To persuade people, one should use the tools Aristotle suggested of ethos (establish credibility), pathos (appeal to people’s emotions) and logos (apply logic). I have encountered many atheists who have applied Aristotle’s formulations to construct their “de-conversion” from Christianity stories. This intention of this blog is to deconstruct their stories based on a higher level understanding of the same three formulations.
Just as we have witnessed in some sitcoms and news broadcasts, most of the atheist de-conversion stories I have heard are rather predictable: they begin with the atheist claiming to have been a devout, sometimes fundamentalist Christian in an attempt to establish credibility with Christians (ethos). They follow with a tale of the pain they’ve unfairly endured based on a horrific event in their lives. This event is often tragic and worthy of much empathy, especially when it involves a death in the family. Through this event, they call on our emotions (pathos). Then they state that God did not answer their prayers, calling on the logic of those who believe God has not answered their prayers either (logos). A second approach using logos is to say they studied the Bible and (1) the stories of Yahweh in the Old Testament turned them off; (2) the claims about the Messiah cannot be true since they violate our natural laws; and (3) the claims from atheists / agnostics like Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Matt Dillahunty seem reasonable.
Atheists use Aristotle’s approach to justify themselves, not only to us, but to our Lord. Like the emperor with no clothes, some of them march among their peers in a cloud of pride and ignorance. Yet the Lord sees through them for who they are. He knows the hearts of all in humanity and can easily distinguish the unintentional from the intentional deceivers – just as a farmer could distinguish the wheat from the weeds. The Parables of the Lost Sheep, Prodigal Son, and Tares well explain these distinctions. Romans 1 further explicates that we are all hard wired with the knowledge of our Supreme Creator.
How should Christians respond to these de-conversion stories? We should offer our own conversion testimonies. The most powerful way that we have to share the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is through our testimony of how we determined the Good News to be the truth.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family, but by my twenties, most in my family decided to leave the church. I floundered about for two decades, bouncing from denomination to denomination – and occasionally studying up on the eastern faiths. Then I had a very dark spiritual experience that sent chills up my spine and made me realize that God is active, loving, merciful and powerful. He is both within this universe (immanent) and external to it (transcendent).
My son asked to go to church and we entered a Baptist church just outside of my neighborhood, where I felt overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. My life transformed and I was baptized for a second time. I started ambitiously seeking knowledge of the Lord.
Around that time, I found myself sitting next to a pastor on a plane who convinced me to read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Great Divorce. The books greatly inspired me, setting me on an upward trajectory towards the way, the truth, and the life. After many years of only having a tiny New Testament (and Psalms and Proverbs) in my home, I purchased several versions of the Bible for my family. We are all closer to God now – and life has become worth living. As C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”
Atheists who call on ethos, pathos, and logos to present their cases only see the naturalistic explanations for the events surrounding them. They fail to see the other half of the world – that which goes beyond this world. They fail to see that which inspires and calls on us to love, forgive and give thanks. Accordingly, their stories only appeal to our natural experience and fail to appeal to our spiritual sense. They therefore are not credible (ethos), logical (logos) or explanatory of our emotional connection to the Lord (pathos). In this way, they fail miserably.
Within each one of us lies a moral compass that is not explained by our evolution or natural world. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:8.
Thank you for your time.