Why Born Agains Suck

Part I: What Causes It

Ever once in a while, you hear about some atheist or agnostic who suddenly "saw the light" and became a Christian. Depressing, huh? Whenever that happens, I wonder what could have made someone who seemed so stable suddenly switch around their whole world view. Here are some ideas:

A. They werenít real atheists to begin with. This is often my first impulse, but it certainly isnít a logical one. While I suppose a few ex-atheists had only left Christianity to rebel or something, most former atheists had once seemed totally rational, giving logical arguments against theism and everything.

B. Surrendering. While Christians do not give logical arguments, they have strength in numbers. Perhaps former atheists felt worn down just by the sheer number of people threatening them with hellfire and damnation, and decided they would rather cave in then continue undergoing such harassment.

C. Friendship. Joining a church means gaining a whole group of new friends automatically and almost unconditionally (the one condition being to give up your reason and free will.) In some communities the only source of recreation is with a church youth group.

D. Pressure from friends and family. Members of your family who do not accept your atheism probably feel they have license to pester you far more than a mere acquaintance could. If your close friends are strongly religious they may repudiate you unless you "discover Jesus." A significant other may have problems with dating someone of another religion and put pressure on you to switch sides.

E. Recovery. Atheists and non-practicing theists with drug and alcohol problems make excellent targets for Christians to convert. Alcoholics Anonymousí 12 step program involves recognizing the existence of a "higher power" and believing that it actively participates in your life and can help you. Many churches offer counseling in addition. Some recovering drug addicts are confused and probably cannot distinguish between a religious experience and an acid flashback. I find it particularly disturbing how many Christians seem to regard lack of religion as a worse problem than drug addiction, sometimes even speculating that lack of religious belief was the catalyst toward the problem. They get you to join their religion so you donít need drugs (This seems to me like just substituting one addiction for another. By the way, born-agains actually have more drug problems than the average population; Iíll get to that later.)

F. Recovery, Part 2. Many born-agains had once been non-practicing, nominal Christians, who had lived a pretty wild lifestyle involving way too much sex with the wrong people. When they realized that this lifestyle was destructive, they automatically decided they had to become Christians. It didnít occur to them that it is possible to be an atheist or agnostic (or member of many other religions other than Christianity) and not be immoral. Prostitute-customer Charlie Sheen and porno actor John Bobbit both became born-agains after realizing a promiscuous lifestyle was hurting them. (There is evidence that born-agains actually follow the traditional Judeo-Christian sexual morality less than the average of the population; more on that later.)

G. Homosexuality. Gay people are more likely to run into the uglier side of Christianity. The hatred and heterosexism present in Christianity may drive them toward atheism or agnosticism (or to a more tolerant religion.) However, societyís stigma toward homosexuality can still make gay people vulnerable. People who cannot come to terms with their homosexuality (or societyís perception of it) may turn to some lunatic preacher who claims God can "cure" them. There is a growing phenomenon of "ex-gay" ministries who actively try to convert gay people. They do this mostly by telling them homosexuality is wrong and evil, and by making them pray constantly. Many people claim to have changed sexual orientation this way, but they are just deceiving themselves.

H. A "religious experience." Some people have bizarre dreams and interpret them as a message from God to go back to church. This is illogical -- if you have a dream about walking around town naked, do you believe God wants you to do that? Some atheists have near-death experiences involving "seeing the light" and take this as a sign that God and heaven exist. However, most atheists know very well that hallucinations caused by lack of oxygen to the brain are very common. Anyone who says they had a religious experience and it made them find God was most likely just looking for an excuse to return to Christianity anyway, for one of the uses listed above.

Part II: What are the results?

A. Fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the harmful results of being born again. The vast majority of people who are born again do not become liberal or moderate, fairly rational Christians. They become lunatic right-wing fringe Christians, with all the accompanying sexism, homophobia, and disregard for the separation of church and state. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the "Moral Majority" (which is neither), is a born-again.

B. The problems of ex-gays. Churches trying to recruit homosexuals into heterosexuality would seem almost laughably ridiculous if it wasnít for all the harm they caused. Heterosexuality is unnatural for homosexuals, and most "ex-gays" feel conflicted all their lives, and many revert to homosexuality within a few years. Unfortunately, in the meantime they may have married and had kids, which means the family would be splintered because they thought they could be straight.

C. Deteriorating behavior. A study showed that only 4% of born-again Christians had driven drunk before being "saved," but 12% had driven drunk afterwards. 5% had used illegal drugs before salvation, 9% had done so afterwards. 2% had engaged in illicit sex before being born again, 5% after. ("Freethought Today" September 1991, pg. 12). At first this seemed incongruous. After all, hadnít so many people become saved after a drug or alcohol addiction? The only explanation I can come up with is that many born-agains realize that they are wrong and feel bad that they had caved in to the pressure to become Christians, and they have abused alcohol and drugs to fight the despair they feel. As for the increase in "illicit sex," I donít know. What counts as "illicit" sex anyway? Premarital sex, or adultery? Anal or oral sex that is illegal in many states under anti-sodomy laws? I cannot draw any conclusions on this, other than to say it shows that Christians do not have the monopoly on "moral behavior".

Part III: What can we do?

A. Be supportive. It is stressful being proselytized to all day, and some atheists crack under that pressure and backslide into Christianity. Stand by your friends, and be there for them, especially if they are having problems. If you arenít there for someone in their time of need, your can bet your soul that some fanatical Christian will be.

B. Donít let them slip. If you have a friend you fear may become born-again, step in with some of your best atheistic evangelism posthaste. You can tell if a non-theist is crumbling when they start going to church events and talking to proselytizing Christians. So just re-emphasize why itís important to be an atheist and how the sect courting him is insane. When someone is wavering they can probably be swayed back to atheism, but once they are on the other side they will be irrational and there will probably be no chance of winning them back.