Former atheist Will Witt presumed atheism was true until his beliefs began to fall apart under the weight of scrutiny for grounding of his values. It opened him towards a search for God.
- website: theflstandard.com
- book: How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies
- social media: @thewillwitt
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website at www.sidebstories.com. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Side B Stories Facebook page or through our direct email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to hear from you.
Have you ever believed something that wasn’t true and never questioned it? Have you ever changed your mind about a belief you’ve held for a long time? Are you open to new ideas and challenges? Generally speaking, we typically think we’re right, that our views are right, and we don’t like to be questioned, but rather affirmed, in our ideas and our ways of thinking and living. It’s easy to consider the other as wrong, the one who needs changing. But what happens when your beliefs are questioned?
Generally, we have a choice. We can choose not to listen at all, we can listen to someone of another perspective and remain resistant to their ideas no matter what they say, or we can choose to listen and seriously consider what the other person is offering. This is the more difficult path by far, because it causes us to examine our own presumptions and may even cause us to change our minds.
In today’s story, former atheist Will Witt held onto his atheistic presumptions for most of his life until he was thoughtfully challenged to consider his views more closely. He became willing to seriously search for answers to unresolved questions within his own atheism, and by doing so, changed his mind. Now he is a strong advocate of Christianity, despite opposing pressures. I hope you’ll come along to hear his story and how he, as an atheist, became open to the person of Christ, something he never thought he would do.
Welcome to Side B Stories, Will. It’s great to have you with me today.
Thank you so much for having me.
Wonderful. As we’re getting started, so our listeners know a bit about you and who you are, can you tell me something about yourself and your life now?
Of course. Yes. So I live in Tampa, Florida, now, I lived in Los Angeles for the last five years, grew up in Denver, Colorado, or Aurora, Colorado, if people are familiar with it. And so I worked for PragerU as a political commentator, I wrote a national bestselling book, I spoke around the world, and now I’m the editor-in-chief and CEO of the newspaper The Florida Standard, which is a totally online newspaper that reports on all the comings and goings in the state of Florida, mostly from a conservative perspective.
Got that. Again, just to let the listeners know, can you tell us a little bit about your book?
Yeah, so my book is called How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies. It’s kind of a play off of the old Dale Carnegie novel of How to Win Friends and Influence People, but I got inspired by it because it’s all about how to talk to people and all of that, and so I wrote a book essentially how people can change others’ minds on all of the biggest political, cultural, social issues of the day. So it’s full of 17 different chapters, each one on a different political or cultural issue. And so it not just gives you the facts on each one, on here’s the deal about climate change or here’s the deal about illegal immigration, it is how you can actually use questions and these facts weaved into your questions to be able to have productive conversations and change people’s minds.
A lot of my background that I did while I worked for PragerU in LA was going and doing on-the-street interviews and debates and things like that to be able to have conducive conversations, where people could leave it and say, “Oh wow. I actually learned something,” or, “Maybe I’m actually going to have a different approach with the way that I view the world because of what this guy said to me.” And so I wanted to give other people the ability to do those same things, so it wasn’t just me going out there and having all these conversations, right? There’s a lot of good people doing it, but I want normal people to be able to just pick up the book, read it, find the questions, and say, “Okay, now I have the ammunition to go and have a conversation with my aunt at Thanksgiving, or the atheist girl in my sociology class at college who I can talk to.” All these different things I want people to be able to speak on and speak about in ways that actually move the conversation forward and aren’t just battling ideas for the sake of battling ideas because you want to be a part of some group and it makes you feel good to dominate others. I think there’s so much good that we can do in the world, and I hope I can be a part of that with my book. Again, How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies.
Yeah. That’s amazing. I think, like you say, dialogue is… meaningful dialogue, respectful dialogue these days is hard to come by. So I appreciate the work that you’re doing, but it also intrigues me, too, because you’ve become somewhat of an expert in helping people change their minds. And obviously you have made a major paradigm shift, from atheism to Christianity. You obviously changed your mind about a lot of things. And so I’m curious and interested into understanding what that was all about and how that happened. But let’s get started with your childhood. Tell me where you grew up. Tell me if there was any religion in the home. Was God mentioned at all? Did you go to church? What was your concept of God? Let’s start there.
So I grew up in Denver, Colorado, and no one in my family was really all that religious. My grandparents, we went to church occasionally, but I never felt like I really got anything out of it. I didn’t know who Jesus was, going to church or going to the Sunday school that I did. It was kind of a modern type of church, so I didn’t hear too much actually about scripture or the gospels or anything of that nature, to be honest. I didn’t really understand what was going on.
