in that moment I had a vision or I went crazy or something. I had lost it but this moment brought me back from the brink.
My wife at the time had recently kicked me out and I was doing terribly in a hotel. At my lowest I was crying on the floor and something happened to me.
A pinpoint of light can let all of grace shine through.
I don’t know how to describe it but I became different instantly. Not exactly a believer but something like that. I still can’t explain it but I just feel there is something more, something bigger than myself. I’m grateful.
11. “Between paganism and general theism.”
I was raised a combination of jewish and pagan, and for a while I didn’t believe in a god as an act of rebellion. When I turned 20, my dad died and I hate to say it, but I became very interested in both sides of my religious background. I almost went to yeshiva and became a rabbi if not for my mom begging me not to because rabbis are just not really in demand.
I’m still very religious, but in a much more general way. My husband is a pagan and an aspiring Jewish convert, so I flit between paganism and general theism.
12. “I’ll be fine.”
I was an staunch atheist but I’ve since converted to believing in God or a God.
It helps with a lot of control or anxiety I feel knowing that one way or another, I’ll be fine.
At the end of the day, It was really the church that I have a problem with and how they dictate how my faith should be
13. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
I felt like God was seeking a relationship with me, despite years and years of purposefully avoiding God in any forms.
I was baptized a few years back and am super grateful.
It’s a beautiful thing.
14. “Lots of ways to connect with God.”
I wouldn’t say I was atheist. But I was pretty close. Didn’t believe in God. And definitely didn’t believe in Jesus or at least the way the Christian churches generally portray them.
Then I realized that god is just a word to describe something that humans can’t comprehend. And religion does it’s best to dumb it down for us simple minded humans. But what it’s really describing is something that is as real as the laws of physics. And many humans misused the word god and the word love and the word religion. A lot of times in a hateful way. But then I realized those people are further from “God” then most atheists are. Once I distanced myself from those people and that thought process I discovered “God” in a more intimate way than I thought possible.
There are lots of ways to connect with God. But what has worked best for me is being still and silent and doing my best to listen to the world around me without affecting it. Like when you go on a hike and find a nice place to sit and you don’t do anything in particular when you sit. Just sit, and observe, and feel the energy around you. And it can bring such powerful moments of peace of mind and bliss. That’s what brought me closer to “God”.
15. “The Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit plain and simple. But how do you explain that to someone who doesn’t have it? I know how it sounds, I was an atheist most of my life.
There is a day and night difference between living your life without the Holy Spirit, and living it with the Holy Spirit. I was a super anti-religion atheist, and I usually learned a bit about religion just to be able to better argue against it. I was watching a video by an arabic christian verbally defending his faith against a muslim preacher and that was the very moment, when the Holy Spirit came over me.
I suddenly knew that it was all true, I suddenly just knew it, it’s like you were blindfolded, and the blindfold was taken away from your eyes, you could now finally see. But I didn’t know that I was blind before.
It’s like trying to describe the colour red to a person born blind, who has never seen colour. Faith comes from god, and if god gives you faith (i.e. the holy spirit) you just know it. All of my thinking changed since then, and now I am a christian.
If you too want to have faith, you can get on your knees, and pray for god to give you the Holy Spirit. God said, that he will let himself be found by anyone trying to look for him.
Who knows what might happen to any of us that will leave us forever not the same.
Do you have a conversion/deconversion story?
Tell us in the comments.