When a person who once said that they were atheists becomes religious again it becomes almost news and those who are part of that particular religion like to use them as trophies. A person who once did not believe in a god or an afterlife has all of a sudden seen the light according to them and that shows that their belief system can attract even those that would otherwise remain “godless”. So what is it that makes a person go back into a religion after declaring themselves an atheist? Were they atheists at all or was it something different?
The number of atheists who decide to go back into a religion is very small. We know that because the number of people who are now calling themselves atheist or agnostic is higher than it was a year ago and a lot higher than it was a decade ago. There is a trend that points upwards for the number of non-believers in any religion. If the number of people who go back into a religion was anywhere near the number of those who abandon religion then the percentage of atheists and agnostics would stay the same.
In 2010 16% said that they had no religious affiliation, and by 2012 that number grew to just under 20%. Among self-declared atheists 55 percent are under the age of 35 which means younger people are more likely to declare themselves non-believers. Now it is important to note that “no religious affiliation” does not necessarily mean that they do not believe in a supreme being, but when looking at people who declare themselves atheists that number doubled in the last 5 years.
Different Degrees Of Non-Affiliation
When you separate the “no religious affiliation” group you will get different people and that is why the number is actually bigger than those who say that they are atheists. There are atheists who firmly believe that there is no god. There are also agnostics in the group some of which are pretty sure that there is no god, but are not willing to say that their position is absolute. That means that even if they are 99.99 certain that there is no god, they still leave a 0.01 open chance that there is one (that number could be higher or lower but closer to 100 percent than to 50 percent).
There are also agnostics who call themselves agnostics but that believe that there probably is a god, but they are not certain nor do they feel that they can prove it. Those people lean towards a supreme being or life force existing, but they leave the possibility that god doesn't exist open.
In the “no religious affiliation” group you also have some who are certain that god exists but who have left their church because of disagreements on how they see that personal god. They do not go to a church, but they still declare that they have no religious affiliation.
Personal Experiences To Go Back To Religion
It is very difficult to go from being an atheist to declaring that you are religious or that you truly believe in a personal deity. Most of those whose stories you read about have been agnostics and could have been in the group that was almost certain that there was no god. One of the examples that come to mind is neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote the book “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”. Because of his title a lot of people assume that he was once an atheist when he admits that “I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief” which sounds more like an agnostic than an atheist.
Dr. Alexander also says that “The brain is an astonishingly sophisticated but extremely delicate mechanism. Reduce the amount of oxygen it receives by the smallest amount and it will react. It was no big surprise that people who had undergone severe trauma would return from their experiences with strange stories. But that didn’t mean they had journeyed anywhere real” and yet he refuses to see that he went through the same thing even when other neurosurgeons explain that what he saw was the brain creating images, just like he already knows happens.
It is possible that the small numbers of people who decide to go back into a religious group after declaring their lack of belief are really going back because of peer pressure and their social circle of friends. When you first decide to tell the world that you do not believe in god you are exposing yourself to discrimination and rejection from people who once claimed they were close friends and even from your family. That is not always the case but if the people close to you are more extreme in their views then rejection is a very real possibility.
The fact that in some areas of the country being a non-believer is almost unheard of makes it a lot harder to stay that. A coworker once asked me to go to church with them and when I said that I was an atheist my statement got questioned for several weeks. The person could not believe that someone could live without believing in god. After they questioned my beliefs it was time to question morality and for a lot of people that is enough to say that they are believers even though they are not. Some people even accused me of worshiping the devil when obviously atheists do not believe in either.
The Lew Wallace Case
Reading articles you read about specific cases of people who have gone from being an atheist, to Christianity. One that called my attention was that of Lewis Wallace. I read recently about the author of “Ben-Hur a Tale of the Christ” that he went from atheism to Christianity. There is a big problem with that assessment, and that is the fact that Wallace was never an atheist. In his autobiography published after his death in 1907 he declared that “I was not in the least influenced by religious sentiment. I had no convictions about God or Christ. I neither believed nor disbelieved in them." The same information is available from the Lew Wallace Museum in Crawfordsville Indiana.
The case offers an example of instances when a lot of people will believe something that simply isn’t true about conversions. It is important to do research before making a claim so that you can stand on solid ground. The number of former believers that become atheists outnumbers by far the number of non-believers that go back to a religious group.