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.