By James Bishop| Leah Libresco is a writer and school systems analyst based in Washington D.C. She is also a writer for the Huffington Post and graduated from Yale University in 2011 with a B.A. in political science (1).
Libresco, a popular former atheist blogger at the website Patheos, recounts a remarkable worldview transition from atheism to Christianity, and specifically Catholicism (2).
As the motto of Pathos goes the site intends to host “the conversation on faith,” however a large chunk of it is dominated by atheists and their arguments against religion. It was with this crowd that Libresco had a popular following and readership.
Libresco, having been brought up in an atheist household, was exposed to a particular non-religious setting from a young age, “I grew up on Long Island, where most of the people I knew were non-religious Jews. So, religion was so far from most of our minds…” (3). And as she explains, “There wasn’t really a time when I wasn’t an atheist. My parents are both atheists, so that’s how I was raised.”
What added so flavour to Libresco’s previous atheistic orientation was that she had a Catholic boyfriend; she explains that she “was dating a nice Catholic boy, and we’d have arguments” (4). These arguments were specifically worldview arguments involving a Christianity versus atheism tussle.
How her sense of objective morality led her to Christianity
One thing which she could not reconcile with her atheism was her internal moral compass, and after some years of reflection she found that she
“was ready to admit that there were parts of Christianity and Catholicism that seemed like a pretty good match for the bits of my moral system that I was most sure of, while meanwhile my own philosophy was pretty kludged together and not particularly satisfactory” (5).
She knew she had certain moral duties, and that those duties lay outside of herself. But these duties could only be grounded in something transcendent and personal: God. Libresco thus came to the conclusion that Christianity was the system which best explained this.
In her dialogue with CNN she expressed this more fully, “I had one thing that I was most certain of, which is that morality is something we have a duty to, and it is external from us. And when push came to shove, that is the belief I wouldn’t let go of” (6)…
“I’m really sure that morality is objective, human independent, and something we uncover like archaeologists, not something we build like architects. And I was having trouble explaining that in my own philosophy, and Christianity offered an explanation which I came to find compelling” (7).
Libresco had also considered at some of the most widely read atheist views on morality with one of them being Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. However, she explains that Harris’ attempt at grounding moral values and duties in science “was a total disappointment. The focus is on subjective happiness, looking forward to the days when we can use brain-scans to check what makes us happy, which was way too much trust in ourselves for my taste.
Being good might make us happy, but pleasure/pain was too crude a way to check on what was good.”
She now recommends works penned by Christian thinkers such as C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy because it is the Christian worldview that best grounds our moral compass.
How, might one ask, have atheists responded to her change? According to Mehta, also an atheist writer, Libresco’s conversion is a “one-off thing” and not something that signals any trend in atheism,
“The trends are very clear, the conversions from Catholicism to atheism are much more likely to happen than the other way around.” But I would strongly disagree with Mehta at least on one front for I’ve engaged plenty of testimonies of how atheists, including former atheist bloggers, academics and writers, have rejected atheism in favour of Christianity for diverse reasons.
It is simply not true that that these conversions are just one-off kind of things that don’t reflect some kind of pattern or perceived problems with atheism. However, although no longer an atheist Libresco says that there are some positives she can draw out of her former atheism,
“The great thing about a lot of the atheist and skeptic community is that people talk more critically about ideas and want to see proof provided. That kind of analytical thinking is completely useful and the Catholic Church doesn’t need to and should not be afraid of because if you’ve got the facts on your side, you hope they win.”
Libresco has thus seen many transformations in her general outlook given her newly adopted Christian value system. For example, no longer is she simply concerned with her own moral needs and behaviour, but she’s now interested in the good and concerns of those around her. This is because she sees morality as possessing a transcendent value that touches all people and thus not something that each person makes up for him or herself.
However, she explains that now looking back at atheism there’s a lack of competency in many of their intellectual approaches, “It turned out that a lot of the atheist writings I’d read were pitched toward rebutting contemporary American fundamentalist Protestantism…” She also would go on to note that “A lot of the counter-apologetics I knew were of the Dawkins-God Delusion type – targeted toward biblical literalists, God-of-the-Gaps people.”
These, however, did not seem to apply with some of the smarter Christians she had met during her college and adult years (8).
Readers can catch Libresco on Patheos under the new title “Unequally Yoked: a geeky convert picks fights in good faith.” Her blog viewership has increased significantly since her conversion.