• Do ex-atheists exist?


    In a previous post, Do Christians exist?, I gave my thoughts on the issue of whether there is such a thing as an ex-Christian.  Many Christians say “No”, based on various Bible passages.  I think that’s silly, as I explain in that post.  But here I’d like to address a pet peeve I have against some of my fellow atheists…

    Some atheists reel in horror when a Christian describes him/herself as an “ex-atheist”. I’ve heard many an atheist respond by saying “you could never become a Christian if you were a real atheist”.  (For this post, I’ll ignore the fact that this reeks of the No True Scotsman fallacy.)

    In debates with theists, atheists are often told that “atheism is the belief that there are no gods”.  Many atheists (including myself) take exception to this definition.  While a person who believes there are no gods is certainly an atheist, most atheists I know tend to think of atheism as referring to a lack of belief in gods.  They are quick to point out that, for example, everybody is born an atheist, since babies do not have a belief in gods.

    Well, if that’s the case, then every single Christian (and Muslim, Mormon, Hindu) is an ex-atheist.  In fact, most of the people of the world are ex-atheists!

    Come on, guys.  Let’s be logical.  You can’t have it both ways…

    Category: AtheismTheism


    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Many apologists like to “spice up” their conversion stories from lukewarm irreligious people, making them out to be hardcore atheists.

      See this article on Iron Chariots, it’s possible that some people used to be atheists, but there are also many people like Lee Strobel that were always apathetic, and then converted for fairly poor logical reasons that are easily refuted, casting doubt on whether they were ever serious critical thinkers, or merely never had exposure to religion.

      Hitch hated the idea that when he was infirm or senile apologists would latch on in a moment of weakness, force him to say things he didn’t understand, then proclaim the tired old claim of “everyone really believes in god, atheists are just angry/rebellious”.


      • Oh yes, I definitely agree with that. Strobel is a classic case.

      • Thinkaroo

        Very true RF, people who lack a belief in god, especially those who do so merely by default, can of course, and do, become believers. You even hear cases from time to time like Leah Libresco, whose conversion has been well analysed by other atheists. If atheism is encountered as poorly thought out and religious arguments are not seriously refuted, an atheist may eventually conclude that religion is the best solution. On the other hand, an informed and considered atheist is an unlikely convert.

        Nick, that page is right to highlight the issue of what the person means by atheist – simply a lack of belief in a god or gods, the stronger position of a claim that there is no god, or common misuses of the word such as opposition to belief in a god (anti-theist) or hating God (misotheist). Also, some sort of differentiation seems to be required between those who lack belief in a god or gods by virtue of never having given it much thought versus those who have arrived at the position by careful consideration. I think in the context of “I used to be an atheist”, Christians often use the word hoping to communicate a stronger meaning than what they would defend if questioned on it (not unlike how they use the word “inerrancy”).

    • Sonny Moonie

      Atheism should mean a conscious philosophical position or belief system that includes a lack of belief in any god. If a person isn’t intellectually mature enough to articulate a philosophical position or describe a belief system, yet has a belief system and lacks belief in any god, then I guess that person is an atheist too after all. It’s just like a person can be a misanthropist or a philanthropist without knowing what those words mean or even being able to articulate an opinion about it.

      The self-described ex-atheist Christians that I’ve heard or read seem to me like though they may have been atheists in the sense of defending the idea that there can be a universe without a god, they were not strong atheists in the sense of finding the idea of a god to be illogical and inherently unbelievable. The reason I think so is the apologetics I’ve seen from them seem just like apologetics for converting members of other religions or denominations, and seem to avoid the subject of explaining how the idea of a god can make sense or be believable at all, which I expected was the very topic where some ex-atheist Christians would be likely to see themselves as having a “mission” or a “calling” if they really had been strong atheists.

    • Having been raised as a born-again evangelical by two former unbelievers, I can attest firsthand that they do in fact exist. My relatives can all testify, on this point, about the evangelical fervor of those who convert later in life.

    • John Huey

      I had a girlfriend that called herself an atheist. She was quite emphatic about it in fact. After a while, I figured out that she still believed that the Christian God existed and that there was an afterlife – what she rejected was the teachings and validity of the Catholic Church. For her, rejecting the Church meant that she was rejecting God and that was all that was required to be an atheist.

      • It all depends on the definition of “atheist”, doesn’t it. And I don’t know if I’d be happy to say that someone who actually believes in God is really an atheist 🙂

        • John Huey

          Well, to be precise, it’s about how you define the words “believes in”. For my girlfriend, she believed that God existed she just didn’t “believe in” Him to be able or willing to do anything – God existed, He was just feckless.

          However, I totally agree with you. She may have called herself an atheist but I would never have. Sometimes the ‘no true Scotsman’, really is not a ‘true Scotsman’.

          • Nerdsamwich

            So, what she actually converted to was Deism? Possibly even some kind of Miso-Deism, if that’s possible.