Former atheist Fredric Heidemann lives with his wife and their daughter in the Lansing, Michigan. He currently works there as an attorney. Born and raised in an atheist family, Heidemann dismissed religion until his late teenage years when he abandoned atheism. He entered the Catholic Church in 2006 during his freshman year of college and loves sharing his story (1).
According to Heidemann he “grew up in a loving, comfortable atheist household of professional scientists. My dad was a lapsed Catholic, and my mom was a lapsed Lutheran. From the time that I could think rationally on the subject, I did not believe in God. God was an imaginary being for which there was no proof. At best, God was a fantasy for half-witted people to compensate their ignorance and make themselves feel better about their own mortality” (2). He was quite scathing in that he saw belief in God as “a perverse delusion responsible for most of the atrocities committed by the human race.”
But what really got Heidemann to question his atheism? Of all things it was The Lord of the Rings a book penned by J. R. Tolkien who was a Christian himself, “I was a young teenager when I first read the Tolkien tomes, and it immediately captivated me. The fantasy world of Middle-Earth oozes life and profundity. The cultures of the various peoples are organic, rooted in tradition while maintaining a fresh, living energy. Mountains and forests have personalities, and the relationship between people and earth is marked by stewardship and intimacy… Everything seems “deep” in The Lord of the Rings. The combination of character archetypes and assertive “lifeness” in the novel touches on an element of fundamental humanity.”
Heidemann, while still an atheist, goes on to explain his allegiance to scientism, “In my narrow confines of scientism, I had no way of processing what made Tolkien’s masterpiece so profound.”
Scientism is the logically incoherent view that science itself is the sole arbiter of truth and that anything that science cannot rationally explain or account for, which is an incredible amount of our human experience, cannot be considered rational. It’s a worldview very common among atheists, and atheist scientists, who elevate science into some form of religious devotion. I’ve looked at its self-defeating nature here and here for those interested. Most scientists themselves, especially the one’s of reviewed here at my blog, don’t accept this view and tend to find it logically defeating.
But, that detour aside, Heidemann goes on, “How could a made-up fantasy world reveal anything about the “truth”? But I knew it did, and this changed my way of thinking. Are good and evil merely social constructions, or are they real on a deeper level? Why am I relating to ridiculous things like talking trees and corrupted wraiths? Why was I so captivated by this story that made fighting evil against all odds so profound? Why did it instill in me a longing for an adventure of the arduous good? And how does the story make sacrifice so appealing?”
Heidemann touches on a very important point here. For example, the overwhelming majority of human beings live their lives as if objective moral values and duties really exist. This is to say that some acts are objectively evil as opposed to good, and vice versa. Thus, that throwing babies off of clips, or dashing their small heads against sharp rocks, as the Spanish invaders of the Indies did, is an objectively evil act; it is not merely my opinion that it is evil. Most human beings, even atheists of whom deny the objective nature of moral values and duties, live out their lives as if this is true. This is what Heidemann is getting at, “The Lord of the Rings showed me a world where things seemed more “real” than the world I lived in. Not in a literal way, obviously; in a metaphorical, beyond-the-surface way. The beautiful struggle and self-sacrificial glory permeating The Lord of the Rings struck a chord in my soul and filled me with longing that I couldn’t easily dismiss.”
Thus, Heidemann, much like C.S. Lewis and Philip Vander Elst, realized this dilemma and thus it stands as a major reason behind his deconversion, “My attempts to explain these problems in my naturalistic, atheistic worldview fell flat. The idea that being, beauty, and morality were merely productive illusions imposed on us through biological hardwiring crafted through the random process of natural selection rang hollow. If things so fundamental to human existence as meaning and morality are nothing more than productive illusions, what else is untrustworthy? Our five senses? Logical process? Our whole minds? If our being is nothing more than a collection of atoms reacting with each other in enormous complexity through cause and effect chains stretching back to the beginning, then we are floating blindly through space and time: there’s no rhyme, reason, or purpose. And, if that’s the case, then so much of what we consider essentially human is tragic a joke. After all, the human race, the earth, and the universe will go extinct. With a long enough timeline, what’s the point? Even the idea of accomplishing something is finally an illusion. At this juncture, the fruits of atheism were inevitable: nihilism, despair, and, most ironically, confusion.”
