(Another) Former Atheist Embraces Faith

The world of Christian news has been buzzing lately with news that Rich Suplita, Professor of Psychology for University of Georgia and former sponsor for the campus’ atheist club UGAtheists, has renounced atheism and embraced the Christian faith.

Suplita isn’t the first atheist turned Christian to be used as fodder by the evangelical camp; Anthony Flew, Lee Strobel, and others are all well known as “former atheists” that saw the “light” – nor will he be the last. These types of conversions excite the evangelical community around me, they think that seeing a man like me return to faith for whatever reason will eventually break whatever barrier they believe prevents me from being a believer. I pay attention to why people believe though, and Rich’s stated reasons fall short of reasonable.

Rich has admitted that the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was a fear of raising his children with the idea that life and existence were meaningless. Just like there are bad reasons for rejecting Christianity, I believe this to be a bad reason for embracing it and one rooted in fear and the faith his parents forced him into. Dr. Suplita, by my estimation, fears the harsh reality that his once scientific point of view maintained and he doesn’t want to raise his children without the warmth of a god and the promise of something more eternal. I’m not a parent so I’d be remiss to judge this man because of those fears but I’m not sure that any amount of fear and confusion can justify dropping one’s cognitive and logical defenses in favor of embracing faith. I know that not having a belief in any god or any afterlife seems like a cold and dark place when compared to the idea of eternity in the presence of a great and wonderful god – but these conveniences don’t make the Christian story any more true. The fact remains that belief in god cannot be substantiated outside of faith, when held to scientific scrutiny it will fail again and again.

William Hamby, the Examiner for Atlanta Atheism, recently had an interview with Dr. Suplita in which he explained that he had endured a childhood under a strict sect of Christianity where fears are often used to manipulate the minds of young people – I know how powerful childhood indoctrination can be and I know that the things that a child is forced to believe often resurface and have negative effects throughout life and I suspect that to some degree these same fears are driving Rich’s new sense of faith. Fear, I believe, is the root of this and that makes me incredibly sad.

It quite literally pains me to think about how it must feel when these things resurface, I think I’ve dealt with the brunt of what I’m going to face as far as emotionally ravaging leftovers from my faith go – but Rich is now having to face some of those same deep seated ideas. I know he claims that this faith is different from the faith of his parents, but the root theological questions involved are the same; purpose, destiny, eternity, and your place in the universe. This new faith merely answers the troubles he has on a surface level but it doesn’t offer truth as much as it does comfort. Rich has something that is easier for him to stomach and I suspect that his training in the Psychology field has made it evident to him that he’s allowed his emotion to trump his cognition.

I wish that Rich would use his undeniable experience in addition to the scientific method to examine what is happening in his life right now and I hope that he does it before he becomes even more emotionally invested in faith. I want  him to see his cognitive dissonance, his confirmation bias, and to recognize any psychosomatic effects his beliefs are now having on him.

I hope that Rich is well and happy and I hope that if he ends up losing his faith that it doesn’t hurt the way it did for me. I hope that he knows that it gets better and that he allows his children the freedom to think outside of his chosen faith.

I hope I’ve not taken too many assumptive liberties here or put any words in Dr. Suplita’s mouth – if I  have I hope that he’ll let me know. I’m simply making observations from the information I’ve been able to find.

If Rich reads this, I hope you will email me if you’d like to discuss anything I’ve written here or if you just need someone to talk to that has been in a similar situation.

Question. Everything.

  • angietheantitheist

    As an atheist parent, I would like to let Dr. Suplita or anyone else fearful of raising their children with a cold, harsh life of atheism, that this has not been my experience. While I relied heavily on the love I believed I was getting from my god as a child, my son has loving earthly parents to rely on. He smiles, laughs, giggles, hugs and kisses us on a daily basis. He does not need me to lie to him about the nature of the world to feel okay.

    • Thanks Angie, do you happen to have any good articles on atheist parenting that I could put in this post and perhaps direct Rich to?

  • Josh Foreman

    "emotion to trump his cognition."

    Where do you think cognition comes from? It does not exist apart from emotion and visa-versa. Even if it did it would not allow you to compose a world view of any kind including atheism. World views and all higher thinking require an ordering of values about the objects being considered, and since no object has intrinsic value it has to be placed extrinsically upon it, imposed by the emotions of the observer.

    I know what you meant by your statement and don't actually disagree. Just wanted to point out a technical issue with the way you worded it.

