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The seventeenth episode of The Journey Home is titled “Paul Thigpen: A Pentecostal & Methodist Minister Who Became A Catholic” and aired January 16, 1998. It can be viewed online here.
Paul’s story is the most interesting to me personally so far. Though born into a Pentecostal home, he was taught some philosophy in school at the age of 12 and became what he describes as “an arrogant little atheist”. This lasted for about six years, until he had an experience that he believes was demonic in origin, and returned to Christianity.
I’d like to pause here, because this is the closest we’ve gotten to a guest having held the position I do now, and do a little bit of examination.
First, Marcus Grodi is a fan of quoting Paul Harvey’s pointing out that if he were the devil, the first thing he would do is convince the world he does not exist. He does so again about three minutes into this episode. Just a few minutes later, Paul Thigpen describes an experience that taught him the devil was real.
Here’s my question: if the devil really wants to hide his existence, why would he reveal himself to anyone, especially an atheist?
Breaking it down even more, even if we assume there is a devil, why does that mean there must be a god? I mean, there’s obviously great evil in the world, obviously great suffering, and from that, I can completely understand how someone might think demons exist – some days, I half do myself, because it’s easy to think that someone, somewhere, just hates me. Where’s the evidence of a counteractive force? Where’s the millions who are saved from awful death to balance out the millions who die? It simply doesn’t count if there was no apparent danger; at best, that shows that god is more concerned with hiding himself than the devil is, which is hardly loving behavior. Nothing in this scenario makes sense.
To be fair, they do eventually seem to recognize that there’s some conflict between the devil wanting to hide and the devil revealing himself, but they don’t really explain this. They also don’t offer any real evidence that the devil exists other than personal experience. There was not a given “if you do this, this will happen, and that’s only explainable by the devil because x, y, z”; indeed, there was fear that people might experience the devil and become trapped by him. Simultaneously, there is this fear that people might not think the devil exists and become trapped by him.
Do you see why that doesn’t make sense? I can’t truly fear something I don’t think is real, and I have no reason to protect myself from a fear I don’t hold.
There are, then, two reasons why I don’t find this particular conversion story to contain convincing reasons to believe. First, I do not share an experience of the supernatural, and no evidence was provided for the existence of the supernatural outside of a personal experience (and even then, the personal experience was not at all described). Second, I don’t think it necessarily follows that a god exists, even if a devil does exist. All of the Greek gods were pretty much jerks, after all, and the Greeks, who invented philosophy and basically everything that’s the basis of Western culture, saw no logical need for a really, really, good god.
Although Paul claims to have been atheist for a time, he was certainly a serious Christian when he became Catholic, so I’m counting him under that.
So far, our breakdown of the guests’ religious state before conversion to Catholicism looks like this.
- Serious Christian: 11
- Always Catholic: 3
- Lax Christian: 1
- Non-Christian, but religious: 2
- Non-believer, but not very skeptical: 0
- Skeptic: 0