June 22nd, 2012
11:27 AM ET

Prominent atheist blogger converts to Catholicism

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – She went from atheist to Catholic in just over 1,000 words.

Leah Libresco, who’d been a prominent atheist blogger for the religion website Patheos, announced on her blog this week that after years of debating many “smart Christians,” she has decided to become one herself, and that she has begun the process of converting to Catholicism.

Libresco, who had long blogged under the banner “Unequally Yoked: A geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend,” said that at the heart of her decision were questions of morality and how one finds a moral compass.

“I had one thing that I was most certain of, which is that morality is something we have a duty to,” Libresco told CNN in an interview this week, a small cross dangling from her neck. “And it is external from us. And when push came to shove, that is the belief I wouldn’t let go of. And that is something I can’t prove.”

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According to a Patheos post she wrote on Monday, entitled “This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal,” she began to see parts of Christianity and Catholicism that fit her moral system. Though she now identifies as a Catholic, Libresco questions certain aspects of Catholicism, including the church’s positions on homosexuality, contraception and some aspects of religious liberty.

“There was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth,” Libresco wrote about Catholicism in her conversion announcement post, which has been shared over 18,000 times on Facebook. “I asked my friend what he suggests we do now, and we prayed the night office of the Liturgy of the Hours together.”

At the end of the post, Libresco announces that she is in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class and is preparing for baptism. She will continue to blog for Patheos, but under the banner, “A geeky convert picks fights in good faith.”

According to Dan Welch, director of marketing for Patheos, Libresco’s post has received around 150,000 page views so far.

“Leah's blog has gotten steadily more popular since she arrived at Patheos, but a typical post on her blog is probably closer to the range of 5,000 page views,” Welch wrote in an email. “Even now, a few days later, her blog is probably getting 20-30 times its normal traffic.”

Libresco’s announcement has left some atheists scratching their heads.

“I think atheists were surprised that she went with Catholicism, which seems like a very specific choice,” Hemant Mehta, an atheist blogger at Patheos, told CNN. “I have a hard time believing how someone could jump from I don’t believe in God to a very specific church and a very specific God.”

Mehta says that Libresco’s conversion is a “one-off thing” and not something that signals any trend in atheism. “The trends are very clear, the conversions from Catholicism to atheism are much more likely to happen than the other way around,” he said.

But while atheists were puzzled by the conversion, others commended Libresco.

“I know I’ve prayed for her conversion several times, always thinking she would make a great Catholic,” wrote Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger. “And with this news, it looks like that will happen. Today heaven is roaring with joy.”

Thomas L. McDonald, a Catholic Patheos blogger, welcomed Libresco to the fold: “Welcome. I know this was hard, and will continue to be so. Don’t worry if the Catholics make it as for difficult for you as the atheists. We only do it to people we love.”

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Libresco says one of the most common questions she has received is how she'll deal with atheists now.

“The great thing about a lot of the atheist and skeptic community is that people talk more critically about ideas and want to see proof provided,” Libresco said. “That kind of analytical thinking is completely useful and the Catholic Church doesn’t need to and should not be afraid of because if you’ve got the facts on your side, you hope they win.”

Libresco is just switching the side she thinks the facts are on.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Catholic Church

soundoff (7,475 Responses)
  1. Pope on a Rope

    And as a result, absolutely nothing changed.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  2. Evangelical

    I'm so glad that this atheist finally saw the light even if she did convert to Catholicism rather than a fundamentalist church. She finally realized that without God there is no morality.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Bet

      Eva, you do know that she's openly bise.xual, right? LOL!

      June 23, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  3. Iphegenia

    What I honestly don't understand is how a recent Yale graduate who did well on Jeopardy's College thing could come up with a statements like "morality is external to us" and "I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth."

    Let me spell it out for you, Leah, because it is really straightforward. First of all, your choice of words is confusing the hell out of you. Drop the concept of Moral Law because there is none. There is no single Moral Law. There have been many attempts to create such a thing, but they are all fairly different, and there is no religion (especially not yours) that has not radically alterred their moralities over the years. If you don't think so, ask yourself what happened to the punishments meted out in the inquisitions at the order of your church? Would any Catholic now consider those tortures as appropriate? Of course not. Are your moralities of gay rights and contraception acceptable to your Moral Law even now? Of course not. What happened to the morality of the Old Testament? Radically changed. There is no universal morality.

    So throw that concept away. You are confusing yourself – it is not a distant Platonic abstaction, and it is not distant in some abstract deity (you love your abstractions!). What you are really asking is, why are people nice to each other? Why do they cooperate instead of maraud? Why do they romance instead of rape? Why would a human choose to be decent instead of thieving and grasping and brutish. And the answer is simple: because you get far better rewards for behaving decently. A thief gets a one-time windfall at best, and must worry about reprisal. A business venture creates ongoing prosperity for numerous people, and little risk of reprisal. Rape gets one time gratification but very angry enemies, love and romance get ongoing gratification on far more levels, with only the challenges of the relationship as negative.

