THE GOD DEBATE: Richard Dawkins vs Ayaan Hirsi Ali


At the UnHerd-sponsored Dissident Dialogues Festival in New York, Richard Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali discussed her recent conversion to Christianity, and whether the whole ‘New Atheism’ movement of which they had both been key members had done more harm than good.

Freddie Sayers
Ayaan, I think we have to start with the extraordinary few months you’ve just had. For those people who haven’t been following it, tell us the story. How did such a famous atheist, someone who had rejected religion, come to call herself a Christian?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I didn’t, like many people who come to faith, see big banging lights. And I didn’t have any of those spectacular experiences that some people share. I wish I did, but I didn’t. I had a personal crisis. I lived for about a decade with intense depression and anxiety and self-loathing. I hit rock bottom, I went to a place where I actually didn’t want to live anymore, but wasn’t brave enough to take my own life. So I was self medicating. I had over a long period of time seen a psychiatrist, other  doctors. I was trying to understand my condition and trying to treat it with the help of pure evidence-based science. And in January, February of last year, I saw one therapist who said, perhaps it’s something else that you have. And she described it as spiritual bankruptcy. And that resonated with me. And having reached a place where I had absolutely nothing to lose, I prayed and I prayed desperately. And for me, that was a turning point. And what happened after that is a miracle in its own right. I feel connected to something higher and greater than myself, I feel I… my zest for life is back. And that and that experience has filled me with humility, I have to say it and it is something that’s very subjective, it’s extremely difficult to explain. I’m trying to work to get into the details, the granular details of how I got there in a book, but that is a short book. That’s the shortest story that I can tell.

Richard Dawkins
Ayaan, that’s a moving personal story. But to call yourself a Christian is a bit different. A Christian has to believe in something. You go to church now and listen to the vicar. Do you notice what a lot of nonsense he talks? I mean, do you really take it seriously that Jesus is the Son of God? That Jesus rose from the dead? Jesus was born of a virgin? That is a part of Christianity.

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