Why I’m a better person now that I’m a Christian

November 19, 2007 | Atheism, Conversion | 32 comments

A reader writes in response to this post:

How sad to see that you abandoned reason for faith. would it not be even better if you started living your life as if it mattered in it’s own right and not just so that you could get into a special heavenly club. I think doing good for no other reason then such a selfish desire is despicable.

The Atheocracy had a similar take in response to this post, and various commenters have made statements along these lines throughout the history of this blog.

I see where they’re coming from. I too used to level those claims at Christians: when I heard people say things like, “I’m a better person since I found God, ” it struck me as selfish. Why not be a good person either way? Why does it take some “God” and perhaps the carrot stick of an eternal payoff to motivate you to do good things?

But now that I’m one of those people who bores others with my own talk of being a better person since becoming a Christian, I see statements like that in a different light. I have a new perspective that resulted from the conversion of heart that accompanied my intellectual conversion.

I think that I am a much better wife, mother, friend, daughter, and person than I used to be before I was religious (and word on the street is that my friends and family would agree). The reason for that isn’t as simple as wanting to go to heaven and avoid hell. In case anyone’s interested, I’ll explain what I think is responsible for the changes in my life, my actions, and my heart. I don’t speak for all Christians (or atheists) here, this is just my personal perspective:

What’s right and wrong is very clear now
I tried to be a good person when I was an atheist. I generally attempted to do what was right and not to do what was wrong. The problem was, there was a lot of gray area there. For example, I believed that it was right to be kind to others. It seemed like a pretty clear, straightforward rule. It only took a few spats with friends or disagreements with classmates, however, for “be kind to others” to sort of drift into “be kind to others unless they’re total schmucks.” There was a fine, blurry line between justifiable and unjustifiable rudeness, and it tended to move depending on the extent to which my pride had been wounded.

That’s just one example, but there are countless matters on which the distinction between right and wrong was not clear in all circumstances, and the discernment of where to draw the line was clouded by my unparalleled selfishness and laziness. As I wrote about in more detail here, some deep instinct told me that such a thing is true right and true wrong did exist — independent of each person’s subjective experience and opinions — and when I read about what God supposedly is and what he supposedly wants from us as laid out in the Catholic Catechism, it smacked of truth. I believed that the details of what’s right and what’s wrong as laid out Catholic doctrine were an articulation of the natural law that’s written on the human heart, that comes from a source outside of the material world.

So, even early on in the conversion process when I didn’t “feel” God or have super strong beliefs, simply having such a clear description of what’s right and what’s wrong really aided my efforts to “do the right thing”, and helped me keep myself in check when I was tempted to tell myself a story about why some bad thing I was doing was not actually bad at all.

It is about heaven…sort of
I do want to go to heaven. Unfortunately, I am not spiritually mature enough to really conceive of what exactly heaven is. I know that to be “in heaven” is to be with God in some way, and that God is the source of perfectly pure love, joy, and goodness. I know that to be “in hell” is to be separated from God for eternity. One certainly sounds better than the other. But these concepts — “heaven, ” “hell, ” “eternity” — are still vague enough in my mind that they don’t motivate me on a gut level. So while I know on an intellectual level that I want to go to heaven and stay out of hell, I have never avoided doing something bad because of the thought, “If I do that I might go to hell!”

There is a very big motivator, however, that is related to the concept of heaven: I don’t want to reject God. In the past few years I have slowly (very slowly) begun to recognize and feel God’s love more and more in my soul. I’ve come to believe the Christian claim that God not only loves each of us, but is the ultimate source of love. When I turn away from him by doing something unkind or selfish — even a relatively small act or thought — I realize now that it is a tragic rejection of love itself.


Something within me has fundamentally changed
Back in college a professor asked us to come up our personal motto, a short phrase that summarized our outlook on life. With a smirk I realized that the best I could come up with was, “People suck.”

