A Scottish Conversion Story
Connor Stephen recounts what drew him from the New Atheists to the Catholic faith.
Christ’s Passion calls us all to faith
Pax in Christi. I am a fairly recent convert to the faith, with my baptism happening in April 2021. How I got here is a winding road of failure to find satisfaction with life until encountering Christ and His Passion through prayer.
Growing up in the 2000s, life was simple. God made us all, Jesus was His Son, and we sang hymns at assembly in primary school. I didn’t go to church but I had a couple of faithful friends who would often tell us about things from the Bible. I wasn’t fully aware that people gave up their Sunday mornings to worship God, because my family was largely secular. By the time I reached adolescence, I’d begun to cast off the fanciful notions of childhood – Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and of course, the most ridiculous one – God. I denied the metaphysical. I sought the truth, and I found truth in the rationalistic arguments put forward by the New Atheism movement, which sought to rid the human race of its silly beliefs in a big man in the sky who loves us all. My conversion to atheism was cemented once I became familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church in a documentary. I believed their claims of getting to the roots of Christianity and I didn’t like what I saw. The malice seething from them in the name of God and Jesus was completely at odds with my own beliefs. Thus, Christianity and Christians became a punching bag for me – their God must have taught them to hate! Not that I ever looked into what other Christians had to say about them...
As I went on through high-school, I began to study physics and the workings of the universe – the Big Bang was of particular interest because it answered where it all began (not realising that a Catholic priest formulated the theory!). I had the “how”. I didn’t have the “why”. I think God began His work on forming me then, because I developed a deep fear of death – not of Hell, because that obviously didn’t exist! But of the void, the abyss, oblivion, whatever you want to call it. If we were all doomed to the void, then… why?
I couldn’t answer with confidence at that age, and I tried not to give it much thought. I told myself that the “why” was to find our own purposes. Finding my own purpose at that age meant going to university to study and absorb the knowledge of the world. Absorb it I did. In the worldly sense. My time at university was dominated by hedonistic pursuits. I was “free” thanks to my lack of faith, but engaging in sadly all-too-common university lifestyle choices left me bereft, empty, bitterly miserable. Once waking up after a particularly bad night of partying, I was feeling sorry for myself and simply shut myself in my room, turned off my phone. I began to think of all the things that lead me to this point, even beyond myself. Everything started with the Big Bang, then the universe cooled, the planets and stars formed, our own sun formed and the Earth around it. All these chains of events, physical constants in the universe, there were too many to count. All of this lead to me, sitting in my room upset that I’d made such a fool of myself the night before. How could this all have just been mere chance, caused by a single Higgs boson particle? I started to believe… not in the Triune God, but in a Creator. I had become a deist, looking through the lens of the natural world to find God. I was quite comfortable to remain with that thought, as it gelled well with my selfish lifestyle. God made us… then He went, leaving us to figure out the rest.
And yet still, I wasn’t satisfied at all. I began to research the history of my home country, and this lead me to more esoteric branches of religion, including Celtic paganism. I wanted to understand what my ancient ancestors would’ve been doing, what this corner of Scotland looked like socially, millennia ago. I found myself in online groups trying to figure out what Celtic paganism even was. By all accounts, it was dead – completely, like the language of the Picts who once lived in the North-East. Neopagan groups merely made their own religion and pretended it was a restoration of what the Celts once did. So once again, I was dissatisfied.
In one of these groups, I encountered a few Christians. Incredibly, they weren’t awful people who screamed hateful words from the rooftops, and they invited me to learn more from them. I accepted, beginning to read passages from the Bible and ask questions, getting daily scripture passages from an app. My spiritual development had begun.
And then my Granny died.
After a long battle against vascular dementia, my Granny passed away in late 2018. I was bereaved, and truly turned to God for the first time. I prayed that she was in Heaven, and that He would take care of her. I viewed her death as an act of mercy. Dementia kills the mind, and only in death is it reunited with the soul. You were halfway to Heaven; God willing, you’ve made the journey now. I asked the people in the group what her fate was. They offered kind words, and above all friendship.
We discussed more about the faith, and I dealt with some doctrines that were strange and new to me. There wasn’t much mention of the Holy Ghost at school if at all, so understanding the Trinity was first. Then came the Pope, the sacraments and their purposes. All taking place in a multi-denominational group. I still didn’t know where to go, which denomination was correct. What really flipped me was understanding Matthew 16:18 and learning about sola scriptura. How can you say Scripture alone is enough for doctrine when you follow a reformer’s canon? Is that not a tradition of men?
At this point, I was comfortable with the Catholic faith, and decided I was going to follow it’s doctrines and teachings. Again though, my laziness came into play. I believed in God, His Son, His crucifixion, His resurrection, all of it, but I didn’t practice what I preached. I didn’t start regularly going to Mass until after I had graduated university – then COVID hit. Being forced into solitude all of a sudden was perhaps the greatest thing for my faith. Amongst all the fears and doubts, I began praying regularly, which was something I only did infrequently beforehand. The influence of the Holy Ghost was upon me. I started saying the rosary prayers daily, reciting the prayers and the Holy Mysteries off by heart. The Paraclete brought me great comfort, as is written, in that uncertain period.
On a random Friday about 3 months into lockdown, I was in my room praying the rosary. Meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was very focused on understanding what each decade meant. When I got to the fifth Mystery, something indescribable happened. In my chest, I felt a tiny fraction of the heartbreak and pain Christ suffered during His Passion. Though it was just a fraction, it was unbearable, and I finally realised what Christ had done when He offered Himself up as the final sacrifice. I paused for a moment then kept praying, tears began to stream from my eyes, and in that moment I was finally and truly converted by Christ’s grace. I knew then that I couldn’t sit any longer, I had to be baptised. My sins were too heavy to carry any longer, and Christ had shown me what it felt like for Him to carry them – because He was the only one who could. Immediately I got in contact with the local parish to begin RCIA, and the following year I was welcomed into the Catholic Church with baptism, confirmation, and first communion all at once.
I have Christ to thank for working through others and through His own means to bring me home to Him. Thank the One True God for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!
By Connor Stephen