Timothy Larsen on A.N. Wilson: Look Who’s a Believer Now

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Have you ever heard the one about the Christian who started to study calculus and ended up losing his faith? Of course you have. Such "conversion" to atheism is supposed to be the story of all modern, thinking people. But imagine it happening the other way around. Moreover, imagine the convert being a well-informed, public intellectual who had long made it his business to argue that faith is irrational?

Just such a conversion has happened to A.N. Wilson, the 58-year-old British biographer, novelist and man of letters. He was once an observant Anglican and, later, a Roman Catholic, but in the 1980s he lost his faith and began skewering the supposed delusions of the faithful. His antifaith stance was expressed in books such as "God's Funeral" (1999) and "Jesus: A Life" (1992). A few weeks ago, however, Mr. Wilson confessed that Christ had risen indeed. He attributed this to "the confidence I have gained with age." He now says he believes that atheists are like "people who have no ear for music or who have never been in love."

Mr. Wilson's story matches that of other skeptical authors who became convinced by Christianity, not least in Victorian Britain, when Darwin and various modern ideas shook the foundations of faith among the educated classes. Among the notable examples from Victorian Britain are Thomas Cooper, the most popular free-thinking lecturer in London in the 1850s; George Sexton, the most academically accomplished secularist intellectual of the time; and Joseph Barker, a well-respected leader of the mid-19th-century free-thinking movement. The 20th century also had its share of writers and intellectuals who rediscovered Christianity as mature thinkers, including T.S. Eliot, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, C.S. Lewis, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and W.H. Auden.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsAtheism

4 Comments
Posted May 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

A sympathetic write-up in the Wall Street Journal.  Of course, there have been many such conversions, and particularly in England.  Besides those famous figures mentioned in the article, I think immediately of G. K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge.

I liked the language about Wilson starting to doubt his doubts.  May many more skeptics do the same.

David Handy+

May 29, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
2. Terry Tee wrote:

About (I think) three years ago I noticed the beginning of the shift in A. N. Wilson’s writing.  He wrote in the Daily Telegraph about his one year as an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.  He concluded that column by asking what those were with him had gone on to do and what he had gone on to do.  Those who were with him, he said, had gone on to visit the sick and cheer the elderly, while all he had done was write.  In reality, of course, he had done more than that - but it was a statement of honesty about his feelings, and generous to the church.  I wondered if he would move further.  And he has.  I suppose it would be too much to hope for Philip Pullman, who repays his loving vicar grandfather with scepticism and hostility to the church.

May 29, 3:52 pm | [comment link]
3. nwlayman wrote:

Wow, I never heard the one about the brittle Christian upset by calculus.  How many believers have *not* been upset by hard science?  Too many to count.  For math, start with the Orthodox priest and martyr, St. Pavel Florensky.

May 29, 7:32 pm | [comment link]
4. IchabodKunkleberry wrote:

Although I am a believer, I have seen in others that their skepticism
or rejection of God often results in a corrosively skeptical
attitude which spills over into their attitudes to their life, their family,
etc. Far from becoming mentally healthy or rationalistic, they fall prey
to passing trends, many of them pernicious.

May 29, 8:17 pm | [comment link]
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