Spanish musician Pedro Garcia’s atheism was profoundly shaken when he began to engage with intelligent Christians. Jana Harmon shares his story
When someone moves from atheism to belief in God, it is usually not an easy decision. Changing beliefs that answer the biggest questions of life and reality is usually a process over time. That is not to say that sudden conversions do not occur, but typically it takes a while to let go of established beliefs and to become open to embracing others.
For most, religious conversion is a process of change over time, time to develop and experience beliefs and attitudes of scepticism or atheism – time to become open to another point of view, time to become convinced of and embrace another view of reality, and time to change and embody that new story.
Former atheist Pedro Garcia once thought very little of Christianity. In his view, religion was not much more than an empty ritual, something very easy to reject. After several years as an atheist, he became a Christian. Now he actively creates forums for atheists and Christians to discuss the big questions of life and reality, of truth. Why did he change his mind?
Leaving faith behind
Born in Spain, Pedro grew up in a Catholic culture where people identified as Catholic because of tradition, not because they followed its doctrines. Church buildings were everywhere, “almost like floating in the air, but no one truly cares about it”. He attended a Catholic school and had some vague belief in God even though he didn’t know much about what he actually believed in.
At 12, he started asking questions about his beliefs and they weren’t well received by his teachers. He also began to see inconsistencies in what people professed to believe and how they lived. He made the “rushed decision” of saying: “Oh, religion is stupid. It’s just a way to control people. It’s intellectually dishonest. This is all a lie. There’s no evidence. Therefore, I’m not a Christian anymore.”
When other students were taking the Eucharist during Mass, he refused, recalling: “I would sit. I wouldn’t stand up. You would see all the students standing up and doing it, and I would just sit by myself saying: ‘I’m not going to be part of this without knowing if this is true or without having conversations about it. I cannot just believe in something only because of societal or cultural pressure.’ I’m not that way.”
Embracing an atheist identity
Pedro shed his Catholic upbringing and embraced an atheist identity, fitting in well with his secularising culture. In rejecting Christianity, he believed “there’s no God” and that rejection became part of his identity. It also became the way he looked at the world, through the lens that the natural world is all there is.
He could no longer stand on the Judeo-Christian worldview to support or explain certain values he had long taken for granted. He could no longer hold to a real difference between good and evil, for he had rejected any kind of transcendent standard. Reflecting on this loss, he realized:
“Belief in God has permeated so much of the way we are, whether we want it or not, that rejecting it pushes you to reject so many things about the way we live our lives. And this is the world in which we live. Many might desire for the world not to be that way, but this is the world in which we live. If you reject Christianity, you’re rejecting principles that actually give you the freedom to reject it.”
He found that he wasn’t able to find truth or live consistently with the way he thought about the world and experienced his life, but he continued on as an atheist.
As a professional saxophonist, music allowed Pedro to “tap onto something that would allow me to express something beyond” this natural world. He began to “idolise” music, finding value only in music and what he could get from it. Anxious and depressed, “the waves of life threw me everywhere because I wasn’t standing on firm ground at all”. Nevertheless, his developed expertise allowed him to travel around the world to teach and play, leading him to become a guest professor at a university in the United States.
Intrigued with what he found, he decided to stay, teach and learn English. He soon became romantically interested in a woman, but there was a problem. She was a Christian, more than those of nominal faith he had known back in Spain. Sceptical of others, his doubt about her authenticity quickly became softened as he began to see she reacted and lived in a way that was palpably different than what he expected. He recalls:
“When I met her, I was sceptical about people because I was sceptical about goodness, like there are no true good people in the world. And that scepticism originated from within me because I also knew that I wasn’t a good person. So it’s not just external stuff, and I’m OK. I recognised that there was something wrong with me as well. But when I was having conversations with her and bad stuff would happen around her and to her, and then I saw the way she was reacting and people around her, smiling, calm, innocent. She would speak to me, and she was being 100 per cent honest. I never noticed any type of trying to do something different from what I’m saying. It was so clear, and that really shocked me.”