Even going back to early childhood, a salient characteristic of my personality was the ease with which I became irritated with the people around me. Though I was usually empathetic to people in difficult situations and was mostly nice to friends and family members, I did not have any kind of fundamental love for “other people” as a general concept — and I certainly did not feel (or show) love for my enemies. I once counseled a friend who’d been hurt that “forgiveness is for suckers, ” I firmly held on to grudges, openly criticized anyone and everyone who I found annoying, and amused myself with thoughts of getting revenge on people who had wronged me.

But then, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a Christian: ever so slowly, I stopped being so irritated with the people around me. In fact, I started to feel love for them.

As I wrote about here, I never intended for this to happen. Once I thought that God might exist and Christianity might be true I started going through the motions of praying and occasionally going to church, just to see if anything would happen. I was kind of hoping that maybe God would give me some cool sign like he did with Constantine or that I’d have some awesome vision that explained all the mysteries of life or something. To my slight disappointment, none of that happened.

What I didn’t see at the time, however, is that something much bigger was happening. A blazing symbol in the sky or a mysterious vision I could have written off as perhaps having to do with that second glass of wine or just not getting enough sleep at night. But what God did instead, though a much slower process, is far more convincing, and far more powerful: he fundamentally changed my heart.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one day I woke up and realized that I had a love for my fellow human beings that didn’t used to be there. I never thought that things like cynicism, biting sarcasm, and criticism of others were wrong, and I never intended to change those areas of my personality…yet I found that the longer I was involved in Christianity the less room there was in my heart for them. They were slowly edged out by profound peace, joy, and love.

Now that I’m a Christian, I work hard at becoming a better person — being kind to others, helping people in need, forgiving those who have wronged me, putting others first — not out of eagerness for an eternal payoff, but out of love.

I have help
Until recently I never understood the concept of “grace”. I’d heard people throw around the term but never really knew what it meant. It was when I began contemplating how much life had changed since getting involved in Christianity, how different my actions and even my thoughts were, that I realized: I cannot do this. I cannot be patient with that one family member, sincerely wish the best for that person who insulted me, or sacrifice something I desire for the benefit of someone who won’t even appreciate it. That’s just not me.

It was when I realized this that the concept of God’s grace clicked with me. Truly, it is only by a power outside of myself, by grace, that any of this has happened.

To be clear, I don’t meant to imply in any way that I am some perfectly selfless, loving, giving person now that I’m a Christian — I am FAR from it. I’m also not saying that you have to be a Christian to be a good person. My point is only that I am a better person than I used to be, and I’m a whole lot more motivated than I used to be to continue to improve. Not out of a desire for a payoff, but out of love.

32 Comments

  1. Suzanne

    Thank you for writing this blog, it is thoughtful, considered, and reflects my own journey to Catholism.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Kristen Laurence

    This is a beautiful response. You have a marvelous approach to the Faith, guided by faith itself along with reason and charity.

    Always so inspiring to come here!

  3. Mary Nappi

    In my own spiritual journey and current life, I think the “I have help” point is so important. It is easy to want to be good, to want to do the right thing, to want to be a better mother, wife, friend. It is hard to do that. I know I need help. I know that I cannot do it on my own. I need the help of God’s grace and of a supportive Christian community.

  4. Kathy

    What lovely points! Another perspective might be: I gauge an action not by whether it might send me to Heaven or Hell, but whether or not God would want me to do it. Why does that matter? Because I love Him.

  5. Christian

    I read that comment in your earlier post and actually found it funny. It seemed to me that the commentor was making an assumption – your post never implied that’s why you believe – and thus a logical fallacy, all in the name of reason. I think any reasonable atheist who is honest with himself has to respect you. Though they would disagree with you, they should respect just how reasonable you are in your posts. I’m certainly impressed not only by your reasonability, but by your honesty and love.

    Oh, and I think your old motto might have a grain of truth. When I read that part of your post I tried to make my own motto and got, “God is good.” Then I immediately revised it to, “God is good – I’m not.” Of course, we should always look at what’s good in people and always love them, but to be honest with myself, I think humanity as a whole really does kinda suck. Sadly.

  6. Jenny

    That deep, slow change of heart is just as dramatic and profoundly humbling, because it’s not readily demonstrable to anyone else. It’s easy to point to an “aha” moment of faith and insight into the truth of the gospel, it’s another thing to accept with patience and humility His will in your daily life… but this is the real conversion experience. And then one day you wake up and everything is different, and you can’t exactly explain when it all changed, but it has.