    Various examples of game theory prove this out clearly. It has nothing to do with gods or distant abstractions. The morality is in you. Why help someone in need when there is nothing in it for you? Because there actually is. The feeling you get about yourself as a good and helping person, and the ongoing goodwill of those around you for being good.

    Does this model go off track? Sure. Mongol hordes and Viking raids come up where there is no offsetting power. This unfortunately also is accounted for in game theory, where it is profitable to steal when you can get away with it. However, religion does not stop that at all, and in fact usually positions itself to profit handsomely – cases in point of your new religion: the Crusades, and the invasions of Russia in the 1200s by Teutonic Knights to bring the Eastern Orthodoxy back under Catholic rule (brutal, by the way). Indeed, almost all greedy invasion has been done in the name of God.

    So morality (I hate using that word because the concept is really human decency) is actually based in the individual, and imperfectly codified in the cultural; it is not distant or God-based. Indeed, in a time like now where things are relatively benign, there are significant differences in individual morality, right? Why? Because of different individual perceptions and experiences. Morality is individual. Attempts to enforce morality from the outside don't do too well. Look at members of your own Church, and you will see that Catholicism does not make it's members one iota more moral that atheists. Not one bit. You will find that out when you start hearing some of their true attitudes towards the abuse scandal.

    You've been aroound real atheists, so just keep asking yourself if they were worse and the Catholics are better.

    You are totally lost when you put things into extreme abstractions like distant Moral Law. Morality – human decency – is indeed a person, but that person is you, not some deity.

    Morality is NOT abstract! It is what you do or fail to do. There is no possibility of morality without a person and a circumstance. It is action in a real world context. That is not distant; it is immediate! That is not in God, it is in you, and it is based on experiences, education and genetic patterns. That's why everyone's morality is slightly different.

    Oh well, I give up. I do think it is strange she instantly knew what religion was right in her abrupt conversion.

    After the happy honeymoon she will receive for living down to a cheesey Christian conversion stereotype, she is going to find some ugly things about how Catholics respond to her "questions (about) certain aspects of Catholicism, including the church’s positions on homosexuality, contraception and some aspects of religious liberty." If she has any illusions about whether the Catholics will warmly accept her views, they will not last long.

    Since her conversion is ostensibly based on morality, I do hope she takes a close look at the actual morality of her new friends and her new church so she can see whether or not it is superior in practice. That illusion won't hold long if she has the courage to actually apply critical thinking.

    Sadly, her illusion about the Catholic Church and critical thinking will shatter as well: "The great thing about a lot of the atheist and skeptic community is that people talk more critically about ideas and want to see proof provided,” Libresco said. “That kind of analytical thinking is completely useful and the Catholic Church doesn’t need to and should not be afraid of because if you’ve got the facts on your side, you hope they win.” (Grammatical mangling sic)

    I do wish she would tell us what those facts are, because no other religious person has done it and been able to withstand and critical scrutiny.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • pastapharian

      wll-written, well thought out post. Thank you.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  4. logan5

    Good riddance! If she was so weak minded as to convert to "Catholicism" (wince) the atheist community is better off without her.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • WDinDallas

      Hmm, weak minded. If Atheists are so smart, then why are only 3.6% of Mensa members atheist? Most, over 50% are Christian.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • pastapharian

      Science has shown atheists have a higher intelligence than people with a strong religious faith. The difference is 5.8 points according to findings in developmental psychology.

      More members of the "intellectual elite" considered themselves atheists than the national average.

      Only 7 percent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God. Whilst only 3.3 percent believed in God in the UK’s Royal Society.

      Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQ’s tend not to believe in God.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Bet


      I'm an atheist, and I was a member of Mensa. Once you pass the test, you have to pay annual dues in order to remain a member. I found that most of the people who kept their memberships active and attended the gatherings were insufferable snobs who loved to brag about being in Mensa and how intelligent they were.

      When my first year's membership was up, I didn't renew. I still have the same intellect, I just don't need to pay money to prove it to anyone. Nor do I wish to be around people who act snotty and superior because they are in some exclusive club.

      In other words, it was a lot like going to church.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Ralph Kramden

      Uh Dallas? Atheists are only 1.6% of the population but 3.6% of MENSA? That argues strongly for their superior intelligence – they are seriously over-represented. At least 76% of Americas identify themselves as Christian but only 50% are in MENSA? Guess what that means.

      And what are the other groups that are between the Christians and the atheists in MENSA – bet it's the agnostics, way above their population demographic.

      Your evidence proves what you think it denies. Maybe you should become athist so you can understand this stuff better.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  5. whybs on twitter

    Moral compass has nothing to do with religions. One can't pretend to know more (or be more moral) than those pharaohs in their days!

