Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Making Of An Unbeliever

The stories we have to tell about how we came to or fell away from our beliefs about God is always a fascinating study for me. Last post I offered a few of my impressions about Ryan Bell, whose journey reminded me a bit of my own. Today I'm thinking of well known media mogul and entrepreneur turned philanthropist Ted Turner.

Once a vociferous critic of Christianity, calling it "a religion for losers," (for which comment he did apologize), Turner has softened towards the subject, if not returned to the faith of his childhood. He even says he occasionally prays in hopes there is "somebody out there." And he said (perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that he doesn't want to go to Hell.

His highly publicized marriage to actress to Jane Fonda was strained - to the say the least - by her decision to become a Christian. In her version of the story she just couldn't stand being smothered by Turner and felt she had to get out in order to go on living happily.

Happily, Turner and Fonda became close again after their wounds healed.

So Turner has softened and as a CNN story states regarding his thoughts about God, "These days, he keeps the door open a crack. He allows for the possibility."

Well and good.

Turner claims to be a skeptic by nature, but it can't be denied that the pivotal season of his faith life came in his youth with the death of his sister, after she suffered a painful death from complications of a rare form of lupus. In his own words, again quoting the CNN story:

She was sick for five years before she passed away. And it just seemed so unfair, because she hadn't done anything wrong. What had she done wrong? And I couldn't get any answers. Christianity couldn't give me any answers to that. So my faith got shaken somewhat.

How often unanswered prayers and the problem of human suffering presents an almost insurmountable obstacle to faith! This was not many years removed from the young Turner who had toyed with the idea of being a missionary.

It's a familiar story. You close the door but then it doesn't want to stay closed. I hope that in the end he finds peace.


  1. Lots of people seem to disbelieve when young and then return to a measure of belief when older. Some might say they get soft in their heads when they get older, but you might equally say they get more mature.

    1. I remember how viciously the atheist community turned on Antony Flew when he came out as believer in God after being one of their leading spokespeople for a long time. Ugly. Strange how sometimes the behavior of atheists so closely mirrors that of the ardent religious believer, isn't it?

  2. Perhaps Mr. Turner is at peace? Often I think we take "peace" to mean we've made the ultimate decision. Yes or no. I think many people are at peace with "maybe."

    I wrote a piece about Mr. Flew. My concern at the time was about one's aging brain. I may be a Mr. Flew one day too. An aging devoted Christian may one day be an atheist. Our brains change and often without our consent.

    Taking advantage of that truth is what concerns me. Ultimately the "changes" prove nothing one way or the other when it comes to the existence of a "God(s)."

    1. Hi, Zoe. As always, I appreciate having your thoughts.

      I sincerely hope he is at peace. That is my wish for everyone, to find peace; to make peace with life.

      The Flew case was tragic. In his later years he wrote a scathing review of Dawkins' God Delusion. Seemed like vintage Flew to me, just with a shifted emphasis. How patronizing (and convenient) it was to blame his change of mind on senility.

      Of course a person's change of mind proves nothing one way or the other about God's existence. And neither does one's present thinking, for that matter. But I find these stories very interesting and informative. Had Turner's sister gotten better in accordance with his prayers, had his father not killed himself when Turner was a young man, ... would he still have become an outspoken critic of Christianity? We'll never know.

    2. I think that's my point. We'll never know. But, both sides make a point of saying they do know. It may be patronizing and convenient to blame Flew's change of mind on senility. The truth is, it may have been the truth. It's what we do with it that concerns me. We make one's change of mind "the truth" according to what we want the truth to be. :)

      Senility is in fact a reason for some mind's changing. I find it all interesting as well. I often think about how great theological minds of the past, alive today, might change their minds today. We think because they died Christians that given another place and time they'd still die Christians. I think of my dead friends who died Christians in their 30's. Had they lived longer, like I did, might they be me, an apostate? We'll never know. :)

      I always appreciate you allowing me to push-back a little from my perspective.

    3. While I now classify myself a believer in God, I've emphasized repeatedly here at my blog that I am an agnostic believer - that is, while I have my reasons for belief, I don't think I can prove - or for that matter, that it can definitely be proved - that God exists. I think there is room for doubt as well as for belief.

      I do find conversion and deconversion stories interesting, and see common patterns in people's move in one direction or the other. Certainly I don't intend my posts dealing with these as "proofs" of any sort. (Did you know former pop singer Cat Stevens turned to religion after almost drowning? He promised God he would turn to serving him if he saved him. Immediately afterward a wave carried him back to safety.)

      As regards Flew's return to belief in God, I can't fathom it came about because of senility. He made no secret of the factors which brought it about. In 2004 (only six years before his death) he wrote an introduction for the re-release of his classic work "God and Philosophy" wherein he gave a ten-point list of issues bearing on the philosophical case for God which he felt would need to be dealt with in future considerations, one of these being the "fine-tuning" argument, the one that he seemed most impressed by.

      Three years later in an interview he attributed his change of mind to "growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe."

      It seems to me that Flew spent a lot of time mulling over this matter and I have no reason to doubt his own testimony about it.

      As for the push back, well of course I have no problem with that. We can't stick our heads in the sand regarding matters of personal importance. I understand because I also pushed back hard for many years after my deconversion from Christianity.

  3. I'm a big Cat Stevens fan. Amazing how he chose Islam.

    I'll leave Flew in your hands. You know and have read far more of the story than me. My references to senility were made from my own experience working in geriatrics. When I wrote about Flew, it wasn't has someone who knew his story or had followed his journey. It was as a person who watched beliefs change and swing wildly with age, mostly do to cognitive changes.

    Pushing back isn't really my style. Thinking is, but I don't always feel safe thinking on other people's blogs. I must be feeling a bit safe here. :)

    1. I'm so glad you do feel safe to think out loud and speak your mind here. You are my friend even when we don't see eye-to-eye.

      If any one came close to converting me to atheism it was Flew (Bertrand Russell was a close second). Naturally, when he moved from atheism to Deism it caught my attention. The way he was treated thereafter by leaders in the Atheism movement shocked and outraged me (it was the kind of thing you'd expect from a religious fundamentalist!).

      I always liked Stevens too. If I remember correctly he was originally more into New Age belief. A relative gave him a Koran as a gift and it kind of went from there.