A reader with the grandiose name of Zaklog the Great calls me to the witness stand. He asks:
When you were an atheist yourself, did you consider Christians in particular your enemies, or was Christianity merely one (comically wrong) religion among many? If Christians in particular were the problem, why so?
Second, having heard the story of how you became a Christian a few times, I have a question which may be unanswerable, or just silly. If not, however, it may be interesting. Once you had offered your pro forma prayer, had a heart attack, been healed by prayer and had the visions, do you believe you had a choice as to whether to become a Christian, or had the moment of choice been passed? Do you think it was possible, having experienced all of that, to have chosen otherwise?
Like I said, I’m aware that that last question may not have a meaningful answer. You chose as you did, and that may be all the answer we can have.
I am happy to answer. But you may not be happy with my answer, since I will say both yes and no. There is an old saying ‘go not to philosophers for counsel, for they will ask you to define your terms.’ Or we are subtle and quick to anger. Or something.
So, on the one hand, the answer is yes:
When I was an atheist, I was an asupernaturalist, which means, I did not believe in anything supernatural, parapsychological, or supernal. (I was not, however, a materialist, because I was not prone to whatever insanity it is that makes a man pretend he is a meat robot, or a poached egg.) So gods, ghosts, witchcrafts, and (aside from stage magic) magic or miracles of any kind I dismissed on the grounds of the metaphysical incoherence of asserting that supernature could exist if nature existed.
After all, no matter what it is, a supernatural realm or being would by philosophical necessity be governed by its laws of nature. A supernatural realm or being would have a ‘nature’ because it had a definition. If a thing is what it is, and is not what it is not, it is defined; and whatever principle defines it, that principle is its nature.
Since I was convince nothing supernatural could possibly exist, I was convinced no gods (defined as supernatural beings) could possibly exist.
So, I was an equal opportunity atheist. On a rational level, I disbelieved in gods as much as I disbelieved in God, and for the same reasons.
Indeed, this got me in trouble with at least once with one of my fellow atheists. I was too fair-minded. Because I disbelieved in Christianity just as much as paganism, in a book starring the pagan gods, I threw in some Christian mythology as well, treating it with no more and no less respect than the other.
Pardon the digression while I talk about my writing. It is the perennial danger of talking to writers.
In my fantasy novel, ORPHANS OF CHAOS, I had my character the warlock boy Quentin Nemo believe in and talk to ghosts and gods and demons and so on, because it was a fantasy. He was unable to enter a church and his dark and airy familiar spirits could not approach the sound of a churchbell, because that is part of the legends and lore of witches. He also, since he was a pious witch and believes in ghosts and knew better than to meddle with them, went to the trouble of burying the corpses of some murder victims, and, being raised as a High Church Anglican, he knew the words to the Compline.
There is also a scene where Amelia Windrose, who (because of her paradigm of the universe had to be an agnostic, rather than an atheist like Victor) in desperation said a prayer, noticed and odd energy reaction in a higher dimension, as if somehow someone was listening and had answered.
And yet again, in a book where all the Olympian gods are real, I had to have some character, raised on Earth, ask about Jehovah. Was he one of their species or not? Just another sky god like Zeus? In my first draft, I said he was, but that did not sit right with my magic system, which basically requires the gods to act as a group to stave off Chaos. I could not make Jehovah a Chaoticist, nor could I make him younger than Chaos without making him a son of Saturn gone mad or something, so I decided to treat him as something mysterious, something the gods were not sure what to make of.
Then I came a across a charming folk tale about an Irish saint telling a mermaid who craved baptism that mermaids did not have souls, and that she was just as likely to be baptized as the dead wood of the staff in his hand to bloom. Immediately the wood burst into leaves and flowers to the astonishment of the saint, who baptized her.
Now, I (being an atheist) saw nothing particularly offensive in the story, because, to me, it is was no different than the parallel story of Buddha preaching to a Naga (a water dragon) and bringing the monster to achieve the enlightenment of an arhat. I also thought it would be cute, and show the absurdity of the Christian religion, if my mermaid, a siren named Thelxipeia, was a member of a Gnostic or Donatists sect (I the time, I did not know the difference) which had been wiped out in the Fourth or Fifth Century, and was the single and sole one left, she thinking that she alone practiced the true version of Christianity and that the entire earth was heretical. (I have since in real life talked to a Mormon who had a remarkably similar belief).
Well, bizarrely enough, at least one of my fellow atheists reviewed the book and came to the conclusion that I was writing pro-Christian apologetic!
You see, because I only went out of my way to sneer at Christianity in the scene where Colin fights the garden hose, or one or two other places, and did not make my burning hatred of Christianity a centerpiece and core of my book, the critic missed it, and came to exactly the opposite of the right conclusion.
That should tell you a clue about Christianity. I was treating it, in my fairminded atheism, as if it were no more and no less controversial than any other superstition or religion. I actually believed it was no different. But my fellow atheists act as if Christianity is supreme, and that one either had to be one hundred percent against it or one hundred percent for it.