But, as people in America do, they go to church, and so I was just one of these people who went to church and didn’t really know what was going on for the most part. But many people in my family, my brother included—it was my older brother, who I loved to death. He was essentially my father figure growing up. My own father was in prison for most of my life, from when I was about five till high school years. So he was my main influence. But he had a different dad, and his dad was quite on the I guess you could say atheist train, and because of that, my brother was like that. And so because I looked up to my older brother so much, I really believed in a lot of those things as well.
And it wasn’t just all that. A lot of my situation that came down with my dad and what had gone on there, and many circumstances in my life that I can say were not too wonderful of a childhood, you could say, in many respects, is part of the reason as well why I was such an atheist. I believed that how could there be a God when all of these horrible things have happened to me and these things continue to happen to everyone else? The Christian cancer patient still dies. The Muslim wife gets in a car accident. The Jew gets hit by a car walking across the street, right? These horrible things happen to people. Why would God allow these things to happen? Why would these things be happening to me? What was going on in my life? It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me why that would be the case. And so I essentially used bad circumstances and horrible times that I was living in—other people as well—to justify the existence that there was no God. Because there couldn’t be a God if this was the life that people had to live. If God really loved us, then there couldn’t be a God in the world that we live in, with so much evil, so much hate, and so much despair. So that was the basis of my childhood, growing up like that. I was someone who did not believe in it whatsoever.
Yeah. The problem of evil and suffering is certainly one of the major push-backs against belief in God. There’s also a thesis out there that speaks to the fact that, if you have an absent father or neglectful or an abusive father—in your case, it sounds like your father was not around. That that also plays into the fact that it’s hard to believe in, like you say, a loving God, when you have your own father absent in your own life. Did you feel that personally? Or did you have trouble conceptualizing a loving God because you didn’t have that father figure in your house?
Yeah, of course. I mean, God is called the Father. And for me, I never had a father in my own household who was someone who would ever be considered a loving parent or someone who did what a parent should do. And so, because of that, I found it very difficult to relate to any sort of father-like figure in that way. And when it came, again, talking about my brother, as I said, he was like a father figure to me, but it was more of just… I just really loved him and almost… I wouldn’t say idolized him in a way, but I used him as someone who I got a lot of my values and things from. So it wasn’t necessarily like, “Oh, this is an overarching father figure.” I found that very difficult. It was someone who was just in my life that I really loved and looked up to more than anyone else. And so yeah, I did struggle with that a lot. It’s something I still struggle with, to be honest. Yeah.
Of course, we all look up to our older siblings, and we often want to embrace what they embrace and be like they are. How old were you when you understood or pushed back against belief in God and called yourself or identified as an atheist?
I would say I must have been eleven or twelve years old, maybe somewhere around that age. It was about the time of middle school, I believe. Then I was starting to be able to read on my own, go on the Internet. Finally, the internet was kind of a place where you could now go and research everything that you ever wanted to find out, communicate with all sorts of other people who also believe the same, so I would say around that age is when I started to consider myself an atheist and really started to grapple with the questions of faith and religion.
What were you seeing online? And what did you consider religion and faith to be as you were moving towards atheism and away from belief or non belief in Christianity?
Despite the fact that I had never read Friedrich Nietzsche when I was eleven years old—I doubt many eleven year olds have read Friedrich Nietzsche at that age. I’ve now read all of his works, and I think he’s brilliant despite his atheist sentiments that he has within a lot of his work. But I think that the basic idea of Nietzsche and that Christianity and other religions being used as a means to control people was the basis of a lot of my, I guess you could say, studies on faith and what I believed them to be. I believed that they were a way to have people be controlled by some sort of identity. And because of that, it would make them into kind of a slave, as Nietzsche would call it, as someone who just continued to follow the groupthink of whatever this religion said to do, whatever this dogma preached. And because of that I essentially said to myself, “Well, I don’t want to be a part of this group that just believes whatever’s in this book and says whatever the Pope says, or whatever the rabbi says, or anything like that. I’m an individual. I can be my own person.”
Yet the thing that you don’t realize is that atheism is just as much of a religion as any of the other ones. And there is a dogma about it, and there is a groupthink about it. And if you stray outside of those limits of atheism, then you are, I guess you could say, conceptually the same as having another religion, some sort of monotheistic religion in that case. And so I suppose that was really the main basis of it, is that I wanted to be an individual on my own and felt that Christianity or any of these other religions wouldn’t provide me with that solitude of ideology that I was looking for.