  7. Tony

    The fact that most atheists I meet are moral people is one of the greatest indications of the existence of God that I know of.

    It proves to me that the “law of God is written on the human heart”. How else could a being who is the product of evolution, dragging himself out of the “primordial soup” surviving as the “fittest” to rise to the top of the food chain could behave in a moral manner toward any other creature indicates to me that there is something else at work here.

    This is why people like Christopher Hitchens are so nasty and angry all of the time. They are living with the knowledge of the law of God on their heart, they are living it for the most part, but are refusing to acknowledge the author.

  8. Father Schnippel

    What a perfect post, thanks for sharing.

  9. Roz

    It seems to me that atheists frequently run to the “you do good things in order to earn your way to heaven – how lame!” position without a lot of data to support it. When faith is not seen to be an option, then it would be natural to attribute the nearest motive that you can lay hands on. Fair enough, but inaccurate in most cases.

    In fact, I don’t “get” faith in order to earn a reward. I have faith for two reasons that worked in combination with one another:

    (1) I examined the evidence. Rigorous scientific examination has documented numerous miracles. The internal evidence in the Biblical writings strongly supports the reality of Jesus’ resurrection — the Roman occupiers and the Jewish leadership were highly motivated to squelch the resurrection story but never were able to produce a body nor did they present any public disputation of the story of the events, the disciples themselves were shaken by the events down to their socks and experienced radical change into strong voices at the moment they would have been expected to skulk out of town, etc. Even I myself have seen things that don’t admit to natural explanation, though I’m reluctant to tag them as “miraculous”. These all deserve more reasoned consideration than “How ridiculous! We all know things like that can’t happen.”

    (2) God gave me the willingness and capacity to move into faith. Although reason presents grounds for being intellectually convinced, faith is relational. I don’t love my husband because he contributes to the family income — I love him because he is himself and there’s a connection between us that is irreducible to scientific detection. Same with faith in God.

    So the fruit of being a Christian doesn’t consist of decorative candied cherries that we tie to our branches to earn a 10.0 from the celestial judges. It’s fruit. It organically grows because of the food and water that is in the soil where I’m planted. Thankfully, it’s fruit that improves my relationship with other people, increases my inclination to be generous with the poor, and makes me willing to undergo hardship out of love. I don’t have to do these things except insofar as God’s will asks me to do them and I want to obey him. I get to do them because I can, and God is gradually changing my priorities so I am grateful to do them.

  10. La gallina

    You have no idea how much I learn from your insights. Absolutely amazing every time. Thank you.

  11. DG

    “This is why people like Christopher Hitchens are so nasty and angry all of the time. They are living with the knowledge of the law of God on their heart, they are living it for the most part, but are refusing to acknowledge the author.”

    Tony, wow.

  12. Kerry

    A lovely and well-expressed response! I so enjoy your blog and look forward to each post. Thanks for laying yourself bare so that others might learn alongside of you.

    in Him,
    Kerry

  13. lyrl

    Thanks for this explanation, Jen. You had talked about pieces of this in other posts, but it is really insightful to read about this aspect of the changes in your life. What a blessing Catholicism has worked through you.

  14. Courageous Grace

    I agree with dg in response to Tony’s comment. Wow. I even posted on the topic on my blog. How amazing that we can see God’s work in those who claim to despise Him.

  15. James

    I agree that people, even genuinely already good people, can become better people by believing in God. The answer is simple to me, it is as St. Auggie said: “Our hearts were made for Thee oh Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.” It is only in God that we finally find our place and everything becomes so much more than it ever could have been before.

    Now I will be honest and say that I have never been an atheist so I cannot say what it is like to not believe in God; but I am a sinner so I know what it is like to not conform my will to His. My life has truly become more enriched the more I strive to live according to His will. While I fail many times it is the knowledge and experience of God’s love that gives me the strength to continue.

