Thursday, September 06, 2007

Shadows of Conversion

Shadow in the Garden

Antony Flew took 81 years to make up his mind. Or to change it. I'm not sure which. And now he's written a book about how he morphed from the "world's most notorious atheist" to being a God believer. What kind of God does he believe in? I suppose his book talks about that. At the very least, the God he believes in is both subtle and powerful enough to assure life with the perfection of the simple electron. (It is the electron, I hear, that tipped the scales for Flew.)

In my experience, conversion hinges on the most unpredictable of matters. An electron. A song. The weight of biblical prophecy. Maybe even a good night's sleep, or a bad one. In other words, "the moment" can seem to hinge on a small catalyst. But to change one's mind is a big thing, probably involving an almost untraceable series of events and impressions.

I like the way Scot McKnight describes this process, saying, "...conversion is more like the evening soft-shoe dance of the summer shadows across the lawn. It's hard to see, but the shadow is moving, and at some point we see that it has, in fact, covered the lawn....[It] is a series of gentle nods of the soul..." (p.96, The Jesus Creed)

Maybe it is a little like falling in love. Or better yet, maybe it is like figuring out what to do with love once we have fallen. I wish I could be more definitive about this, but I admit that it remains largely a great mystery to me. So that I feel I can only touch the shadows of conversion.

Shadow in the Garden photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.

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Blogger Lynet said...

Sigh. Why are atheists always 'notorious'? If they're not 'notorious' they're 'angry'. We really need some new adjectives: passionate, confident and/or uncompromising might describe the same idea. Actually, I suspect that you only need to be vocal as an atheist to be notorious, but that's not our fault!

"World's most notorious atheist" is almost certainly a misnomer in any case. Bertrand Russell died in 1970 and probably deserved that title until then; Dawkins definitely has it these days and if you asked me to name someone in the middle I'd probably say 'Steven Weinberg' -- though that last one is, I suppose, more visible to me because he's a physicist. Oh, wait -- Madalyn Murray O'Hair! Definitely more notorious that Anthony Flew (or anyone else) by a long shot. Ah, well. It's advertising, I guess.

Since he apparently believes in "God as designer", I'd be curious to see whether he defines himself as theist or deist.

It bothers me a little that conversion is such a personal process. Though I hope I reason well, I'm perpetually forced to confront the unreasoning aspects of my own decisions. Nevertheless, I can't help but think we should aim for -- well -- for reasoned truth. Perhaps Anthony Flew still agrees.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Wonderful thoughts here, L.L.

Part of the dilemna I think, that Lynet expresses so well and so interestingly, is the reality that we're more than just mind. As humans we are so much more than mind, though mind is definitely an important aspect of our humanity.

The vision in the story in scripture in the end is embodied humans in fellowship with God and with each other in a renewed creation. This is an entire existence, and conversion mirrors that, surely.

10:53 PM  
Blogger christianne said...

Ooh, these are great comments, following a great post. Thanks, all, for sharing your thoughts. I continue to be stretched by the company here.

Laura, I was particularly struck into pensive mode with your questions about what causes conversion . . . if it's something like falling in love, a slow movement toward something compelling us closer. You're likely right, though I confess I've not thought much about the actual process before. And not sure it's always the same for everyone. It never seems to be the same for everyone when it comes to God.

So glad to hear about your time away. I love hearing about special moments shared with your beautiful girls.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

I must admit that I was more than a little surprised the first time I found someone who's background was similar to my own (pre-conversion), and when I told them about my experience and the things that should have shaken their world, it barely registered on the Richter scale.

1:00 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Lynet... yes, sorry about that. It was simply a quote from his book title. I guess notorious implies in-your-face. And I don't know if he was that, or simply passionate. The article I read said "theist", but that still leaves it wide open as to his beliefs. As for conversion being personal, I suppose that's why I compared it to love. We kind of know love when we see it, experience it, but there's no one-size-fits-all approach, nor can it be definitively quantified or qualified. But there is some sense of true love over false love, and I guess we partly use our reason to determine that. In any case, I also aim for a reasoned truth. And I also know that some of my decisions rely on a reasoning that is no longer accessible to me, but there nonetheless. (That finally observation is to your thought that you have unreasoned aspects of your own decisions.)

Ted... ah, yes. Which is perhaps why we are asked to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

Christianne... indeed, I think I mistrust the overnight change of heart that seems to have no foundation, no process leading up to it. A fascinating book called (I think) Changing Minds notes that such changes are often shortlived.

Craver... and isn't it wonderful that we can look the same but have such dear individual experiences?

11:14 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

I suspect that we can't pin down the process of conversion (often our own experiences seem pretty squishy) because it is mysterious by nature. Somehow we encounter Mystery, and find ourselves changed and changing, and at some point we embrace that change. It is personal and mysterious, and any attempt to pin it down and make it rational leaves some part of the reality out.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Real Live Preacher said...

Oh, to me it is very much like falling in love. I've been in love a number of times. My mind goes back to the girl I loved in high school. Reason had nothing much to do with it. I wanted to be with her.

Some of us have fallen in love with God, or perhaps with the idea of God. I know that sounds like wishful thinking to the atheist, but it's more than that. It's a deep longing that feels like it is tied to the earth. In other words, it feels like the oldest part of me. I cannot deny it.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LL - This was a beautiful post; it sparked some memories of my own conversion. I see my conversion as a series of moments, not just one song or one electron, but a story connecting many of these events into one changed life.

In the Christian tradition I have sat in for the past 23 years or so, we tend to like people to tell us the one moment they were saved. And I, too, can recite a date and time that I walked down the aisle of my church and confessed belief. But the more space I get between then and now, the more amazed I am at how many other moments there actually were before that stroll to the altar. And how many moments there have been since.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

For me, conversion was like a blind man seeing...confusion made clear...home at last...being unbelievably loved.

Yes, all those things and probably more.

10:28 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

Maria'a thoughts resonate with me ... I think conversion is a profound mystery. There may be a traceable moment in time where a light goes on & we seem to "get it", to see God in a new way, or simply to see Him when we haven't seen Him before. This must be profoundly unsatisfying to someone seeking facts, empirical data, or a timeline with marked events. And I get that too.

There was a "moment" in my own journey, but since then it has been a slow unravelling, unveiling, movements toward laying ahold of a bit more of God. So in some sense I was converted & am still being converted, I think. It seems as though God is always pulling me closer to the truth.

And I echo Christianne's sentiment as well ... I am stretched & challenged by what visitors share in this space.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

Thanks for this post LL! Conversion is certainly a series of untraceable events, discoveries until the final decision is made.

I wondered while reading your falling in love analogy. People fall out of love. And people convert back. . . does that mean that they were never in love? That they never really converted?

10:45 AM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., You're tagged!

1:25 PM  

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