From fanatical preacher to atheist

From fanatical preacher to atheist

I AM always gratified to learn of people  –  especially youngsters  – enthusiastically promoting secularism and freethought, which is why I always endeavour to publicise their efforts. The upcoming Questival, which I mentioned yesterday, is a prime example.

But what really makes my heart soar is when I hear of diehard fundamentalists seeing sense, and walking away from religion.

Tom Crawford is the latest to come to my attention. Born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, in 1950 he is a retired former senior manager in the health service. Self-taught in theology, this “child of a mixed marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant” he became an evangelical “born again” Christian at the age of 18.

Crawford is now an atheist  – and has just published a book entitled Bible Thumper to Atheist in which he poses numerous questions about religion that he claims no Christian fundie can satisfactorily answer.  He says of his book:

Over the years I have put many of the questions you will find here to ministers of religion from a wide variety of denominations. None of them could give satisfactory answers, and those who attempted varied with each other to a remarkable degree.

He confesses to have been a Bible pest:

For five years I walked the streets, knocking on doors, giving out gospel tracts and preaching about Jesus Christ. I was a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, to such an extent that when people saw me coming, they would say, ‘here comes the Bible thumper’.

He preached his first sermon from a church pulpit when he was 21, but within two years had abandoned the church.

I now regard myself as atheist regarding the biblical God.

Says Crawford, now a member of the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland:

Many of our political leaders are devout Christians. Believe it or not, a substantial number of them, including the present First Minister, believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, which is in direct conflict with mainstream science.

This mentality sometimes filters down to influence certain political debates. It is not too many years ago that I can remember when children’s swings were locked up with huge chains on a Sunday, and leisure centres closed because our religious politicians said it was against God’s law. The only activity not frowned upon was walking!

Although children’s playgrounds and leisure centres are now open on a Sunday, there are still difficulties organising other events on the ‘Sabbath’. There is still an element of  ‘Taliban’ type mentality in this country!

Crawford says that the people he would like to influence most:

Are those individuals who are torturing themselves because of the fear of everlasting punishment in hell. Many of these people are putting themselves under unnecessary duress because they feel they have sinned against some imaginary god in the sky.

I personally know such people, and because they can’t get satisfactory answers from their church or prayer, they are falling into bouts of depression and despair. They think they are unworthy wretched sinners, when in fact, they are normal human beings.

I would like such people to realise that they can live a normal happy life, without the fear of eternal punishment. The sooner they realise that this is the only life we have, the sooner they can start to enjoy themselves. To punish or deprive oneself of the things you have always enjoyed in the past, is foolish, especially if it never harmed friends or family. Many religions throughout the world work on the same principles as Christianity: Penance now, for the hope of greater reward in the life to come.

The other people Crawford would like to influence are those whose actions cause splits and division among families and friends because of their strict fundamentalist interpretation of scripture in relation to religious differences, for example, intermarrying between Protestant and Roman Catholics.

Sometimes when a person becomes a Christian, they are told by their church leaders, or members, that they should not be, ‘unequally yoked’ with an unbeliever. They are encouraged to find new friends and partners who are also believers.

I believe if evangelical Christians can be given reason to doubt that they know, and possess the absolute truth, they may just become a bit more tolerant towards others, resulting in less friction in our community.


26 responses to “From fanatical preacher to atheist”

  1. Stonyground says:

    He would be like the Irish Dan Barker then. Losing Faith in Faith is a good read, my copy is falling to pieces. I might think about getting this one. Funny that we feel so pleased about such deconversions and as such are like the dad in the Prodigal Son story.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    Welcome to the light, Tom. Welcome.

  3. tony e says:

    I think that my thoughts will probably veer drastically on this post from most, but please bare with me.

    Whilst I am overjoyed every time someone leaves a religion, what worries me, in some cases, is that they start to become just as evangelical about atheism. I don’t like anyone sticking their religion down my throat and would be equally annoyed if any atheist friend of mine (all 2 of them) took to the streets to ‘spread the word’.

    I would hate for atheism to become a fad or ‘this years must have’ for z list celebrities thus diluting the whole thing.

  4. Broga says:

    I also welcome, Tom. I am pleased he has written about his change to freedom and atheism. I guess that for many atheists, including myself, the idea of being terrified of hell is so bizarre that we can’t appreciate the effect of this horror on believers.

    I have never been a proselytising atheist myself unless what I write comes into the category. However, what I am ready to do is contest religious opinions whether at the door from Jehova’s Witnesses or anywhere else.

  5. StaggerLee says:

    You mean this isn’t about John Lithgow’s deconversion?

  6. James G says:

    Good for you Tom! I too have a copy of “Losing Faith in Faith” and I believe books such as this can be important tools for those that have doubts, or even for true believers (if indeed they would read it) in planting seeds of doubt. So I have to disagree with tony e. Of course this is from my perspective that the less religion in the world, the better off the world.

  7. remigius says:

    Oh bugger! One less of the bastards for us to persecute.

  8. AgentCormac says:

    So, Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    I suppose he also believed his wife was a faithful, home-building, god-fearing, scripture-respecting christian too.

    Just shows you how feckin’ gullible some people are.

  9. Daz says:

    Good for Tom. I’ll wait for the Kindle edition, my purse not being stretchable to 12 quid for a book right now.

    Also, I agree with tony e to some extent. I’d hate for atheism to become a fad; a way to sell a few books and move on to the Next Big Thing. (Not that I’m assuming at all that that’s what Tom’s doing.) Be nice to get an American or two’s thoughts on that, what with them having a bigger ‘visibility’ problem than us.