    It is odd that now, at the time when I most strive to obey God, and partially because of it, I am faced with the most trying experience of my life. I think that before now I could not have handled such a trial. Only by the grace of God can I meet betrayal with forgiveness and prayer for those who wrong me. Had I been similarly challenged even a couple of years ago the outcome would not have been the same. I only hope that I can maintain my fidelity to God and continue to forgive others as He has forgiven me because I would not want to be the sort of man who would act otherwise.

    Just one quick question/point. You write “heaven” and “hell,” I’ve always capitalized Heaven and Hell, because they are real, proper places, even if they exist outside of this time/material universe. Is there a reason that you don’t or am I just a freak?

    James G

  16. Jennifer F.

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Just one quick question/point. You write “heaven” and “hell,” I’ve always capitalized Heaven and Hell, because they are real, proper places, even if they exist outside of this time/material universe. Is there a reason that you don’t or am I just a freak?

    I’d actually never thought about it much either way. I guess because I thought of them as concepts more than concrete places I didn’t capitalize them. But you bring up a good point, and I probably will in the future.

  17. Oryx Orange

    I have a question for you, Jenny. Are there not two general steps from being an Atheist to being a Christian? My experience with the limited number of “reformed atheists” walking around out there, is that it is one step to believing in the existence of some divine presence, God, and another, significantly larger step, to accepting one of the dominant systems of religious thought, such as Christianity. Was this your experience?

  18. Abigail

    Well crafted post. Inspiring thoughts & inspiring writing!

  19. LSK49rs

    Well thought out response, my sister in the Faith!
    It can be very difficult to explain to non-believers, but the joy of being Catholic means we have been handed a 2000 year old spiritual tradition that demands the use of both faith and reason. JPII said it best when he described them as two wings of the dove…with only one wing, the dove cannot fly.

  20. The Wife of an Addict

    Jen,

    This post reminds me of something my pastor said a few Sundays ago. It immediately struck me as profound, yet extremely simple, and I’ve been walking around with it ever since.

    “Non-Christians think that Christians can’t do anything, ‘You have so many rules, you guys can’t do ANYTHING’ they say. ‘No’ we should answer back, ‘I can do anything I want to do. I am completely free. You can’t do anything. You are a slave to sin, as I once was. You can’t choose to be righteous. I can choose to do anything I want, but I choose to honor my King.'”

    I think that sums it up for me.

    Sarah

  21. Tienne

    Jen, as always, I’m humbled and amazed by your posts. Thank you.

  22. sophie

    Jennifer,
    I just found your blog late last night while googling “former atheist.”

    As a former atheist who is struggling with her belief in God, it is such a relief to know there are kindred spirits out there–people who believe that there is a God and even are orthodox Catholic but have not had to abandon reason.

    My atheist/agnostic/anti-religion friends don’t think that such a thing is possible. Religious belief is a psychological aberration, but surely not something for the truly serious, the truly literate person.

    It’s been a lonely road for me, and I am still filled with much doubt and questions. It’s not something I can discuss with anyone (this is actually the first time discussing it so frankly, and it’s online and anonymous) because I have experienced rejection due to my “belief” which has hurt me deeply.

    And yet, I cannot help but be compelled. And when I do, I wonder, “Is it the ‘Holy Spirit’ or a psychological disorder?”

    (I don’t mean that to offend, I am not saying those who believe are psychologically ill – these are just the thoughts that come into my mind. Forgive me – I’m not being very eloquent here.)

    I have been compelled toward the Catholic faith. I was raised in an evangelical home but fell away with much antagonism toward the church during my high school years. But while living apart from my family, through seemingly unconnected events (?) I have found the Catholic faith and was even “secretly” attending Mass by myself three times a week. (Not participating in the Eucharist, of course.)

    The one stumbling block I have right now regarding the Catholic Church is the recent sex scandals. It hurts and confuses and angers me that a Church that is so beautiful and has so much to offer philosophically, artistically, etc., could allow this to happen.

    I understand all the justifications – that the rate of this abuse is equal to the rate of sexual abuse in other institutions. However, what is the justification for the cover-up?

    This is an honest question. It’s a deeply personal stumbling block for me, and I don’t know how I can just ignore this.

