Letter #1 to an Agnostic Friend: Conversion from Atheism to Christ


This is the first in a series of real letters I am writing to my agnostic friend.

It is intended to provoke thought and discussion between him and I, and hopefully ultimately result in his conversion to Christianity and the Catholic Faith. I printed this first letter and mailed it to him via snail mail.

It is not intended to be a proof-text against a hostile atheist (of which I was one), but rather someone who doesn't believe in God but is open to discussing it and considering it for themselves.

Hello my old friend,

I write to you in what I hope will become a set of letters to share with you how I became a Christian from atheism/agnosticism, and then specifically a Catholic, and how over the past twenty-three years those decisions have been confirmed in diverse ways.

My hope and expectation is that you, with whom I’ve been friends for a long time, will read and ponder these letters, as a person of good will, and also if you are inclined, will respond to any of them with your own thoughts, questions, or doubts.

My goal is not to prove to you that God exists, though I do plan to include a reference to at least one such proof, a well-known one from St. Thomas Aquinas, but instead to share my own experiences and observations both as an atheist and in become a Christian.

I’ve appreciated your friendship always and am grateful for it!

This first letter details my conversion from atheism to Christianity and on to the Catholic Faith as the fullest and truest expression of Christianity.

It is longer than most of the rest of the letters will be, but it is important because, in the first place, it is my real story, and in the second place, it shows one path from non-belief to belief, and even though your path is and will be different, I reveal a key aspect of conversion: how does one believe in something that he has never believed in before?

Atheist Upbringing

I grew up in an atheist home. My mother was brought up in a legalistic branch of the churches of Christ Protestant denomination, and my father, in the Episcopal Church. They both left Christianity and quit going to church early on in their marriage (and they got married early, both around 20 years of age).

Growing up, my family never prayed. Not once, to my recollection. And while my mother encouraged me to believe in science and evolution, neither of my parents were militant atheists, in the sense that they went around trying to debate people or convince their Christian friends to become atheists. They just didn’t believe, and they acted like they didn’t believe, and they reared my sister and I to not believe, and unsurprisingly, we grew up not believing.

I was well-liked in school, always did well academically, and played lots of sports. That, plus video games and TV, was my upbringing. I had a great life, as far as I knew, was generally cheerful, and was optimistic about my future.

I received a full scholarship to Texas A&M, majored in electrical engineering, and continued to be successful in school.

Anxieties Begin

But, beginning my senior year in high school, and continuing and worsening during the first years of college, I began to experience anxieties. It started out small and slowly got worse. I began getting nervous in social situations: going to restaurants, movies, and eventually, just being in class for school.

These anxieties began to produce physical symptoms: my stomach would start to feel upset; I’d get headaches; I’d start sweating for no apparent reason; my mind would begin to race and want to get out of the situation.

These anxieties got worse and worse, and I started having what I thought were nervous breakdowns, which I now know to have been panic attacks. My heart would beat frantically, and my fears would feed into one another in a spiraling cycle that I could not control. I hid my anxieties from others, bottling all of them inside, and tried to “think” my way out of them. Mind over matter. Just chemicals in my brain, or so I thought.

During my junior year, I was interning for a semester at a prestigious organization and living with my mother. I began suffering from a headache that would not go away. This headache, with little respite, lasted for five months solid during the internship.

The strain wore down what little emotional strength I had left within me, and near the end of my internship, I would drive home each day hoping that a car would swerve from the oncoming traffic into my lane and kill me.

I had reached the point where I wanted to die rather than suffer through another day of tormenting fears. For the first time in my life, I came face-to-face with the logical endpoint of my atheism: despair. Always before in my life, the thin veneer of comfort, prosperity, and general well-being had protected me from facing the terrifying existential conclusions of my worldview.

One day, in a disturbing waking dream, I saw before me total, empty blackness—a vivid manifestation of my utter hopelessness.

Finally I told my mother about my anxieties. She suggested that I see a psychologist. I was willing to do anything, so I found one and went to her.


The psychologist helped me realize that my condition was not unique. She taught me cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, including breathing exercises and positive thinking. These helped a little, but my anxieties persisted almost as strongly as ever, and after a few months of doing this therapy, I realized that I was in trouble. I was clinically depressed, suffering from frequent panic attacks, and fighting a titanic struggle with never-ending anxieties.