And obviously you were a thinker, and you were willing to dismiss Christianity on the basis of obviously some authorities, like Nietzsche or whomever or your brother, that it wasn’t worthy of belief. Like Nietzsche, were you willing to look fully—I mean, I know we’re talking about you were middle school, eleven and twelve. You knew what you were rejecting, but did you understand the fullness of what you were embracing?
No. Not in any serious way. I think it also came from—I don’t want to say the word envy, but potentially there was some jealousy to it, in the sense that you would see a lot of people who were raised Christian, kids in my classes or other students at my school who were raised Christian and had very happy, nice lives. And because of that, I think I had a lot of envy for these types of people that believed in this. And I thought to myself, “Oh, it’s all fake happiness. None of this can be real, because they don’t know the struggles of the world. How can they be victorious in their struggles of fate and the evils of this planet if they are believing in some fake god and this fake happiness?” I think a lot of atheists feel like they have a level of intelligence above many of the people who are religious, because they think that they are the cultivated, they are the enlightened, they are the ones who have pushed past against the Bible or the Torah or the Quran or any of these other ones and said, “I am above these other people.” But really what it came down to was I think a degree of envy from a lot of these people’s lives that I saw that I would consider fake, even though these people were perfectly happy in a lot of the things that they were doing. But I could never see it at that time. So I didn’t really grapple fully with what atheism meant. I think a lot of it was just me despising a lot of Christians at the time.
Interesting. Interesting. Did you feel that being an atheist brought you—whether in identity or in living, did you feel like it brought you a sense of satisfaction or even happiness in any way?
No, I don’t think so. I think the only sort of happiness that I gained from atheism was—going back to what I was kind of saying—is feeling like I am more intelligent or cultivated, again, from these other people. And so that would bring me a degree of confidence that I think was a pseudo confidence. It wasn’t material. You couldn’t hold this confidence for very long before it would disappear, and you would see people being happy in their religions again. But yeah, I would say that it didn’t really bring me a lot of satisfaction in my life to be an atheist.
I know as an intellectual person who—and I think it’s often the case that religious people are dismissed as unintelligent. But in terms of your own atheism, did you ground it in any way? How did you know that atheism was true? Or did you just know that religion was false?
That’s exactly right. I didn’t know that atheism was true. I had no proof. I couldn’t cite some study that said this. All these people look to the Big Bang theory and say, “Oh, that proves not the existence of God.” The Big Bang theory, the theory, was invented or materialized by a Catholic, who used it and said, “This is something that could be used as proof for God, Him starting the universe in this way,” yet it was taken and it was hijacked by scientists and things like that to make it an atheist type of deal. But what I mean to say by that is that, yeah, it was basically just anti-religion. There was no scientific… any sort of gravitas to what I was saying. It was just, “I don’t like these people. I don’t agree with them. I think they’re wrong,” and so thus, “I am right, and I am smarter than all of you.”
Did you run in any circles or were you acquainted with, any what you would consider to be serious-minded Christians during your time of atheism, middle school, high school?
No. Not at all. I didn’t meet many people who were very Christian. And when I did, I usually brushed it aside and didn’t really want to have a conversation with any of these people. To be honest, I didn’t understand Christianity at all. I didn’t know anything about it. I couldn’t have told you any of the apostles or how Jesus was really crucified on the cross or why He died or anything like that. I couldn’t tell you any of those things. All I could tell you was that all of it was fake. Regardless. That was the extent of my knowledge for my atheism.
So you were rejecting something you really didn’t know a whole lot about. You had never read the Bible or really meaningfully engaged with any Christians. They were not in your world, it sounds like.
Exactly. That’s exactly right. I wasn’t going out and searching for rigorous debate to question my thoughts that I had on the matter already. It was mostly just, “Here’s what I believe, and you’re going to like it.”
I’m sure what you believed, you believed to be true.
Yes, of course.
And you had strong presumptions that way. And so take us further in your journey, then. What disrupted or preempted those presumptions that caused you to open or look in a different direction?