    However, I appreciate the Church and have a secret place in my heart for it.

    Just some ramblings from a twenty-something, reluctant theist. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  23. Jennifer F.

    Sophie –

    Thank you for your comment. I can relate to so much of your story. I’m swamped today so I’ll need a day or two to get back to you with a proper response to your question about the scandal, but I’ll leave one soon. Also, feel free to email me any time.

  24. Oryx Orange

    Sophie, you should be commended for such an open account of your spiritual journey. I’m sure you will find, as many others have, that the mere articulation of both the rewards and the obstacles of that journey will start you on a path where the obstacles become less and less prominent.

    My view on your question about the presence of unfathomable sin in the Catholic church, or any particular faith, is that, just because the Church exists to provide its members a relationship with God, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all of its members, or even its officials, are any better at managing that relationship than any of us are at managing important relationships in our lives. Like any relationship, one with God may have moments of doubt, guilt, betrayal, and hurt. What makes these bearable in any relationship worth having is the all-important existence in the relationship of love, through which forgiveness (of the betrayer) and empathy (for the victim) can hopefully produce healing. If love, and the source of that love, have this power, it is something for which a person would likely need to endure some hardship to appreciate.

  25. sophie

    Thank you jenn f and oryx orange for responding. Wasn’t sure if anyone would because I know this is a post from a few months ago.

    I understand that the Church is made up of fallible human beings and that bad, sometimes horrible things have been done within the Church and in the Church’s name throughout Her history.

    However, the coverup is what is the stumbling block. It seems to me that the bishops and the Church hierarchy were more concerned with protecting their own and protecting the reputation of the Church than the children entrusted to them.

    What is the Church’s answer to this behavior? This is an honest, not rhetorical, question.

    Also, I know that earlier in the history of the Church, celibacy was not a requirement for the priesthood. The Orthodox Church’s priesthood is not celibate. (I’m exploring the Orthodox Church as well, although the Unity of the Catholic Church is compelling.)

    In the end, I know it’s not what I think is best for me, but what is true. Religion seems meaningless if it’s something someone chooses merely because it’s attractive or validates one’s life. Something as crucial as believing and living as as though there is a God is no small issue. At least, not to me. And I venture to say, not for anyone reading this blog.

    I don’t know any serious Catholics; the only Catholics I ever knew were people who were born, raised, and are no longer, often with very negative feelings regarding the Chruch. If I were to join the Catholic church, many of my friends wouldn’t understand, think I was a homophobic conservative, and shun me. (I’m an artist and many of my friends are homosexual and make lifestyle choices and political choices that are not in line with the Church.) Like I said, it’s happened before. When I was baptized as a Christian (Protestant) several years ago, the man I loved left me for that specific reason. (He is an atheist.)

    And when I do try to go to church (Protestant), it’s hard for me to find people I can relate to.

    In the end, I know that this is nothing compared to the suffering church across the world, and surely, a little social ostracism is hardly a cross to bear.

    For the last few days, I’ve decided to do what Jennifer, the writer of the blog, decided to do when she was going through her journey. I’ve decided to live AS IF God exists and see where it takes me. I’m taking up Pascal’s wager. I prayed to God, and quieted that voice in my head calling me an idiot and a delusional (again, I mean no offense…). I’m going to live as if God exists and see where God takes my life.

    Maybe you’re wondering how someone who decided to be baptized could still have doubts. I know. My lack of faith is… well, I guess it’s a sin.

    It feels nice to be able to communicate to people about this. Thank you for reading… it means a lot to me. I really don’t know how I got to this place, but if there IS a God, maybe it’s a minor miracle. All I know is, that through the last few years, which were some of the most tumultuous of my life for many reasons, my faith in a Higher Power has given me a peace I never knew.

    sophie

  26. Jennifer F.

    Sophie –

    I’m blown away by your wisdom and humility. I’m going to leave a second comment addressing your second points, but I emailed a friend (who is more articulate than I) with your question about the scandals and wanted to post her response in case it’s helpful to you. She writes:

    ————————-

    My quick thoughts — The Church as an institution is the Bride of Christ, and He promised that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that everyone in the Church is a sinner, and that some Catholics do downright evil things. One of the appalling things about the scandals is that they were covered up not just by some guys calling themselves Catholic, but by members of the hierarchy.