I believed that my problems were just chemicals in my brain, but I had tried every tactic that I could think of to beat the anxiety, and none had worked. My once-reliable intelligence now failed me utterly, so I faced a choice: either commit suicide or try to believe in God. For some reason, that was the dichotomy in my heart, even after years as an ardent atheist.

I decided to try belief first, with suicide as the backup plan. I knew that if God did not exist, then “trying” to believe in Him would not work, because it would just be me trying one more mental trick among the multitude that I had already tried without any success.

But if God did exist, then I shouldn’t kill myself without giving Him a fair shake. Still, the stupidity of asking God for help revolted me. But with nothing to lose, I gave it a try.

First Prayer

I began praying for the first time ever. I said, “God, you know that I don’t believe in you, but I am in trouble and need help. If you are real, help me.” (Incidentally, you can and should start praying this prayer, or something similar, as well. God wants to help you to believe, but He will not force it upon you.)

I also started reading the Bible to learn about Christianity, starting with Genesis, for I was determined to begin at the beginning.

The initial result of my prayers was, well, nothing. I didn’t see God or Jesus or anything supernatural. No one whispered anything in my ear. If I had an angel, he didn’t come to visibly embrace me and kick my demons out.

My problems didn’t go away, nor did they seem to lessen noticeably. This disappointing result did not surprise me but instead wryly confirmed what I had always thought: “God doesn’t exist, so thinking He’ll help you is foolish.”

But when you are in the ocean and all you have is a life preserver, however small it may be, it’s the only hope that you’ve got. So I kept asking God for help every day and kept reading the Bible, though the King James Version with its “thees” and “thous” and “begats” made for near-inscrutable study.

Slowly, however, under this simple regimen of prayer and reading, things began improving slightly, enough for me to notice a difference. A picture was forming in my imagination of a little sapling in the woods, overshadowed by huge trees. This sapling represented my faith in God: tiny, vulnerable, frail. All the things that I thought I knew sought to destroy the sapling: atheism, atheistic evolution, the absurdity of believing in God, all the evils that Christians had done, and the doubts that some invisible being could help me.

So I mentally protected the sapling, knowing that I had to give it a chance to grow, that it was the only possible lifeline I had. When my thoughts rebelled against belief in God or assaulted me with a myriad of doubts while reading the Bible, I pushed those thoughts aside, suspending the disbelief and exerting myself to believe, all the while telling God that He had better help me if He valued my life at all.


When I returned to college after my internship, I lived with a friend of mine who was a faithful Baptist, and he took me to church with him each Sunday. It was a strange experience, being around people who were singing songs to God and praying together.

My social anxiety disorder made it tough for me to sit anywhere in the church without feeling very anxious. I didn’t know the songs or the prayers, and so I felt even more like an outsider. Still, I per-severed. I continued reading the Bible, asking my roommate questions about what I was reading, and praying.

Over the course of several months, my faith grew appreciably, and it eventually threatened to whelm my doubts and unbelief. It was incredible and something that I knew I could not have manufactured. As the months went by in my senior year of college, I deepened my friendships with the Christians I knew, attended church and Sunday school regularly, and started calling myself a Christian.

Looking back now, I don’t know if it is theologically correct to call what I had “faith.” It may be better termed, prevenient grace that was leading me to faith. But while such a discussion has value for precision’s sake, at this stage in my journey, I was being led to believe in God, no matter what the correct term for it was.

At some point that year, the scales tipped, and God came rushing in. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was given the courage and strength to face my crippling anxieties and to begin to overcome them. I read the entire Bible from cover to cover and then began reading it again, along with other spiritual books.

God had given me hope to counter my despair, and faith and love began to heal my deep wounds. I encountered Jesus Christ for the first time and was finally able to receive the love that He had longed to give me for so many years. Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe—who created the laws of physics in His brilliance and yet became a human being to rescue me from my sinful, selfish, meaningless way of living—loved me and had created me to love Him forever.

I didn’t see a flash of light; I never heard Christ’s voice, and I never saw Jesus or the Holy Spirit. But I believed in Him and believed that all He said in the Bible was true. I felt God taking a hold of me and my life changing dramatically.


