Sat 1st Nov 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 16:19pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

What is it that leads people to change their religion?

We need to proclaim Christ in all his splendour and next to Christ crucified, the icon of Divine Love, we need to point to the icon of the perfect human response, Mary our Mother

By on Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Pope Francis washed the feet of Muslims and Christians on Maundy Thursday this year (CNS)

Pope Francis washed the feet of Muslims and Christians on Maundy Thursday this year (CNS)

What is it that leads people to change their religion? This question has long fascinated me. It is such an interesting historical question. Why, for example, did once Catholic England turn Protestant? Why did Scandinavia become Protestant, and do so far more completely than England? Why was it that Christianity survived in Egypt after the Arab invasions, but disappeared without trace in Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia? These could be sociological questions; but at the same time they could be theological questions as well. Was it simply the strength of the opposition that wiped out Catholicism in these places? Or was Catholicism hollowed out from within, just awaiting overthrow?

If one wants to know about the mechanics of conversion, then perhaps the best way is to ask a convert. The Sandro Magister blog carries a report of the conversion story of Timo Aytaç Güzelmansur, a Turkish national, born in 1977, a native of the city of Antakya (formerly Antioch), and a former Alawite Muslim.

This is what Timo has to say about the reason for his conversion:

“After my encounter with some Christians, I began to read the Bible, in particular the New Testament. And I was immediately fascinated by the person of Jesus. This fascination, which still overwhelms me, and the surprise (because of the wonder) that Jesus loves me so much as to go up upon the cross and give his life for me, are the reasons why I became a Christian……. I converted to Christianity because of Christ! As I have already said, what still fascinates me is the love of Jesus for men. He loved us to the point of giving himself for us on the cross. If Jesus gives his life for me, how can I respond? For me this represents the fundamental question. And it seems logical to me to repay this love by following Christ and receiving baptism.”

This seems straightforward enough, though one would like to know who these Christians he encountered were, for they were the catalyst that led to his conversion. What did they say to him? How did they bring the subject up? What impression did they make on him personally? Turkey is a secular republic, as we all know, but, as parts of Timo’s interview make clear, conversion to Christianity does not go down well in some places. He himself had to leave home and suffered a period of coolness with his own father (who he describes as being not religious), and was rejected by some former friends.

He now lives in Germany and has this to say about conversions there:

“In the Catholic Church in Germany, about two hundred persons of Muslim origin are baptized each year. It is not known how many new Christians there are in Protestant circles who come from Islam, because there are no statistics.

“Persons who leave Islam have different reasons at the time they decide to take this step, which is dangerous. Some of them say: Muhammad was too violent a statesman and man of religion, and this violence is also transmitted in the Quran. Others perceive the Arab communities where Islam is the majority as very backward. Still others have left Islam because they came to live in the West, and here they want to integrate completely: according to them, one fundamental step is to accept the creed of the majority, or Christianity.

“But above all there are Muslim persons of profound religious sensibility who are seeking God, who for this reason find in Christianity a God who loves them and offers them peace and acceptance. Thanks to the encounter with Christ they discover an image of God that obviously they cannot find with Islam.”

Here we see that conversions happen for mixed reasons – some sociological, and some theological. The key phrase for me, and the one that should challenge all Catholics, is in the words ‘image of God’. What image of God are we projecting? If it is the true one, then we shall have converts beating a path to our doors; but if the image of God is warped by our own failures and sins, then converts will be few. We need to proclaim Christ in all his splendour, and, as St Paul would remind us, Christ crucified. ‘If Jesus gives his life for me, how can I respond?’ as Timo rightly says. And next to Christ crucified, the icon of Divine Love, we need to point to the icon of the perfect human response, Mary our Mother.

  • Cradle Catholic

    I converted because Secularism only has one sacrament and it belongs to Satan.What’s that?

  • Cradle Catholic

    Man-centered (i.e., human-centered) as opposed to God-centered. It has even gotten to the point where the laity are singing God’s part.

  • $20596475

    As the comment was about the Pope being “on message” it is completely apposite here.

  • $20596475

    Ridiculous. The very definition of atheism is to not believe in the existence of deities. It is therefore NOT a belief system of any kind. It is a non belief. It is the opposite of theism. That there are a small number of religions who don’t place a “God” at their centre, changes nothing.

    The claim made was ” Atheists deny God for the same reason – they want to be free to worship themselves and live selfish lives”.

    It is nonsense because atheists don’t “deny God” or “worship” anything. There is no need to deny what doesn’t exist. It is simply ignored as irrelevant. Deists flatter themselves by believing that atheists even think along such lines. They don’t.

  • revolting ewe

    The birth place of Christianity was the Middle East. Christianity, of course, is for everyone, but there are many Christian communities that have been present in the Middle East from the start and those people remain fully culturally Arab and religiously Christian to this day. Culturally maybe they are closer to the atmosphere in which Christianity first grew as well as what came before (Judaism amongst other things). In some respects Christianity is closer to the Middle Eastern mind set than the (modern) Western mentality. Of course there are difficulties in predominantly Muslim countries for other reasons but no, the people are proud of their heritage and feel no need to be westernized.