There’s a lot of different things that went into that. I guess we could start with where I was in high school, and when I started in high school, for growing up most of my life, I was very nerdy, very shy, didn’t really talk to people, very introverted. And when I went to high school, a lot of that changed. I became a lifeguard, started working out, was attractive, I guess, for my standards, and started to envelop my life in much sin, many vices, things of that nature. Women, drinking, partying, all of those kinds of things. And so I really lost a lot of myself in the process, and this continued on to college. So my freshman year of college, at CU Boulder, I ended up dropping out my first year because I was just partying and continuing in this way, far too heavily than I should have. And I believed at the time that these small bits of temporary enjoyment would bring me some sort of happiness. It’s being the guy who can shotgun the beer the fastest at the party is the coolest guy, right? And those sort of look-ons from people around you means that you’re an awesome guy and you deserve something from other people. Or that the amount of girls that you get with, that’s a sign of masculinity and that you’re a man and that you have self worth because you did that. Right? And you realize these things in the culture on college campuses.
Anyway, that’s the type of culture that I was in, living there in college, and because I believed that there was no God, all of these things were subjective. It’s not immoral to do these kind of things if it’s all subjective. No one is deciding what is actually moral or not.
And so I think that’s a lot of the reason as well why I started to, even more so, disregard Christianity and organized religion while I was in college, because I was screwing up, making a lot of mistakes, doing things that I’m not proud of, of course. And because of that, I didn’t want someone to be judging me for the actions that I was doing. And so why would I look to religion, when religion seemed to me, at the time, that it was just someone or some higher entity, some divine power, judging me for the things that I had done, feeling myself like I could earn no forgiveness because of what I had done, right?
So it was just separating me further and further from God, the choices that I was making, being this subjective morality type of person, and so it didn’t really all change until I got out of college, dropped out after my sophomore year, and moved to Los Angeles.
Yeah, so that obviously was a change of plan, something probably you didn’t anticipate. But yeah, take us from there. What happened to you in LA? What did you do there?
Yes. So my sophomore year of college, I stopped a lot of the things that I was doing before. I cleaned up my act a lot, which was great, but I still failed out of school. But that’s because I got into politics, I got into conservative politics, and I really found a lot of enjoyment there.
Wait! Okay. That’s just a real pivot in the road there that doesn’t make sense. So can you explain to us how an atheist got involved in conservative politics? Because it sounds like that is an oxymoron.
Yes, it definitely does. I saw that there was a lot of elitism in this country and that these people were using all sorts of different tactics, our health and social media and the culture, all as a means to control us. And so when it came to conservative politics, I saw a lot of thinkers and people who were actually quite logical with the way that they were going about things. And I said, “Wow, I actually agree with this stuff.” It kind of just happened when I watched some of these videos and read some of these texts, and I said, “This is something that I could do.”
So on my college campus, I would just set up a table, and I would debate kids on all these different political ideas. I’d skip class and just set up a table and start debating all the students on my campus about all these different ideas. But I still wasn’t Christian by any means.
Yeah. Yeah. But it probably opened your mind or your eyes towards a different perspective than perhaps is presumed, particularly among the atheist community.
Oh, definitely. Yeah. Well, that’s one thing. When I moved out to Los Angeles, and I was in conservative politics, and anyone who’s watching knows anything about conservative politics, you know it’s heavily tied to to Christianity, right? A lot of it is tied to scripture, you know. It’s in the name, you know? You are conserving. If you’re conserving something, you’re probably conserving Western history, Western tradition, and Western tradition is based off of the Bible. That’s just the truth of the matter historically, whether you’re an atheist or not. That’s just how it is. And so a lot of conservatism is entrenched in that. And those were things that, at the time, I could never get behind. But I, in turn, almost started lying to myself and the rest of the world saying, “I’m thinking about Christianity. I’m working on it. Maybe I am actually a religious person.” I didn’t want to be left out. I wanted to be in this conservative world. I wanted the glory of the politics and being at the vanguard of fighting for these principles of conservative thought. Yet I didn’t want to do all, I guess you could say, the work to be a religious person, like so many of these people were. So I was kind of living a lie in a sense, that I was this conservative political person who wasn’t really living as Christ would have intended, you could say.
Yeah. So you were in this cognitive dissonance of sorts that… I suppose on the one hand you could see how Christianity and biblical principles undergird conservative values, but as an atheist, you couldn’t go there.
So how long did you live in this state of tension?
