Philip Kaplan is a 38 year old non practicing attorney living in Towson, Maryland. He accepted Christ in 2016 and feels called upon to speak about his conversion from a nonbeliever to a Christian. In the following series of blog posts, he will reflect on both his personal life and the philosophical issues pertaining to faith.
I was ten years old when I declared that I did not believe in God.
My parents could not have been prouder. Both liberal secular Jews (my mother having rebelled against her own Orthodox Jewish family), my parents raised me to be “culturally Jewish” but did not instill any faith in God. In actuality, they were hostile to such faith. We were independent thinkers! We had no use for such old fashioned beliefs!
Not surprisingly, I was a vocal atheist before I was out of elementary school. By the time I attended college, I was writing anti-religious opinion pieces for the campus newspaper. I was a philosophy major and also in the undergraduate honors program. A bright student with good grades.
I had the world figured out. People believed in God only because they wanted God to exist. It was wishful thinking. And I was better than that. I was mentally tough enough to handle the reality: that we’re living in a universe devoid of any governing moral order or benevolent purpose, and in all likelihood, there is nothing beyond this life. But so what? I didn’t need faith in God to have a good life. I could rely on my own abilities, talents, and will.
I was ambitious. After college, I went to law school and became a lawyer. I wanted the prestige, the status, the outward validation that a legal career offered. By my early 30s, I was a well-respected trial attorney.
But I was not happy. Shortly after turning 32, I had broken up with my longtime girlfriend. We had been together since I was 25. It had been a sweet but ultimately unsatisfying relationship, and we had both concluded that it had to end.
Now I was a young, single professional trying to navigate the bewildering terrain of the 21st century dating world. It was awful. By age 34, my romantic loneliness was overpowering. My general unhappiness had crossed the line into actual depression. It was a line I was all too familiar with, having struggled with and overcome severe depression as a teenager. I began having problems functioning at work. My friends became worried because I would speak of feeling hopeless, of wanting to die.
I cut back my hours at work. I sought therapy. But things continued to get worse. Eventually I became too depressed to continue at my job.
It was early June 2016. I was 37 years old. I had now been unemployed for almost two years and seriously depressed for three. I was still single and lonely. I still battled thoughts of suicide.
My best friend, a born again Christian, asked me, ever so gently, “What do you gain by being an atheist? What does it offer you?”
I thought about it. Atheism offered me a certain measure of pride. If other people needed faith in God in order to get through the day, and I didn’t, then surely this marked me as a stronger person. And if God didn’t exist, and other people still believed in God, but I knew enough not to believe, then surely this marked me as a smarter person.
The problem was that I had reached a point of not caring anymore about being strong or smart or about how I ranked up against others. My way clearly wasn’t working. My life was a complete mess, and I was miserable.
For the first time, I started to imagine changing my mind on the subject of God. I could almost hear the question in my brain: What do I have to lose?
I had to concede that I didn’t actually know for a fact that God did not exist. It was possible that I had been wrong on that. It was also possible that holding onto my atheism was a profound mistake.
At this point, the direction of my mind had changed. Remaining an atheist was no longer something I valued. Instead, I wanted to have faith that God exists. I intended to build that faith.
“If God doesn’t exist, then life is truly hopeless”
My inner thoughts screamed at me, “But that’s just wishful thinking!” But this time, I answered back, “And if God doesn’t exist, then life is truly hopeless because I have certainly done my best to live without any faith in God, and I ended up nowhere but here. So if the only thing I’m up against is some accusation that I’m engaging in wishful thinking, I frankly just don’t care.”
I began to re-examine all the thoughts, feelings, and intellectual arguments that had kept me an atheist all these years.
I also considered a very basic, intuitively known truth: that there is a moral order in this world. I could sense it when I recalled the pleasure of obtaining justice for a client. I could sense it in the joy of performing a random act of generosity for a stranger. I could observe it in the physical beauty of nature and the human-created beauty of great works of art.
And I could also see it in the worst of people’s cruelty and ugliness. The grotesque tragedy of our pains and failures.
Undoubtedly, there had to be a moral order. An objectively existing standard of values, of good and bad. It had to come from somewhere beyond ourselves.
I thought of my own desire for love and passion, and I thought of how intensely I suffered from their absence. I knew we had to be more than simply animals with biological impulses and brain chemicals. At the most basic level, I sensed a higher meaning.
It was June and July in 2016, and I began attending “lunch raps” at Greater Grace, prompted by my best friend. During one of them, Pastor Schaller made the following analogy: The fact that our bodies have stomachs presupposes the existence of food and eating. Similarly, the fact that we “hunger” for deeper meaning– for God– must also presuppose that there is such meaning to be found. It would be nonsensical for a meaningless universe to contain creatures who hungered for a meaning they had no hope of ever getting, just as it would be nonsensical for there to be stomachs in a world without food.
I had shifted. I now believed in God.
Furthermore, my attitude toward faith had changed. I now actively sought to correct all the misimpressions I had had. I sought to understand and grow in my faith.
Finally, I knew what I had to do. The step that I needed to take.
On July 31st, 2016, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Personal Savior, and I became born again. My most improbable event had happened in my life, and it was right.
During the last year, my Christian faith has only grown, even as I continue to struggle with my own problems, even as I wrestle with the confusion and uncertainty of what God is calling me for in this life.
I have a clearer picture of what I believed as an atheist, and why I believed it, and why it was wrong. And I feel called upon to speak about it.
Note: The author welcomes any comments or questions about his faith and journey. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org