Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now a former ardent atheist, embracing the lure of Christianity. But how justified and surprising is her move back to religion?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, or shall I say was, a famous anti-theist, anti-Islamic author, and debater. She has vociferously advocated that Islam is not a religion of peace, and has often been seen as a fringe member of the New Atheist movement. So it comes as quite a shock that she has just publicly announced her conversion to Christianity.
But is it as surprising as it at first may seem?
Hirsi Ali has actually courted some controversy with her fairly ardent and right-wing views on Islam. When living in The Netherlands after receiving political asylum, she represented the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). She fairly recently claimed that “If you disagree with the left, you’re punished.” In The New Statesman article in which she says this, Freddie Hayward adds the following:
While her politics over the past two decades may not be easily categorised, Hirsi Ali has been consistent in her impassioned advocacy of women’s rights and fervent criticism of Islam….
Associating immigration with sexual violence is a trope frequently adopted by the nativist far right. Anyone who has observed a Tommy Robinson rally, for instance, knows the emotive impact that claims of immigrant violence against white women have on his supporters. Some might accuse Hirsi Ali of feeding such reactionary politics.
It then seems a fairly good fit that she announced her conversion in the right-leaning, crypto-religious Unherd media site. This is a media site that often rails against the woke left and so it is hardly a surprise that Hirsi Ali reasons as follows in her piece as to why she changed and became a Christian:
Part of the answer is global. Western civilisation is under threat from three different but related forces: the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilise a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.
The “viral spread of woke ideology” sounds like the rhetoric of someone on Fox News, or a presidential candidate (think Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy) vying to be the anti-woke next Trump. I have found other atheists consumed by the noxious fumes emitted from the boiling cauldron of anti-woke potion-making, stirred by the likes of Jordan Peterson and other such thinkers. Whether it be atheists Peter Boghossion or James Lindsay, or similar, I sense that there is a very real chance that at some point such otherwise fervent atheists could start cavorting with Christianity. Indeed, according to The Skeptic, Lindsay’s venture, New Discourses, has its website run by him as part of his business with Michael O’Fallon, founder of the Christian Nationalist group Sovereign Nations.
In other words, we can arguably see how an atheist might be able to jump to theism via politics. The jump may not be as vast a vault as one might imagine given some kind of iteration of the horseshoe theory.
Hirsi Ali continues in the same vein a little later:
In this nihilistic vacuum, the challenge before us becomes civilisational. We can’t withstand China, Russia and Iran if we can’t explain to our populations why it matters that we do. We can’t fight woke ideology if we can’t defend the civilisation that it is determined to destroy. And we can’t counter Islamism with purely secular tools. To win the hearts and minds of Muslims here in the West, we have to offer them something more than videos on TikTok.
There is not just a little whiff (and an erroneous one) of functionality to her newfound belief. It is not anything to do with the evidential truth of the Christian narrative or any rational argument for it, but that it is a useful tool—a necessary one—to fight the evil of Islamism. For her, secular Enlightenment thinking is not a sharp enough tool to cut through the falsity of Islam.
She admits at the end of her piece that she still has “a great deal to learn about Christianity,” Which is an admission that she has arrived at her new worldview for reasons other than it being the most plausible explanation of reality.
The other canard that raises its ugly head is the absence of meaning in a worldview concerned with nonbelief. This “nihilistic vacuum,” as she puts it, leaves her feeling unsatisfied. As she says, “Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?”
Of course, this is a well-trodden trope. Atheism doesn’t supply meaning for it is merely a lack of belief in God, or in my understanding, a positive belief that God does not exist. And that’s it. Meaning needs to come from oneself. I would even argue that this is the case whether you believe in God or not. A third party (in this case, God) thrusting their meaning and purpose on me strips me of one of the most important aspects of human agency. Meaning and purpose are concepts constructed by humans for the use and motivation of humans.
Above all else, perhaps, is the notion of fear for her. Again, not a positive evidential argument for Christianity, but one of perceived psychological need. As she declares, “Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. As an atheist, I thought I would lose that fear.”
I can’t help but think that she has singularly failed to interact with the positive philosophy of secular humanism.