  • Jolex41

    That was a personal choose, but if he is like me and continues looking at the world rationality and objectively, wile embracing faith… he is gonna suffer as I did.

  • Matt Oxley said: "Just like there are bad reasons for rejecting Christianity, I believe this to be a bad reason for embracing it"

    Ergo there must be good reasons to embrace it, if you claim there are bad reasons for embracing it. Re-read what you said, see that your "soft christianity" has let that little "slip", slip out, then tell me the good reasons for embracing "Christianity"…

    No backpedaling, no trying to spin your way out of it, just man-up, and answer the question you backed yourself into the corner with.

    • Evidence would be a good place to start…then again – you've got none of that.

      There potentially could be reasons, I've yet to find them…

      • No! You must retract everything you said….! strike out "Just like there are bad reasons for rejecting Christianity, I believe this to be a bad reason for embracing it" or answer the question. Your slapping science in the face by spinning out of it! Bad reasons cannot exist unless you have good reasons to have measured them with, to see if they meet the criteria for being "good reasons", then they are rejected, and made "bad reasons"… One or the other pally…

        • saying there are bad reasons for something doesn't actually mean that there are also good reasons for something. Your conclusion to that fact is faulty.Empirical Evidence is about the only “good” reason I believe I could find to accept your faith, IF that exists then you are right – good reasons exist, if they don't then there only exist bad reasons as far as I'm concerned.

          • Spin? Well there went your credibility… Too bad.

          • Caprise

            I believe your question was answered with "evidence."

            "What would be a good reason to embrace Christianity?"
            "Evidence."

            How is that not an answer?

    • Jim Gaines

      Not at all. Some choices can be justified with both good and bad reasons, some only good reasons, and some only bad reasons. The existence of one type of reason does not guarantee the existence of the other.

  • fossilsshowus

    I too am a parent, and of younger ones at that (10, 7, and 5). And I too was raised in faith but learned to reject it outright. As a parent, I teach my young ones critical thinking skills and the idea of evidence based belief over that which results from what everyone else is claiming is true. My experience is that parental love and nurturing makes for happy, content children, not faith. I simply tell my children why Mommy and Daddy don't believe in God: because there is zero evidence for it and plenty against it. I explain that for most of our friends and extended family, a belief in God and an afterlife gives them comfort, but is not the way life really is. I tell them that to beleive or not is a personal matter, but should be based on the evidence and not a reliance on what makes them feel good, or what everyone else is saying is true. To date, my children appear to be perfectly comfortable and happy with this. And it gives me a sense of "comfort" to know that they will go through life having the skills to evaluate claims critically, and not have to overcome a child's lifetime of indoctrination first, like my wife and I had to.

    • The General

      @ fossilsshowus, that's is almost to a 'T' the way my wife and I raised our two boys. They are both now (and have always been) well-adjusted 24 and 21 year olds.

  • MrPogle

    Teach your children how to think, not what to think.
    Teach them what is believed, not what to believe.

  • Daniel Silverman

    I hate to say it – and I might be overstepping a bit here – but I have yet to meet a person involved in psychology that is not quite a bit in need of their own medicine, so to speak. And, no, I am not saying that psychology is not needed. Not in the least. What I am saying is that it appears that many get involved in psychology because they see the need. And one reason they see the need is because they are intimately familiar with the need themselves (they have been abused, they suffer from ADHD, they suffer from depression, etc). As a result, it does not surprise me that Dr. Suplita would make an irrational decision out of fear and cling to this decision in order to help him feel better (about raising his kids?).

  • Elizabeth

    As Matt knows, My SO and I have differing opinions on religion but the one thing we agree on is that life can have meaning outside of religion. There are many ways you can find meaning including the profession you throw yourself into, your friendships and relationships, your children, your pets, so forth so on. As an atheist, I find meaning in everyday life. I would think, should I become a parent, I would be able to teach my children the same thing. I don’t know just yet how I would approach children in itself but I do know that they don’t need to believe in a God to be happy. What they do need is a stable parental figure who loves them and cares for their well-being above anything else as well as a place to sleep, food, and clothing. That’s their necessities. If they have questions on religion because they encounter it in the world, you can be there to talk to them and support them in finding answers and let them make that decision for themselves. It doesn’t need to be spoon-fed to them.

    As far as bad or good reasons for embracing or even rejecting Christianity or religion as a whole…I’m not sure there are any because any reason is a personal one. We aren’t here to judge or condemn that reason. That is one thing that the bible teaches (in some parts anyways) that I can get on board with.