Tuesday, July 16, 2013

#80- Conversions: How Does It Affect You?

How many converts do you know personally ?  I know quite a few.  Does the testimony of converts sway you at all?

I know converts from all different walks of life that have chosen  a myriad of different religions and philosophies.  Their testimonies can be powerful and effective.

I remember hearing a Muslim podcast of a young man who became Muslim.  It was very moving and sincere.  After he found Islam he reported feeling a sense of inner peace.

I also remember my aunt telling me about a woman who ran away from her husband who was a Freemason.  The woman came to her church to testify of her ordeals.  She supposedly talked about all the weird things that her Mason husband was doing and could not take it any more.  I think at the end of the story my aunt said that the husband saw the error of his ways.  As a young man this story stuck to me because I didn't know what Freemasons did and I certainly never entertained the thought that my aunt was lying or mistaken.

When I became a Christian it wasn't really a conversion.  I was born to a Catholic family.  I came to the United States and started to go to the churches that my mother went to by force at first.  These churches were Protestant and not Catholic.  I noticed the differences between the different kinds of Christianities but didn't ponder much on them.  At about 17 years old, I gave in to  pressure and said the magic words (The Lord's Prayer) and became Christian.

I would hear testimonies sparingly after I became Christian.  New converts and people who felt that God saved them always seemed to have riveting stories.  Most of these testimonies were from Christians that had fallen away however.  I rarely heard or thought of other people converting OUT of Christianity.  I did not occur to me that people had interests in other religions as well.

One of the big themes that seem to tie the conversions that I'm familiar with is the notion of finding inner peace.  A lot of the converts describe a type of relief to have found the right way to live or the right religion.  They often seem to become docile and kinder.  Others seemed relieved to find a community that shared their views or religion.

A lot of converts overcame some very terrible situations.  Some found their calling while in jail.  Some became convinced after doing research.  Others were impressed by someone who they met.  Some stories are more fantastic than others.

I chose to highlight a few converts and share my thoughts about them.  I will go in alphabetical order in order to promote fairness.  These people fall into the following categories:  Atheists, Buddhist, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

Atheists: Seth Andrew and Dan Barker.

Seth Andrew is The Thinking Atheist.  He was a Christian.

The Thinking Atheist was a mystery to most for a while.  Not too long ago Seth Andrew decided to show the face behind the powerful voice.  He was a Christian and now has a successful podcast series.

Dan Barker was a Christian minister and became atheist.

Dan Barker was an evangelist for a long time.  He learned to speak Spanish in order to win people to Jesus in Mexico.  After a long bout with doubt he decided to leave Christianity.  He now helps run the Freedom From Religion Foundation with his wife.

Buddhists: Steve Jobs and Richard Gere

Steve Jobs is the late genius from Apple.  Many people are aware that he help create the iPod and iPhone.  Jobs' legacy was helped Apple maintain an edge in the electronics market.  What many people didn't know about Jobs is that he was a Buddhist.

Richard Gere is best remembered for his role with Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman".  Julia Roberts made my list as well but Gere has made no secret of his devotion to Buddhist philosophy.   Hollywood has be associated to Scientology lately but Gere keeps on doing his thing.

Richard Gere

Christians: Kirk Cameron, Anthony Flew*, and Lee Strobel

 Kirk Cameron is a former child star on the show "Growing Pains".  He is now a Christian.  He said that he was a "devout atheist".   What a devout atheist is only Kirk knows.  He now can be seen making crappy movies and co-stars  with Ray Comfort in a horrible set of apologetics called "The Way of the Master".
Kirk Cameron

 Anthony Flew

Anthony Flew
Flew was rumored to have become a deist at the end of his life.  I include him here only because I have heard Christians use him as a positive example how someone can stop being an atheist.  As far as I know Flew became convinced of a deity based on an argument from ignorance.  However, when discussing atheism and conversions, do not be surprised if a Christian uses his name as a reference in their favor.

 Lee Strobel

Lee Strobel
Lee Strobel was a former journalist who used his investigative skills to inquire into Christianity when his wife became a Christian out of nowhere.  Lee said that she became a much nicer person after her conversion and he wanted to see if there was anything to this Christian thing.  After a lot of research, interviews, and reading Lee became convinced that Christian had an "unfair advantage" in the market of facts in regards to religion.  He went on to write a series of books about this investigative adventure with "The Case For Christ" being the most famous and the one that I read.

