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"I used to be an atheist"
| Going One God Further|
|Articles to not believe in|
"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. This is fallacious because since the person making this argument now thinks differently than they once did, it is virtually impossible for them to reliably describe the way that they once were, due to the bias that the person now has that their current view is correct, and this often makes their opinion of their past, atheist self at least somewhat straw-manned.
Whenever someone claims to have once been an atheist, it is usually pretty clear from the statements they make that their "atheism" was somewhat less than well grounded. Frequently they seem to define atheism as actions like 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", "I refused to accept that I need God in my life", or for bonus points, "because I didn't want to follow God's rules". Other times their commitment to the idea appears to have been rather shaky: teenage rebellion (this is rarely the case), or abuse at the hands of a religious authority.
Oftentimes they claim that their "conversion" had come about upon meeting 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."). For obvious reasons, such a situation is very unlikely in most countries, where they would be more likely to encounter different types of people who are religious, since theists are currently the majority almost everywhere on the planet.
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. In his case though, he converted from Judaism, another religion.
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!" 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 basic cornerstones of Islam (though Muhammad never really claimed to have been a "heathen", "infidel", or "atheist" prior to his alleged chit-chat with the archangel Gabriel, he did, however, claim to have been illiterate prior to writing the Q'uran).
In more modern times, Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis, Kirk Cameron, and Lee Strobel have used their conversion stories in their writings. It also appears to be very popular on Christian websites, who try to convince others that their experiences (like near-death experiences) prove the existence of (the locally popular) God. In addition, they also seem to be very popular on anti-atheist websites, like the Freedom From Atheism Foundation, a
webshite website/Facebook page on which right-wing Christians whine about nonexistent injustices done to them by atheists and how all atheists are a bunch of little Joseph Stalin clones, in a fashion not unlike MGTOW and women.