From Atheism to Catholicism
Nine Converts Explain Their Journey Home
Edited by Brandon McGinley (forward by Marcus Grodi)
EWTN Publishing Inc., 2017
144 pages, $14.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com or (800) 888-9344
After reading the essays by former atheists recounting their journeys to Christianity and Catholicism in From Atheism to Catholicism, I was struck by the intellectual rigor many of these converts brought to their at-times-lengthy quests.
The authors have diverse and varied backgrounds and include a medical doctor, an English literature-turned-apologetics professor, a former prison inmate and a person struggling with same-sex attraction.
For some, atheism ranging from the passive to the militant was present from childhood on. Others came from lives of lukewarm and even serious faith during their childhood but, for one reason or another, turned away over time.
In each essay, the writers detail their personal journeys, providing inspiration to readers ranging from cradle Catholics to the newly received and all those in between.
While many elements of the essays stand out, the seriousness of purpose each applied to his or her journey was most impressive. These are tales of the deeply committed, including several who intended to stay clear of Catholicism.
Dr. Charles Spivak went from being raised by “two wonderful Catholic parents” to graduating college as a self-professed agnostic “because it seemed presumptuous to call oneself an atheist, since that implied absolute certainty that there was no God.”
Spivak would go on to become an anesthesiologist and raise his family, while going decades without thinking much about faith. But it would be science — specifically the dating of the universe’s creation — that would bring him back to God.
Spivak details a half-dozen scientific questions that he would explore and whose answers returned him to Christianity and, ultimately, back to the Catholic Church. Rather than see religion and science as polar opposites, Spivak sees science as dependent upon faith:
Today’s atheists and, sadly, some Christians are happy to set up an opposition between faith on the one hand and science and reason on the other. But the truths we discern by faith and reason all have the same author: our Creator! The discoveries of science don’t demonstrate that “nature” works without God; they show only how God ordered nature.
In reading several conversion stories successively, I was interested in detecting commonalities as well as outliers between the experiences.
In addition to a seriousness of purposeful exploration over a lengthy period like what Spivak undertook, many of the authors had a family member or close friend who was critical to their conversion.
For Spivak, it would be a business partner, who invited him to a lecture, and his mother, who signed him up for RCIA classes.
For Holly Ordway, a scholar of English literature, it would be her fencing coach. And for author John Barger, it would be his late wife, Susan, who patiently supported her husband.
One essay I found particularly insightful was “My Search for Meaning” by Legionary Father John Bartunek.
The product of divorced parents who were “practical atheists,” it would be his sisters, including a younger sister saddened by the lack of religion in the household following the passing of their mother, who would help spur his faith journey.
The priest recounts an upbringing that was empty of faith, but fueled by the pursuit of extracurricular activities that made achievement of goals a paramount objective, the “golden calf” of the family.
I could not help but think how prevalent this view may be in many American homes today.
As he began to attend church services, he would come to see the gaping void that existed in his life:
“In hindsight, I guess the difference between these doctrines and my father’s was their focus on where true fulfillment comes from. My family ethos led me to believe that fulfillment would come from achieving more than others — reaching academic and professional milestones, winning awards, collecting accolades, and so forth — through honest and focused effort. This church community emphasized something different entirely. Fulfillment was to come from a relationship with God that showed itself in how you treated others — in behaving toward others as you would want others to behave toward you.”
From Atheism to Catholicism can appeal to a diverse audience. Catholics from infant baptism will, I think, find the stories — particularly the seriousness of purpose and the extent of the commitment of these converts — to be inspiring and be better equipped to rebut atheist arguments.
And those who are still doubting or questioning or who have traveled a similar pathway may find inspiration from those who walked before them.
Nick Manetto writes from