Doubting Your Doubts About God: A.N. Wilson's Return to Faith

The prolific English author and columnist, A. N. Wilson, graduated from Oxford in the early ‘70s and considered going into the Anglican ministry. But he lost his faith by the ‘80s. He called himself an atheist and wrote a short book entitled, Against Religion: Why We Should Try to Live Without It. He describes his conversion to atheism.

I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me - the sense of God's presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world…It was a nonsense…the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. It was such a relief to discard it all that, for months, I walked on air…[1]

Yet, he started doubting his doubts about God.

My doubting temperament, however, made me a very unconvincing atheist. And unconvinced. My hilarious Camden Town neighbour Colin Haycraft…used to say, “I do wish Freddie [the British philosopher A.J. Ayer] wouldn't go round calling himself an atheist. It implies he takes religion seriously." This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume's masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together…[2]

And yet, he finally succumbed to faith. He startled many people when he announced his return to faith in the New Statesman, a British magazine. He found “Materialist atheism…totally irrational,” because it couldn’t account for the “complexities of human existence.” He couldn’t shake the fact that most of the people he admired believed in God. He couldn’t shake the fact that the naturalistic worldview doesn’t adequately account for the phenomena of language, that it appears we’re born with language loaded into our hardware at birth. But most importantly, it was morality that caused the elastic to snap in his atheistic worldview. It was while he was writing a fictional novel set during Nazi Germany that he realized Hitler’s wild Neo-Darwinian ravings drove his ideology.   

I haven't mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler's neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer's book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer's serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.[3]

Wilson summarizes his flight and return to faith. He points out that the watershed moment for him was seeing how the biblical worldview accounted for every aspect of humanity.

My departure from the Faith was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again. [One famous philosopher] …called God “a category mistake.” Yet the real category mistake made by atheists is not about God, but about human beings. Turn to…Samuel Taylor Coleridge [English composer and conductor] “Read the first chapter of Genesis without prejudice and you will be convinced at once . . . ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.’” And then Coleridge adds: “‘And man became a living soul.’ Materialism will never explain those last words.”[4]

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[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.