    Of course all groups have bad hats in their midst, but the reason that the scandals in the Church were so, well, scandalous is that they stand in direct opposition to what the Church teaches and believes. Therefore, it’s easy to believe that either the entire hierarchy is corrupt or that the Church itself is just oppressive bunk. And it’s true that one of the chiefest witnesses to the truth of Catholicism is the lives of Catholics. There’s a verse in the New Testament that says something to the effect of “They will know you are Christians by your love”, and another verse in the gospels where Jesus warns that if anyone gives scandal to these little ones, it would be better if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck. Harsh words, but, as the fallout from the scandal suggests, not too strong. To destroy someone’s faith by your actions is a terrible thing.

    Also, I think two things that added to the tendency towards cover-up in the Church in particular were probably:

    1) People assuring themselves that, “It’s better for people not to know about this, because it might threaten their faith.” How very human to assure yourself that covering up things that don’t do you credit is somehow to the best for everyone.

    2) I think in some cases some basically good and naive clergy either failed to be suspicious enough of others, or were too quick to believe that someone had “reformed” because they made the mistake of thinking “we’re all Catholic here — we must all be basically good people.”

    Both of which serve to underline the, “Because the Church on Earth is made up of very human people with very human failings” point.

    On the other hand, the Church has a large body of teachings and beliefs that lay out exactly what she is [I recommend this version of the Catechism — really easy to read. Catholicism for Dummies is also surprisingly good, and answers a lot of common questions. -JF]. Anyone who is truly interested can easily learn that the behavior of those involved in the scandals was contrary to, and condemned by, the tenets of Catholicism, and it’s wrongheaded to claim that the institutional Church is irreparably corrupt when it’s historically verifiable that many Catholics have suffered and died defending the Church’s teachings on purity (saints for our own times are the martyrs of Uganda: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=35).

    For someone who is wanting to learn more about Catholicism, the best thing is to do just that: examine Catholicism based on what it claims to be and what it teaches, and ask: is this true?

    The wrong actions of some Catholics doesn’t make Catholicism untrue, just as the good actions of some Communists don’t make Communism a correct system. I personally think that the witness of Catholics who live their faith (Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II) shines so brightly that it has to be accounted for, if good and bad behaviors are going to be tallied.

    ——————–

    I hope that answer might be of help.

  27. Jennifer F.

    Sophie –

    OK, now to the second part of your comment. Your story sounds *very* similar to mine. Though I was very lucky that I was married to a nominal (nonpracticing) Christian when I first began to look into the idea of God, all of my friends were atheists. Though I did have my husband for support (which is huge, to be sure) I had zero other support from friends and family. I couldn’t talk about it to anyone I knew. (Hence the blog).

    My lack of faith is… well, I guess it’s a sin.

    I think you might enjoy reading the comments to this post. It was a big turning point for me, where my readers basically pointed out that faith is an action more than it is a feeling. Up until relatively recently I *felt* very little in terms of faith, and I frequently felt doubtful that God even existed. I’m pretty sure that that’s not a sin — I mean, after all, surely God knows that we can’t make ourselves believe something we don’t. But by simply doing what you’re doing, and what I did, by opening your heart and honestly pursuing objective truth, I think that that is really a beautiful act of faith.

    I’m an artist and many of my friends are homosexual and make lifestyle choices and political choices that are not in line with the Church.

    I can relate to so much of what you said, particularly this. Many of my friends are gay — and not just distant acquaintances, but some really, really close friends. When I first started exploring Christianity I was so worried about what this would mean (mainly in terms of what it would mean for me becoming a Christian, because I simply could not believe that a religion was true if it said that gay people are bad).

    This was one of the areas in which Catholic teaching really resonated with me. Check out this post where I summarized why (I’d post it here but it’s kind of a long story).

