I always find it fascinating when I come across a story of a fervent believer of a certain ideology who experiences a revelation and switches over to the other side. The ideology could be one of politics or religion or sometimes it might just be on a specific issue – abortion or gay rights, for example. It makes it all so much more interesting when the individual had been a leader of the cause they once passionately believed in.’
In my last post I wrote of Frank Schaeffer’s disillusionment with the Republican party – a party he once worked for passionately but could do so no longer. In this post I’ll explore the religious conversion of Charles Templeton.
Templeton became an evangelist in 1936, a time right before evangelism exploded on to the American scene. The post-Depression period of the 1940s was a time when the masses were searching for hope and people like Templeton and Billy Graham emerged to the forefront with fire and brimstone oratorical spectacles in front of thousands of followers. They spoke of damnation to hell for sinners and of the wrath of God for all who who would dare disobey his word. Together, Templeton and Graham became the two leading voices of the evangelical movement. The National Association of Evangelicals declared Templeton to be one of the “best used by God.”
And then, in 1956, Charles Templeton could do it no longer. For a number of years, he had been struggling with the core beliefs of Christianity which he was finding increasingly more untenable. The more he read, the more difficult it became for him to justify the Biblical beliefs he had once extolled with what he now understood of the world around him. Templeton felt it was “intellectual suicide” to not question the Bible.
In a letter to Graham, he wrote:
“But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world wasn’t created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s demonstrable fact.”
Charles Templeton now called himself an agnostic and went on to a life in journalism before his death in 2001.
Templeton’s conversion still draws great furor from the evangelical community. The Creation Museum near Cincinnati (which displays life-sized animatronics of people and dinosaurs cohabiting peacefully…sigh) has its own Charles Templeton display. The message one draws from the display is that education can be fatal to your belief in God. Take from that what you will.
Charles Templeton summarized his conversion in his 1996 book ‘Farewell to God‘ with the following passage;
“I oppose the Christian Church because, for all the good it sometimes does, it presumes to speak in the name of God and to propound and advocate beliefs that are outdated, demonstrably untrue, and often, in their various manifestations, deleterious to individuals and to society.”
If one replaces the words “Christian Church” with the name of just about any other religious faith, the same truth would hold.
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