Finally, near the end of my senior year, I was baptized in the Baptist church and became a member of it. I believed in Jesus Christ. I believed that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. I had become, though I would not have called myself this, an Evangelical Protestant Christian. My new life had begun.

Before delving into the next stage of my journey, where I became Catholic, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you on conversion.

While you might encounter a crisis in your life like I did, one that puts you between suicide or faith, you might also never face such a dire situation. In other words, your path to faith, your motivations to explore it and try to believe, will likely differ from mine. God in His wisdom knows the exact path that He wants you to take, and you should follow that.

My main goal in sharing the story of my conversion from atheism is to help you see that one can go from not believing to believing. But it takes effort. While the gift of faith is free, one must actually seek it and do some “due diligence” to understand who God is, what Christianity teaches, and how it answers the deepest and most profound questions in our life.

This is the reason that I said earlier that you should start to say a prayer, asking God for the gift of faith, the gift to believe. As we will see in future letters, faith is not a blind leap, rather it is reasonably supported by something called motives of credibility. These are signposts and breadcrumb trails and other pieces of evidence that God has given to us, to help us believe.

And finally, you should know that the devil does not want you to believe. He wants you to continue along rejecting Jesus and wants you to join him in hell for eternity. He is very clever—more clever than you or I are—and he will nudge you in subtle ways to not say a prayer asking for faith, telling you that it is stupid, or that you don’t need to do it, or that instead you could watch a TV show or video on YouTube. Don’t listen to him! Instead, make a change in your life that you will be eternally grateful for, and persevere with trying to believe and your prayer.


So how then did I come to be Catholic? I had just been baptized in the spring of my senior year in college and was growing tremendously in my faith. I was involved in Bible studies, went to a young men’s fellowship group, and volunteered with disadvantaged elementary-school children. I also began memorizing Scripture verses.

I had one summer and one fall semester left before graduating from college. Most of my friends left town for the summer and went back home to work, often in youth ministry at Evangelical churches. But one of my friends, Matt, was staying in town to take classes, so he and I roomed together for the summer. We went to church together regularly and frequently talked about our Christian faith. He was a logical thinker and a good debater, so we could delve into matters deeply and have lively discussions without taking things personally if we disagreed.

I had begun to grow uneasy about why we as Christians were so divided from each other in our teachings and in our worship. Our Southern Baptist beliefs differed, in big and in small ways, from those of other denominations, and we certainly didn’t worship with them. They had their church, and we had ours. Our (very large) Baptist church was only a short distance away from an equally large Presbyterian one, a troubling example of our intra-Christian divisions.

“What do they believe at that Presbyterian church?” I asked Matt. But he didn’t know.

That first question began a long series of discussions that we had together about the lack of Christian unity and whether it was a problem. It got me thinking about what I believed about God and more importantly, why I believed it. I had only been a Christian for one short year (and had only been baptized for a few months), but already I more or less subscribed to the Southern Baptist teachings and had rejected conflicting beliefs held by other denominations. How had I, a newly minted Christian, come so quickly to a conclusion about which denomination taught the most accurate truth?

I realized then that all I had learned about Christianity came from an Evangelical Protestant perspective. My friends had promptly bought me a large, well-annotated, New International Version of the Bible to replace my King James Version. I read this Bible from cover to cover and read it again. When I didn’t understand something, which was often, I would look down and see if there was an explanatory note about it, and I usually found one. This feature is very helpful, but I realize now that the answers were all interpretations through an Evangelical Protestant lens. When I had questions about the Faith, I would ask my Evangelical friends, and they would answer me according to what they believed was true.

These are not bad things. They are the ordinary way that God made us and account for why children of Muslims usually become Muslim, children of Christians become Christian, and so on. However, I needed to survey other Christian denominations’ beliefs and decide for myself what was true.

So I returned to the discussions with my friend Matt about which denomination’s teachings were “closest” to the truth that God has revealed, praying that Jesus would guide me. Because having now discovered Him, I wanted to be as close to Him as possible.