    Just a few weeks ago my husband and the kids and I went to a Christmas party at the house of a gay friend of ours. It was actually one of the coolest moments since I’ve become a Catholic. It was so good to see everyone, and all our friends were actually just curious about our conversion. I think it was obvious that we didn’t think they were these evil people or something by virtue of the fact that we were there and having such a good time. Oddly, there was a sense of camaraderie, maybe because as practicing Catholics we’re now pushed to the fringes of society so they felt like we could finally relate. Anyway, if anything, I think my gay friends like me better since I’ve become Catholic, because I’m a lot nicer and more loving. 🙂

    I’ve decided to live AS IF God exists and see where it takes me.

    This is so impressive.

    One tip I would recommend: I’ve found that the search for God is directly intertwined with the search for humility. The more I got serious about striving to be more humble in every area of life, the closer I got to God.

    It feels nice to be able to communicate to people about this.

    You can probably guess that I would suggest this, but have you ever considered starting a blog? For those of us who have little or no support in our personal lives, I think that blogs can be an excellent source of support and help remind you that you are not the only person on the face of the planet who is open to the possibility that God might exist. It’s not for everyone, though.

    BTW, I was actually going to put together a list of books that were very helpful to me in the conversion process. Is that something that would be interesting to you? If so I’ll speed up the process on that post.

    Anyway, God bless you, Sophie. Email me any time, and feel free to keep commenting, asking questions, or whatever.

  28. sophie

    Jenn,
    Thanks so much for your kind, empathetic words! I think it can be easy to feel like a freak sometimes, going at this alone. It’s nice to know that I am NOT alone, and that there are other people out there who have been through this, too, and have become better people because of it.

    I’ve done a lot of thinking about the sex scandals over the last few days. And of course, a religion, a belief system, should be judged at least partly by its “fruit.”

    But have you noticed how so many atheists, those who are anti-religion atheists who attack religion, specifically Christianity, use as their first line of attack the wrongdoings and hypocrisies of those who profess the faith?

    In my atheist days, I would read Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell, and although these are brilliant men, I always found their understanding of religion and Christianity in particular very shallow. They equated Christian faith with the sort of childish understanding a fourth grader in Sunday School might have. I was raised in a very religious home and have read the Bible and wanted to read people who supported my atheist beliefs, but even though I tried, I couldn’t agree with their arguments–they didn’t satisfy me as an atheist.

    Most of their arguments centered around the misbehavior of Christians. Shouldn’t Christians be more moral and loving than the average unbeliever, they’d ask. And then they would show how Christians throughout history weren’t, citing Galileo’s excommunication, the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.

    They have a point. But let us not get into the atrocities of atheism, which far exceed anything ever done in ANY religion’s name. Mao? Stalin? Have we already forgotten? How about the human rights abuses going on in China and North Korea now?

    Knowing all this, I found their arguments unsatisfying. Maybe this was the beginning of my journey, I don’t know. So maybe Christopher Hitchens is leading people to God–in a way. The dialogue of the existence or nonexistence of God gets people to think about the issue, and thinking about the issue independently of regurgitating popular rhetoric, I think will, in the end, lead to the belief in the possibility of a Higher Power of some sort.

    But maybe that’s me being arrogant in thinking my conclusion is the correct one.

    And what of the good that Christianity has done? I think that we in the Western world take Christianity for granted. I was born in Asia and those who were the first Catholics in my native Korea, for instance, believed in the value of each human being, which completely went against the established Confucian beliefs of caste and hierarchy. The Western/modern concept of human rights would not exist if there wasn’t an initial belief in a God who gave us those inalienable rights.

    The concept of human rights is now, thankfully, taken for granted by much of the world. And that, the belief in the fundamental worth and value of every human being, came from Judeo-Christian ethics. Buddhism does not have this. Westerners think it does, but I think a lot of Westerners’ understanding of Buddhism is quite shallow. It’s difference is a bit of a novelty to many.

    I am not disrespecting serious practitioners of Buddhism. But I would guess most Americans don’t know that Buddhists have waged war, and I’ve seen on TV monks in Asia fighting and killing each other in power struggles. I don’t think a lot of Westerners know that. It is like any other religion in that it preaches peace, but peace is difficult for imperfect human beings to achieve.

