As PZ Myers pointed out recently, the anonymous blogger known as The Raving Atheist, whose impugning of belief was sufficiently well known to land him (or his voice, at least) an appearance in Brian Flemming’s film The God Who Wasn’t There a couple of years ago, has evidently pulled an about-face and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
The Internet being what it is, I have corresponded with both TRA and Flemming (whose film I enjoyed, as much for its soundtrack as for its content) over the years, and at one point was a regular reader of their respective blogs. In fact, TRA was the first blog I ever read dedicated exclusively to challenging religion in an in-your-face way; a woman I started dating in 2003 was a regular visitor and commenter as well as a “naturalist” blogger in her own right, and she was the one who introduced me to the whole atheist-versus-believer online scene. Up to that point, although I had solid convictions about not only my own detachment from faith but its unwieldy anti-intellectualism, I was largely unaware of them. Now, of course, it’s hard to imagine a time when I wasn’t ranting about such things with aplomb.
But the Internet again being what it is, the proliferation of similar sites saw me stop following TRA some time ago (Flemming no longer updates his blog except, in his own words, to announce that he’s not updating his blog anymore), and owing to my constitution I was increasingly drawn to bloggers whose atheism was informed by general skepticism and a grounding in science; I eventually viewed pure ranting as too parochial to groove on. As a result, I was largely unaware that TRA’s chief focus in recent years has been railing against abortion. Although in retrospect this might be viewed as a harbinger of what was to come, I don’t really see it that way; atheism and a pro-choice stance are typically found in conjunction with one another, but not always.
Anyway, I’m not certain that TRA’s conversion is not a conscious contrivance. I say this not because such things cannot or do not happen–it’s easy to imagine someone extremely conflicted about the true nature of his beliefs being an especially vocal atheist (or theist), much in the same way that many rabid and publicly outspoken homophobes ultimately prove to be gay. (I don’t have any data concerning the latter situation and am not sure any exist, but most are aware of the anecdotes that have piled up over the years, with Ted Haggard being only a prominent example.) What is more striking to me is the manner in which TRA has managed–or not managed–his Web site since embracing the LORD.
I can only speak for what I think I might do in what appears to be TRA’s situation: Here I am with a blog plastered with anti-religious posts dating back over half a decade, and I’ve decided all of it is basically bullshit. I have links to a slew of other atheist sites, of course, and my list of category tags–which include “Godidiot of the Week” and “Atheist News”–are staring me in the face. Obviously, this is all suddenly very inappropriate, unless I’m emulating or channeling Jonathan Swift. At the same time, unless I’m fairly Web-savvy–which most bloggers aren’t–I can’t very well revamp my whole blog all at once and replace the links to godless sites with a slate of polar opposites.
I think that if I were TRA, I would take my site down until I’d made all of the inevitable changes. Actually, assuming I’d had at least some warning of my change of stance before deciding to blog about it, I would have had a brand-new template in a text file ready to go so that I could change the entire orientation of my blog in an instant. I would have placed a robots.txt file on my server to keep caching bots at bay and placed appropriate META tags in my template’s code to effect more or less the same thing. Alternatively, I would simply not blog anymore, and for all I know TRA’s site will indeed soon disappear altogether.
In aby case, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be handling things in the rather laissez-faire way TRA appears to be doing; I mean, we’re not talking about the endorsement of a different politician or even a party switch–we’re looking at a sea change, an uprooting of one’s entire philosophy and outlook, at least the one known to the public. This is why it’s tempting to imagine that this could be a hoax.
We all react differently to our own, whims, though, and I have no idea how much time TRA has to dedicate to updating his page, or how much he even really cares. And there is, in fact, one major difference between the new site and the old one, one established in the past two-thirds of a day or so.
If you look at the version of the post in which TRA announced his flip-flop that was cached by Google only yesterday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, you can see the link to TRA’s “Basic Assumptions” that have been part of his site for years, with some introductory text above it. Since this information will be swallowed anon as Google’s bots keep a-crawlin’ and updating its cache, I’ll paste this text here:
“First, there is no God. In fact, all definitions of the word “God” are either self-contradictory, incoherent, meaningless or refuted by empirical, scientific evidence.”
This has been replaced by “First, there is a God.”
The “continue reading” link below this text on both the cached and updated versions of the page leads to a post from July 21, 2002 that has obviously been edited in recent days to reflect TRA’s transformed views, and reads simply, “Figure the rest out by yourself.”
However, a page stored on the Wayback Machine retains the whole spiel (scroll down to the very bottom), which consists of very common logical refutations of the idea of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient deity.
Anyway, not that I should have wasted all of this time questioning the metaphysical convictions of a fellow I don’t know, at this point I’m going to have to say TRA is serious, and that the modifications to his site that are, like God himself, presently conspicuous for their invisibility will indeed be made soon. At a minimum, this is something you don’t see every day; I’ve seen more than a handful of Christian bloggers come over to the dark side, but this is the first time I’ve seen a professed atheist blogger, well-known or otherwise, make the jump into uncertainty.
A discussion of these matters can be found on the forum which TRA himself once spawned.