I gave The Case For Christ a good look as I was doing some last minute cross-examination into my dwindling belief in Christianity.  His book seemed excellent at that time.  After I saw a review of it on Amazon the proverbial scales started to fall from my eyes.  Strobel did not interview an serious critic of the Bible or Christianity.  Today I know of plenty of resources that he could have used.  Also, what would have happened if he looked into other religions with the same fervor?

At this point I am comfortable calling out Strobel as a liar and a salesman.  I don't think he was an atheist as much as he was ignorant of Christianity.  I rejected Christianity because I researched.  He apparently found Christian gold at the end of some rainbow.  The result is a huge payday for him and I toil in obscurity.

Hindus:  Julia Roberts and Ricky Williams

Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts has had a successful career as an actress in Hollywood.  She is mostly known in her role as a lovable prostitute in "Pretty Woman" opposite Richard Gere.  While going through the list of converts to Hinduism I found her name there.

Ricky Williams giving #24 da business
Ricky Williams was a great running back who came from the University of Texas.  He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and went on to play for the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens.  He was suspended for using marijuana multiple times.  He is Hindu as well.

Jews:  Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Shyne (rapper)

Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. was a famous singer who was part of "The Rat Pack" which included the likes of Frank Sinatra.  Somewhere along the way he decided to follow the religion of Judaism.

Elizabeth Taylor was a famous actress known for her beauty.

Elizabeth Taylor converted to Judaism

Rapper Shyne became a Jew
Jamal "Shyne" Barrow was found on the list of converts to Judaism.  This was a total surprise to me.  Please read the Wikipedia article about him.  I found it fascinating.

Islam: Loon, Cat Stevens, Mike Tyson

The former rapper Loon was hot for a minute.  It was a shock to a lot of people when he became Muslim in 2009.

Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens is now Yusuf Islam.  He was born in England and is a proponent of peace in the world.  He first became famous for being a musician.  He converted in 1977.

Mike Tyson was one of the best and fiercest fighters in the 1990s.  He converted to Islam while in prison circa 1995.

Saul of Tarsus and Honorable mentions

The most famous conversion story that I know of is the one of Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was once a persecutor of the neophyte Christian religion.  Enjoyed terrorising any and all members of the then budding off-shoot of Judaism.  According to the legend, Saul was on his  to Damascus in Syria when he got knocked off his horse and heard (or saw) none other than Jesus.  Jesus essentially told him  to chill the fuck out and stop being a player hater.  Jesus then blinded Saul who was later renamed Paul.  Another new convert was sent to get him and care for him until scales was said to fall from his eyes and he regained his vision.

Paul went on to write most of the Christian writings.  His story is quite amazing and exciting.  I can not overemphasize how great of a 180 degree turn the story of Saul is supposed to represent.  In modern day times it would be as if Osama bin Laden went on to become the Secretary of Defense of the United States.  It was that drastic and dramatic.

I would describe Paul as a mix of a lawyer, politician, preacher and a Special Forces soldier.  After his conversion, the 12 apostles that were the core group of Jesus' followers, were very skeptical of Paul.  They reluctantly accepted him into their clique.  Paul went on to spread the message of his new conviction like his hair was on fire. 

It should be noted that most of Paul's audiences were Gentiles who had 0 clue of what the requirements of a Messiah was.  Paul was very unsuccesful where there were a large Jewish population who could fact-check his claims.  Paul sold his credentials as a former Jew who studied under a teacher named Gamaliel.
Saul of Tarsus rendering as Jesus confronts him on the road to Damascus

Tina Turner is Buddhist.
Tina Turner

 Russell Brand is Hindu.
Russell Brand

 Doug Batchelor is said to be a former atheist.  He is now a successful Seventh Day Adventist pastor.
Pastor Doug Batchelor

Ann Rice was atheist and became Catholic and is now something spiritual.
Ann Rice

Our lives take us down different paths.  People have different experiences and are often exposed to different information.  Changing your religion or leaving religion altogether can be a very traumatic experience.  I am sure that most of these people highlighted here would not convert after hearing each other's reasons for changing their beliefs.  I think that a persons innate personality may be a reason for that.  Just as we simply like certain colors because they appeal to us, it may be that religions are a type of "philosophical color" that appeals to certain people for their own private reasons.

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