I would say about three and a half to four years I lived like that. Yeah, roughly around three and a half to four years until I eventually… COVID happened. And when COVID happened, I decided that it’s depressing for everyone to be locked inside your home, and you can’t see people, and this was right at the beginning, But at the beginning, we were all like, “Oh, we need to stay home.” And so I ended up ordering the Bible, and I ordered the Quran, because I was also getting more into philosophy, I was getting more into mythology. I think I had just finished reading the Twelve Labours of Heracles, and I was quite enamored by the story and what he had gone through. And I said, “Okay, well, all these people are talking about the Bible and the Quran.” I should probably pick these up, and I should read them, just so I can actually say, “I understand what’s going on now.” Right. Even if I don’t believe in it, I can at least say, “I’ve read it. I understand it now.” Yet when I read the Bible—I read the four gospels first. I’d done some stuff with the Old Testament because Dennis Prager, my old boss, he was Jewish, and I had read his books on Exodus and those kind of things, but nothing with the New Testament.
And so I read the Bible, the four gospels, and at that point you essentially have to make a choice. When you have this information presented to you, right? It’s like with anything. It’s like if someone tells you the sky is blue, you have a choice on what you do with that information. You can either ignore it, you can say that it is false and that it is lies, or you can believe it and say that this is the truth, this is the objective truth. And with something as stark and important as the Bible and what Jesus did in His life, saying that it is false is an accusation of lies throughout the entire text of Scripture, right? As well as saying that I really believe this, that means you are saying that this is completely true and I 100% believe it. You can’t take certain parts and say, “Oh, this is true, this isn’t true,” and that. It’s an all-or-nothing approach with the Bible, as I came to find out.
And when I read it, I said, “Okay, if Jesus really did die for my sins, if what is in here is truth, then I have no other choice than to give my life to Him.” There is no other option. You can only live that way. If you have had this information presented to you and you believe that it is true, then there is no other way for you to live. And so after that, I started going to church with my girlfriend at the time, and I started asking the pastor all these different questions and all these different pastors. I was incredibly hungry for the information about my faith and Christianity. And it was a whole new world opened up to me, and I eventually got baptized.
So you got baptized. That’s great! But I feel like there’s a few pieces or questions that I want to ask you. One is, when you started reading the Bible, and obviously you made the choice that it was true, but I can hear the skeptics saying, “Based upon what?” I mean, why did you believe it was true? Was it something that it just rang true to you? You had a sensibility that you read it and you believed it. How did you know that the Bible textually is true? Was it reliable, a good source, good witnesses, all of those things? I mean, was there an intellectual convincing? Or was it more of basically a Spirit-led conviction that it’s true? Or a combination of things? Because as an atheist, especially as someone who lived in the world that the supernatural isn’t real or any of that, and then you’re reading the scripture, and it’s filled with the miraculous, it’s filled with the extraordinary, it’s filled with someone who calls himself God. How do you make sense of those things coming to the text as an atheist?
It really came down to the conviction, and it came down to my own life. It came down to the fact that I had just read this text and saw that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins—my sins, plenty of sins, right? And all of this. And everything that came into my life and all the hurt and all the trouble and all the sadness and despair and all that happened in my life, this was finally saying to me there is a reason for this. There is a reason why this has happened to you. Man is fallen, man is sin, man is born in sin, yet what he can do in his life is triumph over his own human nature to become something brilliant, to become something great, to become someone who is a warrior of God, who preaches what is good and destroys what is evil.
And to me, when I basically… I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but this type of mentality of what Christianity meant to me was like the answer that I had been looking for throughout my entire life. It spoke to me in a way that said, “Okay, I can be this type of person. This is what I was actually called to do on earth, and these bad things that happened, that’s not the reason for me not to believe in God. That is a reason for me to believe in God.” The fact that these horrible things happened to me and that I screwed up a lot of things in my life, that is all the reason for me to say, “Okay, now I understand the truth. Now, I can be someone who puts all these burdens on my back and instead of saying, “No, I want an easy, normal life,’ I say, ‘I want a difficult life full of suffering that You are using as a test for my character and my will, God, that I can be someone to do this for You, because You are what truly matters.’”
And all of this kind of came in the thinking, of reading this and reading other thinkers and talking to people and saying, “This is what I am called here to do. This is what I am here for.” And that’s what, in the end, truly convinced me in my faith.