    I think the concepts of community and charity in Christianity have changed the world, as well. Of course, there have been the negative impacts of colonialism and imperialism, but still, to this day, the nations who help other nations the most in times of crisis are the Western nations with traditionally Christian cultures.

    So I thought of all these things. And you’re right. The good that the Church has done surely outweighs the bad (if we’re going to measure things in that way). And even if there are “bad people” who are Christian, the ultimate test of a system of belief should be the system itself. Just as you said.

    Last night, in the spirit of belief and faith, I started a 54 day Rosary Novena. One of the things that I have been called to pray for was my friend, the atheist man.

    You could say he’s the one who led me even closer to Christ, and led me to Catholicism. It’s a long story, so I won’t bore you. But let’s just say that his pain and anger and sorrow in his life is what led me to go to Mass three times a week, just to pray for him, even though he had left me.

    I know that he is someone who is running from God. I’m sure you understand what I mean by this. He wants God, but doesn’t want God. He was the one who questioned me constantly about my faith, even though I was reluctant to talk about it. He couldn’t believe someone like me, (an artist, liberal, well-read, “normal”, etc. — I know, horrible, right??) could ever possibly be a Christian. Fine, have a religion- be Buddhist or Jewish or even Muslim, but surely not a Christian!!

    I know now that his questions are because he was curious, and maybe his curiosity was God knocking at the door to his heart.

    I don’t know. I don’t know if all my praying ever does any good… but I’m going to act as if it does. Faith is action, right?

    So I’m dedicating my novena to him and to other people like him who are asking questions. I hope that he and others will have good people come into their lives who will be examples and advocates of what Christianity really is.

    I’m afraid I wasn’t a very good one while I was in his life. But now I know I can pray.

    Thank you, Jenn, for everything. And maybe I will have a blog about all of this.

    I’m going to South America soon to shoot a documentary. This is a big step in my life with many risks and potential pitfalls, but somehow I know that no matter what, God is everywhere and He will not lead me astray, so long as I trust Him. What a gift it is to know this. How blessed we truly are.

    Your friend,
    Sophie

    PS Any book recommendations you have, please pass them on to me. I would really appreciate that. Yes, I have read Catholicism for Dummies – what a great book!

  29. Jennifer F.

    Sophie – your last comment has so much fascinating stuff in it that I’m going to wait to reply until I have some time to really think about it. Just wanted to let you know I got it and will respond as soon as I’m able! Thank you for sharing such interesting thoughts!

  30. Oryx Orange

    I agree with Jennifer, Sophie. You are an insightful and engaging writer. You should be blogging…

  31. Jennifer F.

    Sophie –

    I keep not getting to the book recommendation post. Hopefully I can do that this week. In the meantime, here are some quick book recommendations off the top of my head:

    The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
    The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
    By What Authority? by Mark Shea
    Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

    I HIGHLY recommend all of those.

    Also, if you want an amazing story of following God’s will, even when it’s mundane, even when it’s incredibly challenging, one of my favorite books of all time is He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek. Personally, I don’t think I would have been ready for that book when I was an atheist since it talks about belief in God as a given, but it sounds like you’re far more advanced that I was. 🙂

    Also, how is the Rosary novena going?

    But let’s just say that his pain and anger and sorrow in his life is what led me to go to Mass three times a week, just to pray for him, even though he had left me. I know that he is someone who is running from God. I’m sure you understand what I mean by this.

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I recently heard someone described as “being angry at God for not existing,” and I do know people like that. In fact, one of my dearest family members (who I probably shouldn’t name by name in this public forum) is exactly like that. It’s so painful to watch, and I pray for him often.

    When are you going to South America? I’ll pray for you to have a safe trip. It sounds like so much fun! Also, you should visit some Catholic churches while you’re there. My Mexican friends tell me that the Catholic churches in Mexico and South America are just beautiful (I’ve visited down there but unfortunately was not religious at the time so I missed that entire aspect of the culture — ugh).

    Thank you again for your interesting, thought-provoking comments.

  32. Jennifer F.

    Sophie – I finally posted that book list here. Hope all is well!

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