  10. tony e says:

    James G, Daz,

    I’m treading on eggshells with this one and want to articulate it correctly.

    I do hope I’m reading this wrongly, but it appears to me that Crawford may have replaced one form of evangelism with another.

    Most people have lived with the yoke religion their whole lives. It can have an immense effect on their mental state. So gently does it. I’d much prefer people left their religion using self education, self examination and self doubt.

    I hate to see us going the way of the religious, going door to door, to spread our version of atheism (which, of course, is the right one as the others are all heathens in waiting!). Joking.

  11. Dan Lewis says:

    Yay! Yet another to go for Truth over comfortable falsehood! Yay!
    Compassion, Honor and Responsibility were around LONG before the bible showed up. Yay!

  12. The Woggler says:

    In some ways I quite envy the likes of Tom Crawford. As a lifelong atheist myself, I’ve never had the pleasure of finally breathing lovely clean air after suffocating for decades in religious smog.

  13. barriejohn says:

    If you people had experienced what he did when he was younger then you would understand him perfectly – believe me! I sometimes want to get hold of the religiots and knock some sense into them!!

  14. Tim Danaher says:

    Well, done, Tom but, I have to say, I hope that in this case you can’t tell a book by its cover…

  15. Daz says:

    tony e

    Yeah, I get what you mean. New converts to anything tend to be the most enthusiastic, whether it’s stamp collecting or ideologies. At the same time, someone who’s been through what doubters are going through is probably the best advisor they can get, and they won’t hear him unless he ‘preaches’. (Please note scare-quotes! :-))

    It’s a fine line, but I think there’s a place for both approaches.

    Tim Danaher

    Agreed, that is one ugly looking book cover. (Related unattributed quote, seen on the wall of a charity bookshop: Never judge a book by its movie.)


    Only sometimes?

  16. Denis Watkins says:

    Stonyground: Thanks for putting me on to Dan Barker. I am now looking forward to reading his latest book.

  17. Pete H says:

    @ Denis:

    Godless is a fantastic book.

    Describes the process of his loss of faith very well indeed. He is honest (but not derogatory) about his former (very) religious life and friends, and comes across as a thoroughly decent fella.

    I’m trying to get my wife to read it, as she’s lost her faith over the past few years, and I felt she might be able to identify with Barker’s story.

  18. Denis Watkins says:

    @Pete: Thanks for the confirmation of that. Since I got a Kindle for a present I have, to my surprise, enjoyed reading from it. I never thought I would ever take to reading other than from print. However, having read the first chapters of this book on Kindle (which they make available before you decide to buy), I thought that it was the kind of book I wanted to own and refer to.

    Also, a foreword by Richard Dawkins is as good a commendation as I would want.

    As an atheist since my mid teens I would go along with barriejohn, who I think does understand, and accept that I just dont get close to understanding how a literalist christian/muslim or whatever thinks.

  19. barriejohn says:

    It quite literally takes over your whole life, Denis, and then when you finally do succeed in breaking free you realize that NOTHING that you do can bring back the wasted years!

  20. tony says:

    Tony e

    I’ve come across people who are fervent in their atheistic views, but I think the problems with that are exaggerated in most cases.

  21. Francene says:

    Ohh..this is where the debate and conversation is all happening- on blogs: Oh my! Anyways, Without even being a Theology student. I could have answered his first question for this poor confused man who is clearly confused by religion. First of all Mr. Crawford and anyone else reading this post. The earth is not 6000 years old- even as a child in Sunday school I knew that. It’s millions of years old. From creation of man to now yes that figure reflects. However, if any of you bothered to engage with biblical and suitable academic literature- you would have understood that Genesis 1:2 is millions of years away from Gen 1:1. I wonder what else this poor man is wrong about. By the way come along to this “real” (not blog)life event and hear some real debate

  22. Zombie Jesus says:

    Francene. You might know that the earth is millions of years old. But there is a growing voice that is stating the earth is 6000 years old. Even people who have recently run (or are currently running) for US President subscribe to that concept.
    Part of that idea is that fossils are not proof of a multi million year old planet and evolution, but instead as a “test” of faith. And is idea is actually gaining ground!
    For more proof of what im saying, look at Harold Campings math. (the radio preacher who recently attempted to predict the end of the world). Not counting his failed prediction. Look at his math of how he came to his end of the world date.
    He made world wide news. Convinced thousands to donate to his church. Convinced many to get rid of all their posessions. All with the idea that the world is only a few thousand years old.

  23. barriejohn says:

    Francene: You appear to be a Christian. Perhaps you ought to consult the Bible before shooting your mouth off!

    Cultures around the world give an age of the earth which confirms what the Bible teaches. Radiometric dates, on the other hand, have been shown to be wildly in error.

    The age of the earth ultimately comes down to a matter of trust—it’s a worldview issue. Will you trust what an all-knowing God says on the subject or will you trust imperfect man’s assumptions and imaginations about the past that regularly are changing?

  24. barriejohn says:

    Tony: You’re right. Christians are always “keen” or “active”, whereas atheists are “militant”. There may still be atheists sounding forth at Hyde Park Corner, but I’ve yet to be accosted by one in town on a Saturday afternoon thrusting his ideas down my throat!

  25. […] Bible pest sees the light of atheism […]

  26. Anonymous says:

    @Francene: My, aren’t you condescending.