Wow. So it sounds like that it really helped you make sense of your life, that even as an atheist, and I’m sure Nietzsche would agree, that without God, all things are permitted. You can’t call anything good or evil. You can’t really call bad things bad. In this, in the framework of scripture and the Bible, you could actually say, “No, what happened to me was not good, but it’s redeemed. It can be used for my good and for God’s glory and for the good of other people.” That suffering actually has a purpose, which is a profound, again, paradigm shift of the way that you can perceive your own life in a way that made sense to you. I’m also wondering. You spoke earlier that, as an atheist, you realized that there was no objective truth, that everything was subjective and relative and you couldn’t make sense of that. But within a biblical understanding of yourself and the world and of truth, those things can come into alignment and that you have a way to say, “No. There actually is an objective source of truth, and we can know it.” I guess what I’m trying to say, and to ask really, is, once you became a Christian, did these pieces come together for you, not only for your life, but also for your mind and for understanding not only all of reality [33:42]…. Well, we don’t all understand all of reality except for God, but understanding reality in a more substantive way that made sense, whether it’s whether it’s objective truth and morality, whether it’s human dignity, who we perceive ourselves to be, whether, again, the issue of evil and suffering and pain. It’s like all these big things that were a bit of a mystery to you as an atheist come into alignment, so that you can make sense of things in a more substantive way.
Most definitely. Yeah. A lot of it filtered over to my job, of course, in the conservative media world, where at first I guess I would look at the people who were Christian or Jewish or any of these people in the conservative world and think, “This is what it’s like to be a religious person doing this type of work,” but once I really came to my faith, you actually realize that a lot of the people who said that they were religious are not people who practice anything that could be considered biblical in a lot of what they talk about. And so you find that a lot of the people who are within the conservative sphere, or in the leftist sphere, of course, for that matter, and just out in the world, are not really living by any sort of tenet of the faith.
And it made me change everything that I was doing within my work. It made me change the way that I was making videos. It made me change what I was speaking about in my speeches. It made me change the way that I viewed the world around me. And of course, I’m not trying to say this is like, “Oh, now that I’m baptized, I’m free from sin.” I’ve still done all sorts of stupid stuff all the time, right? Again, that’s human nature. That’s how it goes. But you just realize that the most important thing is having the faith drive all of the politics forward and that there really is nothing more important than that, because the only way to have good faith discussions about politics or culture or society is to say that there is an objective truth. That objective truth is what should be the best decisions to build a society on.
Yeah. It sounds like it has completely informed your worldview and given you clarity. I wonder, too, having changed so dramatically in your views over a period of time, but obviously in a very substantive way, and you sound very serious about your faith and the way that you live it. How has that been received? I mean, you’re a public figure in a very public space. How do you live as a Christian now? How are you perceived? You once held Christians in contempt. And I’m wondering how you’re perceived now on the receiving end of that.
It’s definitely a mixed bag, because, again, like I said before, being a Christian in the conservative world, people like that. That’s just how it is. There’s no getting around that. People see that you’re a Christian or that you’re religious, they think that that is great, and they herald you as someone who is good. So saying that I’m a Christian or getting baptized, I think my baptism picture on Instagram is still my most liked picture ever on Instagram. Hundreds of thousands of likes, and millions of people saw that. So that was incredible for my testimony, but for some of the stuff that has now influenced my political views, as I’ve talked about before, those things, I would say, get less positive reception. So even though people are receptive to the fact that someone can say that they are a Christian, it’s like when I say these things in politics don’t matter anymore and they’re not nearly as important as people say they are and you are focused on the wrong things, then people don’t perceive that nearly as well.
I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what’s at play here, what’s at stake here. It’s a lot more than just the Republican Party or the Democrat Party. It is a fight for our very souls, as humans. Our humanity is at stake with so many of the things going on, I find that I get definitely mixed reviews on a lot of the new ideas I have, even if people look positively as a Christian. It’s like my pastor here in Tampa would always say, if Jesus were to come back today and put up a church right next door to his, his church would have more people still going to it because of what Jesus would ask people to do for Him. And so I find that very powerful.
Yes, yes. It sounds like you’ve learned to, in a sense, worship the Creator rather than the creation, and that you worship the true God, rather than trying to be god, like so many, like you say, in the elite or even… we know people who just want to run their own lives, so they don’t want God in the picture. There are so many out there that are curious about who you are and your journey, curious about the question of God, but it seems like too great a cost, or that Christians, they may have that negative hue or that negative perception over Christianity and Christians that they just think that they’re too intelligent. They could never believe it. How would you counsel someone who may actually be open? They may not be the one who just totally writes you off, saying, “I know that’s false, and here’s why.” They may actually be the one who gives you a hearing. What would you say to a curious skeptic who may have an open mind?