  • JR, Sydney

    “cafeteria catholics”, eh?

    To be worn as a badge of honour!

  • JR, Sydney

    Yep, and there are sedevacantists, schismatics ( or those of a schismatic mentality), charismatics, Old Riters and other fringe groups wich also consider themselves to be more Catholic than the Pope, not to mention the Nervous Orderites.

    Actually I take it back about the charismatics as they tend to be more bible-literate than the others.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    It is therefore NOT a belief system of any kind

    You do not understand what a belief system is.

  • $20596475

    It is you who don’t understand and try to argue something which is clearly untrue.

    I think you would like atheism to be classified as a “belief system” because it then becomes easier for someone with a belief to deal with.

    There is no system involved in atheism. The OED does not define a “belief system” so this one is from “The Free Dictionary”:-

    “a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

    b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

    2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.

    3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.

    4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.”

    None fit. A small number of atheists might also be zealous in opposing religious belief, but that is a quite separate thing. Atheism per se is is a non belief. No system is involved.

  • Dave

    Hence the need of the Holy Spirit to keep us all together.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    I think you would like atheism to be classified as a “belief system”
    because it then becomes easier for someone with a belief to deal with.

    You keep on posting this rubbish as if it were true, but very simply, you do not understand what a belief system is.

    The very FACT that you feel the need to refer to some dictionary created by amateurs demonstrates this.

    I’ve even tried explaining what it is on multiple occasions, to you or any of the other atheists proselytising in here, but you just stick your fingers in your ears and refuse to accept anything contrary to the dogma that “atheists have no beliefs”.

  • JR, Sydney

    ‘infantilised, feminised, Man-centred” , eh? A contradiction in terms altogether. Now if the M in man were lower case and “feminised” left out it would be very “traditional Catholic” indeed…

    A worry when “feminised” becomes a dirty word.

  • JR, Sydney

    This cradle Catholic begs to differ

  • JR, Sydney

    Quite so

  • JR, Sydney

    That is neither here nor there

  • JR, Sydney

    Julian, some of us Catholic post out of interest rather than to identify ourselves as part of a select club

  • JR, Sydney

    How about lower-case c?

  • JR, Sydney

    Beg to differ. It is not for you to assume why anyone “denies God”. You know perfectly well that there is no proof for the existence or non-existence of God. It would be better for you to pray that atheists be granted the gift of faith rather than bag them for assuming that they deny God in order to lead “selfish lives” There are plenty of so-called “believers” who do precisely that.

  • JR, Sydney

    Your irony meter needs servicing

  • JR, Sydney

    I suspect that Barry has already done so.

  • JR, Sydney

    Very much present

  • JR, Sydney

    Too right, Dave , as we say in the Antipodes but perhaps not in the way that you intend

  • Dave

    I haven’t a clue what you are talking about.

  • Dave

    What does that mean?

  • Tridentinus

    To deny is to state that (something declared or believed to be true) is not true, viz: the existence of God.

  • JR, Sydney

    It means that God works in ways that neither you nor I understand

  • JR, Sydney

    Scroll down a bit Dave and read my subsequent answer

  • $20596475

    Atheists don’t have the need to deny anything that, for them, isn’t there. For an atheist it is similar to no longer having to deny the world is flat. It is just not an issue.

  • Dave

    Yes, but how does that differ from what I intended, as you put it?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    ???

    Why ?

    My Guardian Angel and yours certainly have different difficulties with each of us, and are most likely protecting us in very different ways.

    And why should I NOT pray for this friend ?

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    A worry when “feminised” becomes a dirty word

    /facepalm/

  • AndrewTurvey

    That’s very interesting – thanks. Presumably by “Asians” you mean people from East Asia (China, Japan). Just to confuse things, in Britain we tend to mean South Asian (India, Pakistan). There, of course, there’s a long history of Christians there!

  • JR, Sydney

    We”cafeteria Catholics” are hanging in there despite the mudslinging from the self-described “faithful”.

  • JR, Sydney

    Like the peace of God it passeth all understanding, Julian?

  • JR, Sydney

    Seconded

  • JR, Sydney

    Works the other way as well; consider the “conversos” of Spain post Ferdinand and Isabella

  • JR, Sydney

    St Augustine a converted Jew? That’s news to me.

  • AugustineThomas

    Self-worship.
    The symbols of it are legion, but the motivation is always the same.

  • Cradle Catholic
  • JR, Sydney

    “chuckle”
    Not to my musical taste but no doubt penned and sung with sincerity.

  • JR, Sydney

    *chuckle*

    Not to my taste musically but no doubt penned and sung with all sincerity.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    knowing full well what would then happen

    I see that you’ve gulped down the whole bottle of atheist propaganda in one go !!!

  • Dave

    No, I never implied anything of the sort. My comment might make more sense to you, if you read whole thread before responding.

  • Matt

    This guy is the reason that people quit Christianity. These extremists push normal run of the mill people away from the religion because they sound completely irrational. Ex. Telling everyone who is not Christian that they will burn in hell. Not the best way to promote your beliefs and by the way is completely insane.