I managed to miss this one. Jonathan Edwards, the evangelical olympic athlete who famously refused to compete on Sundays, has revealed he is now an atheist:
“Once you start asking yourself questions like, ‘How do I really know there is a God?’ you are already on the path to unbelief,” Edwards says. “During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.”
*shakes head in amazement*. It’s really, really rare for such high-profile and evangelical believers to change their minds like this. Great news, obviously. He has interesting things to say about the role of faith in his sporting success:
Would Edwards have been as successful a sportsman had he been assailed by such doubts? It is a question that the world record-holder confronts with bracing candour. “Looking back now, I can see that my faith was not only pivotal to my decision to take up sport but also my success,” he says. “I was always dismissive of sports psychology when I was competing, but I now realise that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name.”
Muhammad Ali once asked: “How can I lose when I have Allah on my side?” Edwards understands the potency of such beliefs, even as he questions their philosophical legitimacy.
“Believing in something beyond the self can have a hugely beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is fallacious,” he says. “It provided a profound sense of reassurance for me because I took the view that the result was in God’s hands. He would love me, win, lose or draw. The tin of sardines I took to the Olympic final in Sydney was a tangible reminder of that.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that before. I don’t quite see where the desire to be the best would come from, but I can see that it relieves the pressure of major occasions to think that it’s all in god’s hands, and that there’d be no shame in failure. It was always interesting how his largest jumps were consistently in the finals of major competitions, when you’d think more relaxed occasions might be more conducive to the very best results. Fascinating.
The article remains religiously-neutral for the most part, but at one point drifts into the usual negative connotations of atheism, when it says that JE came to believe:
that life is not something imbued with meaning from on high but, possibly, a purposeless accident in an unfeeling universe.
If you want to phrase it like that, sure, but only for certain definitions of ‘purposeless’ and ‘unfeeling’. They’re usually negative words implying something is lacking, whereas atheists tend to see them as null. It’s like not having a banana versus there being no such thing as a banana. In the first case, you might want a banana. But in the second case there is no concept of a banana, so it means nothing.
I certainly wouldn’t have predicted this one. I wonder whether we’ll see more public figures ‘come out’ as atheists, as the non-religious become more higher profile.