Well, of course, the first thing that I tell people is to read the Bible. You have to make a choice when you read that text. It’s very easy to not have to take any responsibility for what you say if you’ve never actually read the pertinent literature or the scripture about what you are claiming. And so actually reading the Bible forces you to make a choice. That is a big deal, I think, for a lot of people, because they don’t want to take the responsibility for having to claim that they are making that choice. And so that’s obviously the first thing.
But I think there’s a big message that can be said for a lot of Christians as well, just Christians who I guess you could say are some of these social club type of Christians who don’t actually know so much. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and it’s like you are getting this free gift, the most beautiful, amazing thing in the world. You can’t even describe it, how wonderful this gift is, right? That you have received. Yet when someone comes up to you and says, “Are you a Christian? Do you believe in Christ? Are you someone who believes in God?” People say, “Oh, I don’t really know. I don’t know if that’s what I really believe in,” and it’s like you have this free gift, the most wonderful thing in the world, yet you are sacrificing it for worldly things. And I think that people need to understand that it is so easy to sacrifice on that great gift because you are so interested in these worldly things, but it is the wrong way to live.
And again, we expect to have some sort of easy life or that Christianity is supposed to be easy, whatever your religion is, it’s supposed to be easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. I get people asking me all the time saying, “You know, I’m losing friends for my Christian faith,” or anything like that or, you know, “These people in my family don’t like me because I’m very strong about my Christian beliefs,” and they ask me how they can retrieve these friendships or familial relationships back. And I say, “Listen, as tough as it is, this is the narrow path. You have taken the narrow path.” You either take the narrow path or you take the wide path. And in the long run it is far more worth it to take that narrow path and stand up for what you believe in and stand up for God than to be the person who does what everyone else does. It’s like in The Lord of the Rings. It’s my favorite books and my favorite movies of all time. Galadriel tells Frodo that to bear the ring of power, Frodo, is to be alone. And I think that really speaks to what it is to be someone who is this person on this journey of truth and knowledge. So I think people just have to be ready for that type of mentality.
Yeah. I think that’s a good word for skeptics and Christians alike, for sure. There’s a certain cost to Christianity and as Bonhoeffer would say, grace is not cheap. There is a cost. So for the Christians who are listening, again, you are someone who is an expert at opening the minds of people about all kinds of different subjects. How would you encourage us to engage with those who hold a different perspective? I mean, what are some real practical ways that we can have that meaningful dialogue with others who don’t agree?
I think it’s twofold: I think the first thing is for you to be living a life, at least trying to, as most akin to Christ as you can, right? Obviously we all sin. Obviously I sin. We all make mistakes. We all do stupid stuff all the time, and don’t live very Christ-like lives. That’s just how it goes. But I think that so many people around the world today see something like the molestation of kids in the Catholic Church or see their pastor doing some stupid stuff and say, “Well, I’m not a Catholic because look at these guys. How could I be a Catholic?” Even though the doctrine hasn’t changed for 2000 years, apparently, because of these people, they say, “Oh, I can’t do it because of the people.” And so I think that you being a shining example of what a true warrior of God can look like is very encouraging to people. They see you being this person who is living out the faith and trying their best to be this uplifting and encouraging person. That is a great thing that you can do.
And so I think that goes to the second point of saying you don’t even have to necessarily go and talk to people about your faith. I think what I found very useful is to talk to people about their faith and atheism. Why do they believe that? What brought you to that point? And you can talk to people and just find out why they believe what they believe.
You don’t need to start out the conversation saying, “Here’s what happened with Jesus, and here’s why He died, and here’s why you should believe it.” It is you going and talking to them all about what they believe to fully understand this person, to understand why they think the way that they do. For the most part—there are, of course, many brilliantly intelligent atheists who probably have a plethora or myriad of reasons of why they believe what they believe. And maybe those people, you can’t change their mind, but many people, it is for a lot of psychological reasons that people are atheists. It is for lots of different things. And that’s where really any sort of groupthink or mentality, collective identity in the world of why people tend to align with these groups. It’s the same for leftism, it’s the same for conservatism in a lot of ways, and for people who are not very well versed in their own Christianity or religion, it can be the same for those types of people as well.
So I think it’s very important for you to understand where the person is coming from and try and gather their entire worldview before you start talking to them about here’s what the truth is. Do that first, so that you can establish that rapport with the person, and then I think you can really start making some good headway.
You’re sounding a lot like Francis Schaeffer there.
What did he say? If you have an hour with someone, you spend the first 55 minutes asking them questions and the last five minutes telling them the gospel.