I assumed that the Bible was the sure basis for truth, because we believed it was the inerrant word of God. That sounded good, but there were two problems: firstly, other Protestant denominations claimed the same thing, and yet we were divided from them in our beliefs, and secondly, the Catholic Church claimed there were seven more books, not included in our Bibles, which were inspired by God.

The first problem led to the inevitable conclusion that it was possible for different Christians—all claiming to be “led by the Holy Spirit” and all basing their beliefs on “the Bible alone”—to veer off in different, mutually exclusive directions. Throughout history, I discovered, some person or group within a Protestant church came to believe differently than the others and broke off to form their own, new denomination. This seemed to me to violate Christ’s prayer and command for us Christians to be in unity (see John 17). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and would never lead people to believe something untrue, so that meant that at least some of the Christians who thought they were listening accurately to the Spirit’s promptings were in reality, not.

The second problem was of a different sort, because it struck at the root of the tree of my faith: we believed in the “Bible alone,” yet that meant we had to know with confidence which books made up the Bible!

Here we had the Catholic Church claiming that my Bible was missing seven books that God had inspired and therefore desired to be included. How did I know who was right? More broadly, who had determined which books should be in the Bible, when did they do so, and why should I believe them?

I finally concluded at that point that one of two things must be true: either the Holy Spirit had tried to guide Christians to know which books belonged in the Bible, but we may still have gotten some of the books wrong, or the Holy Spirit by God’s grace succeeded, miraculously overcoming our myriad faults, such that the Bible was made up of the exact books that God himself inspired.

In other words, God either preserved His Church throughout history from errors which would corrupt her teachings, or He did not, leaving us in a state where we could only be somewhat confident that most of our beliefs were hopefully true.

I was hoping that God had preserved His Church from errors in her teachings, so I wondered: which denominations had the boldness to claim that they were that Church who held the fullness of the truth? (My Baptist church certainly didn’t claim that.)

It turned out that Catholics, Orthodox, and Mormons claimed that. The two of these that had credible claims historically and theologically were the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches—both were a long way from my Evangelical Protestantism.

I was dumbfounded and unsettled. The Catholic Church taught things about Mary, purgatory, the saints, the sacraments, and priests that I thought were completely bogus. But I tried to set this bias aside and be objective. With a sense of dread, I began investigating the Catholic Church in earnest, looking and hoping for something that would let me off the hook to return to Protestantism in peace.

Alas, I failed to find it. I challenged my Evangelical friends to prove my arguments wrong and explain where I was going off course. They tried to do so but could not explain, for example, why I should accept the Protestant canon of Scripture (that is, the list of books Protestants claims make up the Bible).

For months, we debated many matters of our Faith, but I returned again and again to the canon of Scripture and the authority by which it was formed. For many of my friends who had been raised in the Faith, my stubborn questioning was hard to fathom. But the freshness of my conversion, perhaps, kept my curiosity ignited.

I studied books, took part in internet discussions, and read stories of faithful and intelligent Protestants converting to the Catholic Faith. I joined RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults—an odd-sounding name for the classes you take if you are thinking of becoming Catholic) in the last semester of my senior year and was received into the Catholic Church at Easter of 2001. Two of my Evangelical friends, including Matt, came to the four-hour-long vigil Mass. I greatly respect and love my Protestant friends; I would not be the new man that I am today without them.

As for my anxieties, they didn’t disappear in the blink of an eye. Instead, they slowly diminished as God replaced my atheistic, selfish worldview with the truth. I learned that I was a child of God and that my worth as a person stemmed from that and not from what others thought of me. I learned to respect myself and others more deeply than I ever could have as an atheist. I now lean on Christ daily for strength to face my fears, and though they still surface at times, they no longer rule my life—God does.

My “road to Rome,” then, began with taking the risk that God might be real. It continued with the discovery that He loved me and was worth trusting. And as I trusted Him, I felt confident enough to question myself—including my Protestant perspective.

So there it is. I became Catholic, and twenty-three years later am still Catholic.

In subsequent letters, I will share various insights, observations, and experiences that I have had as a Catholic who was formerly an atheist. My hope for you is that you, too, discover these truths and that they transform you and your family, both now and in eternity.

Your friend,

Devin Rose

Read the next letter: where should you begin as an agnostic to explore Christianity.


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