(I should mention my strong suspicion that my fellow atheist learned far to the Left. The simplicity of thinking everything is either all black or all white is not in their mental toolbox. There is no such thing as admiring the artwork of the Bible or of a Cathedral while not believing in God. One can admire the Koran and disbelieve in Allah, but all things touched by Christianity, even the way we date our calendar, is so hateful it must be despised with total and absolute despite.)
On the other hand, the answer is no:
I was willing to admit that I could not prove Thor or Zeus did not exist. Unlike the benevolent yet omnipotent yet God of Saint Thomas Aquinas who permitted evil to exist in His universe and indeed created it to happen that way, there was nothing innately illogical about pagan gods. However, if I ever encountered one, I would regard it as a natural and not a supernatural being, a creature with immense powers, perhaps, but no different in the moral sense, that is, making no innate demand on the loyalty of mankind, than a Martian of H.G. Wells. So my disbelief in the God of Thomas was more than my disbelief in the gods of Homer because Thomas made a bolder claim.
But that I have told you is but half the tale, because while that was my intellectual stance, my heart was fully opposed to Christianity but favorable toward paganism. When I looked at paganism, I saw Aristotle and Plato and Euclid and Thucydides, the fathers of philosophy and geometry and history. When I looked at Christianity, I saw the Spanish Inquisition, and I believed that old chestnut about Christians hating, opposing and discouraging science (or, rather, SCIENCE!!) which I saw as man’s only hope of salvation. When I spoke to Christians, I was immensely frustrated, because they seemed to have an answer for every question, but the answers were all illogical. It was a superstition, but one which had grown into a world-embracing and world-absorbing system, a trap into which, once one fell, there was no escape. Intellect was no help to escape: I knew too many intelligent Christians.
And everything that stood between me and my most base and perverse desires, sexual and otherwise, was embodied in the Christian message. Zeus never said adultery was bad; Mars never told me it was wrong to carry off Sabine Women; nor did one-eyed Odin, who subsists only on mead that maddens the senses, ever call it was wrong to cleave the skulls of my enemies and drink their brain and blood like soup.
Paganism is dead. The neopagans are not likely to resurrect it — pardon me, they do not believe in the resurrection — the neopagans are not likely to reincarnate it. There are probably more people who believe in UFOs than believe Hecate’s consort is Cernunnos, or the Green Man. Buddhism never once inspired a social change: it is a passive religion of utmost despair. Mohamedanism is barbaric, and can only destroy, not create, and despite the absurd pretensions and outright lies of the Left, the Islamic barbarians never invented anything, not even the zero. Toaism and Confucianism are philosophies with ritualized and mystical overtones, and do not have any power to change society, and hence no power to impose any restrictions on any atheist soul.
Communism, which even then I regarded as a cultic religion no different from the worship of Moloch, or, more to the point, the Cargo Cult of the Melanesians, I also regarded as my enemy, but even in my youth I saw that it was destroying itself and apt to die — although I was surprised as anyone that this happened in my lifetime. All my CoDominium future history books by Jerry Pournelle in the twinkling of an eye turned into alternate future history. But my nation was not Communist, my culture was not seeped in it, nor did Communism have any history old enough to make any impression on my thinking. Everything less than 150 years old, such as female suffrage, I regard as a temporary fad and unlikely to last. Communism is a fad; but Christianity was not a fad.
So it was my archenemy, my only real enemy. I never blasphemed Thor or Zeus, but I blasphemed and mocked God and Christ as often as I could.
As for your second question, you answered it yourself. It was like falling in love. When you fall in love, there is no sensation of choice or decision or debate unless part of your soul is not convinced. Debate and the sensation of decision happen only when you halfway decide and halfway resist. On topics were there is no scintilla of temptation, there is no decision, because the topic never comes up. Likewise on topics were every single brain cell assents to the proposition, there is no need for debate, no need for a vote, no need even for unanimous acclamation, and so the moment of decision passes unawares.
However, once in love, one is faced with the decision whether to be faithful, that is, honest or not. No amount of visions, miracles, or infusions of the Holy Spirit make it logically possible to doubt the obvious. A solipsist doubts the obvious every day, and a materialist denies the obvious each and every time he thinks and acts — and yet solipsists and materialists exist.
However, since I was never a conformist, the attempts by the Lefty atheists, who did not honestly disbelieve in God for good reasons, but merely hate God because He reminds them of their Fathers whom they fear and hate, the pathetic attempts of herd thinking collectivist atheists to shame me into returning to their herd fill me not with temptation but total disgust. The intelligent atheists are very far and few between, and none of them has given me and argument even as strong as the arguments I once gave on a routine basis. Indeed, the atheist I admire most for the clarity of his thinking (and its similarity to my own) has since been convinced to kneel and pray to God for the gift of faith. I pray for him daily.
Is my answer clear? The decision in the lower court was made without a trial, instantly, supernaturally, with no discussion or debate. I have since spoken to many an atheist online, and seen the rapid degeneration of their ability to form their thoughts into a coherent argument. None has given an argument sufficient to bring the case to an Appeals Court for review. But as a logical possibility, no matter what the evidence in the lower court, and Appellate Court always makes a decision, even if the decision is not to revisit the case.