Yeah. That’s good for your dates, too.
Ask them questions.
Yeah, yeah. Be a good listener. Asking good questions, I think, is really critical. I know that you speak a lot about helping people see kind of the weakness of their own worldview by asking questions. Would you speak to that for a minute? Or how, when you ask people questions and they don’t know the answers, then it opens them to a different perspective.
Yeah. I think that that level of approach is far more conducive to having stellar conversations than just telling someone what to think. Instead of coming at them so vitriolic or trying to prove something, instead you are trying to I guess you could say disprove in their own mind what they believe, instead of you trying to prove something in their mind. At the end of the day, [49:56] excuse me, it isn’t you changing that person’s mind on a lot of things. It is them changing their own mind because they couldn’t answer the question that you gave them. And you are doing this in a compassionate way.
I will mention this quickly, though. When you are having these grassroots discussions and talking to individuals, it is very important to have that level of compassion and that degree of personal connection when you are speaking with them and not to be this angry, critical person at them. But when it comes to the larger scale of ideas in the world, there are evil ideas out there. Again, this goes back all the way to the subjective and objective truths that we were talking about earlier. There are evil ideas out there, and you cannot be flinching or unwavering with any of these ideas, and they must be called evil where they are. There is no subjective nature to those kind of things. So, again, when you’re having individual conversations, you are trying to understand the person and make them change their own mind. Yet when you are talking about ideas throughout the world that are evil, based on scripture telling you that… they tell you pretty much what these things are, you have to be as strong as a lion and not flinch in the face of danger or any of these types of ideas.
That’s an excellent point of clarification. We don’t compromise on truth, but we’re generous and compassionate towards people. Anything else, Will, that you think we might have missed in your story or anything else you’d like to say, or do you think we’ve covered it all?
I suppose the last thing that I could say to everyone, and this was incredibly important for me. As I mentioned before, I’m the biggest fan of Lord of the Rings in the world. I don’t know if you guys can see behind my head. It’s a Lord of the Rings… it’s a painting of Tolkien with some various Middle Earth lore within it. Tolkien was a massive Catholic and wrote a lot of his work as—not allegory, because Tolkien hated allegory—but there are elements of Christianity and the Bible within Tolkien’s work. And so I love it. But one of the things that I find so appealing about it is that Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn, all three, when you look at them, kind of represent the idyllic reckoning of Jesus Christ, right? Like you have Gandalf, who is this all powerful being who comes and is able… but goes back to help the normal people even though he didn’t have to, as this all powerful guy. Aragorn is the king, returning to his throne, and Frodo is the ultimate sacrifice, sacrificing himself to destroy evil, right? They all kind of represent Jesus. And so what I love about it is that it’s like this hero’s journey, and I think for people in the world, our lives are so boring, and lazy is abounding everywhere around us, what I find to be something so important is making your life into the journey of a hero. That doesn’t mean going and slaying dragons. Of course, you can’t do things like that. But turning your life into an adventure, turning your life into a quest, where you are looking for truth, you are looking for answers, and you are looking to do good. And when you find these answers, you are then going out and sharing them with the rest of the world to be helpful.
And so making your life as this hero’s journey, through the power of God, I think is the number one piece of advice that I can really give people on how you should be going forward ahead in your life. Don’t settle with the average mundane lifestyle that society wants you to live. There’s so much more out there for you to do. You just have to prioritize it and put it at the front of mind and live like Aragorn, to the best of your abilities that you can.
Wow! That is amazing! What a mandate for us here at the end. I think it obviously comes from a personal place, that you have found great purpose in your life, and you are on mission. And that’s obvious by the things that you’re doing, the way that you’re really living in the front lines, I think, of culture, speaking truth in profound ways, especially in your generation. I just commend you for being bold and courageous and purpose filled, living on purpose and adventure, and God’s adventure for your life, and we can all take a cue from that.
So thank you so much, Will, for coming on. We just so appreciate your story, your life, how God has changed you in significant and powerful ways. And I think none of us will walk away uninspired from this conversation. So thank you again for coming on.
Thank you so much. That really means a lot. It’s so nice to be able to talk about this. I don’t always get to talk about this in a public forum, so it’s really nice to be here and discuss this with you, to be honest.
We so appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Will Witt’s story. You can find out more about his book How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies, as well as links for his website and social media in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me, again through our email at email@example.com or on our website.
Also, if you’re a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former atheist with questions, please contact us on our Side B Stories website, and we’ll get you connected. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.