Today I found a link to a New Statesman article from April 2009 which I had completely missed, by A.N. Wilson, “Why I believe again.” Thanks to Studium et Liturgica for the link, and apologies to any who feel it’s way old news, but please indulge me in some observations about Wilson’s rediscovery of faith after 20 years as a convinced atheist.
First, I appreciate the way he notices the differences between his conversion from and his conversion back to Christianity. His conversion to atheism, he admits, had been like a Damascus Road experience, and yet he notes in retrospect that just such a rush of sudden decision had been very unlike him:
“By nature a doubting Thomas, I should have distrusted the symptoms when I underwent a “conversion experience”… Something was happening which was out of character – the inner glow of complete certainty, the heady sense of being at one with the great tide of fellow non-believers.
“For months, I walked on air… For the first time in my 38 years I was at one with my own generation. I had become like one of the Billy Grahamites, only in reverse. If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens, I did not have to feel out on a limb.”
Meanwhile, Wilson’s return to faith in God has been accompanied by just the kind of doubting and slow probing which make his reconversion, he thinks, all the more a genuine expression of his true ‘doubting Thomas’ nature – effecting a change which he feels is irreversible.
And isn’t it interesting that Wilson passed over the line into atheism just after publishing a biography of C.S. Lewis? I love such counter-intuitive anecdotes (I sometimes find Lewis overbearing, even unbearable, but love him for the good I also find).
Wilson describes a public discussion of Lewis’s work in which he hauls the great apologist up for blame – but we get the usual litany of gripes after all:
“I can remember almost yelling that reading C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity made me a non-believer – not just in Lewis’s version of Christianity, but in Christianity itself. On that occasion, I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world
And I loved this intimate scene with Hitchens from Wilson’s early atheist days:
Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world.”
The whole article is worth a look.