Today’s conversion story comes from Sean Robert Reid, a former Catholic who became what he describes as a “rabid, angry, in-your-face agnostic/atheist” but who recently returned to Christianity after meeting his fiancee. I’ll let Sean tell the story.
I’m Sean Robert Reid. I’m 35 years old and I’m a web developer for a marketing company based out of Alpharetta, Georgia (outside Atlanta). However, I work from home and live near Athens, Georgia (home of University of Georgia). I’m a graduate from University of Georgia with a BA in English. My job doesn’t have much to do with my degree but more than I had expected it to when I started.
Please describe your conversion experience or process:
I grew up Catholic in a fairly legalistic family structure. My parents practiced Catholicism primarily because that’s what their parents practiced, which is what their parents practiced, etc… We grew up in Pittsburgh, where my siblings and I attended a Catholic school — like my father — and where my grandmother (mom’s side) worked in a rectory for a Catholic church catering to the local Slovakian population. We moved to Georgia halfway through my 8th grade year and I was quickly beginning to dislike church as an institution and my rebellious streak was amplifying. Church eventually became just a place for me to meet girls from other schools. By 9th grade I was actively searching and had settled on deism/transcendentalism for a few years. By the time I graduated high school I had settled into being a “militant agnostic” (I don’t know and you don’t know either!). Up until 2008 I was a virulent agnostic/anti-theist. I gave up on God and not only walked away but wanted take others with me on my journey.
Then, like the Prodigal Son, I found my way back.
What events led to your conversion?
In short, it was my wife. Or, specifically, God working through the woman who would eventually become my wife.
I was just trying to get a date. But something was different. I knew Jessica was a Christian but I had hoped that maybe we could still go out a few times in spite of our vast theological gap. Incidentally, it was a week or so before I met Jessica that I threw away another woman’s phone number after she turned down dinner because of her Bible study. Being a Christian was a HUGE turn off.
Ultimately I told Jess that if she was willing to talk (about Christianity) I’d be willing to listen. I had all but given up on any chances of us dating. However, I was intrigued by her attitude and decided it would, at least, be good for an intellectual challenge.
On our 4th or 5th time talking she told me that she felt compelled to share something with me that really moved me. She addressed a specific topic, via an exact phrase, that I had been discussing with a counselor for about two years prior. At that point I asked her to give me some time to myself (which lasted about a week) and I went on to do some serious “soul-searching.” At the end of the experience I was given an opportunity to rise up, act in a way that surprised even me, and fulfill a need for Jessica. At that point I gave up on my agnosticism and felt like I “knew.” I still had, and have, a LOT of questions. But I no longer question if God is out there and if he hears us.
What kind of impact did your conversion have on your friends and family?
My family was supportive but mostly got it all wrong. They’re still Catholic (ish) and responded primarily through saying something along the lines “it’s about time.” My sister was supportive, my brother understood a bit deeper and my parents still don’t really get it. They’re filtering things through a different lens. As far as they’re concerned I grew out of a phase. They never really grasped the amount of time, energy and emotional turmoil that went into both decisions.
I was very active in a few atheist/secularist meetups and websites (notably AtheistNexus.com in its EARLY infancy). I made the announcement about my decision on one of the sites I ran, along with the impending demise of the young site, to little fanfare. Overall many folks were understanding but, in the end, they went their way and I went mine.
My closest friendships haven’t really changed much at all. Overall my opinions on things haven’t changed much. Although I’m a little more convicted by Scripture and I’ve attempted to grow as a person and in Christ. Occasionally this has led me to brush off things in which I previously would have taken part. To be honest, the biggest changes in my life and relationships have come because of my marriage and my desire to be the best possible husband for my wife. I’ve discovered that the stronger my marriage relationship the closer I am to, and the more I hear, God at work in my life.
What advice would you give someone going through the same experience or contemplating a similar conversion?
Be honest. Take time to be with yourself and only yourself. Then, when you’ve had a chance to honestly figure out your position and motivation, seek wise counsel. Don’t necessarily do what they tell you. But take the counsel under advisement and fit it in with the answers you came up with on your own. In my experience a clearer picture will begin to form and help you figure out the next steps.
Just don’t let anyone force, coerce or push you in any direction. It HAS to be something you come to on your own. Otherwise, I think you’re only going to end up being more frustrated than before.
What are three things you have learned in the process?
#1 Apologetic arguments are great for a believer looking to dig deeper into their own faith (although, beware, they’re far from the be-all/end-all in searching!). However, they’re total bunk for attempting to “convert” anyone.
which leads to…
#2 Conversions, in my opinion, are strictly experiential. You’re not going to argue someone into your belief system. God doesn’t need browbeaten sycophants who bow to YOUR debate strategy.
#3 It’s VERY HARD. There isn’t a day that goes by in which the thought “it was so much easier before” hasn’t crossed my mind. Becoming a Christian didn’t make my life better. It made it harder. It also didn’t make my life magically happier and carefree. Arguably, I do more now and have more accountability than I ever have before in my life. But what I’ve discovered is that this “new” short-term accountability is helping prevent long-term pain. I’m being forced to confront a lot of demons, figurative (and possibly literal? I’m undecided there), from the past in order to move into the future. If I’m being honest and thinking back on the past, with all the sadness and pain of unknowing or being quieted, I wouldn’t trade this place for anything.
Previous posts in the “conversions” series:
• Amy: From Christian Missionary to Atheist
• Adam Morris: Catholic to Southern Baptist to Gay Follower of Christ
• Trav Fecht: From Contemporary Worship to Liturgy
• Christy: From Fundamentalism to Non-Religious Spirituality
• Ryan Hadley: Christian to Atheist
• David Johndrow: Congregational Church to Charismatic Episcopalian
• Jeremy Myers: From Senior Pastor to Church Dropout
• Mike Wise: Christian to Agnostic to Christian
• Jessica Gavin: Universalist to Seventh-Day Adventist
• Torie Brown Hunt: From Southern Baptist to Mormon