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. PK

    i bet you won't be seeing a story about someone publicly giving up their religion, despite atheism and no religious affiliation being the fastest growing.

    June 24, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  2. islacita

    She's young. I did that before for a man...except I converted from Catholicism to Born Again Christianity because the Catholic Church is a cult, as some have aggressively asserted here in the comments, lol. That lasted about 2 years. Anyway, chances are pretty good that ♪..she still hasn't found... what she's looking for... ♫

    June 24, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  3. Get Real

    Leah, Welcome to the hate fest. Stand your ground because it yours and yours alone .....faith that will carry you through. Some of those who don't believe, will call you a traitor. Some of those who DO believe will call you a traitor. Your relationship with God/Jesus will; stand as long as you do. Be blessed.

    June 24, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      That's a strange thing to tell someone who believes as 88% of the population does!! She converted from a minority of about 4% to a majority of 88%. (88% of folks in the US believe in the christian god).

      As for hate, any being who torture forever and ever those he doesn't like may as well be the most hateful being ever imagined. Even if he sends people to his eternal torture chamber out of "love" it sure doesn't seem like that, does it?

      June 24, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  4. John Smith

    To CNN atheists, you'll get your "Imaginary answer" to God when your dead. Then it will be to late......

    June 24, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • NoTheism

      answer? Who needs an answer?? I don't even know what you're talking about....

      June 24, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      But if we're right, you'll never know it when you die. If the god doing the judging is truly good and merciful, we'll have no problems with each other.

      June 24, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  5. John Smith

    Simply switching CULTS, so what was the point of that? lol

    June 24, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  6. Dan

    I was hoping this story would have a happy ending but it did not.

    June 24, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Smurfette

      You have to pay $20 more for the happy ending

      June 24, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • DearbornGuy

      Dan – "happy ending?" LOL For Leah, it is a happy ending. For you, maybe not. Seriously, I don't understand guys like you and your "like-minded" kin. "Don't thrust your religion on me!" but here you all are, trolling a "Belief" site, doing just that, although you all worship at the altar of science, "reason," etc. The truth is .... TRUTH is, that science can't explain a lot of things, and there are plenty of scientists, doctors, professors... you know, "brilliant" people ... who are very faithful believers. Why is that? Are they all flawed? Or do they believe there is more to life's purpose than science? That there is room for religion and science to co-exist? Think about that next time you "thrust" your belief on everyone else.

      June 24, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  7. Dan

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

    There are no facts on the religious side. It's all about faith. It's total nonsense, fairy tales, and magic.

    June 24, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Nii

      1. Humans r intuitive rather than rational beings.
      2. There is a basic definition of right/wrong in every human.
      3. Humans desire to be good but mostly do wrong for no apparent reason.
      4. Spirituality solves this moral dilemma.
      5. Religion mostly helps encourage spirituality.

      June 24, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  8. Watching You

    Watch out, she is going undercover to get more info to blog about!

    June 24, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  9. Dana

    There are smart christians?

    June 24, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  10. Dana

    You can have a moral compass without having an imaginary friend in the sky.

    June 24, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  11. Star Performer

    Germany is a very professional country!
    It is evident that JESUS SAVED GERMANY LONG AGO!
    How long ago did Jesus save you?
    Germany is already having the last laugh!
    Are you now ready to laugh along with Germany?
    Or are you stalling out on this one completely?
    Can you now see the gods smiling down on Germany?

    June 24, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      The fact that Germany is doing well does not prove a god or jesus...you have to prove they exist(ed) first to make such a claim. You don't give credit where credit is due...to the people of that country, not your imaginary friends.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Dan

      It must be difficult to type that while wearing a straightjacket.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  12. One one

    Question for Christians: according to your beliefs, is Yahweh and Jesus the same god ?

    June 24, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Jonesyman

      In a word – Yes. The trinity concept gets a bit complicated for some but just to cut to the chase – they're the same guy.

      June 24, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  13. eric

    Most religons claim that it's neccesary to lead a healthy, pleasent life where you love your neighbor, respect your parents, dont steal, dont kill and try to keep it in your pants. Even if it's wrong, it's still not a bad idea

    June 24, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Rock T.

      Those are not religious ideas but moral relativistic ideas. The religion is the belief about supernatural nonsense, the rules are not tied to anything supernatural. Religion uses the fake authority of delusional beliefs to support and terrorize followers.
      Secular people can have those values also without any need for delusional and fake authority being involved.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Smurfette

      Eric: do you need a religion, or "god" to tell you that it is wrong to bash your children's heads in with rocks if they are bad? Or do you inherently KNOW that is wrong to do that.

