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.