Poor Matthew Botsford says he went to hell. And he wrote a book all about it so that you won’t make the same mistake. And guess what…. He’s a former atheist! Or… Not. The Friendly Atheist found this gem on The Christian Post:
Christian Post: Can you tell us about your life before the accident? Did you believe in God?
Botsford: No, I did not believe in God. I knew God existed but I didn’t have a relationship with His son. During college I turned my back; I was my own boss kind of thing.
The title of the article has been changed. It used to read: Former Atheist: My Time in Hell. Now it reads Former Non-Christian: My Time in Hell.
Doesn’t pack quite the punch, does it? Beware of “former atheist” claims. Most of us atheists know what an atheist is. But a lot of believers do not. The party line in most churches gives Christians a false impression. They are told that everybody really believes in god, and atheists just deny it or live in rebellion of their knowledge. By this definition, Mr. Botsford was an atheist.
But the definition is just wrong. Someone who believes in god is NOT an atheist. You can no more have a theist atheist than a married bachelor. It’s not a matter of opinion or debate. It’s very, very basic logic.
If theists were right — if everyone really did believe in god — then Matthew would STILL not be a former atheist. There would be no atheists, in the same way that there are no unicorns.
“Former Atheist” is a kind of a buzz-phrase in Christian circles. It carries a lot of weight because it’s a sort of “evidence” that atheism is misguided. At least, that’s the way believers perceive it. The funny thing is that every time I’ve talked to a “former atheist,” I’ve rooted out the truth within a few seconds. They were not former atheists. They were former non-Christian theists.
I’m not saying there are no former atheists. I’m sure there are a couple here and there. However — and this is very important — religion is overwhelmingly a function of childhood indoctrination. This is also not a debatable point. It is a statistical fact. Religion is a lot like smoking cigarettes. If they don’t get you while you’re young, they’re probably not going to get you. Sure, you meet a few people who started smoking at 35. And you meet a few people who became convinced of a god as adults. But not many.
So… anytime you meet a “former atheist,” these are the first questions you should ask: What was your childhood like? Did you or your parents go to church? Talk about religion? Were all your friends Christians?
In the (rare) case that you don’t root out their “non-Christian theist” status from these questions, ask them why they didn’t believe in god. The answer will usually go something like this: Well, you know, I never really thought about it or went to church…
While this might “technically” be a kind of atheism, it’s not informed atheism. It’s not a mature adult who has thought things through, examined the evidence critically and come to a reasoned conclusion. And it’s dishonest for believers to cite such people as examples of why atheism is misguided.