      Granted, the Bible commands that: Deuteronomy 21:18-21

      June 24, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • One one

      There are no new "morals" that she can acquire through conversion to Catholicism that she could not have before her conversion. No need to believe in magic to be moral.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Dana

      I do those things because they are the right thing to do not because I am afraid of some imaginary guy in the sky.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Nii

      You are all coming from a Christian culture. Christian values are embedded in you. An Atheist Arab in the Middle East will see Islamic values as normal just as an Indian Atheist will see Hindu values as the right thing. Atheism is a very reactionary religion. It doesn't have its own morals.

      June 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  14. One one

    Contradictions in the bible ?

    For god so loved the world that he said "I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."
    John 3:16, Gen 6:7

    June 24, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • AusieSceptic1

      can't be omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent either, otherwise She would have known at the very act of creating the world how it would all turn out

      June 24, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • norm

      @AusieSceptic1 "SHE would have known"? Isn't that just super precious?

      June 24, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Smurfette

      @ norm – how is personifying god as female "precious"?

      June 24, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Religion is not healthy for children's buttocks and other living things

      They added a new one. Don't get caught molesting a child.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Dana

      "Religion is not healthy for children's buttocks and other living things".

      I like that.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  15. J G

    It sounds like she's an atheist wishing she could find a believable system to base a conscience on. If she's unwilling to accept Christ as her savior, as is just casting about looking for a reason why people should be good to one another, then she shouldn't Catholicism to provide anything to her but directives as to how to behave, not salvation. I have far more respect for those that believe in good and evil that don't rely on a set religion, than someone who needs someone else to provide them a reason to behave as if they do.

    June 24, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • AusieSceptic1

      actually she doesn't look like an atheist either
      it seems she'll follow the beliefs of the current boyfriend she's fixated on

      June 24, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes thing s

    June 24, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • J G

      Well that's the thing with atheism, you don't have to preach it. Instead you teach your child to think for themselves, to trust in themselves. Mother is the word for God on the lips and hearts of all children, they say. So they have a moral system being instilled in them through responsible parenting. And if they develop a relationship with God, then so be it. I don't think there are truly and real atheists in the world, just those that identify different forces as God.

      June 24, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • One one

      Child: Daddy, does god send people to hell?
      Father: Yes sweet heart.
      Child: Why daddy?
      Father: Because they don't believe in him
      Child: But daddy, I have never seen god, I don't believe in him either
      Father: Well, you are going to burn in hell sweet heart.

      June 24, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Smurfette

      Prayer REALLY changes things! Just look at all of the amputees that were made whole again through prayer!

      What's that? . . . . . Really? . . . . So you're telling me that there have been NO amputees made whole through prayer? Wow – I never knew that! So, what you're saying that prayer only changes things that can change naturally – like certain diseases relapsing for a while. Sort of like praying that the sun will come up tomorrow: hey, it came up – the prayer worked!

      June 24, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Religion is not healthy for children's buttocks and other living things

      A convicted priest behind bars really changes things.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Dan

      It just makes you look foolish.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Papasan

      Name one thing that "prayer" ever changed. Prayer is nothing more than wishful thinking that results in nothing. Did prayer help the Jews when the Nazi Christians led them to the gas chambers? Prayer and religion is for foolish people. No gods are needed to be good and do the right thing.

      June 24, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • DearbornGuy

      J G – you just teach children to "think for themselves?" Seriously? Parents are the first and foremost teachers of their children. I agree with you that teaching them responsibility, etc. is all well and good, but children learn from listening and watching what their parents do. Thus, it's not surprising that racist parents raise racist parents, etc. If you teach your children to distrust the government, they will. if you teach them religion, they believe. If you teach them hatred, they hate. But don't think you can sit there and strictly tell them to "think for themselves," without your influences – good, bad, or indifferent – rubbing off on their thinking.

      June 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  17. One one

    Religion makes people feel good to think they have a personal relationship with THE all powerful creator of the universe who takes a personal interest in them, loves them, and will protect them.

    Their beliefs and values are aligned with god, therefore they must be 100% right 100% of the time.

    When they die, they get to go to heaven for eternal bliss.

    Finally, they have the satisfaction of knowing all those who doubted them will suffer god's eternal wrath.

    In the end, religious belief is really all about ME, ME, and, ME.

    June 24, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • nope

      you are not involved

      June 24, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • David

      Actually, its all about HIM, HIM and HIM.

      Someone who truly comes to God, will recognize that their entire life has been enslaved to sin 100%, and that they are a Hell worthy and deserving sinner.

      HE saves us, when we do not deserve it. We are 100% unrighteous, unholy, and wrong and only HE and HIS word is good.

      When a Christian truly has this humble recognition of their sinfulness, then God can do amazing things through Jesus Christ. HE changes us, HE saves us, HE makes us holy, HE gives us the power to overcome out habitual, willful chains to our sin and He gives us life.