Her father was a Bible translator, an expert in the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages. Thinking Christians could not be intelligent, Pedro challenged him with his questions. And for the first time, he was having meaningful conversations and receiving substantive answers about Christianity. That’s when he began to think: “There’s something in this.”
Returning to Spain after three months, he continued trying to understand Christianity on his own. He didn’t want to become a Christian just because the woman who intrigued him was a Christian. He wanted to come to belief on his own terms, listening and reading both Christians and non-Christians. He surveyed the Western history of philosophy and concluded: “Belief in God is one of the most rational things a human being can entertain.”
Then, he compared religious worldviews and realised that Christianity stands and falls on the historical claim that Jesus Christ of Nazareth died, buried and rose to life on the third day. If this claim was false, then Christianity was false. So, he began to investigate Jesus’ resurrection. Through his study, he was becoming more open to the possibility of God’s existence and was drawn to the person of Christ.
“I was tackling all these questions, and my heart started opening to the possibility of God’s existence. Then, when I read the Sermon on the Mount for the first time, I said: ‘I would follow anyone that would say these things about the world.’ But again, it happened to be the same person that was calling himself God, and the same person who actually overcame death. He gives you an identity beyond yourself, while celebrating your own identity. He was incredible! I didn’t understand at that point, but I said: ‘I really want to follow Jesus. And it happens to be that following Jesus makes you become a Christian, so I guess I have to become a Christian.’”
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The good news
Through his study, Pedro had begun to understand why Jesus came and why he died and rose again, that it was called “the gospel” or “good news”. He explained:
“God exists. He created the Universe. He created human beings to have a relationship with him. Human beings moved away from him and wanted to create a world of their own. So they started sinning, they started doing things that are wrong in the eyes of God. Human beings, we cannot save ourselves from this madness that we brought into the world. So, God in his mercy decided to become a human being and died for all of us, so that he could pay for the penalty of our own sins, which demonstrates an incredible amount of love that I still don’t understand.
“So that if we believe in him, then we have an opportunity, not to only transform our life on this side of eternity. Christianity doesn’t promise happiness, it promises joy through suffering. Also, it brings you hope because you’ll have an eternal life with him. And everything is received as an incredible gift as the Universe is, the laws, the physical laws are, everything that happens is, and it becomes a worldview of thankfulness.
“This is not all about Christians. He did this for the entire world, for every single human being who accepts it. The beauty of it and how it resonates with our sense of justice and mercy that we have towards others. It was beautiful. I said: ‘So, if this is true, I really want to spend the rest of my life talking about this.’ So, slowly I started leaving music behind and just focusing on ministry and learning and spending time with people and listening.”
Making sense of life
Although Pedro had become intellectually convinced that God was real and Christianity was true, he said: “The most precious things that I’ve experienced are all personal.” His belief in the person of Jesus has dramatically lessened his anxiety, increased his strong sense of purpose and enhanced his perception of the extraordinary and beautiful nature of life. Pedro’s life and lens through which he sees the world have been transformed:
“It really does change everything. It’s almost like having glasses, like a new filter through which you understand everything that happens to you. When you realise that God is there and has given us this ability to interact with the world and see beauty in a new way, everything makes sense. And even actually evil and suffering, which is a very difficult thing to swallow, actually makes sense through God’s perspective – what happened and what we did as human beings, the way everything has been created. Everything makes sense.”
For Pedro, the pieces finally came together. Now, he spends his time helping others make sense of their own lives by getting to know Jesus, the one who brings truth, beauty and identity to life.
Jana Harmon hosts the Side B Stories podcast where former atheists and sceptics talk about their turn from disbelief to belief in God and Christianity. She is a teaching fellow for the CS Lewis Institute of Atlanta and former adjunct professor in cultural apologetics at Biola University where she received an MA in Christian apologetics. Jana also holds a PhD in religion and theology from the University of Birmingham in England. Her research focused on religious conversion of atheists to Christianity and related book is entitled, Atheists Finding God: Unlikely Stories of Conversions to Christianity in the Contemporary West.