Deathbed conversion

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A deathbed conversion is perhaps the most cynical and nihilistic aspect of some religions. It basically allows for a person to do whatever the fuck they want for their entire life up until the point where they are facing imminent demise. The person converts to whatever religion they think will send them up to Heaven and promptly croaks (or recovers and recants). Some religions implicitly encourage this sort of behavior by having reference to it in Bible, by formal clerical ministration of deathbed conversions, or by emphasizing faith over deeds:

  • In Christianity, the reference point is the passages of "The Good Thief" in the Gospel of Luke.[1][2]
  • In Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church, its importance is reflected in the last rites under extreme unction.
  • Mormons practice a post-deathbed conversion by baptizing Mormons' dead non-Mormon ancestors, as they're thought to remain in a purgatory-like state if they aren't baptized.[3] This is why Mormons have genealogy centers at all of their temples.
  • In Islam, reciting the Shahada (الشهادة‎)Wikipedia's W.svg in front of Muslim witnesses is sufficient. Shahid شهيد (martyrdom, including by suicide) is also a way to whitewash all of one's past deeds.

Some famous possible deathbed conversions: Allan MacNab,Wikipedia's W.svg Oscar Wilde, Wallace Stevens,Wikipedia's W.svg Charles II of EnglandWikipedia's W.svg and Jean de La Fontaine.Wikipedia's W.svg


One of the biggest propaganda victories in the book is being able to claim that someone famous for opposing your position has been converted to it. If you're an unscrupulous person, it's irrelevant whether your opponent actually converts, or if they simply die and thus become unable to expose you as a liar. For this reason, there are numerous examples of famous people being claimed to have converted on their deathbeds.

False rumors were spread that each of Thomas Paine,[4] Charles Darwin,[5] Carl Sagan,[6] Christopher Hitchens[7] and Stephen Hawking[8] had a deathbed conversion.

This is an occasional lying-for-Jesus tactic used by evangelicals to allege that the person in question didn't really mean all that rational stuff they did for their entire life. It is not limited to that, however; a famous non-religious example is Louis Pasteur purportedly renouncing germ theory on his deathbed, saying that "[Claude] Bernard was right; the microbe is nothing, the terrain [of the body] is everything."

It's often been observed, in relation to such alleged conversions, that even if the individual really did change their mind on some issue in the last minutes of their life, it's unlikely to actually matter. Darwin and Pasteur, as examples, both amassed significant and convincing bodies of evidence to support their respective theories during their lifetimes. The soundness of that evidence is what matters, not who does or does not accept its implications.

Even within the religions themselves, the quality of these conversions is considered "doubtful" since the individual has no way of showing if they were genuinely converted or simply going through the motions of doing so.[citation needed]


  1. Luke 23:39-43
  2. Are deathbed conversions real? by Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry
  3. A Twist on Posthumous Baptisms Leaves Jews Miffed at Mormon Rite (March 2, 2012) New York Times.
  4. Thomas Paine: The Apostle of Liberty. An Address Delivered In Chicago, January 29, 1916 by John E. Remsburg Project Gutenberg (1917).
  5. The Darwin Legend by James R. Moore (1994) ISBN 0801063183.
  6. Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan (1998). In the epilogue by his widow, Ann Druyan. ISBN 0345379187.