    Leah is confused but hey, if Christianity makes her happy, it's good for her! 🙂

    June 23, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  6. feministconservative

    Sad. I'll bet there's some sort of domestic abuse going on here.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  7. zarone

    What a great choice. I don't know if she's gone from bad to worse. I mean, isn't this the denomination whose priests all over the world have defrocked (pun intended) in front of little boys and nuns. That would not tar the followers of the religion or denomination so much if the elders who should punish the wrongdoers hadn't backed and protected them while it was going on and continues to do so. And considering they continue to do so, is anyone who follows their teachings really following a true religion or an abomination of what it should be? For the most part, this is a denomination that is literally fighting to breathe as it loses believers all over the world. There are only a few places left where people blindly follow their teachings, because they are too lazy or ignorant.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  8. salathieljones

    Reblogged this on The World Outside of Yourself and commented:

    June 23, 2012 at 1:15 am |

    Dont you people see she did it for the popularity young people thrive on approval. Anyone who needs to believe in god to do the right thing is week and probably needs to be re programed give her a break she found something that she believe will keep her on the strait and narrow and alot of people out there need something. Fortunatly I was educated and taught how to do the right thing without the need to believe in fasle gods. 🙂

    June 23, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  10. Allen

    If I had to choose a religion, I would go Catholic too. Catholicism has the best costumes and theatrics!

    Evangelistic theatrics are certainly more flamboyant, but when I look into their eyes, I just see dumb.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • LouAZ

      Catholic priests wear dresses. Maybe she likes their dresses.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Al

      They have that cool smoke thingy called a thurible which they wave around. It's almost like being time warped back 500 years or more.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  11. Robby Canuck

    A top blogger? An "atheist" who does not appear to know what an atheist is? A person who thinks you cannot be an atheist and not have a moral compass? I don't think so. This young woman is very confused and seems not to understand what science has taught us about the origins and evolution of life.

    In the USA, society is so hung up on labels to conveniently pigeon hole anyone so as to make the five o'clock sound byte. What Americans need to embrace is freedom of thought. Yesterday she was an atheist, and today she is a Catholic. Let us let her be what she wants to be and hope she has the freedom of her own thoughts to make her own decision as to a faith or non-faith belief. As an atheist I would fight to the death to protect that right.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  12. AAA

    What a sell out. I wouldn't be surprised if she actually got paid to switch teams. Once you let go of fairy tales, and step into reality you don't just go back. It doesn't happen to normal people. She is either insane or got a big sum of $$$.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • don Nsthena

      Gotta agree with you AAA. The Catholic machine is well moneyed and not above pulling a stunt like this for publicity. They obviously chose a weak easy target.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  13. Joe Camel

    Translation: my boyfriend put down an ultimatum and I have no spine. Catholics gimme a break!

    June 23, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  14. Paul of the Outer Spiral Arm

    Looks like she developed a taste for weird rituals involving consuming human flesh and drinking blood.

    ***ZOMBIE ALERT***

    June 23, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  15. YOILVU2

    Why the negative responses when an atheist converts to Christianity? Why can't Christians and atheists alike respond with love? All should be able to make their choices without being judged so harshly. The truth is neither Christian moderates, agnostics, atheists etc...can prove their positions on God or no God, so why not just love and believe what you wish to believe? One truth I witness time & again is an atheist believing he or she is intellectually superior to these believers of what the atheist perceives as believers of the mythical realm, so he responds with a hurtful condescending pompous response; or Christians foolishly arguing their beliefs based on the bible alone and harshly responding to non-believers. There are so many wordsmiths out there that can put together such convincing stances that most of you would have to retire and become scholarly and dedicate your entire lives to only be able to state your opinion based on truths you discovered on both sides. A Christian's faith exists because they believe the bible to be truth, some have accepted scientific discoveries that have helped confirm their beliefs, while others have had life experiences, God experiences that have solidified their faith. You can give me every scientific explanation of why the sky is red & I will still tell you it is blue. Don't judge, love & don't believe everything you read.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  16. ISFG04

    God bless you and your path to becoming a Catholic! It's refreshing hearing about someone who found their faith! Welcome to the Church! 🙂

    June 23, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  17. whencehence

    The research shows that the civility doesn't come from god, by Oxytocin – a chemical in the brain. Only mammals have it. The fish and the lizzards don't. It enables us to be concerned about each other, with or without god.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • LouAZ

      I had a Oxytocin once. Tramnsmission started acting funny, so I sold it.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  18. Ben

    "She switched to the side she thinks the facts are on"?
    How about she share a single one of them? Because last I checked there was still not a single shred of tangible, measurable, empirical evidence in support of any form of Theism, let alone something as backwards, corrupt, and atrocious, morally reprehensible (historically), and specific as Catholicism, which isn't even a very accurate form of Christianity when compared to the oldest Biblical scripts we've yet found. It's literally 50% or more ad libbed doctrine and dogma with no root within Christianity.

    I don't think she was an Atheist for the right reasons to begin with if such glaring issues no longer concern her, or I think she was bullied or coerced by the Catholic guy and/or his family/community that the article mentioned.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  19. Ortho Stice

    She fell in love. End of story.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  20. Mary

    Welcome, Leah!

    June 23, 2012 at 12:58 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.