Former atheist finds truth, self in Christianity


Holly Ordway never picked up a rock to stone a believer like biblical Stephen, but just like the Apostle Paul, the bloodied clothes of martyrdom laid at her feet as she energetically pursued her atheistic path to academic enlightenment.

"There was no Bible in my home, I never went to church," Ordway said. "It wasn't a topic of conversation. It just wasn't on the radar.

"If you are never taught something, if you don't know anything about it, it doesn't impact your life in the slightest. It's not a really big step to say it's not important. It's not a very big step from it's not important to it's not true. Because if it's true, it would be important."

Orway admitted she felt at home in an academic environment that routinely lumped Christians into a class of uneducated, superstitious and irrational minions worthy of little more than sporadic mocking. It didn't help, she said, that street preachers and televangelists often spewed a faith that seemed more driven by fire than heart.

"I didn't have any contrasting examples of people who I knew that were living out the Christian life," she said.

But, after completing her doctorate, Ordway spent some time in the business world—far away from the liberal group think of university life that cemented much of her belief system. Eventually she landed a job as a professor of English and literature at a community college and, as she reacquainted herself with the poetic works of the Western canon—a broad collection of art, music and books, touching on such topics as literature, poetry, drama, history and philosophy, Ordway said she began to notice a consistent theme in the classics.

"I was making more of a connection to it, I was seeing something there that I had never really picked up," the professor said, adding that she was drawn to the works of English poets John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, John Keats and George Herbert.

"It has a very large amount of Christian poetry," she said. "It's really hard to avoid it. In order to avoid really coming to grips with Christian faith while you study literature, you have to gerrymander the canon, which is happening, actually."

Divine revelation
She recalled how, even as an atheist undergraduate, she believed their work had merit. Now, as she prepared to experience education from the other side of the lecturn, Ordway said she began investigating what was at the center of the poets' beliefs. Even though she felt they were wrong, she was compelled to understand their thought process.

"There's something there that was more than I could assimilate," she said. "That kind of rattled me a bit and made me think. I wanted to know what's going on, what are these guys plugging into?"

The journey led to her 2006 conversion to Christianity, which she chronicles in a new book, "Not God's Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith."

"If you have been rejecting God and living your life in defiance of Him, to confront the living God—and to say, 'I was made by a maker and I owe everything to my Creator and He is the source of all morality; He's the ultimate standard of goodness, not me and I'm failing; I cannot, I cannot be who I need to be by this standard'—it's really terrifying," she said.

With the help of a mentor and her Anglican pastors, Ordway fell in love with Jesus and Orthodox Christianity. She's hoping to use her experience to help traverse the esoteric gap between enlightened reasoning and the divine spiritual richness promised to Christ followers.

The humanist approach
With a worldview that is now illuminated by the light of Christ's love, Ordway is not afraid to expose the dark stranglehold that humanism has on university campuses, especially at the post-graduate level. As part of its banner of tolerance, the English professor said the university environment has gone so far as to accept "spirituality" and, to some extent, has included other voices or world religions to the point of excluding the classic Christian point of view.

"I don't think it's accidental," she said. "I think it's affected the way we think about faith.

"My experience would be that other religions serve a path. You don't criticize them and you respect them and you at least make the statements, 'I honor the beliefs of Islam,' 'I honor the beliefs of the Baha'i,' but when it comes to the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially the Christian tradition … they will actually attack Christianity in the way they won't attack other traditions."

Canning the canons
As part of the process to devalue Christianity, Ordway said there has been an orchestrated effort to minimize foundational works with Christian overtones.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that the decline of taking Christianity seriously and the attack on Christianity (came) at the same time there has been a very real and sustained attack on teaching the Western canon, that is now being put forth as it's oppressive of other cultures, that it's limited to 'dead white males.'"

Ordway said academia's tendency to test everything by an empirical wand prompts the educational elite to reject in its entirety anything that cannot be proven scientifically. Enlightenment, she said, displaces God from the center of existence and puts humankind in its place.

"We're going to figure everything by the power of our reason," she said of the academic mindset. "Now, I'm an intellectual. I believe reason is a powerful tool and we should use it. The enlightenment mistake, however, was to think that reason is sufficient to understand everything. It's not."

To wit, she offers up a mother's love for her child.

"We know things to be true, but we can't prove it," the professor said. "That has led to the academy rejecting the experience of a relationship with God … because you can't test it. You can't do a little quantitative thing and say, look, 'God exists and I have a relationship with Him,' because relationships can't be boiled down for testing."

Champions for the faith
Christians, she said, cannot be left off the hook, however, when it comes to the remarkable strides made by the humanist movement over the last half century or so.

"Christians are also complacent in this because we allow secular voices to tell the story of Christendom," she said, adding that isolated instances such as the Spanish Inquisition are often elevated over centuries of quiet, consistent service by Christians.

"We're just not teaching the part of history that shows Christianity has been a civilizing force throughout history. That's something—whether you believe it's true or it's not—you should be able to study history and understand that with the Christian faith came universities, literacy, hospitals, orphanages. All these things, they came about because of the moral, intellectual, doctrinal positions of Christianity and the saints who devoted their lives to serving the poor and the sick and the needy and going out and presenting the gospel."

Believers have also hurt the cause, Ordway believes, by promoting a fluffy faith that too often presents the image that Christianity is a quick-drying salve for pain and suffering. The author said the "Love God, come to Jesus, your life will be better" mantra comes across as a sappy platitude that's easily dismissed by intellectuals.

"Its not an easy fix," Orway said. "It's a complete transformation from the inside out, which is the opposite of a Band-Aid.

"Christianity teaches that we are sinners. When we see people screw up, that's not the reputation of our view, it's actually evidence that the church is not a country club for saints, it's a hospital for sinners. The fact that people do sin—and some of them in very terrible ways—is an indication of how broken we are. The fact that we are not all in that place is actually amazing. We take that too much for granted."

For more information on Ordway and her book, visit

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