      We live with the burden of knowing that others are not saved from Hell with grief and sorrow, much love, prayers and outreach.

      I am not a Catholic, but a born again Christian. Used to be a pothead, partyer and loved to get drunk... but got changed by Gods Spirit, recognized my sin and helplessness and repented.

      Most professing Catholics and Christians are not truly born again. In this sense, I will agree that many "Christians" and "Catholics" want religion and God to be all about themselves, and their own agenda. In fact, many professing "Christians" will only believe the parts of the Bible that are convenient to their lifestyle and leave the rest out. But God wants us to conform completely to HIS word, surrender all, live for Him, and give up our will to do HIS will. 🙂

      June 24, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • Rock T.

      Except that your fake god doesn't exist and so you will never be able to point to anything as being "his will" no matter what you are talking about.
      Your god does not exist. You cannot show that anything is supernatural in origin because there is nothing there and nothing supernatural about anything. It's all in your imagination. All made up. Total bs.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Smurfette

      @ David: have you ever stopped for a second to consider that Christianity is based not on love, but on hatred, intolerance, and fear? "We are 100% unrighteous, unholy, and wrong" – Huh??? Self-hatred, self-loathing, and intolerance for one's self – that what Christianity is selling. But – HEY NOW ! – Christians have the answer!!! With the added bonus of FEAR, becasue, if you don't buy this, you'll burn forever.

      Now, stop just for a moment again, and think – what do we see in our lives every minute of every day that mimics this model to a "T"? Marketing, that's what! Hey – you're not perfect, but if you buy this {insert any product} you will no longer have to hate yourself because you are too fat, too ugly, too bald, too flat-chested, too poor, etc, etc. And of course, the marketing pitch plays on fears – if you DON'T buy this product, horrible things will happen.

      Manipulation – plain and simple, to try to control the behavior of others.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • JWT

      I cannot speak for your life od sin David but mine has not been a life of sin and I do not need your version of god to save me.

      June 24, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • DearbornGuy

      One one – hate to say, but some of the greatest saints – St. Paul (in older times) and Mother Theresa (in modern times) both had doubts in their lives. St. Paul persecuted Christians before his conversion so much so that Christians of that day feared him at first. Mother Theresa, in her writings, admitted she went through doubts, but always came back to the faith.... she being a women who did "saintly" works even atheists would have to admire. So it's not unheard of for someone with doubts at times in their life to find strong belief.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  18. Jon

    Unfortunately, Catholics don't get their morality from their tradition. Freedom of religion is not part of their tradition. Condemnation of slavery is not part of their tradition. Those changes in moral outlook came from the secular world, and the Catholic Church was slow in adapting. It is a huge mistake to think that the Catholic Church (or any church) is a source of moral guidance. Moral guidance comes from the experiences of a society as a whole.

    June 24, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • k

      Read some history. Moral behavior in the west developed in direct proportion to the growth of the Catholic Church. That's not to say that the Church did bad things at times ... but the overall development of what we view as moral/just is straight from Christianity.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      No K. Theory of moral development – predates Christianity. Even most of the early Christian teachers admit this. Well, except Tatian, who decried his teacher (Flavius Justinus)'s admiration of the Greeks. Clement took up neo platonic platform with the Church of Alexandria, and even though Tertullian forcefully decried "free Jerusalem from Athens, and the church of Christ from the Academy of Plato!" it was Clement's neo-platonic platform that prevailed.

      So again. No. Morality goes back to the writings we have of the Greek Philosophers. It's not 'Christian'.

      This is a pet subject of mine, and others in my family. I'd be glad to go into it at length, including my great aunt's doctoral thesis on Tertullian (for a nun, she was a pip).

      June 24, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • k

      Wrenn_NYC: So in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, all men were viewed as having basic dignity and worth? Really? That was clearly a norm that sprouted out of Christianity (and, in fact, Judaism ... see the book of Genesis). I'm not saying that people didn't discuss morals or attempt to provide a moral framework prior to Christianity. But it was clearly Christianity (and Catholicism, in particular) that instilled and propagated the sense of morality and justice that exists today in the west.

      June 24, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  19. John

    I'm glad she's finally going on the right path.

    June 24, 2012 at 5:58 am |
    • whybs on twitter

      That's what happens when critical thinking ceases. Sheep just follow the one ahead of them!

      June 24, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • Nii

      Criticism is not critical thinking. I believe you should now go and find out the meaning of "critical thinking". Christians are mostly good at this. The five biggest Christian communions and smaller ones all appreciate critical thinking applied to faith. Criticism is welcome where necessary!

      June 24, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  20. whybs on twitter

    Leah, what a good dog you are! Go for your bf's bone! 🙂

    June 24, 2012 at 5:48 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.