Although this got him to question the truth of his atheism it didn’t necessarily answer all his of most prominent questions when it came to belief in God, “Though seriously questioning atheism, I still had many objections. If God were real, why isn’t there more evidence for his existence? If God were real, why are there so many religions? Wouldn’t God want to clearly direct humanity to the source of truth?” But even though these were challenging questions to him he says that his “doubts about atheism, however, continued to haunt me. If the supernatural does not exist, how can there be genuine moral obligations? The classic atheist response is that evolution has created a sophisticated herd instinct in the human race that causes us to want to be good to each other. Those people who lacked a moral compass were simply outcompeted by those of us with a sense of morality – those who could work together for our collective benefit.”
But Heidemann was wise enough spot the massive explanatory hole in this explanation saying that “Even if it could fully account for our moral sense, which I questioned, it did not explain genuine moral obligations.” Similarly the Christian and Darwinian evolutionary biologist Francis Collins cites this as one of the major reasons he too rejected atheism to embrace Christianity. Heidemann explains that even “Supposing the classic evolutionary theory of morality is true, it only explains why we perceive moral obligations; not whether (or why) there are moral obligations. Instead of explaining morality, it explains it away.” But Heidemann saw that atheists, specifically his atheist friends and family, all lived in contradiction to their atheism as they lived affirming objective moral values and duties even though atheism could not account for them, “who pronounced from on high that the success of the human race was the ultimate good? That itself is an assumption that cannot be empirically proven. Going back to the original problem, does “good” even exist? I realized that within the purely naturalistic worldview, all morality is finally a matter of opinion.” Opinion, however, is “No more productive than arguing whether red is better than blue.” Moreover, Heidemann clarifies his current view saying that he’s “never doubted the theory of human evolution. Nothing about it contradicts God’s order of creation. I’m also not saying that atheists are immoral. They just can’t account for the existence of genuine moral obligations. They are, like I was, living in great tension.”
Heidemann says that his transition was hardly an overnight process but that it rather took shape over much time of thought and deliberation, “At some point the tension was too much: either morality is a farce, everything is random with no meaning, and the human mind is mired in inescapable confusion or atheism is false. I chose the latter. That was the logical side. On the emotional side, so many joys in this world have nothing to do with self-preservation or successful reproduction: art, music, a beautiful sunset, etc. I think deep down we all recognize that those kinds of aesthetic experiences may be the most joyful in this life, and these joys serve no productive purpose. The richness of life, which is on full poetic display in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, made me recognize that supposedly rational atheism did not reveal the truth of things; instead, it removed their intrinsic wonder and worth.”
But today as a Christian Heidemann still explains that he has questions, “Having abandoned atheism, I still faced several objections to organized religion that are beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that my critique of atheism gave me a natural monotheistic theology while The Lord of the Rings predisposed me to a sacramental spirituality.”
Finally, and again bringing back Tolkien’s magisterial work into the picture, Heidemann wants to leave us with the following thoughts, “For now, however, let us remember the evangelistic power of beauty and narrative. Much like The Lord of the Rings, they are effective precisely because God is hidden and able to fly below the atheist radar that balks at anything overtly religious. In Middle Earth, the effects of a God-created universe are everywhere, but the source, God Himself, is hidden. No, it’s not that we believers understand The Lord of the Rings on some special level that the atheist does not. Just the opposite. The atheist who truly understands The Lord of the Rings is more of a believer than he thinks.”
1. Proslogion. 2016. An Atheist Becomes a Christian After Reading The Lord of the Rings. Available.
2. Heidemann, F. 2016. I was an Atheist Until I Read “The Lord of the Rings.” Available.