What happens when the world’s most renowned Muslim apostate and leading New Atheist confesses she has become a Christian? Rejoicing and praise to God? Yes, but tempered by a cold shower of scepticism.
Born in Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali lived in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia before settling as a teenager in Kenya. Radicalised by a charismatic Saudi-funded teacher she became a devout Muslim who lived ‘by the Book, for the Book’. A member of the militant Muslim Brotherhood when ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published, she endorsed the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and took part in a public book-burning. Faced with a forced marriage she fled to the Netherlands as a refugee. She enrolled at Leiden University and graduated with an MSc in political science.
Bin Laden’s use of the Koran to justify the 9/11 attacks caused Hirsi Ali to question and then reject Islam. Eventually, thinking that all religions are the same, she became an atheist and quickly became a leading figure in the New Atheism movement of the 2000s. In 2003 she became a MP in the Dutch parliament. As a prominent critic of Islam she lived under police protection. When Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist, the killer left a note threatening Ayaan Hirsi Ali pinned to van Gogh’s chest by a knife.
Following a parliamentary storm over her asylum claim and threats to removed her Dutch citizenship, she relocated to the US. The New Atheist movement, dominated by white males from post-Christian Western culture, welcomed the black, Africa-born woman as a global icon. Christopher Hitchens described her as ‘the most prominent public intellectual to come out of Africa’.
Then everything changed. At the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship conference in London last month Hirsi Ali announced that she had been converted, this time from atheism to Christianity. She proclaimed her new faith saying, ‘Today I am proudly of Judeo-Christian religion.’ This has caused some to ask: Is she an actual Christian or is she seeing Christianity as a cultural weapon with which to combat Islam?
Later, in the pages of UnHerd, she attempted to clarify the issue by saying in a straightforward manner: ‘I am a Christian.’ She gave as one reason the argument that Christianity is the only cultural force able to resist the three great threats to Western civilisation: wokeness, Islam and the great power authoritarianism, meaning China and Russia. Against these threats the secular West will crumble. ‘The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.’
Hirsi Ali included a personal reflection: ‘Yet I would not be truthful if I attributed my embrace of Christianity solely to the realisation that atheism is too weak and divisive a doctrine to fortify us against our menacing foes. I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable – indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?’ Hirsi Ali concluded her UnHerd essay by saying ‘Of course, I still have a great deal to learn about Christianity. I discover a little more at church each Sunday.’
As expected, she has received a good deal of criticism from atheists. She is now rejected out of hand by those who once admired her. ‘She’s no longer a voice of courage. She’s just another member of the red-pilled right-wing outrage machine.’ Her conversion is dismissed almost casually: ‘She didn’t convert for Christ. She converted for the culture wars.’
Christians who have pointed out that calling Christianity a better answer than atheism to the problem of nihilism is not the same as calling Christianity true are accurate, but ungracious. Lacking a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion, it seems to these critics that she is merely a ‘cultural Christian’ as opposed to a believing one. They ignore the New Testament which shows that there are many ways to Christ, from the dramatic conversion of Paul on the Damascus road to Timothy who was brought up in a believing home and knew the gospel all his life.
I, like many of us, would identify with her experience; firstly discontent with the aridity of atheism, then a purely intellectual understanding that without God nothing made sense, and finally a realisation that this God desired a personal relationship with me. I thank God that the church welcomed me at the beginning of my journey to Christ.
We are told: ‘Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price,’ Revelation 22:17b. Hirsi Ali was thirsty for something more than arid atheism could give her and has come to Christ; I doubt very much that Jesus will reject her just because at the beginning of her journey she fails to conform to the ideal conversion experience.
Hirsi Ali’s conversion has caused a radical change in her views. As an atheist she had a clear-eyed view of Christianity, noting that today’s Christianity is dormant and intimidated by the politically-correct. She has now come to understands that the liberal, secular West cannot survive without the biblical Christian faith from which it emerged and is the only credible defence of Western civilisation.
New convert Ayaan Hirsi Ali has come to the conclusion that many long-established Christians are only slowly reaching: there is no way to maintain Western civilisation and its values other than Christianity. Just as she came to discover that the fundamentalist Islam of her youth resulted in totalitarian destruction, she has also discovered that the atheism she adopted in response to it is empty of purpose, unable to resist the threats the West faces and deeply unsatisfying spiritually. Only Christ gives genuine answers.
At this woeful period for Christianity in the West, we ought to be more gracious to anyone willing to stand up, profess faith and openly take her place at our side amongst the scorned and increasingly marginalised. Like any new convert. Ayaan Hirsi Ali needs our prayerful support.
Hirsi Ali has affirmed her unwavering support for Israel, and says of the Islamic extremists who rampaged through Israel six weeks ago: ‘It’s not just Jewish babies they kill; they will kill your babies too if you don’t fit into their agenda.’
This article appeared in A Grain of Sand and is republished by kind permission.