"I used to be an atheist"
| The Atheist's Guide To|
|More about atheism|
I used to be an atheist is a trope, often used by religious apologists, that the speaker was an atheist before converting to their religion. The argument is that since they were once like you, the arguments or experiences that convinced them will likely convince you as well, and you should follow the same path that they took.
In essence, it is the friend argument, but made in reference towards your (former) self rather than a current friend.
Oftentimes when someone claims to have once been an atheist, it's pretty clear from their statements that their "atheism" was somewhat less than well grounded. Frequently they seem to define atheism as not attending church, using porn, lashing out at authority figures, or other things that their religion teaches are wrong but which aren't actually atheism, sometimes accompanied by a comment that "I did all that because I was angry at my pastor", or for bonus points, "because I didn't want to follow God's rules". Other times their commitment to the idea seems to have been rather shaky: teenage rebellion, abuse at the hands of a religious authority.
Oftentimes their "deconversion" seems to have come when they met someone who didn't trigger the same reaction from them ("I befriended a Christian who told me that Christians weren't all like that, that my abuser would be punished after death, and that I could be free of all this anger by embracing Jesus.).
The trope is almost as old as Christianity itself, with Paul playing up his (real or exaggerated) hatred and persecution of Christians before he himself converted.
The "I am the best at repenting because I used to be the biggest sinner" line of argument also crops up with Augustine who gives us the sob story that he converted to Christianity when he — despite being illiterate at the time — was commanded by an angel "Tolle! Lege!"[note 1] and pointed towards a bible, which he — miracle of miracles — read, devoured understood and which made him convert on the spot.
The similar tall tale of Muhammad is one of the cornerstones of Islam (though Muhammad never really claimed to have been a "heathen" or "atheist" prior to his chit-chat with the archangel, he did claim to have been illiterate prior to writing the Q'uran).
In more modern times, apologists like C.S. Lewis, Kirk Cameron, and Lee Strobel have used their conversion stories in their writings. It is also popular on Christian Websites, who try to convince others that their experiences (like near-death experiences) prove the existence of God.
- “I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”, Bob Seidensticker
- for some reason angels that just a few centuries earlier spoke fluent Aramaic were now fluent in Latin and just a few centuries hence, angels would be fluent in Arabic. Quite the polyglots, those messengers from the heavens.